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Choosing a Shade of Grey

My muse came to life on a summer day a few years ago. She smacked me upside the head and said, “Get to work.” I grabbed a pencil and a scrap of paper (I wasn’t at home) and dived into writing the novel that had been living inside my head for years.

East of Eden Steinbeck

The first draft flowed from my head to my fingers to the keyboard (As soon as I got home, I ditched the scrap paper.) until I came to the first sex scene. In a novel about marriage and infidelity in today’s culture, sex is going to happen. I just needed to write it.

In the early drafts, a sex scene went like this:

They spent another passionate night together.

Seriously. And that was one of the racier scenes.

I asked a few people to read the completed manuscript, including a marriage counselor. I just hoped they wouldn’t be offended by all the sex. I needn’t have worried. The marriage counselor told me the sex scenes were too vague. As for the women who read it, none of them mentioned sex in their feedback. They were probably too embarrassed to bring it up. I asked them if they thought there was too much sex. And they responded, “What sex?”

I mulled on this for awhile, but my muse got tired of waiting and spelled it out for me. When I wrote those scenes, they were playing out in my mind. So the words they were intimate or they spent a passionate night together, brought to my mind some graphic images. For the reader, those words evoked NOTHING. That was an invaluable writing lesson.

Grey, shades, color,

The secret to sex scenes was to choose the shade of grey needed to convey the image in my head to the reader without crossing the invisible, arbitrary line of TMI (Too much information). I needed to choose a shade of grey between one and fifty, one being light grey and fifty being dark slate Christian grey.

So, I rewrote the sex scenes using plain vanilla grey.

They kissed with desperate excitement, removing each other’s clothing in an eager frenzy. His lips moved over her body…

Not much better than the first. Why? Because writing these damn scenes was HARD. It was easier for me to bare my soul in my writing, than to bare my characters physically.

I tried again, taking a page from Victoria Holt and Harlequin romance novels. This shade was Silver Moonstone Purple Prose grey. My muse refuses to take credit for this version. And I can’t bring myself to share an entire passage. But here is a sample so you can get the general, painful idea:

…nothing she imagined could have prepared her for that night,  unbelievable pleasure, engulfed her,  rapture,  heady passion, fire welled up, consume her…

Romance Novels

Time to choose another shade of grey. I drank a glass of wine, closed my eyes and wrote what I saw in my mind while trying to walk the tightrope of what would be acceptable for the genre and audience. My muse patted me on the back when I’d finished and said, “You’re going to need another glass of wine because I have a great idea…”

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10 comments on “Choosing a Shade of Grey

  1. Thanks for the early morning chuckle! And that is why I think of my novels as “young adult” so I don’t have to go down that path…

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  2. LOL! Years ago, a friend of mine worked as a junior editor for Harlequin. She sent me a bunch of books and submission guidelines with a note saying, “If anyone can write one of these, you can.” Boy, was she wrong! I can’t write when I’m blushing crimson!

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  3. That’s why I had to drink the wine 😉

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  4. One of the great mysteries of life is why God created male and female with such powerful yet different erotic/romantic drives. The subtle mix of physical, emotional and spiritual ingredients that combine to create ‘good sex’ for both partners is almost impossible to define and consequently difficult for each partner to fully understand in their desire to please the other. I think that you may have done a pretty good job of describing it from a female perspective.

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  5. Dawne, this is so interesting. I had a few sex scenes in my second book–the historical fiction novel. And I had the opposite problem. My scenes were too graphic. I had to edit them to leave more to the readers’ imaginations. Now, by nature, I’m a pretty shy and reserved person. My muse went all kinky on me! So, if you ever need help spicing up a love scene, I’m your gal! 😉

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  6. Thanks, Lorna. I should have known to call your muse.

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  7. Great post – started my morning with a laugh! I’ve been there. I love how your voice comes through in these posts – definitely makes me want to read your novels!

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