Happy Tuesday! Today is publication day for To Catch a Witch! I know that’s got nothing to do with the A to Z Challenge, but I couldn’t not mention it, could I? I also must give a shout out to Jill’s Book Cafe Blog. Jill has published a fabulous piece on the book and its connection to Knaresborough. She’s done it all by herself, because I didn’t even know she was going to do it! This is what I mean by writers and bloggers and the writing community being so generous and supportive. I was really touched by it, and she’s done a great job. You can read her post here.
Anyway, back to business, and I’ve reached the letter X, and as you can probably imagine, that caused me some problems. I mean, what on earth do you talk about that begins with the letter X? I thought about telling you how x-citing being an indie author could be, how x-hilarating it feels to hold your published book in your hand at last, though how x-hausting getting to that point could make you, but then I thought, nah. Let’s not mess around. I’m gonna go for it. I shall pull out the big guns. So here I am today – me of all people – talking about shenanigans. Because X is for:
So, a bit of a tricky one, as you can imagine. Swearing, sex and shenanigans. Well, tricky for some of us, anyway. How much swearing and/or sex (if any) should you include in your book? I’ll admit that I struggle with the thought of writing sex scenes. I get embarrassed just reading them in other people’s books! Even the ones which are done really well. I always look over my shoulder to see if I’m being judged. 🙂
When I first started out, I was under the misapprehension that sex scenes were more-or-less compulsory in romance novels. This caused me great angst. I was terrified at the thought of making my characters get up to naughties. I mean, if they wanted to get up to naughties (and seeing how much in love they were I would be quite appalled if they didn’t) did they really have to invite me along? Couldn’t they just shut the bedroom door and leave me out of it?
I remember, while writing There Must Be an Angel, getting a bit tipsy and putting on some YouTube videos of love scenes from movies, featuring a certain actor that I fancied like mad. That helped me a bit. Or a lot, actually. I managed to write a sort-of sex scene and hurried on to safer territory. With A Kiss from a Rose I played it for laughs. Not that it was a deliberate choice to do so. It just fitted Rose’s character, and I viewed the whole scene through her thoughts with the result that it turned out funny, rather than sexy. I was happy with that. With the third in the Kearton Bay trilogy, I managed to avoid the complete act. There was a scene or two but … anyway, I’ll say no more in case you haven’t read it.
Anyway, once I started writing other novels, I decided that I wasn’t going to feel pressured about writing sex scenes any longer. I tend nowadays to leave the bedroom door firmly shut and let them get on with it in private. That’s not to say every writer should do the same. Some writers are absolutely brilliant at that sort of thing, and good for them. I wish I could say it was a gift I possessed, but I don’t. It’s just not my thing, and that’s fine, too.
As for swearing … I let my characters guide me on that one. It really is that simple. For example, some characters, such as Harry in the Kearton Bay novels or Honey in the Skimmerdale books, will happily drop the F word and think nothing of it. On the other hand, someone like Eliot in the Skimmerdale books swears mildly, in a rough, earthy manner, and he certainly doesn’t say any of the “serious” curse words. My sisters in the Witches of Castle Clair books don’t swear at all. It wasn’t a deliberate decision. They just don’t speak that way. My heroes tend not to swear either (apart from the odd “bloody” or similar from Eliot).
The exception to this is Ethan Rochester in Resisting Mr Rochester. My editor thought he was just too perfect, and needed a flaw. She suggested smoking, but I couldn’t bring myself to make him a smoker, so I made him a swearer instead. In times of stress (and he has a very stressful job) I gave him free rein with the language, although I didn’t actually write most of it out, I simply had my heroine remark on it. Part of the storyline is that he’s desperately trying to give it up and has to put money in a swear box every time he fails.
So you see, some characters swear, some curse a bit, some never swear at all. I don’t start a story knowing which way they’ll go, but the characters soon let me know, one way or the other. You just have to go with them. Of course, sometimes you have to make that decision for them because of the market you’re aiming at. There is no bad language or sex in my Bramblewick books. That’s because I created the series with The People’s Friend pocket novel market very much in mind, and those sort of books wouldn’t have been acceptable to those readers. Several readers have commented that they’re delighted to find such “clean” books, which is lovely. Then again, it always makes me worry that they’ll move onto my romcoms and discover they’re not all quite as sweet as the Bramblewick books. I’d hate to upset them!
It works both ways, too, as anyone who enjoys my (slightly) earthier romcoms may find the Bramblewick books too tame. All I can do is try to market the books appropriately. It doesn’t always work, though. I have a friend who writes uplifting women’s fiction, too, and there is absolutely nothing in her book covers or titles to suggest they’re “saucy” in any way, yet she got a very strange review for one of them, complaining that there wasn’t enough sex in it. Where did they get the idea there would be?
If I was the sort of writer (or person) who could write a good sex scene with no inhibitions, I’d happily go for it. I love those bonkbusters of Jilly Cooper, Jo Carnegie, Fiona Walker etc, and they feature plenty of – well – bonking, and also some fairly graphic swearing. Sadly, it’s just not me.
When it comes to deciding how much X-rated stuff to include in your stories, you just have to be guided by your characters, your story and your market – and your own level of comfort.
And that’s all I have for today. I could pad it out with a few meaningless paragraphs on how important xylophones are to a writer’s mental health, but I think you’d see right through that little trick, wouldn’t you? So I’ll say goodbye for today and I’ll catch you tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at you …