Messy Sex and Calls of Nature;
The Importance of Being Human
Copyright Cynthia VanRooy - All
As creators we want our readers to
believe in our characters, to visualize them as people
living beyond the covers of our books. Too many romance
writers, though, create heroes and heroines as unreal
and sanitized as Disney animations. Real men and women
use a bathroom on a regular basis, sweat and develop
body odor, need to brush their teeth occasionally, and
have untidy sex. It’s part of being human.
If you want me to identify with your
heroine, don’t have her reveling in a deep,
tongue-tangling kiss from the hero as she slowly
awakens in the morning. Doesn’t she worry about what
her mouth tastes like? Or his? I’d be more inclined to
live the story through her if she insisted on a quick
trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth first (at the
Have you ever been reading a great
book where the hero or heroine is stranded on a desert
island, lost in a forest, or trapped in a powerful
laird’s castle for days on end and you really want to
be immersed in the story, really want to believe the
far-fetched plot could happen except . . . the
heroine apparently has a bladder that would put a camel
to shame? There is no mention made, ever, of how the
characters handle basic excretory functions.
I don’t have to know—don’t even
want—the details, but I do need to have this
problem addressed in some way. My suspension of
disbelief demands it. I‘m not going to believe that the
heroine went three hours, let alone three days,
without needing to use the facilities, however
primitive they may be. The writer doesn’t have to draw
me a plumbing diagram for the castle—just mention the
existence of same and I’m a happy reader.
Many years ago I read a romance set
in medieval England. The hero chained the heroine to
his bedpost for several days. I’m afraid the drama was
lost on me. I was too busy rolling my eyes and
wondering about where the chamberpot was and who was
These days we’re all aware of the
need for safe sex, and most romance writers have begun
including the use of condoms in their love scenes. With
the blossoming popularity of erotica, we have authors
penning scenes kinky and explicit enough to embarrass a
porn star. In the post-coital moments of the scenes
these same writers can become as reticent as nuns when
it comes to mentioning any actions the characters make
in the way of disposing of said condoms. Instead there
will be a phrase like, "He drew her close as her
breathing quieted and let himself join her in sleep."
Are we to assume the hero slipped the used condom under
a pillow? A brief mention of a visit to the bathroom
would handle that niggling concern.
And how about those love scenes that
end with both the characters hopping out of bed and
pulling their clothes back on with no clean-up
whatsoever? No clean-up means they’re going to be
sticky and messy. Unless their names are Ken and
Barbie. Give your heroine a Kleenex at least.
If you can handcuff your heroine to
the bedframe with no blushes, don’t turn shy when it’s
time to let her get up and deal with the aftermath. The
reader wants to believe in the story. Help them by
having your characters do what the reader might.
The following passage, told from the
heroine Claire’s point of view, is from Dragonfly in
Amber, the historical time-travel by Diana
Gabaldon. Jamie and Claire have just come together in a
desperate coupling before Jamie pushes her away,
forcing her to run and escape the British troops about
to overtake them:
I pushed my way through the brush
and branches, stumbling over rocks, blinded by tears.
Behind me I could hear shouts and the clash of steel
from the cottage. My thighs were slick and wet with
Jamie’s seed. The crest of the hill seemed never to
grow nearer . . ."
The detail about Claire’s thighs wet
with Jamie’s seed is not offensive or distracting.
Rather it lends further verisimilitude to an already
exciting scene. It prevents the reader from mentally
going, "but what about . . .?" and momentarily (or
longer!) leaving the story.
In your writing you don’t need to
belabor the less attractive aspects of being human. I’d
just as soon not read about the heroine’s constipation
or the hero’s jock itch. A recognition of and nod
toward the more nitty-gritty functions of being human,
however, will go a long way toward making your
characters living, breathing people rather than just
anatomically correct dolls.