You Can't Yada Yada Sex!
Elaine: Yeah. I met this lawyer, we went out to dinner, I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada yada yada, I never heard from him again.
Jerry: But you yada yada'd over the best part!
Elaine: No, I mentioned the bisque.
-"The Yada-Yada", Seinfeld
It's a moment from classic TV history from the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. Concerned that his girlfriend glossed over telling him that she'd slept with her ex, George asks the gang if it's really possible to 'yada yada' over sex. Elaine insists that it is—especially when it's hardly the highlight of the evening.
Sadly, I have to agree with her. When it comes to sex scenes in romance novels, sometimes it's all I can do to keep my eyes open. Don't get me wrong, I love a good sex scene, but if I'm not invested in the characters, if the writing isn't visceral, if the passion isn't there…well, let's just say that 'yada yada'-ing would be a mercy sometimes. I get bored if I'm reading a love scene that doesn't deliver. And as a writer, there is nothing scarier than thinking readers will be bored by your words.
My latest book, Take What You Want, is easily the steamiest one I've written to date, and as I was going through edits, I bit my nails ragged worrying about the love scenes.
In the end I came up with a few criteria to help me decide if a sex scene was pulling its weight or not:
- Does it reveal something about the characters? There are a lot of things that can be conveyed about a character in a love scene. An over-obsession with protection or a reluctance to try certain positions can speak to issues with trust. Bad experiences in past relationships can manifest in shyness or surprise when a lover is giving and considerate. How the characters interact tells us about who they are, and a love scene involves a unique kind of interaction that tells you things you wouldn't learn in any other way.
- Does it advance the relationship? Two people enter into a moment of intimacy, and they leave it with something new forged between them. I want to see a new closeness, a discovery or a new understanding—even a backwards step, if it's appropriate. The physical is most powerful when it echoes the emotional, and what better way to reach new emotional heights than through this singular shared experience?
- Does it advance the plot? This is trickier if the main conflict in the book is something external to the central relationship, but it's possible, and when it happens, wow.
- Does it communicate something that can't be said with words alone? He may not be able to say he loves her, but he can show her tenderness when he touches her. She may not be able to beg for patience, but she can show her commitment when she gives him everything in the moments they spend alone. Sometimes, characters can express so much without saying anything at all.
Think about a favorite book or a favorite steamy scene, and I bet you'll find it meets at least one—if not all—of these criteria.
For example, a favorite of mine is from J.R. Ward's Lover Awakened. (Warning: spoilers!) When Bella goes into her needing, she and Zsadist come together with a passion that sizzles off the pages, but it's memorable not just because it's oh-so-sexy. Zsadist's self-loathing and his history of abuse have been hinted at, but we gain a whole new understanding of it when he obsesses about getting his ugliness on Bella. We see Zsadist let someone touch him; we see him let himself be vulnerable. We see these two people grow from being drawn to each other to being completely bared before each other. And really, there's nothing that advances a plot faster in a romance than an unexpected pregnancy, now is there?
For me, what it comes down to is that a great love scene has to be integral to the story. It has to mean something to the characters. And if it does…well, then it's bound to also mean something to me.
And you simply can't yada yada over that. …
Take What You Want
by Jeanette Grey
Publisher: Samhain; ISBN: 978-1-61921-374-6
She needs an escape…and he’s exactly what she had in mind.
College senior Ellen Price spends every spare minute studying to get into medical school. Until spring break yawns before her, as empty as her wallet.
With no money to hit the beach, she fills her empty to-do list with a plan: for just one week, she will become the kind of take-no-prisoners woman she secretly wishes to be, starting with the hot guy at the bar. It's a no-risk situation: at the end of break, he’ll head back to his campus, and she’ll go back to hers. No muss, no fuss.
At first, Josh Markley isn’t sure what to think when the quiet, intense beauty from his pre-med classes approaches him for a night of casual sex. Even more mystifying, she doesn’t seem to return his recognition. But if she wants to play “strangers in a bar”, he’s game.
Their passionate night is a welcome respite from life’s stress, but afterward, Josh realizes he wants more—from himself, from life, from Ellen. Except she still thinks he’s a one-off she’ll never see again. Confessing the truth now—before she figures it out on her own—could shatter the fragile beginnings of just what the doctor ordered. A forever love.
Warning: Contains mistaken identities, a sometimes-glasses-wearing hottie, deep questions about figuring out what you want from life, and a red-hot college romance.
When she isn't writing, Jeanette enjoys making pottery, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and her pet frog. She lives, loves, and writes in upstate New York.