Ed. note: We loved Andrea Cremer’s YA debut Nightshade so much it made our Best of 2010 list. We’ve noted it is one of the sexiest books without sex we’ve ever read. So, we asked Andrea about that line between sensual and sexual. We think you’ll enjoy her thoughts as much as we did.
When Less is More
by Andrea Cremer
One of the cardinal sins of emerging writers is overwriting. Describing the heck out of something doesn’t always add to the tension or realism of a scene, in fact it usually does the opposite. Words are weighty and too many of them can drag plot and characters down until they’re drowning in prose.
The same rule may be applied to romance. A stolen glance at the right moment can be as devastating as buttons popping off clothing. The brush of a kiss might work more magic than a tongue thrust. What does it take to make a book sexy?
I don’t think a single answer applies here. Audience plays a key role in the way romance works for a book. My audience is young adult (and lots of adults too, but the book was written with a younger audience in mind). That said, I didn’t write the book with a warning system of “this must be PG-13” censoring my narrative. I wrote the romantic scenes exactly as I wanted them – sensual but not gratuitous, evocative without getting too graphic.
I didn’t make those choices because I felt limited by my genre. Hardly! Writing YA offers some of the greatest freedom of this art. My choice to walk the line between sensual and sexual was about how much I think anticipation and restraint amplify romantic tension. By holding back the audience can take a scene and run with it. If I laid out a play by play of anatomy and action a reader has to follow each direction given to and by the characters rather than letting themselves be carried away in the moment.
I’d like to reiterate that it all depends on your aim – I’m a big fan of Laurell K. Hamilton and Christine Feehan whose attention to detail fits the bill perfectly for their series. In my case that level of description wasn’t what I was looking for. It didn’t fit with the overarching narrative of the trilogy or the personalities of my characters. As a writer, it’s important to know what you want and be deliberate about staying true to that vision with each scene you create. Sensual or sexy, restrained or illicit know your characters, know your plot and you’ll find the right balance.