Someone asked a question on Facebook today that really got me thinking. That’s what I love about online communities. They make me look at the various aspects of story telling in different, specific ways. I don’t think I have ever thought much about WHERE two characters get nasty, and therefore I’ve never thought much about why I haven’t thought about it. But when someone asked for ideas for “romantic locations for two characters to make love” today, I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I ever thought about the romantic setting?”
I mean, you’d think I — of all people — would have thought long and hard (giggity) about settings where two people might get busy in fiction. Even though I’m moving away from the erotica (after one successful go with Table Five), romance will always be a major factor in my stories. And that means sex is a given (even if it’s not explicit). And yet, setting has always been a background concern. (Pun! – man lots of parenthetical phrases in this paragraph…)
So as I answered the guy’s question with a couple of suggestions, I started thinking about why I had never thought about this before. Was it just because I never had a problem coming up with setting? Or maybe I’m too practical in my personal life to think romantic locations are even relevant? Despite loving romance stories, I’ve never been much of a gushy romantic myself. My idea of a romantic night with the hubs is to have a good dinner while watching Dune.
Maybe a bit of both things. Maybe I don’t have a problem coming up with settings because I have this practical personality. In my mind, romantic settings aren’t super important, because the setting isn’t the source of the romance.
Let’s Get Technical
Let’s take a look at all the romance settings I’ve used in my completed and in-progress books. Starting with the current one and going back from there.
A Song of Giants – I have a kiss/sex scene in a storage room.
Little Owl – I have a romantic conversation on a porch and in a library. Kiss/sex scene in a potting shed. Other relevant romantic scenes in a bedroom and sleeping outdoors with a bunch of other people.
Table Five – Oh man. Here’s a doozy. Sex in a manager’s office at a book store, in a Tex-Mex restaurant booth and bathroom, in a bedroom (three times), in a kitchen (twice), and in a hotel room (once). God, no wonder I’m done with erotica. I just got it all out of my system in one go, lol.
The Ordinary Life of Emily P. Bates – Kiss scene in a high school hallway and again in a friend’s bedroom.
There’s no dewy meadows in dappled sunlight, no lonely beaches at sunset with lapping waves, no heart shaped beds or rose petals, no bear skin rugs in front of a roaring fire with two glasses of wine and imported chocolates. No silk sheets, no lingerie, no nothing. The nasty just happened where it happened. And I never thought twice about it.
I’ve thought long and hard on this for several whole minutes, and I’ve come to the conclusion that setting doesn’t really matter much for a sex scene. Setting matters for the story and atmosphere, it matters for setting the stage. But it’s the icing on the cake. It’s the background. That’s its literal name: background.
Picking out the perfect Romantic Setting is like picking out your favorite purple prose. It’s unnecessary flowery crap getting in the way of what the reader actually cares about: your characters. The choices they make and their reasons for making those choices. The consequences and risks.
I cared that Noah and Allie finally said the things they needed to say and got the satisfaction they needed (The Notebook). I cared that Lucy enjoyed that elevator kiss way more than she thought she would (The Hating Game), and that Michael helped Stella relax and enjoy kissing instead of analyzing it (The Kiss Quotient).
My heart wasn’t stirred by the cold rain, elevator smell, or hard bathroom counter respectively (and neither were my loins). But I still loved those scenes.
So take a step back and focus on what it is you love about romance. I’m willing to bet it’s not the backdrops. Focus on the characters, their choices, their desires. Set the reader up to want that kiss or sex scene, and then give it to them.
The romance should be inevitable. It will happen no matter what because the story demands it. It happens where it happens, therefore the setting is irrelevant. So daydream about the perfect romantic locale if you want, but don’t lose sight of what really matters: character agency. Always.
Man, speaking of The Hating Game, I really need to do a post on that book and its recent movie adaption. I’ll add it to the list. Start holding your breath.