Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The fine art of undressing

Lately, Pythagoras has spent a lot of time practicing taking his clothes off.

No, he’s not training to be a stripper. He is training for his first triathlon, and I’m amazed to discover there’s an art to shucking wet, sweaty clothing in public places.

An Olympic-distance triathlon starts with a 1.5 km (1500-yard) open-water swim, followed by a 40 km (24.1-mile) bike ride, finished with a 10 km (6.2 mile) run. Each stage requires different gear, and since races are won and lost by a couple seconds, how you strip is important.

Yesterday afternoon, he finally got the wetsuit he'll wear for the swimming leg on Saturday.

He promptly stripped in my office and tried it on. I promptly forgot the scene I was writing and stopped to enjoy the view.

“I need to practice taking it off now,” he said.

“Great!” I agreed, powering off the computer.

“What if I filled up the bathtub, got in with the wetsuit on, and then jumped out and practiced taking it off fast?”

I frowned. “Not my first choice, but as long as I get to watch.”
I can help zip up,
but not take off.

I do not, however, get to assist. That’s the rule in competition. Athletes must wriggle out of their sopping wetsuits – necessary for buoyancy and warmth in a frigid river – and strip down to the damp cycling shorts underneath. Then they cram their bare feet into the cycling shoes they’ve pre-clipped to their pedals, and away they go.

It’s a complicated endeavor, but not a whole lot trickier than getting the characters naked in a novel.

I spent last night making some tweaks to the final love scene in LET IT BREATHE, paying special attention to how the characters undressed.

Removing shirts and undergarments can be sexy.

Removing socks and work boots, not so much.

The way the clothes come off says a lot about the characters and the scene they’re in. The final love scene in MAKING WAVES is playful and fun, while the one in BELIEVE IT OR NOT involves some irreparable damage to a silk blouse.

This scene in LET IT BREATHE is an odd mix of both, and I’ve gotta admit, I devoted ten minutes last night to fine-tuning the way the hero removes the heroine's bra.

What sort of undressing do you prefer as a reader? As a writer? Do you like to know about each article of clothing as it’s cast aside, or would you rather skip those details? Do you want to see buttons flying across the room, or is slow seduction more your style?

For this scene, I know what I need. I’m about 99% there now.

For the triathlon, though – well, Pythagoras is on his own.

Too bad. That wetsuit is kind of hot.

21 comments :

Matthew Rush said...

Personally I prefer not to read about that kind of stuff - sure sometimes it's necessary to the story, but if so I prefer to have it gotten over quick and dirty.

That being said this post you've got here is a lot of fun so imagine you'll probably do well with all your love scenes. Just don't be afraid to try what feels right and bounce it off of others if you're worried whether or not it works.

Kelly Breakey said...

Wet suits...hmmm...I can see how that could be fun.

For me it depends on the writing style. Sometimes if the story is driven by the action, then the salient points of the seduction can be important, but if the story is driven more by feeling, than I think the seduction is more a melting away of the clothing.

Either way works for me if the story has my attention. As a reader that is. As a writer, I sometimes think less really is more so I just try to pare it down and not overwhelm with the little details while balancing that fine line of giving just enough details for the reader to be able to see the scene the way I did in my head.

Now, I have to go write a scene with a hot guy in a wetsuit...I wonder if I could get my husband to put one of those on...hmmmm.

Candyland said...

I like it fast and furious! Buttons flying! Teeth ripping! Pants unzipping! Whoa. What were we talking about again...
(your posts give me instant amnesia)

Danica Avet said...

I think it depends on the urgency of the scene. In some cases, I like to read a slow seduction, the hero taking his time to kiss every inch of skin he uncovers, the heroine doing the same. It's those scenes that can become drenched with sensory input. The rasp of a zipper being lowered. The rustle of a blouse falling to the floor. Then again urgent, fast love scenes can do the same. The savage ripping of a blouse/shirt. The growl of frustration when the zippers don't cooperate.

So I guess I'm easy. I'm an either one or the other girl...or hell, both!

Good luck to Pythagoras in his triathalon. My boss participates in mini-triathalons and it kills him, but he loves it (weirdo).

Xuxana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xuxana said...

This reminds me of the police officer who was on the news today for suing the police department for an added 7 days vacation time off work. He says it's for the additional 30 minutes per day it takes him to put on his uniform. Think he'll win the lawsuit? I think he's a twat.

Katt said...

As a reader, I really get my knickers in a twist if the pants come off before the shoes. grrr. That said, if I'm noticing this, you've probably already lost the momentum of the scene.
As a writer, I tend to just wing off the scene, fast and furious, then not read it again for a few days - that's when I learn whether it needs detail or speed.
and gak! I hate the words brazzierre (see I can't even spell it) and session. Instant turn off!
Granny panties make me giggle though because there's usually some kind of embarassment factor.

Jamie D. said...

When reading, depends on the scene. Whatever fits the overall tone suits me just fine. :-)

When writing, I'm partial to Samantha Hunter's "genie method" of removing clothing - poof! and it's gone. LOL

Trying to figure out how to get clothes off characters is a nightmare. I can spend the longest time trying to figure that out...

Patty Blount said...

It definitely depends on the characters... their personalities, whether the Big Moment is a slow build up to er... climax or a spur of the moment decision.

(Typo alert: I originally typed "spurt" - kinda works in this context)

In Slow Buildups, the characters take the time for seduction and I like to see that so I can feel every delicious touch as I read.

In Spur(t) of the moments, I wanna hear the clothes ripping, the grunts and oaths as the characters trip, bump noses, or bump elbows on walls in their haste to get at each other. In these scenes, doing the 'strip poker' thing (first, he took off her shirt. Then, her pants, then her bra)interferes too much with my panting... er, I mean reading.

Of course, there are ways to combine the two, which I also enjoy. For example, the slow seduction reaches a certain point and then Wham! Passion ignites and the hero pins the heroine against a wall or a desk and -

Yikes, boss is behind me.

Linda G. said...

Once again, Pythagor-nice-ass lives up to his name. ;)

Re sex scenes: I like them to be appropriate for the kind of book they're a part of. Keep it in character. Serious book? Stay with the tone. Funny book? Funny sex.

Personally, I giggle through the sex scenes I write, and I hope the reader will too. Doesn't mean the reader won't need a fan, though--I think laughter adds to the heat. ;)

LR said...

I tend to agree with Candyland. I like it more abrupt and perhaps slightly shocking. So someone lifts up her skirt and just happens to not be wearing any underwear. Or the guy bumps into the lead girl and he unexpectedly has a...yanno.
Surprises are always nice in fiction.

LadyGenette said...

Mmm...magically disappearing clothes. Definitely a method I'm partial to. I don't like going into detail because I feel awkward writing it, but when the heroine is completely unaware she's no longer wearing clothes because she's too caught up in the whirlwind...comedic and kinda hot. ;)

Jennifer X said...

That photo is such a mean tease. Hmph. LOL, I personally like very descriptive love scenes, not by the millisecond, but each piece of clothing. If I write those scenes, I always think the scenes faster than I can write them. But, I guess the point is to turn the reader on and not yourself. ;)

Jennifer X said...

P.S. I'm sure he already knows, but let Pythagoras know he has a REALLY good butt.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Interesting question...I guess I never really thought about it before. I guess it depends on how the writer describes it. I guess it is nice to give some details, especially because many of the writers I've been reading lately do that whole "fade to black" thing where they give no details at all.

Tawna Fenske said...

Matthew, LOL, you are aware I'm a romance writer, right?! "That kind of stuff" is exactly what I'm in it for :) Don't worry though, I've been writing love scenes an awfully long time at this point, and I can honestly say they're the one thing my critique partners, beta readers, and agent seldom mess with. Jury's still out on my editor (haven't gone through the first round yet) but I suspect she wouldn't have signed me if she didn't like my smut.

Kelly, I remember wearing wetsuits when we were snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, but I don't remember those ones zipping up the back like this one does. Kinda makes it tough to dress & undress yourself!

Candyland, if that's your speed, you'll like the love scene in BELIEVE IT OR NOT :)

Danica, I've passed your good luck wishes to Pythagoras and he says thank you! He's competed in tons of ski races, bike races, foot races, etc., but this is his first actual triathlon. The swimming part is the scariest.

Xuxana, damn, the whole time I was having to iron clothes and pick out shoes for my office job, I never thought of SUING anyone for the extra time. Think of how rich I could be!

Katt, I don't know why, but it always annoys me a little when authors dress their heroines in granny panties with the idea that it will keep them from giving in to impulse and hooking up with someone. You just KNOW it's going to happen, and then the whole thing starts off on the wrong foot.

Jamie, I'm usually pretty good at getting clothes off in love scenes -- even the book I originally sold to Bombshell which had the characters suited up for avalanche conditions. But for some reason, this one proved a little weird with the hero in work boots standing in a kitchen...

Patty, cracking me up with the "spurt" thing!

Linda G, the love scene in MAKING WAVES (my debut) will be more your speed then. Lots of giggling in that one :)

LR, is it hot in here? Kinda liking your description of the quickie love scene!

Lady Genette, love the idea of the magically disappearing clothes. You could patent that!

Jennifer X, he does have a rather nice butt. I'm quite fond of the rest of him, too! :)

Neurotic Workaholic, there are times I really like the "fade to black" thing, and other times I like to see it spelled out in explicit detail. Kinda how I write them, too!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Lucy Woodhull said...

It depends on the scene! Sex in books is like sex in life. I don't want it the same way all the time. Changing it up is what makes it interesting. Well, that and the condiments you use.

Claire Dawn said...

I love the associations you make :)

Re: undressing in books, I don't know, don't read much romance. But re socks: I really wonder some times if most people take socks off during sex...

Simon C. Larter said...

Yeah, I've written sex scenes. Yeah, they were kinda fun. And y'know how sometimes when you're really into it, and you're trying to peel off a skinny pair of jeans but they get stuck on your knees? (Not mine, yours. Meaning the lady's. I don't wear skinny jeans.) I wrote that bit.

This was after the bit where she ripped his shirt buttons off trying to get him undressed. Which was right after the bit where she punched him in the face. It's a strange, slightly conflicted scene.

But they do get their clothes off pretty quick, knee-stickage and everthing. Yes.

Patrick Alan said...

LOOK AT HIS BUTT!

Is almost as nice as mine.

Tawna Fenske said...

Lucy, you're right, condiment usage is crucial! The thing I love best about writing love scenes is the ability to change them up every time! Kinda what's great about enacting love scenes, too, now that I think about it (uh, hi Mom).

Claire Dawn, LOL, give me any topic and I can probably connect it to writing somehow!

Simon, OK you MUST tell me when and where I can read that scene. Sounds great!

Patrick, my husband thanks you for ogling his butt.

Tawna