One of the best perks of RWA is the writing classes. I take at least one a month, sometimes two. I learn something new in each one and occasionally, I take a class expecting a new perspective but get a whole basket full of wow.
This month I took Susan Meier‘s September NEORWA class: Writing a Great Romance Without Sex. I got a basketful of WOW! I am not sure what I was expecting but when I signed up for the class, I had sex on my mind. I was wondering if I was killing my mystery by trying to force it to unwillingly become a romance suspense. I was also wondering, if I was missing something when I even thought of the genre ‘romance’. After listening to several presentations in Atlanta and having agents and editors, interrupt my pitch by demanding exactly where and when the sex happens in my book. More importantly, they wanted to know how steamy was this sex?
I felt exactly the same way I do when someone calls and asks if they woke me. Whether it’s 6 am and I’m sleeping in or a 3 pm nap, I always blurt out “No! Me sleeping? No, of course not.” For some reason, it’s second nature to reassure the caller that I wasn’t sleeping. Of course, they aren’t waking me, nor am I sleeping the day away! –even if I have a good excuse, like insomnia or I pulled an all-nighter.
So, yes, lots of sex! bucketfuls! Oh yeah baby! It’s very steamy, like a sauna… Sex by page five? Yes, of course! There are orgasms galore! It’s like walking through a tropical forest of male members, waving their spears!
Then, I pick up my story and no, I didn’t lie, there is sex, but is it steamy enough? I felt sexually insecure and suffered from low sex-esteem.
So, when I read Susan’s first lesson and then the homework assignment:
Write out a one-paragraph description of your story that you can use as we go through this to understand how to infuse your book with edge-of-the-seat-tension without using sex!
I recalled a story I’d forgotten, which I wrote in the mid-90’s. It was a story I really loved writing, with characters I loved creating. When I finished the story, I realized that it was too gooey, which is how I described romances, a rather unfair assessment –since, I’d never read one! It was the first story I ever wrote with a Happy Ever After Ending… it had true love, a marriage proposal and I was disgusted. I dug up a copy and saw that I had scrawled in red ink across the title page: “Maybe add some fucking rainbows and unicorns?” My first reaction was to laugh and think “Oh! I liked me back then.” I sat down and read the story. I was thrilled to find I still liked it, and wondering why I was such a bitchy self-critic back then. There was no sex but it was definitely a romance.
Susan pointed out elements in my first homework assignment that I hadn’t considered. She is one of those rare teachers, who brings out the best in you without haranguing, belittling or worse, offering empty platitudes. No diatribes or bitter polemics, which can be easy –this is a garden worthy of such strong weed-killers. She is encouraging and bolsters your enthusiasm. I’ve been married twice and I’ve met people who’ve thrived through 6 decades of marriage or survived 6 marriages. It’s not all about sex and it doesn’t have to be about Shakers, Quakers or re-virgins. Their successes and failures had to do with respect, lessons learned, past pain or betrayals. You don’t lean forward in anticipation for the penetration but for the first kiss, the stumbling fearful admission of love or the down on one knee proposal.
I decided to rewrite my pure romance from scratch and to try something new. I would work out the plot, the conflicts and the outline before I started. Then, I would knock it out during November’s NaNoWriMo this year. It was a new way of thinking for me, a new way of writing. I used to be a pantser, then I became a plodding plotter, now I generally have a loose and flexible outline. But, come November I have a carefully thought out plan. I am quite eager to rewrite my sweet story. Will there be sex? Who knows but there will be tension, conflicts, internal and external past stressors and incorrect core beliefs to overcome.
And as I hoped, spending a few weeks away from my suspense romance was also a good thing. I was able to see that some of my characters needed flaws and incorrect core beliefs others needed to be more human with redeeming traits. Others needed to forgive and forget, to heal and to rage. My Sexless class also shined a new light on my WIP. So, yeah, double rainbows and frigging unicorns at my house this week! But, my unicorn looks more like a strong, pawing Black Stallion and not a prancing pink MyPony!