Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's get it on: overcoming performance anxiety

There are some authors who dread writing love scenes. I am not one of them.

Big shocker, I know.

I seldom give them much thought beforehand, and when I do, I regard them like a good crème brûlée – something to anticipate near the end of a meal.

From the start of LET IT BREATHE, I knew I’d do something a bit different. I don’t mean that in the handcuffs-and-tub-of-mayonnaise way. Without giving too much away, I’ll say these characters have a history, and the final love scene isn’t their first. There’s some significance in how things unfold, a little more to it than, “we’ve overcome obstacles, and speaking of coming…”

That said, I don’t like assigning too much deep meaning to a love scene. It’s a pet peeve of mine as a reader. At the top of my list of things I could never write is a heroine who’s sexually naïve until the big, manly hero arrives and brings meaning to her life by showing her how to batter-dip the corndog. While many authors use that device and many readers enjoy it, it makes me want to scrub my brain with steel wool.

So now that I’ve yammered on for five paragraphs about the final love scene in LET IT BREATHE, I’ve illustrated the problem I had yesterday when I sat down to write it:

It’s been built up too much.

That’s a line from a well-known movie (can anyone name it?) and one Pythagoras and I quote whenever we’ve discussed something to the point that we no longer wish to do it.

I can’t be the first writer who’s stalled out on the brink of a climactic (snicker) scene, so maybe these tips will prove handy for others who’ll come (snicker) after me:

Set the mood.
It’s crucial for all scenes, but for love scenes especially. I got lucky yesterday when kindly hit me over the head with a song that was the perfect vibe for the scene. I promptly downloaded it and set it to repeat.

Give yourself a deadline. Some writers don’t work as well under pressure, but I had to force myself into action yesterday. I saw a couple authors kicking off a #1k1hr on Twitter, and invited myself to join. At the end of my hour, I had 1,500 words and the motivation I needed to keep going for another hour.

Get lubed up.
Though I’ve touted the benefits of occasionally sipping an adult beverage to get creative juices flowing, I don’t drink when I’m writing a love scene. I like to stay sharp so I don’t miss the little nuances and gestures important in a scene like that, but I made an exception yesterday and poured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Like magic, I loosened right up.

I know when I open the document later this morning, it won’t be perfect. I have a sneaking suspicion I gave my hero three hands and the ability to lick the heroine’s neck from three feet away, but I did get words on the page. Editing is a lot easier than staring at a blank screen two days in a row.

So that’s how I got over the hump (snicker). What do you do? Have you encountered a situation where a scene has been built up too much? What do you do?


Katt said...

First of all, you missed a snicker with 'you got lucky'
and secondly... now that I've stopped laughing long enough to breathe, that's the first time I've heard... "how to batter-dip the corn dog" friggen hilarious!
As for my writing, I'm a pantser and love scenes have to happen naturally, unfold where they fit, otherwise, I'm all thumbs.

Patrick Alan said...

Perhaps I didn't properly explain the fundamentals of the slowdown plan.

Linda G. said...

I think I want to meet your hero. ;)

Re the build-up: that's exactly the kind of scene I was working on in the #1k1hr last night, too. Not a sex scene in my case (well, maybe a few overtones...), but one I've seen coming for a while. It had gotten to the point where I was afraid to even start, so sure was I that it couldn't possibly live up to the hype I'd given it in my head. But I sucked it up and just ran with it, telling myself it would be a wasted hour, at worst.

Know what? I kinda like it. Something unexpected popped up, and I think it's going to work. :)

Daisy Harris said...

As long as your characters don't stare into each other's eyes while 69'ing. I saw that in one book. I couldn't figure out where their eyes were located.

Angela Perry said...

You realize what all your snickers have done to me? I am now reading double entendres into everything. It will be an interesting day writing technical documents :)

By the way, Linda:

"Not a sex scene...but one I've seen coming" (snicker)

"I sucked it up" (snicker)

"something unexpected popped up" (falls off chair laughing)

I blame Tawna ;-)

Dawn Ius said...

I love the way you "teach" through humour and your writing style. Laughing all day long now...

Dawn Ius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bookewyrme said...

I usually only have this problem with dialogue scenes. I get very nervous that the dialogue is trite, boring, forced, stilted etc, and the longer I wait to write the scene the worse the feeling gets and the more I don't want to write it.

Also, the three-handed, mega-tongued hero made me giggle a LOT, so thank you. :D


Candyland said...

Yeah I've been there. The only thing I've found works is to slow it down and go back to the foreplay. Wait. What are we talking about here?

Linda G. said...

Morgan -- I blame Tawna, too. In fact, I blame her for just about everything. But she's cool with it, so it's okay. ;)

Harley May said...

You said lube.

Kelly Breakey said...

For me any scene that I put too much emphasis on can feel overwhelming. I will admit I have done the drunk dial and the tipsy tweeting, but I have never tried the inebriated indite. I will give that one a go next time and let you know how it works out, because I agree editing is so much better than a blank page.

Steph Schmidt said...

It's not the writing but the rewrites that get me. Stress poofs out of no where leaving me worried about seeing the forest vs the trees, is it adding to the plot or just world building, etc. Might be time to have a glass and just let it flow then edit when sober.


Katt, you know what's funny? I actually DID have a snicker after "got lucky" but took it out right before I hit "post." I thought it might be too much, but clearly I underestimated the readers of this blog. Or overestimated, whatever.

Patrick, there's a slowdown plan? Do I have to know the secret handshake to learn it?

Linda G, don't you love that about #1k1hr? It's my favorite part about the whole thing, where a scene goes in some random direction you never expected!

Daisy, no way! Please tell me you're kidding. Please?

Morgan, your response to Linda G almost made me pee myself. Thanks for the laugh!

Dawn, glad to help! Er, and to make you laugh. OK, I'm mostly glad about the laughing, but if you can get anything useful here, that's icing on the cake.

Lia, I still haven't been able to bring myself to open the document yet and it's after noon here. Admittedly I've been busy all morning, but I'm also dreading seeing how much random stuff is in there (like the three-handed hero).

Candyland, you and Patrick are all about the slow foreplay, huh? Guess I'll have to learn how to do that.

Harley May, I did say lube. I said it just for you. Wannna make out?

Kelly, stick with one or two glasses of wine. Anything beyond that (depending on your tolerance) and you pretty much guarantee you'll write crap. Um, not that I'd know.

SM Schmidt, I think there's a Hemingway quote about that: "write drunk, edit sober." Not a bad idea, really.

Thanks for reading, guys! Oh, and I notice no one has taken a guess on the movie quote. Anyone? Anyone? Do I need to offer a clue?


Delia said...

Okay, with the movie quote, I'm going to go with Pulp Fiction, the scene in the restaurant with the joke.

Also, I'm trying desperately not to picture what Patrick's secret handshake would look like.

Patrick Alan said...

Tawna - I'm sorry. You just failed the movie quote test. I'm not sure I can come here anymore.

Patty Blount said...


If only he could do something ELSE from three feet away. Now THAT would have been good.

Jamie D. said...

Good lord. I read this at work, and was pretty well ruined for the rest of the day. Thanks. I think. LOL

Now that I've calmed down a little...the only time I have trouble with sex scenes is when I've already written a couple in that book, and I'm scared to death that the next is going to sound exactly like the other two. When that happens, I have to just write it, assume it will suck (LOL) and fix it later.

I do build scenes up too much though - and normally just "muscle through" them, hoping they won't be *too* bad when I'm done.

Michelle Wolfson said...

Tawna, I have no idea what your random movie quote was-I'm not sure that even qualified it was so short. But great quote from The American President, Patrick Alan, and now you may officially worship me for life. Even though you already did.

Claire Dawn said...

No idea on the movie quote, and I really want to know!

I have this problem with endings sometimes. The book has been going on for 50,000 words or so and everythings all hokey-pokey. How can I make an ending that's good enough. It took me a year to write the las tchapter of my first novel!


Delia, ding-ding-ding...we have a winner! It is indeed Pulp Fiction, and that's exactly the scene it comes from!

Patrick, I googled it last night, and I vaguely remember that scene. I'm abysmally bad at the movie quote thing, since I don't watch a lot of them!

Patty, if only I wrote sci-fi, all my heroes would be thusly gifted.

Jamie D, that's really the only solution, isn't it? Muscle through, and recognize that you can improve it later!

Michelle, Delia got it, so there! Did you have to look up Patrick's quote, or did you really know that?

Claire Dawn, I know what you mean about endings being stressful. Sometimes it totally clicks for me, and other times I just want to type THE END and be done.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Patrick Alan said...

Michelle - You are brilliant. For you I will keep coming back here.

Have you met my twin - Harley May?

Julie Musil said...

Oh, this is excellent! I'll never think of mayo and corn dogs the same again.

I've never written a love scene, but with my next novel I will (YA!) Thanks for the tips!

Jen J. Danna said...

Tawna, I had to come back and find this post after receiving an edit back from my writing partner last night. We're still writing while we're querying and the first draft of the chapter I finished and sent to her yesterday was a pretty heavy love scene.

Most of Ann's comments are usually in-line in Word through track changes, but occasionally, if she's got more to say, she adds in an actual comment. About half way through the love scene, I got this comment: 'How many arms does he have????'

After laughing so hard I almost cried, I went back to look at what I'd written. Hmmm... that part of the scene might need a little clarification. Better get on that!

But I take comfort that I'm hanging with the best of them in occasionally giving my hero a few extra body parts! :)