By Suz deMello
Welcome to EroticaVille, a magical town where our characters don’t shit, piss or bathe…except when there’s some kinky goings-on involving in-shower BJs, scat play or watersports.
When I first started writing romance back in the Dark Ages, I read many stories in which the characters enjoyed frenzied fucking but never seemed to get slimy, smelly or sweaty. They never showered, bathed, pooped or peed. Normal bodily functions were ignored except for eating—mealtimes were prime time for characters to relate to each other.
I hated that. Not that I’m squeamish about bodily functions, but ordinarily, the first thing I do post-afterglow is drag myself out of bed to a bathroom for a quick cleanup, even if that’s only a damp washcloth over my crotch. I can skip that if we’ve used a condom, which is always nice as well as safe, as we all know. Being uninterested in—even repelled by—bukkake, I firmly believe that come belongs in my mouth or a condom, not in my hair or on my face. Either of those destinations would call for a shower. Immediately. Others may feel differently—more power to them—but for me, the less post-coital cold and slippery anything I have to wash off, the better. And I hate to sleep on the wet spot.
Back to my main point: in many novels, characters behave uncharacteristically—and that is okay. Preferable, even. Normal body functions are a part of life, and while I believe that a nod should be given to the day-to-day, the fact is that our characters are not humans, and the world we’ve created is not our world, not even in the grittiest contemporary.
So I was the out-of-step reader. I’d read a lovemaking scene and then think, “Don’t these people ever wash? Disgusting.” Now I understand the reason writers don’t include every little thing that characters do.
Last month I discussed unnecessary sex scenes, scenes that did not perform one of these four functions:
•Advance the plot
•Reveal or develop character
•Complicate or resolve conflict
•Express setting, mood, and/or theme
I respectfully remind you again: nothing belongs in your book—not even the tiniest comma—that doesn’t fulfill one or more of the four functions above.
And that’s the reason most writers don’t show their characters brushing their hair, tying their shoelaces or taking a dump (unless their Dom tells them to, which is quite another matter).
Here’s a snippet from my writing manual, About Writing:
Everything in your manuscript should have a function, even every comma or em-dash. And this is the reason the special world we create in our stories is so different from our ordinary world. Much happens in our day-to-day existence isn’t particularly relevant to the story of our lives, that is, the accomplishment of our dreams and goals.
Let’s say that we’re thinking of having our protagonist, who has as his goal great wealth, stop at a Chipotle restaurant for a burrito. Eating that burrito doesn’t help accomplish that goal. But it’s a common act, one that occurs often. Lunch is a part of our lives, but we wouldn’t put it in a book about a protagonist on a quest to amass loads of money unless something occurred at that Chipotle that fulfills one or two of the above purposes.
Perhaps the protagonist meets someone there who is a mentor, ally or adversary; he could eat lunch with his hippie mom, who vehemently expresses her dismay over his life choices.
Maybe he heroically stops an armed robbery from taking place, garnering publicity that helps him on his way—even though he gives up the chance to close the biggest deal of his life, a sacrifice that would make his eventual triumph all the more poignant. And the event shows character, that this guy is more than a soulless money-making machine.
If he’s just eating lunch, his burrito probably doesn’t belong in your book. The scene might show a tiny bit about your character, but that’s not enough to justify an entire scene. A short phrase (He devoured a burrito at Chipotle before heading back to the stock exchange—where he hoped to complete the biggest deal of his life) is all that’s necessary.
But when I first started reading romance, which was long after I’d started having sex, I found it odd that no heroine got out of bed to tidy herself up. She didn’t even reach over for a tissue to grab that glop before it fell out of her and created the (shudder) dreaded wet spot.
Perhaps this was because of my own peculiar emotional conformation. While in the bathroom, I’d ruminate about what had just happened and how the lovemaking affected my feelings about my partner. In a calmer relationship, as during most of my marriage, I might get up but maybe not, and I wouldn’t think about anything. Scenes of that nature shouldn’t appear in books because they don’t fulfill any of the legitimate purposes of a scene.
But in a romance, post-coitus is a prime time for the characters to indulge in a little introspection, or if they’re feeling chatty, it’s a great opportunity for your characters to relate to each other. The sex itself should certainly advance the plot—if not, why’s it there? After, a little sweet talk is a nice sequel to the sex scene—or maybe the conversation goes awry and conflict is revealed or advanced.
I love to write historicals, and part of the reason is that I love to learn about how people used to live. The clothes they wore. The foods they ate. And yes, how they disposed of their feces. Most people think that a garderobe was some kind of medieval wardrobe. Nope—it was the castle’s shitter, usually just a bench with a hole. It most often led to the moat which, as you can imagine, was not the most charming spot in our hero’s demesne.
I mentioned above that bodily functions can appear in erotica, as I’ll show here—this excerpt is from my fictionalized memoir, Perilous Play. This snippet takes place after a particularly intense scene.
He took everything off except the collar. With the leash tied to it, he led me into the bathroom so I could pee, and stood staring down at me.
I guessed that this was part of the whole humiliation shtick, but didn’t care. With Trapper, I was beyond embarrassment.
I looked up at him and said, “Remember when you were spanking me in here before?”
I shivered. “That was possibly the most erotic moment of my life.”
My passion for realism often leads me to write scenes in which the formerly virginal heroine washes off the brownish streaks that her first lovemaking left on her thighs while (you guessed it!) thinking about what just happened and how it affected her and the relationship. I also write characters who wake up with morning breath, characters who have to use the garderobe and yes, characters who shower often.
After all, the shower is a great place to fuck.
If you enjoyed either of the excerpts quoted above, you can find them here:
About Writing for sale at Amazon;
Perilous Play (found within a boxed set, also at Amazon, titled What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey).
About Suz deMello:
Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written seventeen romance novels in several subgenres, including erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms as Totally Bound and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.