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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sex and Conflict -- Keeping it Real

Today we welcome guest blogger Tawny Weber, fabulous Harlequin Blaze author. Take it away, Tawny...

I’m a strong believer in conflict, since it’s through watching characters overcome challenges a reader gets drawn into the story. And I love all of the posts on conflict this month, which have explored how important this is to not only move a story, but to allow our characters to grow stronger as they achieve their goals.

But... here’s the thing. I write for Blaze, which means my characters have to have all that great conflict – both external and internal – and still have lots and lots of sex... or at the very least, lots and lots of sexual tension. So how can I get fulfill the sexy hook while maintaining a strong enough conflict to engage the reader from page one to happy ever after?

I think it’s important to choose an external conflict that allows for believable sexual tension. Whether you write hot or not, that rising tension adds a layer of intensity to the conflict. Every time your characters come together, their awareness of each other intensifies and the tension rises. In many stories, that and a few kisses are enough to maintain that sexual awareness and convince the reader that, yes; these two are hot for each other.

In a hotter story, such as a Blaze, the question at hand isn’t how far will they go to relieve that sexual tension during their quest to solve their conflict? The question is how you keep the sexual tension strong after they’ve already done the deed... because they usually do it pretty early in the story.

The answer? Conflict! How does having sex intensify their conflict? How does it ratchet up the tension, intensify the risk and push all their internal conflict buttons?

I mean, we all know sex complicates things. And in fiction, the more complicated the better! Know your characters issues with sex. Use their fears and sexual hang-ups against them. Better yet, let the other character push them to overcome those fears and hang-ups.

If there is ever a choice between writing a sex scene or holding back to raise the tension and intensify the story conflict... hold back! Sometimes it’s what isn’t written that tells the most about our characters.

Can sex and conflict be done wrong? Of course. Gratuitous sex is always bad. Who hasn’t read a story where the characters are at each other’s throats only to stop the hating to do the wild thing in an elevator, then go right back to spewing venom with no change or growth to show for the encounter. Or when the characters are on the run for their lives, the bad guys an hour behind and they stop to get nasty in the backseat of the car instead of setting a trap. Yes, the adrenaline rush might intensify the scene, but the reader is usually rolling her eyes and muttering why it’d be justified if the bad guys did catch them with their pants down (heehee).


What’s your take on sex and conflict? Do you think it intensifies the characters’ struggle for growth? What’re some good examples you’ve read recently?

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27 Comments:

At 11:59 PM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Miss Tawny, what a brilliant post! Actually I love the way you use sex to ratchet up the tension in your stories - the heat keeps rising and so does the conflict. Something you said reminded me of something that Dickens said when he spoke about how to keep the readers interested - "make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait." And I think the waiting is SO important. Like you, I tend to write pretty sexy stories but generally with my stories, the sex makes things worse rather than better, at least in the earlier pages. The sex is part of the problem, not separate to it. So until they sort out the essential conflict between them, there's no rest for my hero and heroine, even if they are going at it like rabbits. Hmm, I think that sentence lost its way about halfway through!

 
At 12:04 AM, Blogger Tawny said...

Anna, you do an incredible job of using sex to intensify conflict - I love how much worse it makes things, and how well you keep the characters --and readers--engaged as they work through all the trouble that 'doing it like rabbits' gets them into *G*

 
At 1:16 AM, Blogger Christine Wells said...

Hi Tawny, great post! I've read so many romances that sort of deflate like a two day old balloon once the first love scene is over and you've hit the nail on the head about how to avoid that. I agree with Anna--you certainly practice what you preach in your Blazes--textbook examples of how this is done. Hey, Tawny, you should write Cliff Notes for those books!

The book I'm writing now has a major sex scene in chapter three, and boy does it complicate things for H/h! I've never been so throroughly nasty to my characters before and I have to say, I'm loving it!

 
At 2:58 AM, Blogger Tawny said...

LOL Christine and thanks :-)

btw, I love how much pleasure you're getting from being nasty to your h/H *g* And you're right, early sex scenes can slow down a story if there isn't enough tension to keep the conflict moving. But when the sex complicates things, when it throws an even bigger monkeywrench into the works, it rocks.

 
At 5:32 AM, Blogger Caren Crane said...

Tawny, this is a great post and very timely. I have a rather early-on sex scene in one of my books and have second-guessed it since I wrote it. I mean, they weren't supposed to do that for many more chapters! But you know how ill-behaved characters can be. *g*

It worked, mainly because NONE of the conflict had been worked out yet. It got much worse for them both and made the story much stronger. But I've read stories where they wanted to simply be nice once they got it on and it takes the "oomph" out of the story most times.

Thank you for your insight and making us think! Even though it is way to early to be thinking...

 
At 5:49 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

"I mean, we all know sex complicates things." That made me grin. Yes, women do know that. Men, however...:)

Sex is never a resolution to a story, communication and honesty is, so sex is perfect for ratcheting up the conflict. Just the expectations that the h/h bring to bed with them can be enough to sustain the conflict.

I thought Maureen Child's Kings of California books did a great job of this. And remember Loretta Chase's Not Quite a Lady? Poor Charlotte thought her sexual attraction to Darius just confirmed she was a bit of a 'loose woman' when nothing was further from the truth.

Great post, Tawny. I use the h/h expectations after their first big sex scene to totally pull the rug out from under them, and I feel better about it now. :)

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Leslie Dicken said...

Tawny, you are the QUEEN of conflict! I've always been impressed, whether it be critiquing your work or reading a published story!

Your advice of keep the reader waiting to intensify the tension is great!

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Kathleen Long said...

Fabulous post, Tawny! A wise woman once told me that it's all about the emotion. Oh wait...that was you! And you were correct. ;o) Even in my Intrigues, I strive to keep the emotional and sexual tension as high as the suspense of the external mystery. Without that, why would our readers keep turning the pages? You, my dear, are a master of ratcheting the sexual tension and conflict higher and higher and higher....

Keep up the great work! And thanks for a thought-inspiring blog. ;o))

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

nvzlkTawny - wonderful post. It certainly is an intricate dance keeping the conflict strong and the tension simmering. I lean more on the "wait" side, but I love your idea of letting sex make things worse. Very well done, my dear.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Joan said...

Great post, Tawny.

Waiting is more in my opinion. Draw that tension out until the string is about ready to break then when it does...

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger Terri said...

Sex and conflict? I'm reading a romance right now (won't say which one) that I'm about ready to throw at the wall because the hero (who is well-versed in sex *g*), while the heroine was a virgin. Nothing new there, but he's using her new love of sex to control her. Basically, every time he wants a concession of some kind, he has sex with her first.

Um, hello? That's OUR job! LOL

No, seriously, I'm just finding it hard to suspend disbelief in this story. It's not a realistic use of sexual conflict, because we all know that men and women think differently about sex - we're hard-wired in our genes that way.

All that being said, I think anticipation can be one of the best parts of foreplay, so make 'em wait!

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger Terri said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger Janice Lynn said...

Tawny, love the post! Sex certainly can up the conflict and your books do it quite excellently.

Terri, I laughed out loud at your comment about that being our job. :) Too funny.

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Welcome to the WNP, Tawny!

When it comes to sexual tension and conflict, I have to tout WNP's own Janet Mullaney. One of my favorites is Dedication.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Wow, great post, Tawny! You do a fabulous job of keeping the conflict alive in your stories!

I agree that sex should intensify the conflict between the h/h although I have no preference over having sex scenes happen earlier in stories or making the h/h wait :-)

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

Sorry to be so late - my area lost internet this morning until they fixed the local routers... so excuse any shaky typing, I'm suffering from mild withdrawals :-D

And on to the responses *g*

Caren, I so agree that sex can happen early in the story -- as long as it does just what you did, make it intensify the conflict. I think women often connect sex with feeling good, and to put our characters into that position (all these puns are unintended, but they are amusing me) means we push our own emotional triggers.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

Great post, Tawny. I use the h/h expectations after their first big sex scene to totally pull the rug out from under them, and I feel better about it now. :)

Thanks, Gillian :-)

If you think about it- no matter what genre we write, in pursuit of romance sex is a major factor in the relationship. Every character comes to the page with their own view/expectations of the act - and it sounds like you're rocking the conflict angle perfectly by using those expectations to intensify their conflict!

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Tawny, I admire any author (like yourself) who can write a satisfying and believable story when the sex happens early in the story. I'm so used to writing stories where it happens toward the end that I'd have to really, really think how to do it otherwise.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

Thanks, Leslie :-)

Kath, Emotions are what its all about *g* Granted, sex between characters doesn't HAVE to elicit emotions... but if it doesn't, we're not writing romance, are we? You rock the tension in your Intrigues while keeping the reader connected - I love how you do that :-)

Donna, there is a lot to be said for waiting!

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

Hi Joan :-) Waiting is definitely a GREAT way to intensify the conflict! But some of us just can't wait *g* In those cases, I think the most important thing to do is make sure the tension stays high and the decision to give in to sex raises the stakes (ahem).

Terri, I'm cringing. Manipulation of any kind tends to bug me, so that kind of book would usually be bouncing off my walls :-) and LOL about that being our job! No kidding, it sounds like the author didn't quite pull off the role reversal, huh?

Janice - hey babe :-) Thank you.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

Hi Mo and thanks :-) I'll have to check out Janet's book! I love recommendatins.

Hi Beth! Thanks for the sweet words ;-) And I think you're right as for early/later encounters - its really the preference of the characters that makes the difference, and of course if we as the writers are willing to let them have their way *g*

Trish, you know, in my ST's the sex doesn't happen as early on. Partially because I have a great deal more time and pages to build out the tension, and because the external conflict is usually bigger. The sex will still add to and intensify the conflict, but unlike in Blaze where its a shorter story and the line promise is all about the hot sex, it can become more of a turning point than an integral layer of the conflict.

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Great post, Tawny!

I do think it is a real challenge to keep sexual tension and conflict high after the first love scene. I'm sure that's why so many authors make the characters (and us readers) wait til near the end.

Unfortunately, my characters are not always cooperative about waiting. That's when I have to torture 'em... MUAHAHAHAHA! ;-)

AC

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Well written sexual tension can have the reader as frustrated as the hero and heroine!

In Lost in Love, Marcus doesn't realize it but he uses sex to express how he feels about Addy. Actually he doesn't KNOW how he feels so every time he feels some strong emotion about her it comes out as sex. He also uses it to avoid confrontation and discussion. The thing is Addy KNOWS that is what he is doing. She just can't figure out why. Other than the fact that he is a man and men tend to use sex as a catchall apology, explanation, form of expression, etc.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Tawny said...

AC, you're right - it can be difficult to keep the tension high after relieving it *g* I think thats why, if the sex comes early, it definitely needs to cause conflict for the characters :-)

Doglady, GREAT example of sex and the hero's internal conflict -- and how it keeps the tension rising between the characters. And LOL on it being a catchall solution for guys.

 
At 11:26 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Tawny, I've used sex in the first chapter in three of my books. I obviously am interested in the sex first; relationship later concept.

What I've noticed in my reading lately is that I skim the love scene, because it doesn't further the story--no conflict either.

Thanks for guest blogging for us!

 
At 1:09 AM, Blogger Tawny said...

Diana, I skim them too :-) Well, let me clarify that - if the love scene doesn't further the plot, engage the conflict or intensify the characters emotional connection, I flip the pages.

And sex in the first chapter would definitely further, engage and intensify if you ask me :-D

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Dang it, I meant to comment on the day, but had all kinda mailing stuff to do.

Great blog, Tawny. Gave me a lot to think about. I like the idea of conflict generated through sexual hang-ups.

 

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