Marsha Canham's Blog

August 18, 2011

Anatomical discrimination. Get out the placards, time to pickett.

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 1:06 pm

I admit I haven’t written nearly as many books as many of my peers. I’ve written 17 while others who started around the same time as I did, have done two, three times as many. Nora Roberts is up in the zillions, but she once told me she didn’t go anywhere without her notebook. She scribbled notes in cabs, in line waiting for cabs, in restaurants, trains, boats, planes.  I write in my office. I’ll jot the occasional note in the kitchen or in the family room to myself just so I don’t forget a particular phrase I’ve thought of, or a plot point I’ve been trying to work through. But basically, once I step out of my office, that’s it for the day.

But, in my defence of lower numbers, I also do a lot of research.  Back before the internet became popular, it was a case of slogging back and forth to the library, arms sagging under a dozen or so dry, factual history books, all of which got read and notes to self jotted down as I went along. Sometimes a 400 page book yielded one interesting fact.  Sometimes I wasn’t even that lucky.

Writing dialogue and fleshing out characters was..and still is..a matter of listening and observing. We lived in two grand neighborhoods, the Eden Pit years, the Noake Crescent years, each one filled with characters who, at one time or another, appeared in most of my books and provided the most fodder because, well, they were all whacky and we had tons of fun. 

The point of this ramble is, that no matter how much research is done, how cleverly you enlighten the reader on a historical event they may not have known anything about, how many real people and events are draw on for breathing life and color into a character to make them memorable…in a romance novel it still all boils down to …ROMANCE.

Yep, I write romance novels. That means there has to be romance in those pages.  And that usually means there has to be sex, and that means I have to come up with several different ways and means of two characters doing what they do when they fall in love.  Of all the elements that go into writing a romance novel, whether it’s contemporary or historical, writing the sex is by far and away THE hardest part, no pun intended.

Most writers don’t like to repeat themselves, that’s why we choose different settings, different time periods etc for each story, all very logical. But think about it. Putting the Kama Sutra aside, how many ways can two people make love, and even if you do leaf through the Kama Sutra, certain body parts fit into other body parts in a certain way and that’s just the way it is.  Sure, you can do it in the tree tops, on horseback, in a haystack, on the roof of a Corvette…but it’s still a matter of maneuvering part A into part B in a way which sounds romantic and erotic and leaves the reader breathing a little heavier, or sighing with a smile on his or her face.

The smile is the key here, folks, because the last thing a writer wants is for that smile to become a chuckle or a laugh or a guffaw. Yes, I’m referring, in my roundabout way, to euphemisms. 

Back when Rosemary Rogers came into picture, it was still scandalously taboo to refer to body parts by their actual names. Readers fainted if they saw the word penis and instantly branded the books as pornography.  Words like shaft and spear and manhood were used, often with a throbbing adjective.  My absolute favorites were throbbing manroot, marble hard shaft, and the prize winner:  purple helmetted soldier of love.  Reading them send me from chuckles to groans to rolling eyeballs.  What is sexy about a “manroot”?  To me it always sounded like a hairy carrot.  And a marble hard shaft? Ouch. Anything hard as marble is bound to hurt, and to me a shaft is something long and wooden with the potential of giving slivers.  As for purple helmetted soldier of love…well…I grant you a condom could conceivably resemble a helmet, but I’ve yet to see a penis march anywhere.

Oddly enough, there don’t seem to be as many euphemisms for part B. ..either that or I just can’t think of any off the top of my head.  There’s flower and petal and womanhood, but nothing quite as spectacular as purple helmetted soldier of love. 

Time to pony up here.  Does anyone have any special euphemisms that have stuck out in your mind?  Male or female, we want ’em all.  The good, the bad, and the ridiculous *g*



  1. Great Post Marsha

    Here you go the difinitive (at least to me) place to find sexual terms.

    And yes I write some erotic Romance which isn’t easy. Being mindful of wandering or autonomous body parts, not sounding like a laundry list and using word variation are things that I stryggle with. Good sex scenes don’t just fall together for sure

    Question Marsha: In a sensual love scene, do you feel its satisfying to the reader to describe the event in etherial terms or using metaphoric type language? I know back in the 80’s a lot of romance writers did that, which I love. Victoria Holt is a good example. Or have reader’s expectations changed and this is no longer as satisfying to them?

    Comment by caseamajor — August 18, 2011 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

    • Good question. I’m not sure. I’ve never, personally, written: she bloomed like a flower, but I know I’ve used metaphors for describing orgasms, because really, short of adjective and adverb overkill, how else do you do it other than saying: she had an orgasm and begged for more? LOL

      I do think readers of romance expect a certain degree of beauty in the language, and a clinical term would throw me, for one, right out of the mood. But it’s a fine line between what a writer thinks is beautiful and flowing and emotional, and what a reader groans and rolls the eyeballs over.

      Comment by marshacanham — August 18, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

  2. When my first book with one of my publishers came back with edits, the editor told me not to use the word penis because it wouldn’t get past the copy editor. Seems their readers didn’t mind murder & mayhem, but referring to male genitalia by actual names was taboo. When I submitted my third book to that publisher, I’d left the word in, because I was also submitting it elsewhere. It went through with no comment.

    And it’s probably just personal bias — I think we all have reactions to words, probably ingrained over the years — but while I don’t mind reading (and writing) accurate male anatomy, I have trouble with the female. Sounds too clinical, although there’s really no logical reason one works and the other doesn’t.

    And I burst out laughing the first time I read ‘manroot’ in a book!

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

    Comment by Terry Odell — August 18, 2011 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  3. Some of it has to also be the time period/genre that you are writing. I do not think a Regency virgin would even know the word penis…but I could be wrong. I think you need to use words that are suitable to the era and the character’s perspective.

    Comment by Juliet — August 19, 2011 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Completely agree! I recently read a historical romance where the heroine referred to her anatomy by very clinical terms that, to my knowledge, didn’t exist in that era, let alone that a secluded heroine would know what the term was!

      Comment by Bec — August 21, 2011 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

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