Can you tell this is an open topic month? Yup – we’re talking virgins. Those historical romance writers, geez, they’ve got it easy. (Cue my bitterness.) They have built in conflict, what with duels and entire wars over honor, and flashing an ankle is considered getting to third base. Well, they’ve also got virgins. Whereas contemporary romance has almost zero ubiquitous conflict (in today’s world, there is nothing stopping a woman from sleeping with a guy who lives in another county. Or votes differently. Or once said something mean to her brother.) and almost zero virgins.
Long story short, I’m writing one. In the first book in a new series, so it has to be spectacular. I’ve regretted it every single day since I came up with the idea. Oh, the readers will eat it up with a spoon (trust me, she’s got a really great, non-religious reason for it!), but as a writer, this has been super duper hard. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen me whining about this self-imposed torture for months. And this week, I finally did it. I popped her cherry. Gah. Waaaaay more painful for me than for her, I promise you.
Then I sent it to a friend who writes sweeter than anyone else in my circle of writerly folk. Figured she’d be the perfect person to weigh in on the chapter (as opposed to some of my other crit partners who throw in blow jobs by chapter two on any given manuscript). And the reason I’m telling you this story? She thought I didn’t go far enough. In fact, here’s her quote:
I want you reach way far back in your brain and remember your first time, the uncertainty, tentativeness, apprehension, excitement, giddiness. Now I want you to multiply that by 27 and think hard about how difficult this would be to actually DO even after you’ve finally talked yourself into it, and you’ve found the right guy.
Here’s the thing (without delving into too much TMI): I didn’t have that much uncertainty when I gave up my virginity. And it wasn’t that hard (don’t EVEN go there – I know when a joke writes itself)….I mean difficult. Why am I over sharing? Because it was a fantastic reminder that people have vastly different experiences and world views. I gave my heroine some fear (even though she’s spent the entire book begging the hero to have sex with her – he’s the one who slammed on the brakes once she disclosed her, um, status) and the traditional discomfort at the pivotal moment. But I never considered making her giddy and apprehensive.
Where does the truth lie? In both versions, of course. Sometimes, as a writer, you need to go very far in one direction to up the dramatic stakes. The comments I received on the Virgin Sex Chapter reminded me that sometimes finding the middle ground, to be more relatable to a bigger audience, is actually the way to go.
So I’m going to crank up some of her emotions – but not all. And when the four of us go out to dinner tonight, we’re going to poll the table and make everyone share stories of their first time. Pity our waiter, folks. There will be no hushed voices.