Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Author: Ellie (Page 2 of 72)

Silhouette of couple kissing against the sunset

Let’s talk about sex

Sex in fantasy books, that is. Settle down at the back.

The other day, I was tidying up my notes folder and found some scene fragments I’d written a while ago. One of them featured two of my characters having sex. At the time, I made a funny tweet about it and let it go, but this is actually something I feel very strongly about. Strongly enough to go back and expand my funny tweet into a threadlet:

And then when I still had Thoughts, to write this post.

So what’s the big deal?

There is a sector of the genre readership that doesn’t like sex in their fantasy. Some find it uncomfortable or embarrassing to read. Some view it as boring, unnecessary and a distraction from the plot. Some just feel sexual encounters are as much a part of the character’s everyday life as trips to the bathroom, and therefore have just as little reason to be on the page. After all, if the reader just needs to know two people have slept together, that can be shown with dialogue, contextual cues and other narrative devices, without describing the act in any way. The “how much detail is too much” question is one for another day.

I’m firmly in the opposite camp. I think that building a character without taking into account their sexuality leaves out a huge amount of information about them and how they relate to the people around them. Sexual desire is a powerful motivator in humans, as is sexual jealousy. It can skew a character’s priorities, make them willing to take risks. Who they choose to love and what opposition they may face for it reveals much about their society and social role. Think caste systems, religious divides, the effect of wealth or public visibility vs a private life and that old favourite, forbidden love.

Intimacy makes people vulnerable in a way that combat does not, and characters with vulnerabilities are interesting.

Everything I include in a book has to have a purpose – often more than one. That’s true of the sex scenes too. They’re not there for titillation. Intimacy makes people vulnerable in a way that combat does not, and characters with vulnerabilities are interesting. It also reveals how their upbringing has shaped them: what they want, what they expect, how much they give and receive when no-one else is watching. Even characters’ reasons not to have sex are intriguing. Asexuality, shyness, fear, disability – it is all relevant and worthy of exploration.

There are other reasons to include a sexual encounter, too. It’s a change of pace. A chance for the reader and story alike to catch their breath. To snatch a moment of joy in a highly-charged situation. For separated lovers to reconnect. Or maybe just for the protagonist to remember what it is they’re fighting for.

Sex is a very human – and humanising – thing. It’s another dimension to the character, another colour on the palette with which to paint them. The more colour, the more texture, the more real they become, and that’s what I’m striving for. Realistic people in a made-up world.

Grey Chinese dragon on roof

New year news

I gave myself some time off over the holidays. As any writer will tell you, the holidays are an opportunity to get so much writing done, have this manuscript knocked into shape in no time. And then, well, The Holidays happen. There’s late nights and lie-ins and family stuff and all that delicious food won’t eat itself, right?

Anyway, I gave myself a pass, and promised I wouldn’t beat myself up if I didn’t get much done for a couple of weeks. Instead I would use the time to rest, recharge and refocus, so I could come out swinging in 2018.

First up, an update on where things stand with THE DRAGON HOUSE.

The headline figure is 120,000 words (so far) on what I hope is the final draft of the book. This is not the end, because I am re-re-re-x10n-writing the last act after realising I’d made a huge misstep. I thought I could write my way out of them, but it turns out I couldn’t, and I should have stopped trying some time ago. Sometimes it really is better to just accept you’ve goofed, tear it down and start again from a firm foundation.

Speaking of which, this 120k is pretty solid, I think. It’s the result of some tough love from my agent, a lot of work and me being in a better headspace. These last few years have not been great but I’ve said all I want to say about that for now.

So, 120k and moving forward. Beta-readers say it holds together, so all that remains is to take a deep breath, and nail the dismount. Wish me luck.

A note on process and progress

Some authors like to post progress meters or word-count totals for the books they are writing. If this works for them to inform their readers and hold themselves to account as deadlines approach, more power to them. That doesn’t work for me. I don’t like (and instinctively mistrust) raw word count alone as a metric for measuring my own progress.

Regular readers will know that my writing process is best described as organic, even free-range. It’s messy. There’s no formula or road map to get to the end, and the only GPS stands for Gut Plotting System. I tend to find out what my books are about by writing them. I also edit as I go, pruning and filling as needed. As the shape of the story comes into focus, I get a better idea of how much more work is required to adjust the lens, as it were.

Not all of this adjustment equals more words, of course. It might mean I need less, or a bit of both. It’s fluid. I do a lot of writing/editing by feel, which is why a hard, arbitrary figure like 186,048/200,000 is not a meaningful measure of progress to me. Nor is crossing things off lists, much as I like doing that. I’m not even disciplined enough to stick to a drafting schedule, except for the last one, where it counts.

So my writing process is linear, until it’s not. My word and character choices are deliberate, until they become instinctive. I know where I’m going but still surprise myself along the way. And I know that I’m done when I get there, because when it’s ready the work sings.

I never said it was a *good* process, did I?

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