Turn Off the Fluorescent Lights!

posted in: The Muse, Writing Life | 2

This post touches on writer’s craft and has some spoilers.

 

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Writing should be like Chinese brush painting.

I used to write love scenes like fluorescent lighting: I revealed everything. Like a sportscaster giving the play-by-play, I accounted for every breath, every moan, every facial expression, every body part.

Then, I stopped doing that.

Call me a prude, but knowing exactly what was going on in every love scene really turned me off. In Chinese ink painting, the concept of negative space is just as important to the composition as the dark strokes of ink on the paper. The idea is to capture the essence of the thing in as few brushstrokes as possible.

Now, I try to do the same thing with my words that Chinese painters do with their brushes: I try to build emotion and sensuousness by not only carefully choosing words, but by choosing to not use words. I say things simply. I use fewer adjectives and name fewer body parts. I write the essence of the love scene and not the play-by-play.

For example, one love scene that I wrote in my book, The Muse, was described entirely through the Elizabeth’s drunken flashback. She barely remembers her night of passion, so the love scene is fragmented, told only in blurry snapshots. Here’s an excerpt:

She could only recall the night in flashes—like photographs in a slide show:

Banging her knee against an iron bistro chair as they scurried, mid-kiss, back into the bedroom… The touch of his fingertips as they brushed against the nape of her neck… The feel of his abdomen under her fingers, ridged yet soft when she’d peeled off his shirt.

Also, in the climax of my story, when Elizabeth and Darcy have finally settled their differences, worked out their misunderstandings, confessed their feelings towards each other, and come together for their first real kiss, this is what I write:

William drew her close and kissed her. They came up for air some time later, wild-eyed and flushed.

By not describing the softness or wetness or slowness or deepness of the kiss, I might be disappointing some readers, who have been waiting the entire book for this moment. But, actually, this kiss leaves room for imagination. It’s coy. It continues to entice and titillate, even as it relieves tension.

Am I suggesting you cut out entire love scenes? Am I suggesting that we stop describing sex or kisses or longing looks? No. But your writing doesn’t need to be weighed down with endless description of who’s doing what to whom and where they’re doing it. That actually slows the pace and, to me, is less satisfying. Sometimes, writing less makes the reader use her imagination more.

Fluorescent lights show everything. They’re unsexy. Now, I write like candlelight, painting my love scenes with a gentler, less revealing light.

2 Responses

  1. zorylee

    Artistic rendering always wins the day in my book. I also like the point you make about the pace. I’ve read some books where you are traveling down an exciting path with so much going on in a chapter when suddenly you hit a wall of molasses with a whole chapter spent to describe a one hour event that isn’t necessarily pivotal or action packed.

    • jessica

      Yes, that, too! Sometimes the reader doesn’t need to know every single detail. But pacing is a tricky thing, and something I’m still working on. What details do readers want? What don’t they care about? When I’m reading a book, sometimes knowing too much of a character’s back story annoys me. Sometimes, it makes me feel more connected to the story.

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