I chose this July 2008 post because it was a summer much like this one: too hot, too distracting, too much of everything. The scene I talk about in this post is still the best love scene I've ever written...
The Migration of a Love Scene
Day 1: Starbucks, downtown. 9 am
I know what you’re thinking. Is it possible to write sex in a Starbucks? Contrary to what many believe about romance writers, we don’t have satin-covered chaise lounges in our offices. Our crystal goblets are filled with java to fuel the energy for the endurance marathon that is the love scene. We don’t slip into something more comfortable unless it’s the stained Parks and Rec shirt we got when we signed up for Pilates. Maybe some do, but they probably live on some planet in the Nora galaxy.
It’s true, the whirring espresso machines and baristas hollering out stranger’s names shifts the muse into a diesel engine. Slow to warm into the character’s heads, their motivations, the emotional journey necessary for this one scene. I watched two grown men fight over a stained, upholstered chair. I took in a nearby conversation (You know writers do this don’t you? Eavesdropping with a bionic ear fuels our creativity) between two men. One laid out enough laptop computer gadgets to put Best Buy to shame. The other laid out the male-version of his tragic “I’m happily divorced, my wife is a stalker” love story, complete with metaphors to lifeboats and Carole King.
Character’s state of undress: nowhere near first base
Day 2: Barnes and Noble, downtown (I was stuck for a week, okay?). 9 am
Those periphery desks? My next attempt. The man at the next table sat opposite, more intent on people watching than thumbing through his business journal. Normally, a past-time I identify with. On this day it was the equivalent of an audience. How can I be inspired to write the precise shade of flesh when all I have to go on is a glossy Pete Rose biography in the Sports section and Wall Street Boy with roman chimes for a cell ring? An added bonus to this day: a visiting surgeon from the nearby hospital in a chance meeting with said business boy discussing Apple stocks. The visual impact of the doctor’s powder blue scrubs turned every phrase clinical.
Character’s state of undress: first base
Day 3: Kitchen Table, home. 9pm
Yes, by this time, I was thinking that, too. Eliminate all factors out of the realm of control. And it was dark. That should help, right? But the guide channel from earlier that day flashed through my brain. Brokeback on Bravo. What would be cut, exactly? Would it be a study in tight storytelling? After all, Jake is the inspiration for my hero, who by this time was, no doubt, getting frustrated at the slow turn of events. So Jake is wearing thermals the whole time. The face, focus on the face. Twenty minutes, that’s all.
An hour and a half later: the cat is giving me his one-eyed stare. I’m back at the table trying to get that cruel earwig of dialogue out of my brain: “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Does mine wank like that line?
Character’s state of undress: past second
Day 4: Coffee Shop Three, less than 1 mile from home. 7 am
One detail I left out of my previous rant about this place is that it contains a flowing water fireplace-like room partition. I’d drunk enough limeade the previous night to float an arc. Add that to the perfection that was just-brewed iced tea, and I was b-lining it to the ladies room between heavy pettings.
Right about the time my hero’s internal dialogue was screaming “Finally!” a bible study group assembled at the next table, roundtabling and dissecting the moments each had been saved. At that point, the only deliverance I needed was from this *!@# scene.
Character’s state of undress: enough to go to confession
Day 4: writing desk, home. Midnight
Tissue box. I couldn’t be sure if the tears were because my characters had just been mercilessly ripped apart or because I’d championed over Debbie Downer love stories, nosy strangers and decidedly non-inspirational input and typed the scene’s ending punctuation. Is it satisfying for the reader? I’m too close to tell.
I do know it wouldn’t be the same without that precise shade of green from the Pete Rose cover. The exact contour of a stubbled jaw line on a Wyoming hillside. The fire and passion with which the saved had spoken. For writers, input is output, and I remain grateful for what life shows me.