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The language of love in romance novels is important in order to set the scene. It has also changed much over the years. Gone are the flowery purple passages of Barbara Cartland novels, where heroines swooned and ‘touched the stars’, or whatever other euphemism Barbara used to describe an orgasm. Love scenes now use more realistic language, sometimes explicit, sometimes not, depending on the market and intended readership.
But I’m struck by how some authors get it completely wrong. A Facebook friend recently pointed out the blurb of a novel which describes the heroine’s ‘sexy snort’. Even in the film Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock’s snort is shown to be an unattractive aspect of her behaviour. Though with Sandra Bullock being so beautiful, I think most men would probably forgive that! But such a snort cannot be described as sexy. At least not with a straight face…
I have also read novels where the designated hero ‘leers’ at the heroine, or whilst they’re involved in love making, language is used that is not realistic in the context of the novel, but also downright vulgar. I’m not taking a prudish standpoint here, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with frank, erotic language in a book aimed at an audience who would appreciate it.
But I recently read a novel aimed at the mainstream romance market which was full of delicious, elegant prose about the heroine’s town and her inner feelings. All this was instantly ruined when the meetings between her and the hero used much less elegant language. The author had him leering at the heroine’s boobs and thinking he’d like to have sex with her in the sort of crude terms resigned for the lecherous playboy who we all know is not right for our heroine. When parts of the hero and heroine’s bodies started to itch (as opposed to a line where the characters think of an ‘itch they can’t scratch’ whilst leading up to an orgasm) I immediately wanted to send them both to the STD clinic.
I understand how hard it is to come up with new ways of describing how a hero and heroine react to each other, and without resorting to the sort of purple prose of yesteryear. I struggle with it all the time. I’ve seen authors who somehow manage to use the same terms in every novel and they’re very good at it.
Years ago a friend and I read some novels in order to research a particular market (I shan’t say which). In one novel, the heroine was called Nora. I know several ladies call Nora and it’s a perfectly nice name. Except that during lovemaking scenes the author kept referring to the hero fondling ‘Nora’s nub’, which had both me and my friend in stitches. I really don’t think that was the intended response to such sexy scenes…
Not long ago, another friend was sent a list of possible words she could use in her novel to depict the hero and heroine’s lovemaking as she’d been a bit coy about that part, leaving everything at the bedroom door (which is also perfectly acceptable). That list also gave us much cause for mirth. Out of context the words ‘manhood’ and ‘love shaft’ bring out the ‘Carry On’ in all of us.
Another novel, reviewed on a romance site, had an alien hero who had barbs on his penis. Can you imagine the love making? I can, and it only makes me want to cross my legs.
It is important that any language used is in keeping with the rest of the novel. It is also important that no matter how frank the language becomes during love scenes, it is still appealing to the reader. It’s equally important it doesn’t have the reader bursting out laughing (or saying ‘ouch’ in the case of barbed penises).
What’s the funniest or most inappropriate language you’ve ever read in a romance novel? No author names or titles, please. It’s not my wish to publicly shame anyone, because we’re all capable of getting it wrong. Me included…