Sensuality and Romance: Part Four

>> Thursday, July 21, 2011

So. let's say you get the concept (I'm sure you do) that sensuality is all about pulling on the senses and tugging reactions from the characters. While it's not just about sex, it is about passion, being involved emotionally and physically in what is going on.

My "sensual" scene last time, as you probably noted, was not about sex or romance in any way, and you can inject a great deal of sensuality in any kind of literature without having to have a love interest or even a sexual partner. Scenes, for example, like where Sully is exploring the surface of Pandora, facing off against the bulky herbivore and then the clearly carnivorous panther analog lend themselves well to sense description and emotional reactions. Those are scenes that lend themselves well to sensuality, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Hearts race, fear engulfs or minds wonder.

A scene like that is far more effective when given the immediacy that sensuality can provide. In fact any scene where the character in question is struggling with the extremes of emotion can generally be served well with a dose of sensuality: the pain of being left broken after a beating, and the hatred or determination that's required to get back up and face your attacker, the sense of wonder as a small child greets the tiny creature his parents tell him is his new sister, the heartbreak when our hero breaks in only to find he's too late as he picks up the shattered body of his wife. Sensuality breathes life into scenes like this and can brand them indelibly on a reader's mind, quickening heartbeats, inducing tears. Really, isn't that a little bit why we all do this?

Of course, you can certainly use it for simple no-strings physical pleasure, too. Yes, sex. Nothing wrong with doing so, and any number of authors have characters that wend their way through their worlds enjoying the sins of the flesh without getting bogged down in anything so ridiculous as romance. But, be careful. Sensuality is partly about reaction, and sex where you don't feel much beyond the physical is going to be less powerful, in many ways, than sex where your emotions are more fully engaged (which is true in life, too, if my history is any example, but I digress). And you can rapidly lose sympathy with a character unless everyone involved leaves pretty much heart-whole. Start breaking the hearts of innocent maidens with your conquests and, pretty soon, you look like a schmuck (unless, of course, that's the kind of anti-hero you're going for). In any case, when using sensuality in this way, don't forget that you need multiple senses brought in and some form of reaction from your character in order to get the most impact.

A few other thoughts on sensuality in general (romance notwithstanding). While sensuality does great things for pivotal or powerful scenes and a little sensory description is good almost everywhere, try not to go too overboard with your sensuality for every scene. Two reasons for this recommendation:

(1) If every scene has our hero/heroine brought to the extremes of emotion, conflicted or anguished by emotion, the scenes start to all sound the same. I should not be as worked up over running out of toothpaste as I am that my daughter has run off with her boyfriend (whether he has piercings in his tongue or not). By making all the scenes emotionally charged, I take some of the power from the scenes where I need to make an impression, want to really feel a change is in works. Use the power of emotion and senses on those scenes that mean the most to the rest of the story, so that they are not diluted.

(2) Sensuality, done well, stops or slows action. If I'm spending a lot of time talking about what I'm seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling/feeling and my reaction to it, I'm not really doing much. Which doesn't mean you can't tie it with action, but you want to limit it to between action steps and not get carried away with three pages of descriptive ecstasy and two paragraphs of actual movement.

A light touch (lighter than I used yesterday) and a little judgement can do wonders for making the most of the senses, without slowing the story down or diffusing its power.

And, yes, I will eventually be putting sensuality and romance together.


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