When asked to say a few words about hot autumn nights, I confess I was initially stumped. You see, I am originally from the Great Pacific Northwest, where autumn means sitting on the back porch on a cold, clear night with a mug of cocoa, watching deer graze in the back field with the scent of burning leaves on the wind. But I don’t live there anymore. I live in the Midwest now, where autumn means the second season of storms is upon us, bringing with it alternating nights of sweltering or freezing (as well as the pleasant threat of tornadoes), and the only scents on the ever-present wind emanate either from the oil refinery to the east or the stockyard to the west. Nothing about this Godforsaken place is romantic. The only reason people around here have babies is because of boredom.
On the other hand, I did sign up for this blog and I feel a faint sense of obligation to commit to it because HD Thomson is awesome. So let’s forget about autumn and focus on the night.
As my mother was wont to say when I balked at venturing down into our child-eating haunted basement for a bottle of peaches, there’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Why then, is darkness so inherently sensual?
Sight is arguably the most complex and most relied upon of the traditionally recognized senses. When we lose it, we lose a lot of what anchors us in familiarity. As a teenager, after reading The Cay by Theodore Taylor, I put on a blindfold for a solid week to see what it would be like to suddenly lose my vision (I had very understanding parents). What I discovered almost immediately was that darkness makes everything strange. Anyone who’s ever stubbed their toe walking across their own bedroom at night knows this and likewise knows that walking across the bedroom in the dark means going slower, orienting yourself by the ticking of the clock or sleeping breaths of whoever’s sharing your bed, trailing one hand lightly along the wall and feeling out every step before you take it. Daredevil’s example to the contrary, our remaining senses are not superhumanly heightened by a lack of sight, but we do become more attuned to the cues that are already there and because we are not accustomed to processing that information, the experience becomes one of exploration and anything that makes sex seem new is always thrilling.
As a writer, it can be a challenge to take the very basic mechanics of sex and use them in a scene that is unique to certain characters in a specific circumstance. No sex scene should be interchangeable with that of another book or even one appearing at a different time in the same book. See, here’s the thing: Sex scenes aren’t really about sex. They are about the connection between characters, which is not necessarily a romantic one. People have sex for a lot of different reasons, but whatever desire, passion or desperation moved your characters into that position (so to speak) should be reflected in the action as much the emotions. Therefore, writing a sex scene can’t come too close to writing a sex manual. A step-by-step narrative is not hot. The trickle of sweat following the curve of the heroine’s spine or the scrape of the hero’s teeth across the nape of her neck is. So using all five senses during a description of sex is one of the most important tips I could give a new writer, one that should be applied whether the scene takes place during the night or day.
But night is when the writer’s skill at using every sense really pays off. At night, there are little visual cues beyond the pale reflection of moonlight glinting in his eye or the curve of her hip falling into shadows. Here, the whole story is told by Braille. The scars he has seen by sunlight, he now feels as if for the first time as he caresses her. Inhuman characteristics that are obvious to the eyes take on whole new dimensions: the tickle of fur on her naked belly, the coolness of his horns, the unexpected muscular grip of his tail wrapping her ankle, her hand tracing the sensitive skin along the unfeeling metal prongs ridging his armored spine. In the dark, just as touch seems so much more exaggerated, sounds seem amplified. The shuddering of her breath, barely perceptible by daylight’s distraction, trembles in the very air at night. The rasp of his hand sliding over her skin is almost a physical thing to her ears. The taste of his sweat, the scent of her hair, the musk they make as they come together—in the dark, it is possible to describe sex without ever using a dirty word and still leave the reader thinking they have just read the most graphic scene imaginable simply because so much of it is left to the imagination and nothing is so graphic as what a reader can imagine.
Beyond the five senses, there are feelings to explore. When writing from a character’s point of view, keep that character’s thoughts in the scene. More than just the blood races during sex; thoughts fly and emotions spill over. Don’t be afraid to use dialogue. When was the last time you had sex in total silence? And remember that the darkness has a special power when words come out. Remember when you were a kid on a sleepover, whispering to each other in the dark through all hours of the night? Even as children, we instinctively understood that secrets are more binding in the dark, truths are more intimate and lies are more devastating. Use that to your advantage. Avoid overly sentimental pillow talk and overly crude dirty talk, just be real. You don’t need flowery I-love-you-more-thans and Oh-do-me-harders to make an impact. The power will come from the characters, even if all they say is, “Yes.”
Finally, I would be unpardonably remiss as a writer of paranormal romance if I didn’t mention that, with all respect to my mother, there is something in the dark which is not there in the light: The unseen. Darkness conceals and so it follows that the things that go, ahem, bump in the night may not be entirely trustworthy. An element of danger can add immeasurably to your sex scene, whether it comes from a lover who brings the darkness with him/her or some outside threat gathering its strength somewhere unseen in the night, there’s nothing like a little shiver to emphasize the heat.
In memory of those bygone days in the Great Pacific Northwest, I am holding a Hot Autumn Nights giveaway! On December 3rd, ONE lucky winner will win the grand prize (when there’s only one prize, it can be as grand as you please): winner’s choice of one of my ebooks, or a hot cocoa gift set. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment in the section below containing a viable email address so I can contact you, and whether you want the book or the cocoa. A word or two about my post would be nice too.
If you’d like to more insight on the power of the night, please be sure to check out the rest of the blog hop for more musings from excellent authors, most of whom remembered to actually include the ‘autumn’ in ‘hot autumn nights.’ Thank you, HD Thomson, for another fun hop!