Just What She Ought

“Rosemary, your books need more sex.” So says my 76 year-old mother. Not a comment I expected, certainly, but one I’d like to address. In the industry, my genre label is “women’s fiction,” but I think of what I do as romantic comedy. Though my protagonists grow and change through the narratives, a love story serves as the, well, heart of my books. And I love writing love scenes, those anxiously awaited pages in a story that get re-read, flipped back to, or highlighted on a Kindle. For these reasons, they have to be good. More than that, they have to be convincing. The reader has to be swept along on the emotions of the couple—she has to get as weak-kneed and fluttery as the heroine, otherwise the writer has not done her job. It’s not easy to get those scenes right. And it’s even harder if you move those two people into the bedroom and then leave the door open. Which I am loath to do. I’m a big believer in the love scene fading to black, in quietly closing the door upon the couple to let them get on with it, without me reporting their every move. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a well-written sex scene myself now and then. I’m just not that comfortable writing them, and I know there is a certain readership (one that does not include my mother, obviously) that's just as uncomfortable reading them, and might prefer to use their imaginations a little—or a lot, as the case may be. My model in this is of course, Jane Austen, who, to modern readers’ great frustration, never detailed a kiss between her heroes and heroines, and in fact limited their declaration scenes to narrative rather than dialogue. This practice is maddeningly summed up in three short sentences from Emma, in the scene in which Mr. Knightly finally confesses his love. Instead of a direct answer from Emma, we get this from the narrator: “What did she say?—Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.” So Mom, and anybody else out there who’s interested, use your imagination. If you want to know what my heroine is doing behind closed doors, well, it’s just what she ought, of course—and anything else you might want to dream up for her.

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