There are three basic types of scene other than exposition that are essential to any fantasy novel (or science fiction, or war, or spy, you name it). Battle scenes, if written well, can keep the writer going for as much as a tenth or even a fifth of the total length of their novel. But one of the big challenges of writing a battle scene, to put it simply, involves investing enough development in your characters to make your audience care about them. Exposition scenes are one way to make this investment. In fact, in the early stages of your story, they tend to be the only way. Explaining to your audience why it is that one character cares enough about the other to invest the time to get to know them helps the audience to care about that character enough to care when something significant happens to them. Telling the audience a story about why a character does what they do, and why they do it a certain way, is also a good way to deliver exposition. It is not enough to tell an audience that your veteran character is obsessive about washing himself. You have to explain that during, say for example the Battle Of The Sleeping Village, a particularly troublesome event resulted in him spending hours stuck inside the rotting carcass of a River Troll. Hence, he now washes his entire body in hospital-grade soap at least once after every time he spends a significant period of time outside of his home.
The language with which one describes these things is also important. Unlike film, television, or audio, novels are the one medium where using a lot of words is advisable rather than frowned upon. But this does not mean using a lot of words unnecessarily is the way to go. But in film, using a string of five words abridged by slang is often accused of being good word economy. In writing, where your words are the only insight the reader has into the appearance, sound, perceptions, and psychology of your characters, investing some time in learning a few multi-syllable words pays off.
Being somewhat technical and scientific in your descriptions can also help. That does not mean being completely cold and medical in your descriptions, as a health professional might do, but a little measure in your language and your choice of words can, oddly enough, keep your writing respectable. Even when you are trying to describe characters indulging in sex acts that parts of your audience might consider lewd or unsavoury.
Which brings us to one of the greatest challenges a writer can face when writing about two or more characters that happen to be in love. Writing about what the characters in question get up to at times when they are feeling especially amorous is, in itself, a bit of a song and dance. A number of questions have to be asked of the self by the writer. Let us take a few scenes from my recent novels, for example. In The Raven And The Ruby, the narrative eventually deals with two young couples, both of which consist of an Elvish male and a Halfling female. There is a small hint in one scene that one of the Halfling women is attracted to the other in a similar way to how she is attracted to the Elf male that she is dating, but this is irrelevant to the writing of the scene other than changing the phrasing of some elements. One of the questions your audience will be asking themselves (and this means asking you) is, if the males in this scene happen to be six feet tall and about 180 pounds, how are they going to safely have sex with women who are four feet tall and 60 or 70 pounds? Asking yourself this question and thinking long and hard about a credible answer will net you a scene that can be believed in and enjoyed by even the most picky reader.
Another question that a good author needs to ask themselves when approaching such scenes is about the general physiques of the characters. It is one thing to describe your characters as tall and thin, but this is a generic description for all characters that happen to be Elvish, and thus does not really do anything for the reader. Words about the colours of their hair and eyes, the scars they might sport, how muscular they are in that light Elvish way, or even how long they are relative to one another, can make all the difference when phrased well.
Describing all of the participants in the exchange is important, too. Describing the physical attributes of characters who happen to be of the same sex may not be the most comfortable step for an author, but it is important. The more complete the reader’s picture of the scene is, the better. Of course, comparisons of the women in the scene in question are obviously more enjoyable from this author’s point of view. And I cannot help it, I spend a little more words on those women. Comparing the sizes of the two women in the hip and bust areas might seem like a cheap and pornographic way to differentiate them, but as always, there is a right and wrong way to do this. The technique I have used with this comparison does not focus on the actual difference so much as the manner in which the larger of the two women likes to show off her more voluptuous physique for the benefit of both the other woman and her boyfriend.
Psychology of the characters is also important. One of the women in the scene in question has grown up in an abusive and horrible environment. Earlier scenes in the story establish that the abuse crosses into sexual lines, and thus her sense of sexuality and boundaries is rather different to what we will refer to as the expected norm. The scene in question starts largely on her initiative, as she undresses for the benefit of her lover, with the other couple merely being in attendance. What prompts the other couple to get involved, and as a demonstration of this character’s initiative in the matter, is that this character gets down to a certain point and refuses to go any further until the other woman joins her. An important point that I also tend to think I have explored a little better in subsequent stories is that this character has to put a lot of effort into psyching herself up to do things like this.
This also brings us to an important point of any scene in a story: the level of detail. Every scene has a point where it is time to cut the story off and move on to something else. In battle scenes, I generally like to be detailed to the point of being excessive and brutal. Killing living things of any kind is never pretty. Contrary to what some who have grown up too sheltered might think, films like Rambo, RoboCop, or Total Recall are not excessively violent. If anything, they are in fact too restrained in their depictions of people meeting violent ends. Like it or not, there are still occupations that need to be done by someone in which being shot, stabbed, or made to explode is a distinct possibility. Disagree with me at will, but I am the one writing where these stories are concerned, and I believe that people who suffer severe injury or die in combat, regardless of whose side they are on, deserve the courtesy of the full extent of their injuries being described for the reader.
Lovemaking, even between fictional characters, is a different matter. Every scene in a story, whether the characters are punching one another in the head, eating toast, having sex, or discussing their fitness to rule with a fellow ruler, has to serve a purpose. And that is a challenge that no writer of any kind should ignore. The purpose should also be a well-considered one. If you think to yourself that the purpose of a scene you love and want to include to the exclusion of all else is merely “to get a laugh” or “to off a character in a cool way”, then do not be surprised if someone in the editing process asks you to relegate it to the cutting room floor.
Unlike scenes of exposition or battle, sex scenes have a rather limited number of purposes that they can serve in a story. If their sole purpose is to serve the prurient interests of the reader, they are not going to be remembered well (if at all). If they are going to serve to set the stakes during a subsequent battle sequence (basically, one combatant is telling another “stop trying to hurt that woman because I want to play hide the banana with her later!”), that is a good start. Another good reason to put in a sex scene is to demonstrate to the audience how the characters have grown since they were introduced. At the beginning of the story, the two women are barely older than fifteen or sixteen years. The end of the story finds them either slightly or significantly older than sixteen. Old enough to be considered full-fledged Mages, if low in rank, but still young enough to have some lessons to learn. Learning to weave the subject of sex into their lives and cope with that is one important step for them.
In fact, that is one of the biggest goals in my writing, and one that I am conflicted about sharing ahead of time. But I suppose that if I want an audience to maybe someday buy my manuscripts in enough, I have to be completely honest about all of my storytelling goals.
I hate the manner in which it seems the vast majority of stories available in wide circulation today try to make children, or worse yet, babies, of their audience. As is said during one exchange in Bad Santa, there’s an adult’s world, and there’s a child’s world. But so many media sources, including just about everyone in Hollywood, seem to think there should be no difference between the two. My disagreement is best expressed by my overwhelming love of the Disney film TRON: Legacy. Apart from the already-mentioned parallels to the reality of growing up autistic during the 1980s, it was just so damned satisfying to see someone drag Disney kicking and screaming into an adult storytelling mode and use a hundred and seventy million dollars of their own money to do it.
This is reflected in elements of my storytelling. In the latest story that I am working on that details the adventures of the Halfling-Elf couples I have been talking about, one scene describes both couples attending a musical performance in which my direct proxy invites one of the women, the more overt and outgoing one, to take the stage with him. She does so, and they perform a couple of songs together (this being the beginning of an arc in which she helps teach young women to use music to work out certain psychological woes). One of these songs, although described only in veiled referential ways, is the Sigh classic called Shingontachikawa. If you are interested in this song, you can read the lyrics here. Sigh are an awesome band that are well worth the time to investigate. But the pertinent point here is that the projected end of this story will involve the mentioned heroine doing exactly what is stated in the song: turning sexual energy into the power to kill.
Hence, many elements in my stories are a direct message to people like my parental units. No matter how much you try to turn me back into a baby, I will fight you. And if you make me feel it is necessary, I will fight you in a fashion that will entail death for one of us. If I can write something that makes an audience understand or even grok what it feels like to find it necessary to send such a message to people that I should be able to trust enough to let me be a complete, healthy person, then maybe one day I might be able to die knowing something that resembles peace.
I cannot speak for every author on the planet. In fact, I probably am in a group of one when it comes to motives like this. But if you have ever wondered why scenes in which characters engage in sexual intercourse are put into novels, hopefully this collection of meanderings has enlightened you a little.
If you have read this far, then thank you for taking the time.
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