If ever there were a contentious topic contest in Christian Fiction, physicality between two characters would be awarded the prize.
I've seen more scathing reviews due to insta-love, attraction and sensuality than anything else including magic, violence against women and language.
As with every aspect of writing, there will always be differing viewpoints based on expectations and backgrounds.
Since it's difficult to discuss physicality without addressing attraction and desire, we'll touch briefly on that first, and yes that was an intentional pun.
There are readers who shun any description of attraction. And there seems to be a general feeling among those readers that it's shallow or wrong to take notice of a person's looks.
This quote from a movie classic sums up why I feel attraction plays a part in romantic relationships and in choosing a mate:
"Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"
-Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
It's a great quote because it's logical, and as with truly clever comedy there is truth locked inside the quip.
In real life and in fiction, when friendship shifts into a romantic sphere, you can bet it's because attraction is at work in some way. Without mutual attraction pulling two people together, it's impossible to write convincing romance or physicality between characters.
Now I've spoken a tad about how attraction plays a role in romance we can shift gears a little.
I'm going to share some examples from my own work and one from an author, but before I do that, I’m going to share some of the most sensual scriptures I could find.
I'm sharing these to show you where I gain my perspective and my convictions from.
I’m sure this will cause no end of contention as sensuality in Christian writing is also shunned even within marriage, but there are already too many unhealthy examples polluting our ideas of what intimacy should look like, without throwing guilt and shame into the mix.
The worst thing (in my opinion) we can do, is to either pretend that sex doesn’t exist or to label it as wrong or sinful.
Surely, as an antidote to a world filled with shades of grey, we need to be actively promoting healthy, loving, passionate marriages as something to aspire to?
Note I said marriages. I’m not talking about casual sex with no commitment here.
Song of Songs 1 New International Version (NIV)
1 Solomon’s Song of Songs.
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth--
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
We rejoice and delight in you[b];
we will praise your love more than wine.
How right they are to adore you!
5 Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.[c]
6 Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect.
7 Tell me, you whom I love,
where you graze your flock
and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I be like a veiled woman
beside the flocks of your friends?
8 If you do not know, most beautiful of women,
follow the tracks of the sheep
and graze your young goats
by the tents of the shepherds.
9 I liken you, my darling, to a mare
among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
10 Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you earrings of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was at his table,
my perfume spread its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.
15 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.
16 How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.
17 The beams of our house are cedars;
our rafters are firs.
What I particularly love about these scriptures is the normalcy in the description of attraction and desire.
We can only assume the couple were attracted to each other in some way before their wedding night.
Moving on to the how to...
How you describe a kiss or anything beyond that depends on who you are writing for.
For MG readers, there is really no need to describe anything past the point of ‘they kissed’.
In general market YA, the scope is greater as you are dealing with a more mature audience who have an expectation of romance.
For Christian YA novels, there will be a significant portion of readers who argue there is no place for description. (These are likely the readers who also dislike appearance-based attraction) But remember, for every one of those readers, there will be others who see romance as a natural demonstration of love and affection between a couple. Married or not.
If I were writing a scene where I knew my readership had an expectation of physicality, e.g. A romance novel, I'd be sure to include a higher level of description in my physical scenes. Not to the point of vulgarity but the last thing a writer wants to do is promise one thing and deliver another.
Whether writing or reading, your past experiences, your personal beliefs, and what you consider normal are where your level of comfort will be.
An important note, if you are unsure of whether you have too much heat in your scenes, beta readers within your target audience are vital for trimming back. Case in point, I cut a lot of physicality between Mick and Celeste in my latest release even though they were committed and in love, out of respect for my readers.
Keep your target audience in mind when you edit, and you'll find you self-censure anything that could land you in hot water.
These are kiss scenes from several unpublished works as well as one upcoming release. They are mostly unedited.
To avoid future spoilers, I’ve blanked out my character's names, but you should get the general idea of how far I take the physical in my own YA work.
Examples: An unmarried couple.
In three seconds flat _____’s world came crumbling down around him. In a rush of pleasure, he gave up and did the one thing he’d promised himself not to do.
______’s body pressed into his, his hands around her narrow waist, ____ knew he was done for. He loved her. Despite his desire not to. He loved everything about her.
And he’d been a fool to pretend otherwise.
He lost himself for a moment, his control wavering as she responded eagerly, the thought sobering as he pulled away, breaking the stolen kiss.
From a different WIP with magical elements, Onom is God, and this is their wedding night.
___ pulled his wife into his arms, sparks shot through him as he pushed her hair back from her face. “Not just beautiful, the most beautiful.”
___’s_ eyes widened before she leaned into him. A teasing tone to her voice. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
_____ frowned at her. “Never. I saved myself for my match, there’s never been anyone else, and there never will be.”
____’s eyebrows rose slightly before she angled her body closer. Sabres clanging together, she chuckled as she looked down. “Maybe we should take them off now?”
_____tilted his head a fraction. “Oh, I dunno, you never know when you might need—"
____pressed her lips to his, cutting off his words. When her body relaxed against him, and the kiss deepened amidst pulsing energy, he felt her indecision and uncertainty melt away.
As their weapons dropped to the floor, and the rain thrummed on the roof, ____ lost himself in the bliss of ____’s_ desire for him, and Onom’s sacred union.
From my upcoming release Dissociate. Married couple. She is in bed. He is not.
Amaya gave him her deflecting smile, then another look that made his brain turn to mush. “Go shut the door, would you?”
Torrance cocked an eyebrow at her less than subtle way to avoid a conversation. A conversation they’d get to one way or another. But for now, he was done talking.
He paused at the door, fighting a smile. “With me on the inside or the outside?”
Amaya smirked at him. “What do you think, Mr Kyle?”
Torrance caught the meaning and didn’t bother to think at all as he kicked the door shut.
And lastly from book four in the Allegiance Series. Married couple. After an argument.
Celeste gaped at him, unable to put to words what he’d loosened in her heart. He’d given her a part of himself that belonged to her alone. He trusted her, he cherished her, and he was apologising. Words simply wouldn’t express what she was feeling.
As her lips found his again, she found a way to apologise in a way that needed no words but had its own sweet melody.
Those are a few examples from upcoming works of mine. Some will probably end up on the cutting room floor, but they are a reasonable representation of how I write physical scenes.
The last two examples from The Allegiance Series are something I choose to do a lot. When things move past a kiss between a married couple, I cut away, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks and move on to the next scene.
Whether that is still too far is entirely up to the reader and their preferences.
Personally, I don’t want to read anything crude or too detailed, so I don't write it. I've learned through reading hundreds of romance novels, secular and Christian, that heat in a scene is often enhanced by what you don’t tell. Tension is strung out often by what is not shown.
As a final example, I gained permission from Serena Chase to share a scene from The Sunken Realm which features one of my favourite couples.
How Ms Chase has dealt with the moment of consummation after a lot of build-up shows how skilled and clever you can aspire to be when dealing with the physical.
It leaves much to the reader's imagination without taking away from the highly anticipated moment.
This scene is not in its entirety as I wanted to highlight the actual physical parts described, but as a reference, this is a near-perfect example of 'less is more' when dealing with the physical.
Her whisper might have been fuller, had his hand not just reached around to rest at the exposed skin at the small of her back. And then her breath was his, and his breath was hers.
Cazien kissed her lips, her eyelids, her neck, her scars. Whether it was her knees that gave out or his, she did not know, but somehow they ended up on the floor, a tangle of arms and legs and lips— “Ooof!” Cazien sat up, rubbing his ribcage.
“What by the bony hide of—”
“Oh! I think one of my daggers must have . . . yes. It poked through the bottom of the sheath. Are you bleeding?”
“If I am, it’s just a scratch. And entirely worth receiving, if you don’t mind me saying. Still, to lower the possibility of a most untimely death . . .” As Cazien distracted her with another kiss, he removed the dagger from its sheath.
She felt his grin against her lips as he hurled it away. The initial thud of whatever it impaled turned into a vibrating oing that lasted long enough to draw a giggle from her lips.
“I think it embedded in the door,” he said between kisses. “Don’t worry. It’s a thick door.”
“I wasn’t worried. Except—” He lifted his head. “Except what?”
“Except I still have four—no, five blades on me and . . . I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re wearing five weapons? Right now? Where?”
“Umm . . . various places.”
She couldn’t see his grin in the dark, but it carried on his voice when he said, “And this, my beautiful Pirate Queen, is one of the many reasons I love you.”
Cazien stood, and when she reached her hand upward, it connected with his.
He pulled her to her feet. “However,” he began, “because I do not intend to die on this of all nights, I believe we’ve reached the part of our adventure where I should endeavor to complete that most arduous—or should I say ardorous?—task of finally, and entirely, disarming my Lady Erielle.”
And that is exactly what he did.
Chase, Serena. The Sunken Realm (Eyes of E'veria Book 4) (pp. 503-504). Candent Gate. Kindle Edition.
You see? That, Ladies and Gents, is how to handle the physical. With subtly, with wit and if you can…a pirate.
If you would like to hear more from Serena Chase and find out more about her amazing books, she will be the guest of honour at Tricia Mingerink's and my co-book launch Facebook Festival.
The event will be jam-packed with prizes, giveaways and games running from 5pm EDT 24th May till May 25th 9pm.
Hope to see you there!