On Writing Weaknesses and Woes

I have a confession to make: I can't write a good "lemon" to save my life. Unfortunately, I'm a romance writer, which means I'll have to do at least one descriptive encounter per story.

I was just reading over the one I wrote for my post-apocalyptic novel, and I realized it read like a 1980s Harlequin Romance sex scene. Very vague, no direct mentions of body parts, heavy on feelings and sensations rather than the mechanics.

I admire some fanfic authors I've encountered that can write powerful and expansive sex scenes. Jmolly has even written a very good tutorial on the subject on Raum's Reading Lounge. The problem is, they just don't flow for me. I anguish over every word. I ponder, peck out a phrase. Erase it. Lather, rinse repeat.

I remember writing a chapter for The Better Angels of Our Nature. It was chapter 22, a four-paragraph love scene in a meadow. I had the rest of the chapter written within a few hours. One hour was consumed in writing those four short paragraphs, which, for me, is painfully slow.

Sex is, of course, part of any good romance. The first encounter between our hero and heroine tells us much about their emotional connection. Their bodies speak louder than words, and sometimes, it's the only way a character can express the depth of their feelings. As a result, we have to see that first encounter. Thereafter, it's not as important, except when they are re-connecting after a separation or a conflict.

Mind you, sex just for the sake of titillating the reader isn't good writing. As a published author once told me, never add anything unless it is important to the plot or reveals something about the characters. There has to be a specific reason for the sex scene. If it could be deleted without any impact on the plot, it should be.

This is one of the hardest parts of writing because writers are often in love with their own words. That's why you see fics that are sometimes over a million words. (The average novel is 80K to 100K.) We think everything is important. That's why having a good editor can be a humbling experience.

So, my fellow writers, where do you feel that you're the weakest? Where do you think your work could be improved, and if you could, what would you do to make it better?


  1. I don't think I am good at imagery. You know how some people can describe a scene or a room or a person without actually describing them? Yeah, I suck at that.

    For what it's worth, I think you do fine with the FFn lemons. Every author has their own style, and insert Tab A into Slot B is not always the best way to write it.

  2. You just KNOW I had to go back and re-read ch. 22, right? What's all the angsting about? I've always thought you wrote lemons that were sexy, but not overblown on the deets. I mean, we all know what they're doing, but it's the sweetness of a reconnect, or the frenetic of possible loss that you're also trying to convey, isn't it? I was entranced by WITS's Edward and his mad skills learned at school, aphrodisiac saliva, and "ringed musculature"! That wasn't terribly graphic, but it got the imagery required across and appreciated.

    One thing I truly appreciate is that you can beta yourself and you know your homonyms. So many "writers" today have no idea and it makes me tear my hair out when I find a good plot, but cannot read the story because of all the errors. My ADD brain simply can not stay focused.

    1. I laughed with one of the editors about this. I'll never have a book that will be featured in their "erotica" catalog, that's for sure.

      The closest I think I ever came to a real "lemon" was Edward and Alice's first time together in "Sacred to the Memory," the scene where they break the dining room table. That story is a little different than most because the Edward in that tale is not my typical sweet and loving hero.

      I know what you mean by the mis-used homophones ...

      "The king rained for ten years."
      "Grab the horse's reigns."
      "I take it for grant it." (Granted)
      "He ran passed me in a fit of peek."
      "He said it allowed." (aloud)
      "I can't bare it."

      What grinds my gears the most is the misuse of "your" and "you're." I once sent a gentle PM to a writer that the misuse of "you're" in her fic title might keep people who are sticklers (like me) from even trying her story.

      The second thing that drives me up the wall are the people who believe that you make a word into a plural by adding an apostrophe. "Chicken's and dog's ran out of the shed."

    2. i could join the grammar police party and opine for hours. but let me refrain and merely add what i consider the worst of the fanfic homonym errors, because it's so common: poured vs. pored.

      I poured over the manuscript, looking for any clues.

      no no no!!

  3. "To, too and two" really steam me. Really, how hard can it be? Just because "to" is at the end of your sentence that doesn't mean it should be "too".

  4. Hi Lissa!

    Congrats on this post.
    I'm so glad you liked Jmolly's tutorial!

    - Raum
    guess who's giving a lesson in the Writing Lab next week? ;-)

  5. i like your lemons, actually. i think i asked you in a review midway through Better Angels for a little more lemon, and you responded a chap or two later with ch 22. that was perfect. a good fic, to me, dials up the UST to almost where you can't stand it, and then keeps the sexiness quotient up real high by revealing just enough. Better Angels did that by revealing just enough about - re: Edward's physique, for example.

    i can't stand the overly-graphic lemons that are so graphic that they aren't sexy. or the 'could you *BE* any more cliched' language. e.g.: glistening core, throbbing member, taught [sic] nipples, rosebuds. yuck.

    and, by the way, i have never ONCE licked my lover's lips to 'ask' for entrance to his mouth while kissing. am i alone here?

    1. Every time I see "throbbing" or, worse, leaking/drooling body parts, I think "They make medications for that, now."

      I remember your request, and I remember gulping when I read it. I knew you were right. I showed their love in many other ways, but they also needed a physical expression of it, a connection to remind themselves and the readers that theirs was a relationship, not just a partnership.

      This is one of the aspects I miss in writing my original fiction manuscripts: the audience feedback.

    2. you could always share that manuscript with some of your loyal readers for some feedback :) hint hint (and i'll still buy it when it's published - promise!)

    3. That actually worked for me, once.

      There's a published author I used to correspond with. It started out as me simply commenting on her work on her Amazon listing. We started chatting and soon moved over to e-mail. I told her how tired I was of waiting for the next installment in her series and, lo and behold, SHE SENT ME THE MANUSCRIPT! I was floored. And thrilled. And amazed that she trusted me so much.

      It was so hard to restrain myself from commenting when other speculated what would happen in the next book.


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