Sex on the Page: Foreplay

Have you read Carol’s post on foreplay yet? Go read, I’ll wait…

Back? Great. What I found interesting about Carol’s take on things is the context of foreplay in her stories. Just as in all stories, it’s a subtle form of characterization and tension, but for her in particular, it has a historical context as well, in that she’s writing in a different era, where things just weren’t nearly so bold and in the open as they are now. I’m reading God’s Thunderbolt (her first novel) now, and I can tell you that while the interactions are very subtle, they also serve the purpose nicely and fit well within the time period.

As a side note, If you’ve never read a western, I really do encourage you to try them. It’s a genre like no other, and very romantic even when it doesn’t intend to be, simply due to the codes and moralities of the day.  Carol is an amazing writer that I’d highly recommend, and my favorite western writer back when I was binging in the genre as a teen was the absolutely wonderful Zane Grey (Twin Sombreros is my favorite).

So, coming back to my contemporary world and using a broad definition, foreplay is the main “glue” that holds and builds the conflict between characters in a romance novel. It’s not just a plot device, but I’d argue the main device for carrying the relationship between two characters forward. Everything is foreplay in a romance novel, from the time the heroine meets her would-be hero to the time they finally get together (they have to, after all – in a romance, there’s no chance the relationship won’t work in the end). Without some sort of emotional reaction to the other character, there simply is no spark, no chemistry…and no romance. While sex itself isn’t required for a romance novel, I’d argue that there can be no romance in fiction without foreplay.

I think foreplay *can* be graphic, but hardly ever is. More often it’s subtle, and doesn’t need to involve touching at all. A look, a smell, a few words – anything that gets the blood pumping and that chemistry going can be considered foreplay in my world. It’s the slow build that keeps the tension tight between characters and pulls them toward their inevitable joining (be that closed door sex, marriage implying sex later or full on graphic sex). It’s the *hope* of sex that creates that oh-so-addictive tension.

I do think foreplay is different for men and women, because of how differently the genders are wired to prepare for sex. Women are mental (ha!) – so foreplay is more of an emotional experience. Men are more visual creatures, and for them, foreplay is more of a physical thing – a look, a touch (though most men aren’t all that picky, as we well know, right?). A woman is still going to get turned on by a man’s brawn while he’s opening a jar, but it’s the emotional impact of him doing something to help her that has more instinctive meaning as foreplay. For a guy, a touch on the arm or direct eye contact is probably going to have more impact than the thank you for opening the jar (though not by much). I’d say overall, men are far more easily affected than women in this regard, because for them, anything that gets them closer to a physical joining is more than welcome (it’s instinctual, not a bad thing).

I don’t always remember to pay attention to the gender differences in my writing, though I do try. But I think a lot of the secret to keeping the tension tight between characters is to use foreplay as much as possible. Even if the characters aren’t touching (or speaking), there has to be that hope that eventually they will throughout the story. Otherwise, there’s just no point, and the relationship between the characters will be flat and unsatisfying.

How big a part does foreplay take in your writing, or in your genre? Do you use it only in certain scenes, or try to run it through the entire book? Do you pay attention to the different ways men and women react to foreplay?

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5 comments on “Sex on the Page: Foreplay

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    I think I have more fun writing the foreplay than the sex. That first touch, the first deep moment of eye contact, the first kiss…::sigh::

  2. India Drummond

    I agree that foreplay is integral to any romance, and if you use it well, it really helps build tension. By the time the characters have their first kiss, the reader should be begging for it. =)

  3. Carol Buchanan

    What a super post, Jamie! You’ve articulated so well the subtlety in fictional foreplay, that it’s present from the moment two characters meet.

    One thing I’m curious about, which you might address in another blog post, if you haven’t already, is this question: How do romance novelists build suspense when the form of a romance novel mandates the outcome? Where the outcome is not required, sexual tension leads to the question, Will they or won’t they? That can add significantly to the suspense.

    You’ve done a great job, too, in reminding us all of the differences between men and women and how we react to each other.

    Thank you, too, for your generous praise for my writing. (Blush!) While I was writing God’s Thunderbolt, I thought of the attraction between Dan and Martha as an antidote to the grim events surrounding their lives. Judging from the remarks by various readers — both men and women — it seems to have worked.

    Now I have to get a copy of Twin Sombreros and read it!

  4. Medeia Sharif

    I write YA and I only write it it in certain scenes.

    But it’s sure fun to read.

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