Shutting the bedroom door. A euphemism in itself, it means that Nasty Sex Stuff is about to take place offstage in a book and the reader is shut out of the fun.
But not necessarily. As someone who has received the dubious honor of being accused of having both not enough sex in her books or too much (sometimes in reference to the same book) I consider myself something of an expert on when and how to shut the door. But I’m not convinced the door is ever truly shut.
So why end a chapter or section on a hook where it’s obvious what’s going to happen and then not follow through? It’s all to do with rhythm and pacing. I’m not a subscriber to the bang-bang-bang (literally?) school of writing—the theory that you have to establish and maintain a fast pace throughout the book. In very simplistic terms, it’s the difference between listening to disco and classical. You need a variety of shading and tempos; you need fast-paced excitement, slow reflection, and all points between.
It’s also about the relationship you’ve established with the reader. Have you hooked them? Is the reader willing to follow along, to be led where you want them to go; that your style and story have established trust with the reader. If you decide to leave something implied but not stated, the reader should trust you enough at that point to keep going, to imagine for herself what happens at that point. Even though it’s a romance and the love scenes are crucial to the genre, trust your reader enough to vary the amount of detail you apply to each one.
And trust your reader enough to let her enter the bedroom without you, if she wishes. That door never really closes, does it?
Here’s an excerpt from Improper Relations, which a reader told me was one of the sexiest things she’d ever read. She said it was the oyster that sealed the deal.
“Is this usual in marriage? Is everyone like this?”
He kisses me as if to stop my mouth. I am learning his kisses, their variety and hidden messages.
“I hope so,” he says as we come to the top of the stairs and he kicks the bedchamber door open.
Briefly, before I forget everything but Shad, I remember that soon Ann and I shall have the opportunity to compare husbands.
The next morning I am none too pleased to find that Shad has left early to breakfast with Beresford, for he and his lady came back to town late the night before. It’s raining—it has rained most of the night. During one of Shad’s half-hour regenerations (and that one was indeed half an hour for we had indulged ourselves mightily) we lay quietly and listened to the hiss of falling rain from the warm nest of the curtained bed. Beneath my cheek, my face pillowed on his chest, I heard the beat of his heart.
“Milady, the Countess of Beresford is downstairs,” the unpleasant Withers announces just as I’m wrapping myself up in the bedclothes to sleep some more.
“At this hour?”
She sniffs in reply and picks an oyster shell from the coverlet.
A reminder–The Malorie Phoenix is 99 cents for Nook and Kindle!
Janet! I love this post!! No one leaves it at the bedroom door as cleverly as you. Your Little Black Dress books, to me, are among the best of the best Regencies, sex or no sex. The cool innuendos work far better than the deep, hot stuff; at least, in these novels, they do.
Since you used Improper Relations as an example in this post, I just had to share part of my absolute favorite scene–and it so fits with the theme here:
‘Where is it?’
‘Where do you think?’ I clutch at the sheet.
‘On your prick?’
‘Who taught you that word?’ I try to sound shocked.
‘You did, sir.’
So I did. ‘It’s indecent. Allow me.’
Hands down, one of my favorite books on The Keeper Shelf. Thanks, Janet! 🙂
Ha! Thanks, Alyssia!
Not long ago I talked about this issue, saying I was disappointed in books that shut the door. But thinking about it more, I believe you are right, that the answer to whether the lovemaking should be shown is a big “it depends”.
The stories I referred to are ones where, for whatever reason, I feel I’m missing some emotional development that’s happening in somewhere in the asterisks. But likewise I’ve read books where there is never a fadeout, even though the lovemaking is just more of the previous and not some sort of turning point.
Elena, you know who also does this well? Kristan Higgins. Her contemporary romances take it to the bedroom door, then move to the next scene. Yet, she has lovely emotional development.
Very good points.
I am a fan of the “less is more” side of the debate. Many sex scenes are just that, sex and nothing more. There is no growth, no development, no reason for it, and after several pages, enough already. Most of us have a pretty good idea what is happening behind those closed doors and the imagination is often better than reading “the real thing.” I agree that if there is emotional development or a big revelation that is going on behind those doors, we should be allowed a peek.
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