Tag Archives: jenny crusie

Friday Night Lights: what I learnt about writing a sex scene from watching football

I just finished watching all five seasons of this little show called Friday Night Lights. It took me one week. It’s probably just because I’m still all mixed up in the joy of it, but right now it’s my favourite damn tv show ever.

I’ll probably have a bit to say about it, if you’ll bear with me.

But today I just wanted to focus on a specific thing: The Football. I know nothing about American football. I’m not a hugely sporty person. But the matches in this show are one hundred percent riveting.

I realised why, half way through season three (I know, it took me a while). Our beloved quarterback, Matt, who was never meant to be a superstar but has grown beyond what he thought he could be since the limelight was forced onto him, is being edged out by a much younger kid with a killer arm. The team he’s given everything to, the coach who means everything to him, are under pressure to replace him.

It doesn’t help that the new kid’s dad makes you want to hit him every time he opens his mouth.

So they’re playing an important game, and alternating between quarterbacks. Then the new kid starts winning the game, and he gets Matt’s plays. It is devastating, nail-biting stuff. I was leaping up and down willing Matt over the touchdown line.

It’s obvious, but it took that game for me to really get it: the personal drama of the characters develops throughout the game. For the best dramatic effect – and maybe it’s no coincidence that game brought it home to me – something intensely personal is at stake, and depends entirely on the outcome of the game. But no matter how obvious or subtle, life-changing or thematic the stake is, every player goes in there to win or lose something.

Jenny Crusie says a sex scene is like an argument; someone wins, and someone loses. I’ve always loved that approach, and we all know that unless the sex moves the story forward, you have no business putting it in your book.

The football matches of Friday Night Lights have given me much clearer ideas about how this is done. There should be big, personal stakes. Each player should go in with a clear idea of what they intend to achieve, knowing they are going to battle with someone who has a contradictory set of objectives. It should take something, to win.

THIS is why I read romance

I love Jennifer Crusie. She is so many of those words that don’t mean much one after the other, like wise, funny, insightful, sympathetic, sexy and incredibly human. Or rather, her writing is. I don’t know the woman personally.

I just read Bet Me, which Crusie says she wrote in ’92, but couldn’t get anyone to publish till ’04. “Editors were universally unenthusiastic about it, which was just inexplicable to me.” To me too. I loved this book, and I see people calling it their favourite Crusie all the time.

I don’t really want to do a review so much as say: This book is an affirmation. And not in a new agey way, where you’re saying something over and over, like “I am a successful writer” and feeling more fearful every time you say it, because someone somewhere is sure to notice how unconvinced you are.

This book is affirming in the kind of way that makes me feel braver about being alive.

Not a feeling I get when I read Peter Temple and I’m stuck in a car with his displaced detective who’s looking at the grey gobs of fat on the cold hamburger he’s about to eat. Truth did grow on me more the more I read, but it never once made me feel this internal glow.

My aversion to reading gritty “realist” fiction has given me hours of introspection. Do I read romance just to escape, is that a bad thing, and is it wrong to look to fiction for this feeling of encouragement and hope? (And is that feeling synonymous with escape? And is that just about the most depressing thing in the world if it is?)

I don’t want to give the impression that Bet Me is all sunshine and rainbows. Funny thing, but when characters and their surroundings are too peachy, a romance novel just leaves me with a hollow, itchy feeling. I think it portrays love in just about the most realistic way possible: the terror when you face actual love, and the courage it takes to believe in it. (You can go here for my impassioned argument that romance novels depict a realistic experience of love. Ah, bless.)

I’ve been brainstorming the second half of my novel, and am completely daunted by the task of making sure my characters’ potential pays off. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is: Why romance? What am I actually trying to say about love? I’ve come to a general conclusion which is that, for me, love gives life meaning.

The more specific expression of this is starting to come through in my heroine’s emotional evolution. She goes from: life = surviving to: even though life is all about surviving I will live as though it’s not.

melodrama queen

I’ve been reading ahead in my first draft, to see what’s coming for me in my rewrites. And Lord, it isn’t good.

By the third time in one scene that my heroine blushed, I wanted to rip her out of the draft with my bare hands. My hero too, poncing around saying “Oh woe is me, just because I am beautiful and a duke, I am still a man who bleeds as other men do”.

The number of secondary characters + secondary character plot twists boggles the mind. And makes for sustained melodrama, as everything comes to a head all at once, over chapters and chapters and chapters.

Now, I don’t think it’s at all useful to slam old-me and what old-me wrote, because that’s all a natural part of learning how to actually write – i.e. really not being able to write. It’s kinda great, actually, to see how far a lot of hard work can bring you.

It’s also great being in a headspace that really understands the concept of “kill your darlings”. I’m not just looking at pretty passages here, I’m looking at whole characters and plot points and thinking “if I took you out, would it matter?”

So much of this highly productive headspace has come from listening to Popcorn Dialogues, which is like a masterclass in writing. Jenny Crusie and Lucy March watch a movie a week, then podcast their thoughts and their critical breakdown of it. So far it’s been romantic comedies, but they’re just about to move into Hitmen In Love.

I owe them this great critical phrase: