I’m still on the romance versus sex topic. Mostly, appropriate versus inappropriate words. If you put a couple of writers together this is bound to come up. My publisher Dean and his wife Arwen and I had one of these conversations during dinner at the Macaroni Grill. Both Dean and Arwen write and Arwen is also literature teacher – they are both articulate and well read. I expressed my issues with finding appropriate words to describe parts of the human anatomy. There are real problems for a writer in choosing the appropriate words to fit the tone you are setting and where you might wish to draw the line.
There are some words that just won’t cut it for me – not that I don’t say and use them – but they simply don’t work well in a particular scene. Don’t panic – I’m not going to supply a list here. I’ll work around it. But, the truth is, I don’t want to be in the middle of a love scene and see words that are commonly used in Penthouse, Hustler, or Maxim. Although some of those words are positively inspirational – most of the women I know aren’t fond of them. Nor do I wish to run into the proper name for a body part in the middle of a love scene – I’m not describing the body part in a romantic interlude at a doctor’s appointment.
Even worse than the pornographic language is some of the crap that I’ve run into in romance novels over the years. Just as I told everyone at the table that I refused to refer to a specific body part as “his turgid or throbbing manhood,” our waitress dropped off a loaf a bread. We’re regulars, so Sue simply held up her hands in surrender, shook her head, and went away.
The only time I think you should see the word throbbing is to describe a headache or a damaged body part such as a broken toe. And as for the word turgid – that one is a complete turnoff. If you look up the word in the dictionary, the first meaning is “pompous and boring.” The second meaning gets to the heart of the matter with, “swollen, bloated, or full.” What an awful word. While it may in some way be accurate – it is hardly romantic or even polite. In fact, it sounds like some kind of disease. If someone were to offer to expose me to his “turgid manhood,” I’d be inclined to shoot the poor, sick bastard and put him out of his misery. I wouldn’t want someone to suffer…
For female body parts, it’s just as bad. There are very few things to call the parts of a woman’s body that a man is paying attention to. How many words are there for that specific place that are not clinical or just a little too Penthouse for most of us? Here’s one that you would think would be easier – breast. But just how many times can you say breast in a love scene? I certainly can’t see myself referring to them as “her milky white mounds.” Really, mounds? Think about all the possible words you might use and you will quickly realize that none of them are romantic and most aren’t even polite. Look up most of those words in your one-million-word synonym finder and you will quickly find out just how crappy the options are. They go from clinical to humorous to horrific, but damn few of them work well in a love scene.
So, I’ll stick with certain words and try my best to make it exciting and maybe a little romantic without being too crude or clinical.
Now, I know a lot of you have some ideas, and you might even be desperate to share some of them. One of my beta readers recently referred to a particular body part in an incredibly rude and bawdy manner and truthfully – I’m still laughing. It has become a running joke for us and has made it into a book as a title for a bad porn movie. But please DO NOT post a comment to this post with your word choices – I will delete those. It’s not that I don’t want to hear them, it’s that there are actually a few polite and respectable people who read my blog. However, you should feel free to use the contact form on this site and share those word choices with me. Who knows, perhaps I can use some of them, and if nothing else, I could probably use a good laugh!
Anthony "Aige" Zywiczynski says
I’ll refrain from posting the suggestions currently being whispered into my ear, with that said, thanks for setting the mood this Saturday afternoon, I’m going to be laughing the rest of the weekend thinking about your dilemma. 🙂
The Mater says
I had a prof who once told us that the brain is the major sex organ. I really think that is a writer’s dilemma – how to keep the romance real without turning crude and turning off some of the readers. I loved the old, old movies of the ’40s and ’30s … the writers left a lot to the imagination. Maybe I’m a prude, but I think a well written scene with a certain look, a touch, can convey a helluva lot and lead the reader to draw her own picture in her mind of what does happen next. It’s a hard call to make. I do like how you’ve written your sex scenes. Sister Euphemia, on the other hand, is still getting used to all the action.