More random musings in the aftermath of my RT convention adventures
In the romance genre, an author’s handling of sex scenes, and a novel’s overall “heat level” are among several principal axes along which readers and reviewers rate and compare books. Because of the centrality of the relationship to the narrative, in the modern romance novel, the depiction of physical, sexual intimacy, ranging along a scale of “Kisses” to “Burning” (these are the two ends of AAR’s longstanding sensuality rating scale), is one of the ways authors show readers what a couple, and the romance itself, is all about. Readers and reviewers use ratings schemes such as AAR’s to inform themselves and each other as they choose what to read.
I know I’m not alone in noticing the difference between when I was younger, and used to skim/anticipate getting to the steamy parts, and my current reading habits, which have me sometimes skimming over them. But regardless, the love scenes in a romance novel, if written well, are an integral part of the emotional journey I go on with the hero and heroine. The thing is, I’m starting to notice that I only really stop and focus on these scenes if there’s good dialogue happening while the protagonists are in bed (or in a hayloft, or a limo, or a dark hallway, or a moving carriage, or… wherever).
Which made me realize that it’s the conversations, more than anything else, that really make or break a couple for me. And that frequently the verbal intercourse is more compelling than the other kind, regardless of where the scene is set. Even in a crowd, good conversation is a powerful form of intimacy. And an author’s ability to write good dialogue, sometimes interspersed with telling gestures, is a big deal for me in terms of whether I will keep reading, especially when I’m in the relatively unfamiliar territory (to me) of, say, a contemporary motorcycle romance, or a Harlequin Presents…
What are the conversational equivalents of “Kisses” or “Burning?”
After spending much of the holiday weekend browsing around in my ginormous bag of books from RT (The 2014 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention), I started to toy with the idea of a conversation rating or taxonomy… perhaps a way to capture the overall tone and quality of a the dialogue between hero and heroine in several key scenes. Or perhaps, as with sensuality ratings, to identify where the book ranks on a scale in terms of the most intense level of conversational intimacy achieved…? It’s certainly not a perfect parallel, but I’m having fun pondering the possibilities.
Kisses = Idle Chatter? Subtle = Informational Interview? Warm = Overt Banter, or perhaps Deliberate Provocation? Hot = Heated Exchange? Burning = Massive Argument, or perhaps Intimate Confidence…? Of course it’s best when a novel levels up and among several of these — who wants to read a romance where the couple is always having conversations of the same intensity? There are also many other categories of conversation that could be added in a more nuanced metric…. some of my additional favorites are the Veiled Accusation, the Flirting via Third-Party Conversation, and of course the time-honored Epic Grovel.
Clearly, this is just a lark (as a taxonomy it’s an unstable, unsustainable structure) …. but here are some examples, expressed as excerpts from books I’ve been reading and perusing. Of course there’s a huge problem isolating a section of dialogue and trying to use it to apply a label to the book overall. A very vanilla conversation can be part of a very kinky book. So that’s why this is just for laughs. Also, I should be clear that I’m not pointing to these as all-time top romance conversations (though I really do want to do a post about some of my favorites, if I ever have time for some rereading). I have been noticing as I’m reading around in a diverse and random cross-section of recent books, some of the ways the dialogue serves to reel me in, or not, to the rest of the novel, and the journey to the HEA.
The IDLE CHATTER (“Kisses”… or… avoidance?)
Tabitha and Shy, from OWN THE WIND, by Kristen Ashley, a Chaos novel, 2013
“What’re you doin’ here?” she asked quietly.
He lifted his to-go cup. “Coffee. Best in town. Come here all the time.”
She looked at his cup then at the two coffee mugs on the table in front of her before her fingers slid through her hair and she straightened in her chair.
When Shy recovered from watching her thick, shining hair move through her fingers and he realized she wasn’t speaking, he asked, “Studying?”
Her gaze went to her books like she’d never seen them before, it came back to him and she answered, “Yeah. I’ve got two tests this week.”
“Harsh,” he muttered, though he wouldn’t know. He’d never studied for tests. The fact that somewhere in the junk in his apartment was a high school diploma was a miracle.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I need to get back to it.” (Own the Wind, p.20)
I don’t know if I’ll keep reading; I can certainly see why/how the writing sucks the reader in, but I’m wary. Seems so derivative of Sons of Anarchy that I can’t really get past it. The opening scene with Shy waking up in bed in the clubhouse with two naked women feels like an exact description of a scene from the show.
The INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW (“Subtle”… or not so much?)
Angelica and Simon, from UNDONE, by Lila DiPasqua, Fiery Tales series, 2012
“I know you don’t understand, but we must return to the convent,” she said. “Transportation there is the only assistance we require.”
Back to that. “You are correct. I don’t understand.”
“It is our home.”
Did she know how beguiling her eyes were? “Then it’s a miserable one.”
“It’s been my home for ten years.”
Mentally, he groaned. Hidden in a convent for that much of her life made her more innocent than he could comfortably accept. Though his eager cock didn’t take exception to the news, his conscience was another matter. He still had a few scraps of honor left. No matter how desirable she was, he was not going to prey on her virtue.
“Why have you been there so long?”
He watched her give careful consideration to whether or not she would answer him.
“My parents are dead,” she said at last. “I’ve been part of the orphanage in the convent ever since.”
“Orphanage? An orphanage is for children. You are not a child.” (Undone, p, 29)
I want to keep trying with this one; I like the 17th century setting and the fairytale/folklore element, and the set-up has potential for good narrative conflict, though I’m a little worried about secret identities and/or a big misunderstanding.
The DELIBERATE PROVOCATION (“Warm” … or rubbing each other the wrong way…?)
Julianne and Patrick, from Moonlight on My Mind by Jennifer McQuiston, Avon, 2014
“You are the new Earl of Haversham, Patrick,” she told him. “And because of that, you must return now.”
His mouth opened. Closed. Opened again. “Do not call me that,” he all but growled.
“Which? Patrick? Or Haversham?”
“Then what should I call you? Channing no longer fits. You can deny it, you can hate me, but it will not make it any less true.”
* * *
“You had the means to lock the door and yet did not. Do you always abandon yourself to fate without thinking?”
She tilted her chin upward, ” I do not believe in fate.”
“No? You have a means of tempting it, Julianne. You left the door unlocked during your bath. That could have ended badly…not all gentlemen knock first.”
“You, sir, are no gentleman.” (Moonlight on My Mind, p. 50, p.80)
I am inclined to keep reading, though I noticed that much of the dialogue is embedded within paragraphs of the protagonists’ inner dialogue, which interrupts the flow of their banter.
The HEATED EXCHANGE (a.k.a. the MASSIVE SHITSTORM) (“Hot” or “Burning” ….. depends on whether it’s a real fight or a faux fight/Big Misunderstanding. This one’s a little of both.)
Katy and Austin, from AVENGE ME by Maisey Yates, Harlequin Presents, forthcoming June 2014
“How could you do that without talking to me first?” she asked.
“I was handling it, Austin.”
“Oh, forgive me, I thought you were sitting here naked eating takeout.”
“Are you serious right now?” She slammed the carton down onto the blankets and a noodle spilled over the edge. “How much did you pay them?”
He named a figure that made her curse.
“I can never pay that back,” she said, “and you damn well know it. You took…everything from me. My power, and now you’re making me indebted to you in ways –”
“I fucking took everything from you?” he asked, his voice rising now. “Funny, I thought I gave you a whole bunch of stuff to balance it out. A place to stay, access to my father, and help with your revenge. Plus, I recall an orgasm or fifty.” (Avenge Me, pp. 217-18)
She’s a virgin, he’s a billionaire, they discover their kink together and seek justice for her sister’s killer. The BDSM content was not what I expected here, and I’m still not sure it made sense.
The INTIMATE CONFIDENCE (Burning … searing confessions?)
Mick and Blue from FREE FALLING by SE Jakes, Extreme Escapes series, Riptide, (2nd ed.), 2014
Blue tilted his head like he was seeing right through Mick. “Would you have done things differently if you hadn’t known me?”
“Don’t ask me that, Blue.”
“I have to believe you’d have saved whoever it was, even if you don’t believe that about yourself.”
* * *
Mick paused and then asked, “The stuff you steal…does all the money go to your sister?”
“I keep some for necessary things, like travel and expenses. And the rest I give to… ah, someone.”
Mick cocked his head and finally, Blue admitted, “I fund an LGBT youth hostel. For kids who get kicked out for being who they are.”
“You’re no criminal, Blue. Never were,” Mick murmured before he bent down and kissed him, a rough, deep kiss that held enough promise for Blue to hold on to. (Free Falling, pp. 89-91)
The one book I finished without getting totally distracted. Though I haven’t finished everything listed here, this is my favorite romance of the group thus far. Tight and authentically emotional.
I did not purchase any of the books excerpted above; they are all books I was given by publishers and/or authors during the 2014 Romantic Times Convention in New Orleans.
[…] Romantic Conversations, from Idle to Burning – I feel like a lot of people have been discussing their boredom with romance’s sex scenes lately and I’m right there with them. Pamela’s suggestion of swapping out the commonly used “heat index” for a conversation quality ranking sounds good to me. […]
LOVED this post, and I regret not responding sooner. But I saw this image on a Tumblr blog called “Notes on Design,” and I felt it captured the thrust of your argument: