Thursday, May 22, 2008

Motivated by steps to intimacy

About ten years ago I heard a speaker that turned my writing life around. I'd leapt head-first into the writing arena, full of sass and not much substance, and I'd gradually been upping my craft, but I was still very clumsy with intimate scenes.

One of my critique partners (a published author) read a kissing scene I wrote and told me that I had the parts all there but that they were jumbled up. I didn't quite understand her comment because I was certain I had to latitude to make things happen in any order I wanted. This was my story after all. I ignored her comment and continued writing the story.

Then, at a conference, I heard Linda Howard speak on the Twelve Steps of Intimacy. What she said made perfect sense, that there was an orderly flow to the touching and intimate acts that deepened the romantic bond. When those things occurred out of sequence, then it should feel wrong or awkward.

A light went on in my head. I finally understood what my critique partner was saying. It didn't matter if the steps were in order or not, what mattered was the emotional reaction of the hero and heroine to each event.

Linda Howard learned these steps from The Naked Ape, a book by Desmond Morris. I purchased the Morris book and I have to say that Linda Howard's step by step approach is much more writer friendly.

Here's a summation of Howard's steps as posted online by Kerri-Leigh Grady at

1. Eye to body. The old once-over, except it happens in a fraction of an instant. Only a few significant details are absorbed. Attraction occurs or it doesn’t.
2. Eye to eye. Eye contact is sustained only between intimates. If a stranger stares, it's considered rude or an act of aggression.
3. Voice to voice. Ranges from small talk to intimate.
4. Hand to hand. This requires some trust. Hand to arm counts here, too (man's excuse to get his hands on her, by guiding her).
5. Arm to shoulder. May be a hug.
6. Arm to waist. Can be sexual, especially if "waist" is considered the small of the back. Men won't do this to other men.
7. Mouth to mouth. Full frontal contact during a kiss.
8. Hand to head. Requires trust.
9. Hand to body. Any body part –- breast, shoulder, chest…
10. Mouth to breast.
11. Hand to genitals.
12. Genitals to genitals.

Once I fully understood this sequence toward intimacy and the character's emotional response, I crafted stronger scenes. The change didn't come overnight, and I am in fact, still learning my craft, still learning how many layers there are to really good writing.

Keep on writing!

Maggie Toussaint
coming soon: IN FOR A PENNY, June 2008 release from Five Star

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