Thursday, December 10, 2009

Defining a character's sexuality

Yesterday, I started talking about the how I use sex in my writing. When we think sex and writing, normally people think of two things:
  • Erotica (like good old Anais Nin, The Story of O, etc.)
  • Romance novels (gotta have that perfect love scene where the characters climax in each other's arms after having that orgasm that made them come alive in new ways...)

As I mentioned yesterday, my characters have healthy libidos. I also talked about sex as a way to reveal how characters feel about each other. For the English major geeks out there, I see my main supernatural bad guy as a bully, and I see the woman who falls in love with him as a victim of domestic violence. This is intentional on my part, because if a mortal man *hurt* her in the ways he does, the reader would never finish the book. And when you look at their relationship, the bad guy only manipulates/hurts her in private. In public, they look like the perfect couple. Isn't that usually the way with domestic violence?

But this entry is not about that.

This entry is about the love of my life, Étienne, and his girls, Adelaide and Basilie. Étienne married Basilie in 1979. Basilie divorced Étienne in 1993, but she forgot to leave. They moved into separate domiciles, but life became a great big sleepover game of who would stay at who's house what night. To end it once and for all, Basilie moved to New York City in 2000 on a work visa. She assumed Étienne would stay in France. Instead, he applied for an O-1 visa followed her.

Now, Adelaide works for Étienne. She's worked for him since she was 13. (Actually she was 12-and-a-half but Étienne prefers that she round up, sounds better if she were 13 instead of 12.) She spent her school years modeling, then moved into the PR department after high school, and when Étienne moved to New York, he brought her along, figuring he'd need an American around to start his New York office.

None of that tells you how these characters feel about each other.

Chapters three and four of my first book involve a large party. Chapter three is the bad guy's perspective. Chapter four is Étienne's.

This is the first time we see Étienne and Basilie together:

Étienne kissed [her]. He angled for her lips, but she nudged away redirecting his effort to her cheek.

Without even delving into Étienne's POV, we hear this about him and his ex-wife:

"Mon jeune ami," Étienne said. "I have papers... papers say we are married, others say divorcés. Paper means nothing. Rien. Je ne crois pas les papiers.”

Now this is the very first paragraph from Étienne's POV. It's not sexual, per se, but it does set up a great deal of his sexuality:

In the farmhouse’s dark, cool basement, Étienne maintained his cellar. He fondled his 1921 Château d’Yquem Sauternes, brushing off the dust, turning the bottle, and leaving it. Nothing compared to a good woman or a quality wine. Since he no longer collected lovers, he shifted to fine vintages, almost as enjoyable a hobby.

And his first interaction with Basilie (or as he nicknames her 'Zélie') shows us something about each of them, even though it's his POV. I wanted a scene that would show his devotion to her without having him go through a diatribe of internal dialogue. I wanted to show you, not tell you:

Étienne placed his arm around Zélie’s waist. He moved a hand into the hair cascading past her shoulders, tumbling in tight curls. He pinched one. The spiral crackled under his touch, crispy with the hairspray from the stylist. He sniffed it.

L'ananas... The English challenged him… Pineapple and Chanel No. 5. The combination always signaled a celebration.

"I’m sure your wife is here, Bob," Zélie said.

Her words sounded as crisp as her hair. The sentence slid off her tongue with ease, her English enunciation perfect. He couldn’t have said it, not like that, not even when sober. Yet she was as French as him and she could… Zélie flinched, swatting at his hand. He lowered his head toward her bare shoulder. His lips brushed her flesh...

"Étienne, stop it," she commanded.

He pulled away with a devilish smile.

But the very next line shows us his different attitude for his young employee:

Adelaide burst into the room, apologizing as she knocked into several guests. Her head jerked. Her gown shed feathers. In her clumsy distress, Adelaide’s lips puckered. Her eyes pleaded. Her cheeks and jaw hung with anxiousness. Even so, she remained the most beautiful fixture in the room.

The most beautiful fixture in the room. The phrase gives me chills. But wait, you say, how does this all relate to sex? Well, from here we progress to sexual tension.

Adelaide unzipped her boots. She stretched her legs across [Étienne's] lap. The weight of the beads pulled the dress away from her thighs. Her garters poked from beneath the fabric. Zélie never wore garters, no matter how much Étienne wished she would as his chouchou did. He rested a hand on Adelaide’s ankle.

But it isn't the magnificently beautiful Adelaide who truly captures Étienne's attention, but his ex-wife, as they dance:

“Chut,” he whispered.

He brought his lips to hers to quiet her, and they danced, tenderly tasting each other. In the final measures of the song, Étienne stepped away, twirled her to the end of his arm, then pulled her back, and dipped her across his thigh where he kissed her, this time long and thorough.

The black silk sash had fallen covering her breasts. Her creamy skin set off beautifully the strand of black pearls he had given her earlier. He liked how the pendant sparkled, though now it hung upside-down making a cloverleaf instead of a heart. He squeezed her hand and roamed her body with his eyes. His outlined her jaw and her cheekbone with his index finger.

"Étienne, let me up, chéri," she said, interrupting his visual consumption.

"I was just—"

"I know exactly what you’re doing," Zélie said. "Let me up."

She takes him to bed. As he is very drunk, he requires some assistance. But once his teeth are brushed and his clothes removed, they do tumble into bed. Every touch and every breath (I hope) shows their desperation for each other. In their care and their enjoyment, the familiarity of the moment shows how long they've been together. But as I mentioned yesterday, in a way, this is a "baseline sexual encounter" so that the reader can detect changes in their relationship later and also know later when Étienne gets accused of cheating, whether or not 'the other woman' is telling the truth...

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