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Love Scenes in Fantasy by Paul Anthony Shortt

One thing I love about having guest bloggers is that I get to hear (and share) things from people with different perspectives and expertise. I'll admit that my experience with the fantasy genre is not extensive. Beyond my love for A Wrinkle In Time and The Never Ending Story as a kid and reading some urban fantasy as an adult, I'm woefully under-read in the genre.

So when I held an impromptu "pitch me a guest post idea" contest on Twitter a few weeks ago, I was so happy to see Paul Anthony Shortt throw out this topic. I selected him as the winner (though is it really winning if I make you work and write a guest post, lol.? Not sure.) and he generously put together this fab post for us. Hope you enjoy!



Love Scenes in Fantasy by Paul Anthony Shortt

Although I don’t write romance, I believe sexuality is an important part of defining a character. It is one of the most driving needs people have, to feel sexually fulfilled and compatible with another person. As writers, we should take the time to understand the significance of how we choose to, or choose not to, express this need.


Fantasy artwork is filled with images of well-endowed women wearing highly impractical clothing, all manner of bits exposed to swords and arrows and evil, leering wizards. It’s safe to say that the genre hasn’t been especially kind to women in the past. As such, popular fantasy, for all its innovation and imagination, can feature some very stereotypical depictions of sex. Men are often sex-obsessed, while women are either virginal things to be conquered, or temptresses placed there to seduce the male hero away from his goal. Not that all fantasy is like this, or that these stereotypes can’t still be used effectively, but with its roots in ancient myth, it is only natural for the Fantasy genre to incorporate such elements. These motifs harken back to traditional gender roles in storytelling, where women represented two extremes: Purity or temptation. Peacemaker or obstacle. The woman was representative of the rewards the hero would receive for staying true to his goals and serving the greater good, or of the ease with which he can succumb to base desires. 

More modern titles, particularly Urban Fantasy, where women tend to receive more important roles, introduce a new side to this. Newer heroes such as Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake have experienced sex as a means to gain new power, to become more than the mere mortal they were before. Similar situations crop up in The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, where sexual energy can be used to fuel spells, or as part of ritual magic. This treatment of sex seems to draw again on ancient myth and occultism, where sex was part of spiritual practices, a way of connecting the mortal self with higher powers. Of course, the danger here is that the spirituality of the act can be forgotten, leaving the reader with the impression of sex becoming a path to power. That said, we can examine such decisions by a writer to determine whether they may be portraying the embracing of sex as being, in and of itself, empowering. By realising their sexual natures, the characters are freed from previous limitations. 

In some cases, there is a more disturbing side shown in characters. In The Baker’s Boy, by J.V. Jones, we see many sex-focused men and just as many women who treat sex as something to be given to a man, simply as a matter of course. As a reader I found this unsettling, and spent a long time wondering exactly what the author was trying to say. These are traits often given to characters with whom we are not meant to sympathise, or who are portrayed as misguided or forced to behave a certain way. Representations of sexual servitude go back to the Gor series and beyond, but can we consider them love scenes, even when they are consensual? Is there any emotional connection between the characters, or is this as mundane to them as being served a cup of coffee?  

The risks inherent in writing love scenes are as present in Fantasy as they are in Romance, if not more so. With Romance, readers expect that relationships and emotion are the focus of the story. Characters grow through experiencing emotional upheaval, rather than by facing physical dangers. In Fantasy, there is no inherent expectation of romantic encounters. Readers may not be used to finding them, and authors may not be used to writing them. If a love scene feels added in just to titillate the reader, it loses its power, and any sense of purpose. Just as in Romance, a love scene should represent something deep and meaningful, for the good or for the ill of the characters involved. It may be the culmination of a love story, where two characters are finally united and become stronger for their new bond. It may be a sign that a character’s innocence is now over, and they must stand as an adult against the threats that come. It may even be a last desperate act to cast aside inhibition, embrace a darker part of the self, and hopefully become stronger for it. 

Then, of course, there’s no reason why it can’t just be a simple act between two lovers. An expression of their feelings as they come together at the height of the story’s tension. For all the different ways a love scene can be included in Fantasy, and all the different themes it can represent, the emotions of those involved, how they react, whether they are at first reluctant or have sought this out, should be as they are in Romance. Human. Stories are about people, and so long as the simple human responses to love and sex are held to with consistency and integrity, an author should be able to give us a scene that is engaging and satisfying to read on an emotional level.

In this way, Fantasy authors can learn an awful lot from Romance authors. Both genres deal with heightened emotions, larger than life stakes, whether internal or external, and the expectation that, in the end, all will be well. So with these similarities in mind, it stands to reason that the attention paid to personal relationships, and their highest form of expression in love scenes, in Romance should guide Fantasy authors to better understand the power that their choices can have in how the readers responds to the story they tell.

 Paul Anthony Shortt is an avid reader and lover of music and film. He lives in Ireland with his wife, who is expecting their first child in a few weeks, and their dog, Pepper. His first novel, which is still undergoing title edits, is due to be released by WiDo Publishing in 2012.


What differences do you see genre to genre with regards to love scenes and the romantic thread? 


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Reader Comments (1)

Well done. Once of my pet peeves is and always has been the idea of those women with all that lovely exposed skin going into battle with barely a thing on. O_o That skin wouldn't be so lovely very long. =D

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna K. Weaver

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