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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Sensuality in the edgy Christian novel - August 1st tour stop here...

You are now entering the blog tour zone for the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers first official Summer Blog Tour. Each tour stop on the blog tour contains topics that directly relate to new trends in what I call "reality" fiction, where authors write about real life situations and don't worry about toning it down. Why? Because many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, live on the "edge" and can better relate to the flawed characters. Here is a link to other stops on the tour so you don't miss out on reading great content. Hopefully you'll get a better feel for what exactly edgy Christian fiction is after reading these posts.

To find the links to other tour posts click here.

I've been asked for years to talk about exactly what edgy Christian fiction is. It means different things to different people. I always use the actual definition from the dictionary to make the meaning as clear as possible...

edg·y (ĕjˈē)

  1. Daring, provocative, or trend-setting: an exhibition of edgy photographs; an edgy menu.

Chris·tian (krĭsˈchən)

  1. Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
  3. Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
  4. Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
  5. Showing a loving concern for others; humane.
  1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

fic·tion (fiks̸hən)


  1. anything made up or imagined, as a statement, story, etc.

lover (luvər)

  1. a person who greatly enjoys something or has great affection for something: a lover of fine wine

Now that we've established what the exact definition is of an edgy Christian fiction lover all you have to do is ask yourself it the above definition fits you. If your answer is yes, then keep reading.

I chose the topic of sensuality because I love to write romance. The dictionary defines sensual as this...

sen·su·al (sĕnˈsho͞o-əl)


1. Relating to or affecting any of the senses or a sense organ; sensory.

Now you are probably wondering how defining this relates to writing romantic fiction that is sensual enough to be memorable. Why is it necessary? Because that is every author's goal... for people to remember the story and the author who wrote it.

On to the interesting stuff now that we are grounded in what these things mean.

Everything human beings do behaviorally is directly tied to their senses. So when authors are told to not forget to use the five senses, it's for a very good reason.

If someone smells really good you might want to sit closer to them. On the flip side, if their body odor is appalling, you'll want to sit far enough away that it doesn't overtake your senses. Whether someone smells good or bad directly affects your thoughts about them and most likely your behavior toward the person.

If someone looks really good (think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt here) you will want to get closer to them, maybe talk to them and get to know them better. On the flip side, if they look like Scarface or someone with an oozing skin disease your first thought would be to stay as far away as possible. Again, what you see directly affects your behavior toward others.

If someone has a pleasant voice whether they are talking or singing, most people would want to listen and get closer to that person. On the flip side, if their voice is screechy, whiny, nasally-sounding, or wimpy, you won't be as attracted to the person and will most likely want to leave the room or hang up, if talking with that person on the phone.

If someone doesn't have an invisible barrier up and not only receives a friendly hug with affection, but even welcomes it, if you were someone who enjoyed touch, you would most likely want to hug that person again and again. If they stiffen at your touch or there is a painful spark between you that isn't pleasant, chances are you won't want to touch that person again.

If someone tastes good, I mean really tastes good, then you are going to want to kiss them again. If their breath is sour or there is just something about their kiss that turns you off, you won't go back for more. It's pretty basic, but I have not dated men a second time who were very attractive, but I did not enjoy their kiss. So taste matters, especially if you are looking for something long-term, like marriage.

Last, if someone has a warm "spirit" about them you will be attracted to that person. If they are a Christian and you are of like mind, it's likely that there will be a profound connection between your hearts. If someone has a guarded or hostile "spirit" you are not going to want to get together with that person and get to know them better. Those types of people are draining and leave the other person feeling exhausted after every encounter.

Now that we've established that the senses are clearly a factor in whether or not one person will pursue a relationship with another, I think you can see why sensuality in fiction is critical in creating a memorable bond between characters. As an author, I want readers to release a satisfied sigh when they read the interactions my hero and heroine have in any given story. I want them to feel profound relief and satisfaction when the couple finally kisses for the first time. I want the reader to feel the same desire to pursue a relationship with the other character as the character does himself (or herself.) I want my readers to want to yell at the characters when they are upset, or cheer them on when they are headed in the right direction. Bottom line, I want their reading experience to be memorable.

When I am talking about sensuality in edgy Christian fiction I am not talking about inciting lust in the other person, just attraction. So don't picture a busty pole dancer here trying to lure a pastor into sliding bills into her garter. That is NOT even close to what I'm referring to. I am talking about creating characters that are so real that you forget you are reading a book, but instead you feel like you are hanging out with friends. Writing sensual scenes does that for readers.

Think of the scent of turkey baking in the oven on Thanksgiving. What does that illicit in your heart? Usually fond memories, right? Sensual experiences in fiction will illicit similar fond memories in the readers' hearts, or create new ones.

On to points of view...

While writing sensuality in Christian fiction you have to start with the visual when you are writing from a single man's perspective. He is not going to see an attractive, curvaceous blonde and wonder if she has a nice personality or not. He's going to like what he sees and want to introduce himself. Then he will hear her voice, get close enough to get a whiff of her scent, then the next step is touch, and if all goes well, it will culminate in a kiss. In Christian fiction the important thing is that romantic relationships really shouldn't go further if the characters' "spirits" aren't connecting, because what initially attracts Christians won't sustain the relationship over the long haul. However, a three-strand cord with Jesus at the center is not easily broken.

While writing from a woman's perspective she will notice what a man looks like just the same as men do, but from there things change a bit. If he is cocky or rude, then the woman won't care how good he looks. She's not getting any closer. However, if he seems kind, or strong and heroic and there is something she respects about him, then she'll want to get closer. After this initial step, things progress in a similar fashion. Men and women are different, but not that much different. Women may go for a less attractive man (just like men might go for a less attractive woman) if there are other things to like about the person, but that is rarely the first thing that will attract them.

I love to create characters that are tortured by their desire to be with someone of the opposite sex. I think there is nothing hotter than controlled desire and longing. When a man respects a woman as demonstrated by his behavior, but inside he is melting on the spot whenever she is near, that is the most fun and sensual scenario for me to read. I especially like to do this to my male characters. Ironically, people tell me that my "hottest" heroes are the ones who want the girl so much that they struggle, but don't behave badly by pushing themselves on her.

Now the main difference between a typical Christian novel and an edgy one is in their thought-life. My characters have are real thoughts that are not filtered by political correctness. If this is done well, the character will still be heroic. He can think about how hot the woman is but not resort to disgusting thoughts that make the reader want to kick him in the pants. Again, controlled desire is the key. The same goes for a woman. She has a lot of power and can stumble a man if he is melting whenever he is around her. Unfortunately, many women don't understand this and even Christians will dress provocatively around other men, and yes, even in church. I've had men say that church is the one place they hope not to stumble in their thought life, but if the woman singing special music is dressed in a short skirt that hugs her hips and wears a top that dips enough to show her cleavage, the man is not going to hear the music she is singing but will have to look away and thus destroy what inspiration he might have received from the song. Modesty can be very sexy to a man. At the very least it won't cause his mind to go places they shouldn't in a church setting.

How do I show attraction in a novel and make it sensual without going over the top? A lot can be said with a glance or a lingering stare, such as darkening pupils showing desire. The way the character speaks, like using a deeper or softer tone can be very sensual when written in the right places. Same with a lingering touch. A woman's hand lightly resting on the arm of a man, and having that woman notice the firm muscles beneath her fingers can be very hot. Or the way their bodies touch when one character hugs the other. A comforting hug and emotional experience can become sensual very quickly if the hug is lingering and the characters are close enough to pick up the other person's unique scent. These scents are called pheromones, and they are quite powerful. Even a soft, but lingering kiss can be very sensual when a man or woman notices the soft feel of the other character's lips, their unique taste, etc. So much can be communicated through one sensual, but otherwise chaste kiss. Of course, with my stories I make that brief sensual situation torture the characters until they want to be together again, and then when they are, I torture them further but having them try their best to control their desires. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don't. Just like real life.

For me, the hottest romantic experience in a novel is unrequited love and controlled desire.

That, in a nutshell, is my take on sensuality in the edgy Christian novel. Nothing is more powerful than a scene where the characters want what they can't have until they are married. Watching that anticipation build until they tie the knot is half the fun. The other half - the edgy part - is being in each character's head and knowing exactly what they are thinking while they are falling in love. And it's never about how smart the other person is, or how nice they are. Trust me on that. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my post. Now go enjoy the rest of the tour! Here is a link to get you to the list of tour stops...


Joy Tamsin David said...

So true Michelle! I agree, unrequited love and controlled desire is hot! :)

I love books where the author puts us in the character's head and lets us feel that emotion with them.

Great overview!

Lisa Lickel said...

I'm glad we're being precise here. I had one comment about edgy starting to get overused, which is funny since only a select group uses it. Reality fiction kind of turns me off, though that's more what we're going for, isn't it? I still don't want to cheat my reader.

S. R. Van Ness said...

Great definion, Michelle! I love your comment that your "characters have are real thoughts that are not filtered by political correctness." And you've hit the nail on the head for portraying reality in an edgy (read that: realistic) CHRISTIAN character: it's all about the thought life. In a romantic scenario, I agree that "being in each character's head and knowing what they are thinking when they are falling in love" is where the rubber meets the road.

Umm... was there a double entendre there? It was unintentional, but.... ;-) perhaps a bit edgy. LOL

Keith Madsen said...

My thought is that if you have a character who is not sensual, you have a character who is not human. God created us as human beings with all of our senses, and he did so that we might enjoy the life he has given us. I won't speak for women, but for men, there is nothing more enjoyable than a beautiful woman. Some people try to make men feel bad about themselves because they have sexual urges, but again, that is how God made us. It's vital for the propagation of the species, as well as for experiencing love and the goodness of life. If a writer -- and especially a female writer -- tries to create a male character while ignoring this reality, it will come off as false, at least to any male readers they might have. I remember reading once that the average young man thinks of sex 6 times an hour. When I was in my 20's and 30's I would have said, "True -- only if each time lasts 8-10 minutes!" I have found that living with these strong urges, and being a responsible Christian at the same time has been the biggest spiritual challenge of my life. But the other part of this is that if you create a character who has these strong urges, and they control their sexual behavior, either because of faith or the love of a woman, or both, then you have created a more interesting dramatic tension and -- as you put it Michelle, a "hotter" male character. I truly believe that a desire for such realism is the real reason the SONG OF SONGS is in the Bible. Talk about sensual! You will notice that the man does not just talk about the woman's "nice personality"!

Sherryle Jackson said...

Your right Keith. You want sensual reading, pick up the Song of Songs. Sensuality is a gift and the tension created trying to control our urges is more dramtic than any soap opera. i love to write about burgeoning love as well. If you could see inside the brain during that time I'm sure you'd see hormones bouning off the walls the likes of a teenager. Great post Michelle. Having read Never Without Hope, I know your the master of Edgy Christian Sensuality Fiction!

Tracy Krauss said...

Such thoughtful comments have been posted so far that I am not sure I can really add anything that hasn't already been said. Thanks for a such a precise and well put post, Michelle.

Silverbill said...

Michelle what an excellent article, makes me want to read your fiction. Being from an older generation and a man for me it is what is not showing that makes a lady interesting. Modesty is just as sensual as other aspects of a person, that goes for men also. A humble confident man draws more attention than a rooster.

Nike Chillemi said...

Starting out with the thought "sensual enough to be memorable" is the thing. We have to be attracted to and/or like the heroine and hero, care about what happens to them. This involves the readers senses. Authors also want the story to attract, to be sensual, if you will. We want to tantalize the readers senses with the story.

When you got to "busty pole dancer" -- well in some circles they'd be shocked you know how to spell that or know what that is.

As others have commented I also think controlled desire is hot.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Michelle, you certainly covered the area with *much* good advice. I think two of the most important points you made were working with all your senses when developing sensuality and keeping it in point of view. No better way to help your reader experience the moment. I remember being on a panel with Yvonne Lehman at RWA in the early days of "inspirational romance" writing. Yvonne gave the example of her heroine slowly removing her silver slipper straps to create sexual tension. So, I guess we could add use of detail to your list.

Dan Walsh said...

Wow, Michelle, you've given this a lot of thought. I appreciate how well you defined your terms before using them. Added a nice edge to the discussion.

And you highlighted the one big advantage a good book has over a good movie. Getting inside the character's heads and hearts. Can't do that on film. When it's done well, that's a book I can't put down.

Great post.

David A. Bedford said...

If that's what you mean by edgy, then ok. In my current project, I don't push the envelope on sex (that has been done a great deal) because I'm centering on other matters. It qualifies as a "clean read" but it's very real and will make some people uncomfortable. Please visit my blog. Thanks!

barbjan10 said...

This is the kind of writing of information I want to take off "the edge" of the bookshelf and devour. A most profound lesson in the how tos and don't dos in one precise easy to read and comprehend lesson. Michelle, I'm personally so blessed to be acquainted with you, first as a fan, second as a student and third as a loving friend. You are giving me the courage in a few easier steps to start writing on my own. Thank you! When I grow up, I want to be just as remarkable as you!

Grace & Joy in Christ,
Barb Shelton

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