Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How hot is too hot? August theme (Tracy Barrett)


Most of my books straddle the borderline between middle grade and young adult, so I face a problem when romance comes into the story: I don’t want it to be too steamy for middle-graders, but I know that in some cases young adults won't believe that my characters stopped at hand-holding. How to handle this without alienating some of my audience?

My usual solution is to let my readers fill in the blanks at their level of understanding. For example, when Telemachos finally realizes that he’s in love with Polydora in King of Ithaka, I end one chapter:

Tears rose to my eyes, hot and stinging, and before I knew it I was sobbing, my face pressed into the warm crook where Poly’s neck met her shoulder. Finally, my tears slowed and I lifted my head. She turned to me and her solemn dark eyes flecked with gold fixed on mine.
       When I kissed her, I tasted the cool salt of the mermaid, and felt the heat of the fire girl and the rough prickling of the sandstorm girl. I smelled the forests and ponds of the wood nymph and the water nymph, and something else, something so human, so Polydora, that I forgot that I was cold and bruised and frightened, that Brax had disappeared, that we were lost, and that I had not fulfilled Daisy’s prophecy.

. . . and I start the next (after a few sentences situating the characters):

As I approached the place where we had spent the night, my face flamed. How would I greet Poly when I saw her?
       As if in answer to my thought, she appeared, teetering on rocks as she made her way back from where she must have been bathing. I rose to meet her and extended a hand, but she ignored me and hopped down, landing lightly. She seemed to be avoiding my eyes. I didn’t feel like meeting hers either. The only other time I had felt this uncomfortable was when I had appeared naked in front of my mother’s suitors back home in Ithaka.

When I drew the curtain, younger readers could assume that the characters made out on the beach and then went to sleep. Older readers will likely assume a more passionate encounter.

No matter how detailed a description I provide of a character, every reader will have at least a slightly different mental image of that character (until the movie comes out, in any case!). An emotion I assume will be shared by everyone will be differently nuanced for everyone who reads my depiction of it. In the same way, a sixteen-year-old’s idea of what happened between Telemachos and Poly on that beach will be different from, but just as valid as, a twelve-year-olds. When it comes to hot scenes, as in everything else, the author and the reader are in a partnership to create the story.

6 comments:

  1. I like the excerpt you chose because it not only shows your technique, but also the awkwardness of sexuality at that age.

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    1. Thanks, Megan! Even though the book is set in the Iron Age when I assume sexual mores were quite different, I'm willing to bet that awkwardness has always been part of the equation!

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  2. Wow--Romantic scenes are especially tricky, and I love that you're able to straddle the line of appropriateness for both younger and older readers.

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    1. A good example of that same technique is in THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. Also a beach scene, coincidentally--younger readers are often appalled to learn that older readers think the characters had sex.

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  3. Loved this. I was hoping someone would be brave enough to take the August "hot" theme in this direction, and that that someone wouldn't be me! So wise, Tracy, to let readers fill in those lovely gaps with their own level of understanding.

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    1. Thanks, Claudia! Those gaps are where the story really lies, aren't they?

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