Official site for the high/dark fantasy books of authors Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, including the Noble Dead Saga (a.k.a. The Noble Dead series), the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga.

Q&A: Books/Series [Character]

Well, we’re behind schedule yet again, Looks like the holidays and finishing another book is not a stable combination for finding that schedule again. But we’ll keep trying.

This time out, we’ll address a, um, well, steamier topic. It’s not really something we care to get into because, um, well... Oh the heck with it… let’s talk sex!  Sort of…

What’s the trick to maintaining sexual tension between characters, such as Leesil and Magiere? *

[Long pause of silence.]

Sexual tension?  What sexual tension?   

Okay, seriously, “sexual” tension is only one dimension among many between any two characters who are looking at each other in more than a friendly way.  It’s the simple part, the easy part, the utterly mundane part… and it’s over-rated.

The rest is far more interesting and complicated, but as to sexual tension itself… it is still more important than the sex when it comes to what’s on the page. Some writers keep their readers interested by constantly having the characters almost break past their emotional barriers to become a real couple — but never quite — and those writers have a similar quandary to face. Others turn their characters into meat-magnetics, and we all wait to see when and if they will suddenly slam together. And after that?

Are you bored now? Was there anything there beside that, now that that is over and done with?

Every one knows the old adage of “he/she is a tease.” Well guess what, so are storytellers who play this kind of game too much. It’s the old “come here, come here, get away, get away,” and it always stop its cycle on “get away.”  Why? Because once the sexual tension is released (fulfilled), especially outside of an actual relationship, the tension is over and done. The only way to restart it is with a different set of characters… and that part is the only thing a storyteller has to work with if those two first characters’ relationship was so one dimensional.

On the other hand, there are storytellers who will string this out as long as possible with the act of sex never quite initiated. It only works with readers for so long… and then it’s boring again!  Why? Because it only works so long as you believe the pair might just have sex; once you stop believing, it’s over… before the sex.  Of course if sex actually happens, it’s also over. The storyteller is trapped, and stuck with a baited trap, which she/he doesn’t dare spring on the readers. When the trap is sprung, that trick will never work on the readers again with those same two characters as bait. And if those two characters are the main ones, well…

Any writer who does this had better have something else up his/her sleeve. Or better yet…

We had no interest in doing this with Magiere and Leesil. We took a different approach. Yes, there was sexual tension of one type, the typical type of “will they or won’t they,” but it never happened until other tensions were released / removed. And guess what?  It didn’t matter to the readers. They knew that it never would happen (in the typical, cliché way). They didn’t want it to happen that way, because something else was going on with those two.

It took Leesil and Magiere two whole books to really “get together,” and even then, they were in a bit of relationship trouble. Yes, they’d been scamming peasants for many years together. They knew each other in one way, but then they took on a whole new life and had to try to be normal people. Well, Magiere tried, and Leesil played along. The readers all know how well that worked out.

Then we wanted to have these two continue to be in love and behave like two adventurers who are deeply committed to each other — in all the best ways, and perhaps some of the worst. And because they are beyond the norm, they have to deal with complications never imagined for everyday people. That includes the relationship; it is inescapable.

There is no “happily ever after,” as our heroes have discovered. As in real life, they have to fight and strive for what they want, even in being together.  Unlike real life, they face obstacles and oppositions that grow with their awareness of their own past, present, and future. And people — couples — must grow and change in tandem, together, or they do not stay together. 

That’s what we offer the readers, a type of tension far less mundane than mere sex. This is also what real “romance” (to turn another way) is really about; not getting together, but staying together. Too many people think romance is about the first part. It’s what we’re programmed to think by the media… and then the movie, episode, novel, etc. is over. As much as it is exciting in the short run, it isn’t what relationships are really all about. It isn’t even the real exciting part.

Real life is about relationships of all types that we choose to keep alive, not just start; starting is easy. It’s like caring for your own well being; if you are neglectful, your health fails you. You may even die, if you let it go too far. A relationship is the same; once established, it doesn’t just continue automatically; the tension never goes away. And too much of our media feeds us the opposite notion… true love lasts forever and is ultimately self-sustaining.

If characters are to become real in whatever is between them in a relationship, they have to work to keep it alive. And it will always be a challenge too daunting for some. Worse so, when the influences upon them are extraordinary. We’ve been told this is an unusual approach in a fantasy series, or even more generally in fiction at large, where romance (the cliché kind) is left behind for something else. Maybe that’s true, but it leaves us dumbfounded as to why. Maybe its now beyond our comprehension after doing almost everything together for almost 27 years.

But back to the sexual tension one last time.

It’s still there, but the goal is neither the tension nor its release. When intimacy, sexual or otherwise (and the otherwise is more interesting) is interrupted, tension returns as a sign that something is not right. The relationship has caught a cold, or something worse. This is not manufactured for people like Magiere and Leesil. They lead unusual, extraordinary lives filled with tumultuous influences that affect each of them in far more intimate ways than sex. And that is bound to affect their intimacy with each other at all levels.

You want sexual tension? Imagine you and your partner have to live those lives. Aside from zero birth control… the disaster of a pregnancy along the way… and the places they go and the things they must do… and what happens to them outside their own control…

You want tension? There you are! Compare that to the “come here, get away” or even that one-time final culmination when it ends. Sexual tension is weak and petty compared to keeping a relationship alive. But yes, sexual tension is still there in the saga, as you’ll see a bit in coming books. It won’t be the kind you expect. Oh, and you will never see an onstage sex scene in our books.

We respect our characters’ privacy as much as our own. And, well, sex scenes beyond the build up are boring! Unless the act or its consequences are pertinent to the actual plot (and they almost never are), it serves no purpose. Even if consequences do exist, all that’s really needed is to know sex happened… and get on with the real story.