When I was finishing up my Accounting degree, there was a rumor of a CPA prep course where the instructor helped the students understand and/or memorize crucial sections of the material by using analogies to sex. Aah, those were the days... Anyway, I couldn't afford the class and decided not to take the CPA exam, but I always wondered about the technique. Now I see it can be done, at least when it comes to writing. (Sorry, CPA hopefuls, you're still on your own!)
And now, for the main event:
A Novel Is A Seduction
No really, think about it. It’s dirty but that word climax is not a coincidence. Now, I’m going to be describing this in terms of seducing “her” because in my mind, the man is the seducer. I’m sorry if this offends anyone’s modern sensibilities but I’m the girl who likes to be seduced and you really can’t take all the ol’ fashioned Utah out of the girl.
First up, you get the reader’s attention. Either you look damn good and they pick you up off the shelf and turn you over to read your back, or you go up to them (advertising) and make them want to talk to you without going too overboard and annoying them. This is the fine art of the approach and no one has it down pat. Usually you take the shotgun approach, get attention and smile at the entire room in the hopes that one out of a hundred likes your type.
The beginning of the book is where you snuggle up to your reader. You have an in, they’re talking to you, now you just have to set the hook. You grab them a drink, lay on the sweet talk, do some flirting, make them laugh, drag them onto the floor to dance a little. This is the point where you suck your victim in, make them want to know you more, enough to keep talking to you. You draw them into your world and show them just enough of your character to convince them to go out with you (i.e. to keep reading past the first chapter).
You only have one shot at a first impression. It’s cliched but it’s true. If you go up to a girl and try to act cool, lay on the lines, and are just plain fake or worse, boring, she’s going to walk away. If you just lay it out there and are yourself, telling goofy jokes, asking her to dance, and saying you’d like to get to know her better, basically if you are confident in whatever kind of weirdo you are (because you know we’re all weird) and go with it, she will too.
You get to the dinner portion of the evening. She’s left the bar and is now alone at a table with you. She’s giving you a shot. This is where you are still in “the beginning,” are still laying the groundwork, expanding on the overall concept and conflicts in the book. You are building up the story, keeping everything relevant to the point at hand. The second you run off on a tangent and make her eyes glaze over, the evening’s over. And that’s not an option. This beginning is about 20% of the evening.
It is your job to keep her interest at every point in the evening, so much so that she doesn’t want to interrupt the conversation to even run to the bathroom. That way, when it’s time to make the transition out of the restaurant (into the middle of the book), there’s no question in her mind that she’s going to say yes to going with you.
You get her home, now you have to build up on the promises you made during dinner. You got her there by saying you’re going to show her your exotic pet, serve her some really good port with Belgian chocolate, or hang out and watch that TV show you both were geeking out about. Whatever you said, show it.
Obviously you’re not just showing it. You’re putting your arm around her, you’re feeding her the chocolate. You are getting closer, establishing a physical connection. But you can’t just jump over this part because you’ll confuse, and quite possibly insult, your reader.
This is the meat of the book. You aren’t just barreling towards the ultimate conclusion, doing the steps and scenes expected of you to get to the good part. All of it should be the good part. You aren’t just lining up scenes to get everything in line for the climax, you enjoy every step and skip the boring parts. You don’t want to watch that TV show you guys were talking about? Shouldn’t have brought it up and said come over to watch it.
This is usually where novels get slow. In my experience, that’s because the author doesn’t really want to do this part but feels he must to get things lined up for the end. Don’t do that. You want something to be explained, don’t go through a ton of hoops to explain it. Either tie it into scenes that are just as exciting as your ending, or just have someone hurry explain it, so you’re not boring yourself and your reader. If you’re bored, they will be too.
You are obviously building up to something, but you want it to be a smooth transition so it all feels natural, without ever being slow. You are talking and take her hand, touching her arm, and you pick up the pace. You start drawing patterns on her palm with a light finger (tons of nerves in the hands, this isn’t as silly as it sounds in practice). You stare into her eyes like she is the most important thing in the world (which right now, she is). This is about 60% of the evening. (Yes, I said that in context of the you have her going home with you part, but yes, you can include the car ride.)
You are getting her primed for another transition, from the middle to the ending. You’re getting her ready for the kiss. Once things are lined up, there’s no more prep work needed. You are looking in her eyes, she’s playing with her hair and licking her lips. You kiss her. Passionate, soft, slip the tongue, whatever your style has been all night, make sure it matches this part.
The ending is the sex. This is the last 20%. Make a note, men, this is not just intercourse. Sex is everything from that kiss to the cigarette. So if you jump from that kiss to diving in for intercourse, it’s jarring and not nearly as fun for your reader. Again, you do this, you’ve skipped a part, and she may just put you down and walk away.
You make out, lean her back on the couch. This is second base. You’re removing tops, there’s definitely tongue now, and some serious groping. This is all about touching the reader and turning them on. You are on another level and it’s much faster than that initial one, but you are at a sort of beginning again. You are laying out everything that will make up the climax. This is a new kind of build up and (almost) as important as that initial beginning. The characters are at the point of no return. They have to go into that final battle now or the entire goal and the ultimate point of the book is lost. Now they must prepare.
Your reader has to know this is going towards something that’s going to be amazing. You move her to the bed, lose the pants and hit third base. Again, don’t switch your style now. Stay sweet, passionate, dominant, passive, but keep the same tone. This is you quite literally stripped down and you can’t be anything but yourself, so you better have been truthful before or she’s really going to notice now. And the last thing you want to do when you’re on the brink is shock her out of the moment. The fantasy characters are gearing up for battle, the detective heads into the warehouse where she thinks the answer and/or bad guy is hiding, etc.
You put on the condom and slid into home, and the movement starts. This is the battle, the answers, the conflict coming to a head. This part really doesn’t take that long because you already did the prep work. There’s a build up of pressure and she couldn’t stop if her parents burst in on you guys. It goes faster and faster annnnnnnd you both come. The bad guy is defeated in a blaze of whatever and the good guys win. Without this, the rest of it’s exciting and fun, but the reader’s going to feel unfulfilled and unfinished, because that was the build and if it just doesn’t quite go anywhere, it’s frustrating.
After this, it’s wrap up. Her eyes slide closed and she slumps down gasping. You cuddle, kiss, talk about what this means. It’s in the afterglow where you wrap up the emotional stuff in the book. You give your reader closure. This is extremely important. This is where you touch their feels. The bad guy’s dead but the good guy feels guilt about killing him, or doesn’t because he deserved it dammit. You wrap up the theme. Again, you skip this, you just jump out of bed or pass out without saying where everyone is, it’s jarring, unsettling and upsetting. Don’t do that to your reader (or to a girl, trust me, that’s for your own safety). Buuuuuuuut, you also don’t want to drag this part out because right now both of you just want to bask in each other and sleep. Wrap it up but do it quickly so she has the warm fuzzies but doesn’t fall asleep with five pages to go.
People, including readers, remember how you made them feel. Make them feel satisfied in every way and they’ll be back.
That way, next time she sees you on the shelf, you won’t even have to work on the approach, she’ll come right up to you and be ready to jump right back in.
Happy writing… and other heart rate increasing activities.
And here’s an oh so subtle push of my new book, Psychic Undercover (with the Undead), https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4OCJE5/.
*Vampires aren't the only things that go bump in the night...
Singers are a dime a dozen in Nashville, so despite her mama's urging, psychic Ariana Ryder's working her way towards a career in law enforcement at the FBI, one tray of fetched coffee at a time, instead. She's got an extremely handsome boss, a dancing partner among the lab techs, and a solid year as the team rookie under her belt...
Right until the director gives her a big break, working undercover as a singer at a club to investigate why it's being targeted by a serial killer. This might have worked better if the club didn’t happen to be a vampire nest.
Now, with the vampire's investigator, Quil, on her case, the jurisdictional battle isn't the only thing heating up as they race to solve the case before the killer strikes again!*