Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The art of the tease

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called a tease.

Raise your other hand if you’ve secretly considered it a compliment.

Crap, I can’t type with both hands in the air.

The art of the tease is something romance authors work long and hard (snicker) to perfect. Your characters might want to jump each other’s bones on page one, but you’ve got 350 pages to fill. Odds are good you’ll run out of sex positions by then, and sad as it is to say, even I’d be bored by 350 pages of playing spear the donut.

I heard an editor once say she prefers to have the couple in a romance novel swap their first kiss by page 50 and first sex by page 100. It’s a rule I’ve never followed, and so far, no one’s yelled at me for it. I far prefer the long, drawn-out tease. I want the couple to come close to burping the worm once, twice, maybe three times, building the tension and leaving the reader squirming in her chair.

There’s an art to the squirming, though. Interrupt too many hookups with a ringing telephone or some other clichéd contrivance and you’ll have your reader rolling her eyes instead of diddling herself under the desk turning the pages of your book.

I've heard people say the romance novels are all about how to get two people together, but I disagree. Getting them together is the easy part. Creating a long, slow, tease that keeps them from consummating their relationship for much of the book is the tough part.

With all this talk about teasing, I feel obligated to say I'm not quite done doing that with my new book deal for Coliloquy. I shared some of the details on Monday and Tuesday, but I can't give it all up just yet. Stay tuned here for more info, or sign up with Coliloquy to be first to hear about release information.

In the meantime, how do you feel about the fine art of the tease? Can you think of examples of authors or significant others who've done a particularly good job with it? Please share!

It's time for me to put my hands down and quit typing with my toes.

14 comments :

Sarah W said...

Burping . . . the worm?

Oddly, I think Laurie King did a good job of a romantic tease in the first two books of her Mary Russell Holmes series. Sherlock and Mary don't consummate on-page, but their first kiss(es) and his confession of desire is all this reader needed.

Mac said...

Every plot is a tease, thriller or romance, otherwise the reader would have no reason to keep turning the page.

;o)

Laina said...

*raises hand* 37k into a book and no kiss between two characters who REALLY needed to kiss. (Seriously. It made me a bit whacky going that long without smoochies. I'm the type of girl that put a kiss in a 3k short story.)

I love and hate it in a book in equal measure, as it should be if done right. ;)

Noelle Pierce said...

GREAT post! Sexual tension/teasing is what I love most about romance novels. I thought Tessa Dare did it beautifully in her second novel (Surrender of a Siren), and by page 200+, the hero and heroine hadn't even touched yet. But damn, was there ever some chemistry there. (And a self-exploration scene in the presence of the other that was pretty hot, too).

When I write my own stories, my characters tend not to do the deed until the very end, though I didn't set out to do that. While I don't mind reading about sex before the love comes (heh), writing it feels odd to me. Rather than using the sex as a change agent on the couple's path to love, my stories use sex as the consummation of the love that's already there.

There's always that worry that a relationship will go the way of the TV romances, if they have sex too soon. Moonlighting, Who's the Boss, and a slew of others lost their tension after the main characters had sex, and weren't as enjoyable to watch. (I have *no* idea why no recent shows come to mind with this, but I feel like I'm dating myself. :D)

Matthew MacNish said...

I definitely prefer a slow build-up. Da da, dum!

~ M said...

The tease is a big part of why I enjoy young adult romances so much. Sometimes they're all tease. Sometimes they're two or three books worth of tease. And, personally, I have way more fun reading the tease than reading the naughty bits.

Debra Kayn said...

Love the tease! That's exactly what keeps me reading romance books. We all know how it'll end, but the journey there...the nerves, the tension, the make me feel like a twelve year girl with her first crush, is so addicting.

Linda G. said...

You've read IN A FIX -- how do you think I feel about the fine art of the tease? ;)

Deirdre Puff said...

I put some thought into the tease not long ago when I was trying my hand at Nanowrimo.

I thought it through and some of my favorite authors have managed to hold of sex till the end of the book, or even until the sequel. And many of these book stand out as the "hot and steamier" of my collection. Katie MacAlister (who has a couple rows on my bookshelves) has done that quite subtely in a couple.

As well Kelley Armstrong, where I've seen the tease run (for minor and then later major characters) through multi books.

Not just the paranormal either, the great Nora Roberts has definately done so, her latest keeps it up until your in the middle of the story. (So not just the earlier ones pre-my ability to talk/read/beingborn when sex before the big M was still frowned upon)

Nora said...

I prefer a long build up and then a huge final release. But who am I kidding? Is it ever like that in real life? We pop in the sack pretty quickly it seems. I wish I had the patience of some roamnce characters.

The Sprouting Acorn said...

nothing wrong with dangling the carrot (especially if it's long, firm and ... orange? lol). besides, once the swollen root's eaten, it usually involves a pile of sh!t at the end of it all anyway....

BarbN said...

I enjoy relationship building. So if a couple doesn't actually do the deed for a long time, but progress is being made in their relationship, then yeah, I like the tease. that doesn't meant there won't be bumps in the road or setbacks. They just have to make sense given the two personalities. (I thought Making Waves did a great job of this.)

But if it's teasing just to draw things out-- we're not learning anything new, they're not learning anything new, then I lose interest.

Sophia Chang said...

Every freakin' time I read your posts I want to switch to erotic writing so I can adult up my blog. You say all the things I say in real life but can't online b/c CHILDREN might be watching. sigh...

Ali Trotta said...

Being a tease is a viable skill. Love this post. Love phrase 'burping the worm.' Although, it also makes me long for tequila...