Round Robin Blog Hop - February 2019 Love, sex, & relationships in books. What seems acceptable, is it now necessary, and what is going too far.
Relationships, whether romantic, adversarial, work related, family or friendship are what life is all about, so in my opinion, any book that does not include them is as flat as if a steam roller ran them down. One of the reasons I enjoyed (before they became so repetitive) the books by W.E.B.Griffin was the diverse relationships he showcased. His earliest books were all about men at war, and then policework – mostly a man’s world, but his characters had wives and sweethearts, daughters and sisters so there were bits of romance tucked into the storie. He also included the whole gamut of interactions between officers and non-coms, civilians, politicians, bosses and subordinates. Some were supportive, some not so much. Some added significant tension to the stories themselves. As the series went on, the relationships developed and grew, and that’s why I loved his books.
Once upon a time romances, in spite of being called bodice rippers with suggestive covers, never showed the actual act of lovemaking. As a young woman, I read and loved Georgette Heyer. Her characters were complex and compelling, and I devoured her stories, but I missed that culmination of the falling in love and making love. Today some books, especially those in the clean read/inspirational genre still stop at the bedroom door, but at the other end of the spectrum, there are books that are little more than a thinly plotted excuse to see how many ways one can describe inserting tab A into slot B. I read neither. I’m not a prude, by any stretch of the imagination, but reading two hundred or more pages with two people, panting and sweating and pawing at each other and little else is a waste of my time and money. Emotions, conflicts, life dreams, life’s wounds, and so much more make our characters come alive and add color to a story, making the outcome a compelling read. Letting the reader follow the couple who have fallen in love into the bedroom is like the icing on the cake. The cake was tasty on its own, but the icing added flavor and spice and lets the reader enjoy the entire experience of falling in love.
In action adventure types of stories, love and sex often gets skipped entirely, but even there I think it adds authenticity to the characters themselves. As the saying goes, “no man is an island.” A man or woman who lives life on the edge, as a spy, or a tier one soldier, or a swat team member, firefighter, or law enforcement officer, is more than just the job. He or she is someone’s husband or wife or sweetheart. And including how those relationships impact his or her life and actions, thoughts, emotions and decisions makes him or her a far more compelling character. Do we need to go into the bedroom with them and see them in the act? No. Not necessarily. But maybe a hint of that passion is not a bad thing either. In a recent Tom Clancy book I listened to on Audio one of his main characters became emotionally and eventually sexually involved with another character while on an undercover mission. What began as a cover story became real for that man and woman and when the woman was killed it impacted the man. I just finished the next book in that series and the loss of that woman he cared about is now part of his psyche – part of who he is and it impacts his decision making, adding tension and realism that wouldn’t be there if this author had chosen not to show him coming to care for the woman and making love to her only to lose her.
I love Jack Reacher stories, but even I have to admit there isn’t much about Jack that makes me care about him personally in most of the stories. Of course, I want him to triumph over the bad guys, but there’s very little character development to make me care about him. The Jack Reacher stories that stick with me, are the rare ones that show him in relationships: with Sgt Neagley (whose personal issues are more compelling than Reacher’s,) his father or brother. Too bad those stories are in the minority. And when Reacher has sex with a woman, it’s just about the sex, with no emotional involvement and I find that a waste of words. How much more compelling are Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and W.E.B. Griffin’s Matt Payne, all of whom have issues with their bosses and love relationships that give them depth and make them captivating characters we not only care about while reading the book, but remember them long after we turn the last page.
So, my conclusion as I’ve considered this question is that sex and love, are like the spice of life. Too much sugar and you have a Hallmark story that’s okay but not very memorable, or too much sex with no emotional context and it’s very close to porn and equally unmemorable. I want to have my characters find love whether they are involved in chasing bad guys or teaching kindergarten and I want to enjoy all the falling in love experience, including the sex. But a few drops of vanilla or a teaspoon of spice is all it takes to make a cookie scrumptious, not a whole cup. It’s the same with the books I read and the ones I write.
How about these other authors? How do they approach sex and love in their books?
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright