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Fading To Black When Writing Romance

If prompted to think of a stereotypical romance novel, some might picture a bodice ripper. Barechested men and scantily-clad ladies entangled in the midst of an embrace on the cover. We've all seen them and, if you're like me, you may have even been chided by peers and acquaintances because of your love for reading (or even writing) them.

Despite this common association, only a portion of romance novels are as risque as the image described above. While some authors include steamy and sensual content and let those bits play out on the page, others might only permit their love interests to share one or two kisses. There are also those who do not include any sensual interactions at all.

How you handle sexytimes in your romance novels or romantic subplots is completely up to you.

Some writers might want to include sex in their WIP or feel like they need to in order for certain plot points to follow but may not want to write the scene in great detail.

That is perfectly okay! And there's actually a common way of going about it: fading to black.

Also sometimes called "closing the door," fading to black in a romance novel happens when things are getting steamy between love interests but rather than follow them into the bedroom, the narration pulls away. Readers get the gist of what's going on but aren't there to witness it.

Why Writers Choose To Close The Door

The way sensual content is approached in fiction is going to depend on a few things.

Boundaries As The Writer

First—and arguably the most important factor—is your comfort level as the writer. While every genre (romance included) has its conventions and expectations that are important to adhere to, the way you write about your characters getting it on is something best determined for yourself and on your own terms.

If you want to write stuff so blazing hot that it defies the Scoville Scale, go for it.

If you prefer to keep things at a peppery simmer, that's fine, too.

Or if you'd rather keep things on the mild side, that is just as valid.

We all have our individual tastes and boundaries that deserve to be respected. The level of heat I write into my romances might be different from yours; not to mention the stuff I'm comfortable writing can even be different from what I'm comfortable reading at times!

Fading to black is a more subtle approach to writing intimacy for writers who want their characters to take that step but don't necessarily want to be there when it happens.

Boundaries Of Your Readers

While your boundaries are important, you may want to consider those of your audience.

It's impossible to anticipate the exact line drawn by every reader who picks up your book. Kylie may feel uncomfortable with how much of the action is shown on the page, while Kate might wish there was more of it. There's no way of appealing to everyone, but you can likely guesstimate where the threshold lies based on your genre and the age your book is intended for.

If you're writing a mainstream romance for adults, chances are you can write the sex without raising any eyebrows. But if you're specifically writing a faith-based romance you may want to tone down the spice significantly.

Fading to black is the most common way to handle sensual moments in YA books. It's often up for interpretation but when characters do have sex, it's happening off-screen and is barely described.

In the third and final Divergent novel, Allegiant, Tris and Tobias have sex towards the end. However, it's only hinted at. Tobias says it's, "getting more difficult to be wise," in other words, waiting and holding his feelings in check. Tris's narration takes readers up to the precipice of this taking place before the door is closed. Readers know what the two of them are up to, but it's not detailed.

When writing adolescent characters or stories for audiences of that age, fading to black remains the standard choice. Teenagers do have sex in real life, so writing about teenage characters doing so isn't far-fetched, but it typically needs to be approached with more discretion than in a book for and about adults.

The main thing to keep in mind is writing what you're comfortable with and what works for your story.

Why Readers May Prefer Closed Doors

Even though romance has a reputation for being spicy romps, that's not what draws readers to the genre. You can have an abundance of yearning and tension happening without your characters engaging in any sexual activity.

In fact, many readers prefer romance novels that are "clean" (a descriptor that I could dedicate an entire post to); more recently, they've become known as "sweet" romances—which I find much more palatable. These terms are most frequently linked to Inspirational or Christian romances but are not exclusive to faith-based stories.

For every reason a reader might enjoy sensual content, there is a reason that another reader might not enjoy it.

As mentioned above, this can relate to one's comfort level or personal taste, which can be influenced by their religion, sexuality, or traumatic memories that may resurface. Personal experiences can impact your experience with a book of any genre, romance included.

And some readers just don't care if there is sex in the romance novel they are picking up! Instead, they could be more interested in other things, like the premise or tropes woven in. Whether or not the characters do the deed is of no concern to them.

The Flexibility Of Fading To Black

Fading to black is a great option for writers interested in testing the waters of writing intimacy or stream but are not sure how far they want to take things.

It gives you flexibility. You can quickly allude to your characters getting it on or tell them outright and move on with the story.

Or you can linger for a little while.

You may decide to close the door after the first kiss of the foray, or let your characters start passionately making out before drawing back. You might follow them to the bedroom without going in. You might even choose to remain with them right up until the moment before their naughty bits start bumbling about.

As the writer, you are in control. You get to decide when that door is closed.

Writing about sex in romance novels is sort of like the covers the genre is often associated with. Some are delicate, with the couple a hairsbreadth away from a kiss and shirts still buttoned. Then you have the more steamy ones, where the shirts have come off and hands are wandering lower. But there are also those in between. Those where the shirts' buttons have become undone and some skin is exposed but the arms are still in their sleeves.

Or, perhaps, things are on the spicy side but hidden on a stepback. You know it's there, but it's not as prominent. Whether you choose to peek in is your choice.

It's important to know and respect your boundaries as a writer. You don't have to include sexual content in your story because you're writing a romance. You have the power to take a scene as far as you desire without pushing yourself past that limit.

Sex scenes in fiction don't need to be treated like a medieval wedding night, with watchful eyes standing around to ensure the deed is done in order to consummate the marriage (yes, bedding ceremonies). Instead, your characters are free to go off on their own and do their thing as the narration fades to black, while you and your readers can catch up with them later on.

And if you change your mind, you can always open the door...



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