When To Do It

I’m wondering now, especially in light of Shiela’s recent post about sex in romance.

When should the characters “do it”? How far into the story is right for them to get down and dirty, so to speak?

A well-known, well-respected editor and author I know recently mentioned that most publishers want the first “encounter” to occur around chapter three of a romance. To me, that smacks a bit of the “sex on the third date” idea that some people adhere to in real life, or maybe that’s just my mind making random connections for its own amusement again. At any rate, is that a hard and fast rule?

I wonder about that kind of thing, because my characters rarely do what I want them to, and even when they do, they don’t usually have sex by the third chapter, unless they’re already a committed couple or at least friends. Of course, the length of the story has a lot to do with it, as well. In my short “Ask And You Shall Receive”, which was my first published romance story, Beth and Chase have sex before chapter three because… well, if I remember right, there aren’t any chapters. The story’s only about 7000 words long. Beth and Chase have been friends for a while, though, and the sex grew out of that. On the other hand, in the novel that I’ve just had accepted, which may be called Eternal Love but we haven’t quite decided yet, Gwen and Rhys don’t have sex until chapter six. Unless I’m asked to make some cuts, the novel is 106,000 words long, broken into twenty chapters, so chapter six really isn’t that far into it. Gwen and Rhys meet in chapter one, so the intervening chapters build their relationship to the point where sex makes sense, as well as explaining some of the reasons why they fall for each other. (Not going to give anything away; the book should be out sometime this summer. LOL)

It’s on my mind right now because I’m working on a new romance novel, and by page 97, the characters still haven’t had any sexual contact. They’ve only kissed. Admittedly, kissing can be more intimate and erotic than intercourse, but for a romance publisher, especially one that looks for eroticism, the kissing may not be enough at that point in the story. I do know, because I’ve been wrangling with this one, that some of the beginning will wind up being cut after I finish the first draft and start revising. It doesn’t really move the story along, and I mostly only wrote it because I was trying to figure out where the characters wanted to go. Now that I’ve figured that out, I know that some of what happens early on doesn’t really need to happen. (No, I don’t plot my stories beforehand, other than to say something like, “Well, it’s about a woman who goes to work for a marine assistance company and she and one of the captains fall in love. But one or two of the other captains don’t like having a woman there, so they want to hide their relationship, so there’s the conflict.”)

Even with the stuff I’m planning to cut out, though, the heroine and hero probably won’t have sex until page 100 or so. Since my chapters run kind of short, that’s going to be round about chapter 10 or 11. Which might mean the publisher I’m targeting with it won’t be too happy…

It’s understandable for publishers to have requirements and standards in what they accept. They have to, otherwise they’d be bombarded with stuff that either isn’t publishable or doesn’t appeal to them. (Publishers and editors are people, too, and they have their preferences). Some do have hard and fast rules about when the first sex scene should occur, how many sex scenes should occur, etc.

As an author, if I want my work to be published by a certain publisher, I have to follow their guidelines and requirements. That’s why those things exist. However, I’d rather stay true to my characters and rack up a few rejection letters than force the characters to do something that doesn’t fit the story or their personalities.

Even if that means they don’t have sex when I want them to. Darn it.


2 responses to “When To Do It

  1. This is so true. One publisher will say it MUST be a third of the way into a story another will tell you that it is too soon. In the end I think each story should set its own pace.

    Great thought provoking post!


  2. Great post. I’ve often wondered about this. My characters don’t have sex until chap 12, but there is sexual tension–build-up–in the chapters before. As a reader, I find the sexual build-up is usually better than the sex. And shouldn’t there be a certain amount of sexual tension before they do the deed? Also, many romance novels I’ve read, the characters didn’t have sex until more than half way through the book.
    For me, the sex scene should happen when it is supposed to for those characters.
    LOL, to force them to have sex before it is the right time will make for a flat read.

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