What purpose does the bedroom door serve nowadays?
Since ditching the safety mitts and tackling D.H. Lawrence’s self-published legend Lady Chatterley’s Lover recently – not to mention dipping my writerly prudish toe into Mills & Boon waters – I’m sensing the issue of bedroom door shenanigans looming in my writing at some point. Yes, I can mash up another historical author’s work and make a parody of it. I can even make a mutant man-alien suspect squirm in the interrogation room of a sci-fi police procedural comedy feature script.
But leaving that fictional bedroom door open while keeping a straight face somehow escapes me. Or maybe, the point of it somehow escapes me. Unless it has something specific to do with furthering the plot or character development, to my brain, it’s somehow gotten filed in the same place as ambulance-chasing to sell a story.
Like D.H. Lawrence’s characters wonder, would you describe the joys of going into detail about toilet scenes? Do they have a place in the great literary novel/pulp romance? I’m sure that some have gone there. And gone again, with extra lavatory paper (to make notes about the experience).
Firstly, the subject of story. I recently got into a lovely writer’s discussion about such a scene being used to illustrate a traumatic event in a book for young adults, which concerned her as to its suitability for the readership, and was evidently giving her issues about comfort-zone in her own writing. In terms of the story itself, she realised of her own conclusion – after a number of us gave feedback – that the traumatic event could also be a fight or beating, not a sexual assault scene. In terms of her story progress, an alternative situation served the same purpose, for the long-term effect on the character that she wanted to share.
Secondly, sex scenes don’t necessarily illustrate automatic progress of a relationship between two characters. In the original Lady Chatterley, her initial affair with the playwright Michaelis shows that the sex a character experiences can be a downright let-down, not even lasting long enough to satisfy her need to be held for any length of time. She wants to feel that the connection between them is romantic – and he does indeed want her to leave Clifford and marry him – but he’s so one-sided in the bedroom, she seems to know it would be equally doomed. The sex in this case is driving them apart from the beginning, not together – something which really hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream dissection of the work. Mostly because Michaelis isn’t the primary ‘hero’ of the piece.
So if you wonder whether on your route to publication (or increasing fame) as an author, when the question comes up about whether your frequency of squeaky bedsprings (or Ford Focus suspension) is gratuitous or not, perhaps “relationship development” between two characters isn’t a substantial enough answer. Now authors are expected to face dissection on all angles and metaphors in their work, an ulterior motive is going to stick out a mile (what’s that in inches again?) so sex scenes for the sake of bigger sales are going to be leaking financial euphemisms all over the proof-reading sheets.
“He was sweating like a bank-robber with that stocking over his head.” Yum.
Anyway, before I make a new book out of that one (ahem) I’m a bedroom-door-closed writer when it comes to writing straight romance. Stop laughing, I really am. Want to know why? I just don’t feel qualified. Lots of readers in the world have experienced relationships, and I haven’t yet. So besides having the sophistication of a South Park eighth-grader which only works in comedy and parody, I’m not going to convince anyone of the quality and authenticity of such scenes in my writing if I don’t convince myself first.
There’s a lot you can use to show character and relationship development, between your characters. I don’t mean that they just go for coffee and look at puppies together to show romantic progress, in between visits to bedsprings and Ford Focus. In Harlequin/Mills & Boon, it’s about conflict and resolution acting as a binder, which works if your characters are attracted to each other physically. Overcoming a lack of physical attraction, or repulsion initially, is a bit more difficult to justify as a character arc, and hints at a metaphor for prejudice. Besides, it’s been done already – in Beauty And The Beast. Self-repulsion within a character is an interesting one – since The Elephant Man (a true story), overcoming any issues, romantic or otherwise, about one’s own manifestation in the world are a much more interesting angle, particularly if both partners in the story suffer. Otherwise it becomes one character’s ‘poor me’ tale of woe, with the other providing all the support and enablement.
When I wrote Death & The City I gave both protagonists issues, and strong views about relationships, and their relationship development wrote itself, having made both of them so complicated. Do they sleep together by the end? I’m not telling. You’ll have to read it to find out.
But there is help out there, for those of you who want that bedroom door unbolted, to start it flapping like Jack Sparrow’s Jolly Roger. Bestseller Shoshanna Evers has edited How To Write Hot Sex, an ebook guide for authors, written by authors, including references and slang dictionaries within relevant chapters, so you don’t spend red-faced hours on Google looking for trustworthy definitions of the terminology in use. There is a lot of emphasis by these authors on story, and on character arcs, and on whether stereotypes are a good idea or not – particularly when writing for target markets. I do recommend it for anyone considering taking their bedroom door off its hinges when writing. Or parking that Ford Focus anywhere with good CCTV coverage.
Most of all, enjoy your story and characters for who they are, and keep that safety lid on your fountain pen. Sticky keyboards aren’t the best writing tools. Or you might have your own eye out.