It’s 3:29 in the morning and once again, the little nymph which I call my muse has awakened me… again. I’ve long since given up fighting. She has something to say about seduction scenes and so, here I am, bleary-eyed. I hope it’s worth the ride.
The late, great producer, director, and really cool comedian, Mike Nichols summed up all scenes into three categories: Negotiation, Fighting, and Seduction. I don’t think there’s any writer who has written more than one book who would seriously disagree. I’d even go a step farther to say that when you break down a plot, 70 to 80% is negotiation… which leaves fighting and seduction. Fighting scenes are really easy to write. We all love cars exploding in flames and entire cities vaporizing or being washed away by a tsunami. That leaves Seduction. Seduction mixed with humor is arguably the most challenging thing to write about short of Quantum Mechanics.
When the original Bela Lugosi Dracula movies came out, I instantly went under their spell… and never came out. A possible reason: In the 30s and 40s the censorship rules for movies were ultra- strict. Back then, a love scene consisted of the bedroom doors closing and the music rising to crescendo. But then, some wise movie makers got around it… with vampires!
We all know the scene: The young voluptuous maiden in her flimsy nightgown yawns and then climbs into her big feather-bed… but not before cracking the window for a bit of night air. Two minutes later: the flapping of big bat wings followed by a bit of Hollywood magic: the dark creature of the night is now peering down at the now sleeping girl (always the gauzy lense). She is sleeping in her negligee, long milky white neck exposed for ease of biting. If you notice, the girl always jerks to awareness just before going into a pretty terrific orgasm. Afterward, she goes right back to sleep with a bit of blood dripping down her neck. Yup, the arc of becoming a vampire perfectly follows what we might call a seduction… or possibly falling in love.
Way back, when I was struggling with my first novel, Empath, I had several test readers who’d comment on what was right and what was wrong. (Pick your test readers wisely.) One reader in particular loved the plot, but kept commenting: Too much sex! Your characters seem to rip their clothes off every time a fly goes by. And so I toned it down. Here was the kicker, though. When I sent it to my first literary agent, she wrote back: Your Empath isn’t scary enough. Great sex though!
Depending how many years you have under your belt, you may or may not have come to the conclusion that it isn’t raw sex we’re looking for, it’s an exciting seduction as Mike alluded long ago. Like most red-blooded Americans, I’ve seen my share of Debbie Does Dallas kind of movies. Not terribly impressed. Many are inadvertently humorous as are the acting and the timing. Good lord… But there are a few handfuls of excellent seductions on the movie screen and when they’re good, they’re great… not because of the bodacious tatas, but because of the seduction.
I have a character in a manuscript I’m working on right now who is a scientist who can’t break out of that mindset 90% of the time. In order for him to break away, his seductions have to be truly that: SEDUCTIONS.
Flirting… anybody remember that? has always been the first course in a seduction. Virtually every creature that swims, crawls or flies on this planet takes part in flirting, or mating rituals. Some are pretty brutal, but for us humans, it usually starts with one thing… a look in the eye that lasts one heartbeat longer than usual. Or… it can be in the form of verbal bantering… even picking on the object of the seduction. The more nuanced… the more fun.
Ultimately, there is the ripping off of clothes, the being hoisted onto the dining room table… or sofa… or elevator (and the element of danger by getting caught). Once the humping starts however, unless they go to slow-mo, the seduction is over.
Seductions can take minutes, or they can take hours. They may also take weeks or years. In a soap opera, you can stretch that seduction out over a decade. Done correctly, there is nothing better. And if you’re imaginative enough, you can seduce the same person a thousand times in a thousand different ways.
Witness the success of 50 Shades of Grey... the BOOK, versus 50 Shades of Grey… the lousy movie. I think Mike Nichols could have easily predicted that. In the book, you can savor and fill in your own details. More importantly, you can seduce yourself… slowly. The movie? When a sex scene isn’t done right… it can be pretty damn bad.
Movies with Good Seductions: Okay, you want a handful of great seductions (in my opinion): Dangerous Liaisons, The Lover, The Piano, American Beauty, Fatal Attraction, Belle Epoque, Basic Instinct, Lolita, Officer and a Gentleman. You can add a bunch or delete a bunch. For the most part, the whole story (particularly in The Lover and Lolita) is the seduction. I think you could teach an entire college course, just on the five-minute seduction by John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons. … I’ll have to try this out on Pamela.
Just tits and ass and purple penises… that’s not where the magic lies. It’s in the seduction, the nibble on the neck, the danger, even that one overlong moment of eye contact. That’s where it’s at.
For what it’s worth and this is in real time, I just had a conference with my best reader of all… Pamela, on a sex scene I just finished up in my current novel. Her comment: “It’s too short. Gimme more!”
P.S. If you’re a budding writer, or just enjoy Mike Nichols’works, there’s a TERRIFIC documentary on HBO entitled Becoming Mike Nichols. Along the way, you’ll meet Elaine May and their skits… probably the funniest and most intelligent skits on the planet.