Friday, September 18, 2009

GuestEssay: Less is More

Lemons in FanFiction: Why Less is More.

Magan bagan

Sometimes Less Really is More

When you have some free time, take a few minutes to scroll through the new updates on FF or even on Twilighted, what is one of the main things that you will find? Lemons. Open any story and you will find yourself immersed in an intimate scene between two characters before you know it. Some add just a little bit more to it, others could have been left out and not missed, and still others completely take over the rest of the story.

Does a lemon make or break a story? Would keeping it simpler, using the “less is more” approach, add more to the overall effect? I’ve been mulling over these questions for awhile now, considering the different stories that I, and many others, enjoy. The popular stories now are the more explicit ones, but they also have a plot. The developments of the characters, the relationships that are built, still play a role within the story.

But, do we always need a wild and crazy explicit lemon to make a fic worth reading? Isn’t there more to it than that?

A Twilight Kind of Intimacy

Before writing this I knew that I wanted to talk about the Twilight Series and what the lure was of this particular vampire story that affected so many people. Stephenie, as a character driven author, took the time to develop and intensify the relationships for each of her characters. She explored the intimacy of their actions, the longings, the desires that they had for each other.

And then, as the room went black, I was suddenly hyperaware that Edward was sitting less than an inch from me. I was stunned by the unexpected electricity that flowed through me, amazed that it was possible to be more aware of him than I already was. A crazy impulse to reach
over and touch him, to stroke his perfect face just once in the darkness, nearly overwhelmed me. I crossed my arms tightly across my chest, my hands balling into fists. I was losing my mind.

In a paragraph she was able to convey so many emotions, reminding each reader what it felt like to be in love at that age. All of the different emotions and tingly feelings you get when being in close contact with the object of your affection.

It was very difficult, while he was touching me, to frame a coherent question. It took me a minute of scattered concentration to begin.

"It seems to be… much easier for you, now, to be close to me."

"Does it seem that way to you?" he murmured, his nose gliding to the corner of my jaw. I felt his hand, lighter than a moth's wing, brushing my damp hair back, so that his lips could touch the hollow beneath my ear.

"Much, much easier," I said, trying to exhale.


"So I was wondering…" I began again, but his fingers were slowly tracing my collarbone, and I lost my train of thought.

Delving slightly deeper into their relationship, SM shows us their connection. She makes something as simple as a touch, beautiful and sought after, a moment that is sexy and intimate and something that we can all strive for.

His hand curved around my elbow, moving slowly down my arm, across my ribs and over my waist, tracing along my hip and down my leg, around my knee. He paused there, his hand curling around my calf. He pulled my leg up suddenly, hitching it around his hip.

I stopped breathing. This wasn’t the kind of thing he usually allowed. Despite his cold hands, I felt suddenly warm. His lips moved in the hollow at the base of my throat.

“Not to bring on the ire prematurely,” he whispered, “but do you mind telling me what it is about this bed that you object to?”

Before I could answer, before I could even concentrate enough to make sense of his words, he rolled to the side, pulling me on top of him. He held my face in his hands, angling it up so that his mouth could reach my throat. My breathing was too loud — it was almost embarrassing, but I couldn’t care quite enough to be ashamed.

His mouth was not gentle; there was a brand-new edge of conflict and desperation in the way his lips moved. I locked my arms around his neck, and, to my suddenly overheated skin, his body felt colder than ever. I trembled, but it was not from the chill.

He didn’t stop kissing me. I was the one who had to break away, gasping for air. Even then his lips did not leave my skin, they just moved to my throat. The thrill of victory was a strange high; it made me feel powerful. Brave. My hands weren’t unsteady now; I got through with the buttons on his shirt this time easily, and my fingers traced the perfect planes of his icy chest. He was too beautiful. What was the word he’d used just now? Unbearable — that was it. His beauty was too much to bear. . . .

I pulled his mouth back to mine, and he seemed just as eager as I was. One of his hands still cupped my face, his other arm was tight around my waist, straining me closer to him. It made it slightly more difficult as I tried to reach the front of my shirt, but not impossible.

Each of these excerpts provides something different for the reader. SM gives us scenes like these to show their connection, the emotional attachment they had for each other, making their relationship just a little more real for everyone. We became emotionally invested in the outcome, wanting them to have their happily ever after.

An Emotional Moment

Sometimes I think we forget that we are telling a story. There are many different aspects to consider when you’re weaving a tale with characters and relationships, and sex is only one part of it. Writing, while fun and used as an outlet for some, should be somewhat believable. We are creating an environment for the readers, people within a situation that could possibly and believably happen.

Yeah, sex is great, we all enjoy it, but personally, I am not a random hook up type of girl (well, I guess in my 30's I should call myself a woman, but you get the point). That said, the stories I've written, either solo or with ProfMom have always had the intricacies of relationships as a huge part of the plot. there is only one situation where ever delved into a purely sexual, nothing beyond relationship, and that was Rose and Emmett in DD, and even then it was always about evolution of the characters so they could get to a grounded relationship. At heart, every one of my stories is a love story, albeit some with wicked sexual attraction, but the love is first and foremost. Because of that, I balance a very fine line - there are a handful of words I'll never use when writing a lemon. Doesn't mean that I begrudge their use to other writers. I have always focused on as much the emotional as the sexual connection, and to me *me* (statistical sample of 1), at that point it's more about eroticism and connection than it is purely sexual.

Relationships are complicated and frustrating and a beautiful. They can be rewarding and maintaining that reality in ff can help you create something you might not have even considered. We all have read something at one time or another to just escape from reality for awhile. Whether it was Sci-Fi, romantic, or dramatic, there was some element of reality.

The natural progression the characters took, building a relationship, learning about each other, it most likely didn’t detract from the overall story. It helped you understand the characters, feel the emotions they were feeling, and root for them.

I think the important thing when writing a convincing connection between characters is the emotional build up to 'the moment' whether it be a kiss or a more physical/sexual encounter. If they walk into a room and immediately see each other, have a few words and begin making out, readers are not as emotionally invested in the characters as they are if, say, Bella and Edward stood in the room together talking with friends, exchanging sly glances, the occasional touch or brush of skin on skin, a whisper in the ear or a simple gesture like brushing a hair out of her face. Those small moments, which you can imagine in your head, you can even sometimes feel as you read the story and that is what makes whatever contact ensues, far more emotional for the reader. It's the slow burn that makes it better.

I also believe the more realistic the progression, the better. That doesn't mean there isn't a time and a place for knocking the plates off the dining room table and having Edward take Bella on the kitchen table, but it does mean that there were probably some small things going on prior to that moment that put them both in the mood. By exploring those things in your writing, it makes the physical moment, whenever it comes, a richer experience for the reader.

Some might consider the simplicity of writing that way overrated, but I think it adds just a little bit more. It takes you on a journey for the time that you spend reading, you may become frustrated with the characters, and you may fall in love with them, but isn’t that half the fun.

I’ll admit that when I’m working on a story I spend way too much time planning out the characters. For them to be accepted they have to be believable. How would he respond to this situation? What would she do if they said this? Their emotional connections help pave the way for further intimacy.

I love focusing on every little touch, exploring the emotions that come with a first caress, a first hand hold, a first kiss...that sort of excitement is impossible to replace once it's gone from a relationship. I truly love experiencing these firsts with my characters, and from the comments I've gotten, the majority of my readers do as well. Of course there are those who want Bella to "just jump him already," but I've found that most of them prefer the slow buildup instead. It gives readers something to look forward to - and that slow progression is an integral part of my plot.

I think that description is a huge part of building that tension, though. You can easily say, "They kissed," but that doesn't really capture any of those emotions that are behind that kiss. I know I tend to be wordy, which isn't always a good thing, but I do like to think about the sensations - both physical and emotional - that go into the kiss. What's it like when that guy that gives you the best kind of chills every time he looks at you kisses you for the first time? What do his lips feel like? His hands? How, exactly, do you describe that fluttering in your stomach and that lightheaded giddiness that makes you feel simultaneously like the biggest idiot and the luckiest person in the world?

Honestly, I love reading lemons just as much as the next girl, but when I first sat down to start creating my story, I was torn on the issue of writing them. They’re a crowd pleaser, yes, but I really had to think about whether lemons would work with my plotline. I love the idea of using non-sexual acts to create an intimate relationship, as, so often in fanfiction, characters get hung up on the sexual aspect. While I recognize that sex and a healthy sexual relationship are important, I think focusing on the development to that point in the relationship can also be very rewarding. The buildup to the first touch, the first dance, the first kiss – these finer details are so exciting and romantic in new relationships, and are so often forgotten about in the hurry to seal the deal.

It actually is rather difficult to maintain high levels of reader anticipation without including sex. The kiss in the Vampire in the Basement was one of the most anticipated moments in the story, and, as soon as it happened, the requests for lemons began pouring in. I’ve been pretty up-front with the fact that lemons won’t take place within the story at this point, but still, I gather that people are waiting for them. I’ve found that the important thing is to keep the connection between the characters growing steadily and to make sure the readers are able to see the depth of their feelings expanding in a non-physical way.

Not every story has to follow this pattern and not every story is meant to be sweet and fluffy. It is in the end up to each author and how they envision the story going.

You Say it Can Be Done, Where’s the Proof?

I was going through my alert list the other the other day, looking for some fics that would help drive my point home. Some of my favorite authors have kept their stories simple, working off of intimacy of the characters and allowing them to explore each other without having to be explicit.

Dangerous Affections
is about Edward as an assassin for the Volturi and he meets Bella when he returns home. No problem there except that Bella is his next target. Their emotional turmoil at finding a way out of their impossible circumstances, their connection, the intimacy in their first kiss only seem to enhance the story and pull you further in.
has also taken the time to explore the connection between Edward and Bella, the intimacy just a touch can have when one is not use to being touched.

There are authors such as
Cascade and Cyanide
) and
) that have written more explicit stories, but can change tactics and explore the relationships of the characters and the intimacy that follows.
, authors of
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The Fates
say that “we intentionally had them be intensely sexually attracted to each other, then had them, through a series of decisions and challenges, have to scale things back so that they didn't act on things too quick. Some might argue that we are simply pouring on the UST. While there is a hint of that in there, the goal was more to focus on the intellectual and emotional evolution of the characters - if they'd rushed into things, it would be no different than any other relationship.

Even in
Boycotts and Barflies
Trust in Advertising
we find ourselves emotionally invested in the outcome of Edward and Bella’s relationship. We found ourselves begging for the next time they would meet up, wondering when they would finally share that first kiss, even melting when they finally admitted their feelings for each other. “I don't think it's very hard to keep that going in a fic. I think just like you want to have the characters dying to kiss, it's always great when your readers are just as desperate for that intimate contact between the characters you have created. It means you did a good job at conveying the emotion. Sometimes, if you do it well, a kiss can be even more erotic than sex.
Magan bagan
has been a part of the Twilight fandom for a year now and loves it even more so than before. She is the author of such stories as
No One Saw the Pain
The Family that Stays Together
For the Love of a King
, and
A Perfect Twilight
. She is also co-host for a Twilight podcast
Cullens Court Cast
and is involved in many other aspects in the fandom.


  1. I definitely agree that many people think without a lemon they won't be as "popular", but you have to think about your characters and how it fits in the story. The first priority needs to be to craft a good story.

    Throwing lemons in simply for the sake of being popular or because they seem to be "required" seems like selling out to me.

    This is what I liked about the love through lemons contest, it made people think about how to put a lemon in that said something, that had a purpose and a meaning.

    This is also part of the reason we went the way we did with the When Love Was New contest, to strive to get authors to write love without a lemon, to show them that it is entirely possible to write a great story with only touching and no sex.

    Don't get me wrong, I love a good lemon, but I do feel that more and more people are throwing them in every.single.chapter and it is getting to be a bit much. Since normal intercouse is getting "boring" from reading about it so much, now we are seeing a huge influx of anal sex to "stand out". Only certain fics can put them in every chapter and still work and while anal sex certainly has its place in fic, certainly virginal high school Bella isn't going to take it up the pooper only 3 weeks after popping her cherry. That simply isn't realistic.

  2. I agree completely that you need to really explore your characters and their relationship before you can make a lemony scene believable. That's probably because I like my literature and fanfic like I like my sex: with a lot of emotional investment. I've never been a fan of superficial quickies, either in real life or in what I read.

    If you throw in lemons for the sake of getting more hits, you're doing a disservice to your characters. I think that's especially true for those who write "Twilight" fanfiction. Of course, sometimes out-of-character stories work very well. But by and large, stories in which a high-school Bella and an old-fashioned Edward have raging, frequent, explosive, uncharacteristic sex -- as if they've been doing it for years -- just doesn't strike me as realistic.

    Sure, it's frustrating that fewer people read my story because it's not an NC-17. But I can't stand even the thought of adding sex where I know full well it doesn't enhance the story line. At some point, I'll develop another story where the partners have a real connection and sex is a logical part of that. That's another challenge of writing; I think those of us who really care about what we write should do our best to meet it.

  3. OMG....still doing from Mo saying up the pooper.

    Ok - now that I am done snarfing...ITA with all the points (big surprise). Give me intimacy, give me emotional connection. There are a number of ways it can be done with and without physicality. Make me feel physically and emotionally. Make me remember what that rush of first love felt like...that was the inherent appeal of the books to so many of us, and what I love about some of my current faves.

  4. Oh, you included the famous 'leg hitch' scene. That scene blew me away. I've read some seriousl schmexin here at the fandom, but Stephenies leg hit is probably the single, most sexy thing I have ever ever read.

    I think actually building a relationship instead of having the characters just go at it is very hard to do and is probably why a lot of fics fail - they miss out on the slow burn and the emotions.

  5. There is so much more to a story than sex and I really believe in the whole buildup version expressed here. While some old-fashioned luvin' is needed (and at times necessary in a story), sometimes a simple hand-hold or light kiss could be as completely erotic as going all the way. Bravo for bringing this train of thought to the forefront!

  6. Lol yeah I have to admit I do love reading lemons, but what you guys say is so true. i mean that's probably why Steph's books held us for so long is the intensity of their relationship & the emotional conection. They didn't even have sex until book four, where they were married & even then it was not the MOST descriptive, but everyone loved it. So yeah you don't need lemons to complete a story, and in some ways it's probably healthier not to be constantantly reading them (lol I will keep telling myself that). Boycotts & Barflies was a great example of that. I loved that story. Ploughkeepsie was another that held you with the story without just being lemons. So thanks for your insight, will try & stick with it ;)


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