Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ten stages of Intimacy...creating sexual/emotional tension

Often writers get rejections that say in essence not enough emotional tension.

So what is strange creature "Emotional Tension"  It is the No 1 essential ingredient. It's what hooks your readers...and keeps them turning the page.  In equates to sexual tension.
So how do you create it?
The first thing a writer should do, and this applies to most books, is familiarise yourself with  the ten stages of intimacy.  There are many definitions with varying degrees of emphasis as to the physical implications. Here is a simplified version I use as a rough guide...according to the plot of my book.

  1. Eye contact --the first meeting where strangers look at each other
  2. Deeper eye contact---the soulful looks poets talk about
  3. Hand touches hand---contact usually light but lingering
  4. Hand to shoulder --- This is within socially acceptable boundaries. Up until this point either side can withdraw without loss of face.
  5. Arm circles waist ---this signifies a greater degree of intimacy, both given and accepted. Once it is accepted things progress at a rapid pace.
  6. Mouth touches mouth ---Once a kiss is exchanged, chemical information is passed from partner to partner. Kissing adds more senses to the intimacy mix. Smell, Taste and body temperature.
  7. Hand caresses head. Women tend to reach for the head before men. Hand caressing head indicates increasing trust...heads are vulnerable. And touching is something we share only with people we feel comfortable being around.
  8. Hand to body. Either through clothes or exploring under them. Often happens with eyes closed so participants can concentrate more on heat and smell. Maintaining eyes contact is even more powerful.
  9. Mouth to body---when this stage is reached both parties have demonstrated trust in each other and sexual intercourse is a likely outcome---given the right circumstances.
  10. Hand to genitals and genital to genital. This is the final and most potent stage of intimacy. And when it is reached each party should, in an ideal world, completely trust each other.

A writer should never labour these points but if you have them in the back of your mind you can up the emotional tension in your book by incorporating these stages. Your readers may not know them, but they will very quickly sense something is off between your characters if you skip them.

When a critique partner pointed out that it was too soon for my hero to touch my heroine...I went back to this list and sure enough, I had skipped several vital stages.

One last comment, Sexual or Emotional tension is not about a guy or a gal, having sexual's about building the tension between your characters by developing a growing sense of intimacy. This grows out of increased intimacy...not racy thoughts.

If you harbour doubts about the veracity of this, sit in a cafe  and watch customers interact. Watch how they look at each other, holding hands, a man with his hand on a woman's back...those stages are all there.

Conversely watch two people quarrelling...their body language is very revealing. 

And skipping steps can add a huge friction  between your characters. By having a good understanding of these steps a writer can utilise them to her advantage to up the tempo in both good and bad ways between her characters.  We've all seen the peeved heroine in a movie turns her head aside to prevent the hero kissing her...she's exercising her displeasure a his expectation of intimacy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Critique Partners-----the value of fresh eyes.

It is always a thrill when I get a chapter returned by my critique partners. 
As I scroll through and see their comments...I find myself saying out loud, 'Now why didn't I see that?'  or 'Of course she's right. It's too soon for my hero and heroine to touch.'

Yesterday I was returning the favour----and having some-one knowledgeable critique your work is a huge favour----I was picking up on so many things---quite often little things that would make my partner's already interesting story sing. 

But one mistake I see repeated over and over, both in my partners' writing and in contests I've helped judge is writers mistaking sexual thoughts for sexual tension when they are very different aspects.  
Sexual tension is where the vibes between characters almost leaps off the page and can be triggered by the smallest a knuckle grazing down a cheek or the touch of a hand on hair. 
A guy having lascivious thoughts page after page doesn't equate to the sexual tension an editor expects from a romance. It is a fine line to draw---but when a writer strikes the right balance it guarantees the reader a great read.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Self editing of any work is the most painstaking exercise. It takes a very keen eye to see every detail in a work so familiar, you can almost recite it in your sleep.

As my dear friend Sandra Hyatt commented "An author works on a manuscript until she hates it, so readers will love it."   So very apt. (Very loud sigh)  So how do you catch the errors and  typos that inevitably creep into any written work that you, as the author, are so familiar with you do not see the mistakes?

In a recent blog I read changing the font and text makes mistakes much easier to spot so I tried the text and font below:
Beyond the open window, the roll and snarl of the ocean added to the tension in the shabby farmhouse kitchen.  Brother and sister faced each other across the scarred kitchen table. 
And I'm amazed how much easier the errors are to pick up. But, even after doing this, mistakes creep in...leaving me tearing my hair out. 
Now I have found the answer. A critique partner who teaches English.... And after receiving back my first chapter with errors highlighted, I am quite literally, in seventh heaven. Anything that, as a reader, jars with her is highlighted. Commas magically appear in the right places... and odd grammatical errors are corrected.
I am hopeful the combination will solve what has been a recurring dilemma for me. And by carefully studying what the English teacher points out, I sincerely hope my grammar and punctuation will improve.  

And this time around English grammar will be assiduously studied. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Death of a Much Loved Sister

There are times when life becomes overwhelming. Received the sad news that my sister Pat has lost her battle with cancer. The hardest part is that she and her entire family live in Australia and although I've been over to visit her twice in the past year and had many many phone conversations the distance and logistics creates  difficulties. Times like this you need physical contact. All my other siblings are here in New Zealand and three of us, who live in the same town, sat and mourned together last night.

Pat's favourite flowers are roses and irises and I went out into my garden and picked a bowl of bearded irises and brought them inside.

My dearest memory...when I visited her last and couldn't sleep we spent half the night sharing her double bed holding hands and talking. She recounted the memory when I was a baby in hospital with pneumonia, before antibiotics. My dad visited me and found me cold, wet and crying in the cot. Horrified by the neglect, he put me under his great coat and brought me home so mum could  care for me properly.  When he got home he opened his coat and the whole family laughed and cried at the surprise he brought them.
I don't remember, but each of my older sisters have shared this memory with me so it must be true.

Sleep well Pat, and may you enjoy the flowers in God's Garden. We will miss you.
The petals of life may softly fall but gently God stoops and gathers them all.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Revisions and American spelling and grammar.

Yesterday was a red letter day for me----all because of a rejection.

After a slew of rejections, a much more positive response.  An editor really liked my characters, like my plot and thought my writing showed great promise ---- and only other writers will get the huge boost of confidence such words bring.

She asked me to revise my manuscript and resubmit it to her ---- then went the extra mile going through the first few pages and showing me what she required.  She suggested I tone down the emotion....and then showed me how many words I'd used that intimated anger---and I freely admit to being surprised.  

But other mistakes present more difficulty... you see, as a New Zealander, I think and write in English grammar and spelling and not American spelling and grammar.

And the differences range from subtle to huge.  

Take the humble ? In English it is followed by a capital letter.  "You don't say?" She asked. (English) As opposed to,  "You don't say?" she asked. (American)
 Then there are the ou words. Colour, labour, foetus etc and the ise words... realise, recognise, fantasise and all the ll  words...towelling, appalling, modelling etc.  And these are only a very few of the differences between the two forms of English.  Neither is wrong they are just different.

To combat this I have begun work in American English when submitting to American publishers but revert to English spelling and grammar when submitting to English Publishers.

And you thought English a universal language.  Dream on!
The language differences make life more difficult for English grammar writers submitting to American markets.  And unfortunately I find it easy to get confused.

Ah well them's the breaks.  (NZ colloquialism )

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Misty Provencher...Nothing Cannot Happen Today

Misty is the author of Cornerstone an intriguing novel that has me wondering where the story is going.  She lost her agent and decided to publish her novel on her blog, a chapter a week.

It is an intriguing tale of an ordinary girl who is leading an extraordinary life. Nalena lives with her mother, a compulsive hoarder of paper.  They live in a house where reams of paper form towers that fill every room. The bath and the disconnected stove become repositories for paper each sheet filled with one sentence novels.

Nalena is sure her mother is insane.... and who can blame her.... and struggles to believe her mother's explanation.  I can't wait for the next episode....

This is a novel that should have found a publisher but when Misty lost her agent she decided to publish it for free on her blog and judging by her fan base it has been a popular decision.

Her decision is a courageous one and, as a fellow author who has been battling rejections for far too long, I can sympathise with Misty and I applaud her for her decision....and wish her well with her future as an author.
This is the link for her novel.

Cornerstone-- Nothing Cannot Happen Today

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today is the start of National Novel Writing month and I signed up...but rather than start a whole new novel I decided to pull out one I have half finished and make a bird on getting that one done.

So far it's working.

Day one: 2245 words and I'll map out scenes for my next chapter later.
Day two:    550 words. Not so much today...the lure of spring and the garden

Unfortunately the novel  isn't going to happen this year as I have to fly to Australia for my sister's funeral.