Since this website is the Vauxhall Vixens, I decided it might be fun to introduce my new novel, A Kiss at Midnight, by talking about sex. Or, at least, writing about sex. One of the big difficulties in writing historical romances is that you have to write sex scenes without (for one) mentioning the word “sex,” because back then it referred to gender, and not to copulation until 1900. This involves a lot of dictionary work.
Enter...Franzeca Drouin! My research assistant is a brilliant help. She answers questions as I’m writing (“Help! What kind of pen were they using again?), gets me appropriate primary source material (how do you think I learned so much about Georgian toilets and sewers before writing When the Duke Returns?) and, crucially, reads through each manuscript before it goes to copyediting, flagging the words that were not in use in the period.
As I write this blog, I’m finishing When Beauty Tamed the Beast, which will pub next February. One of my characters is a thoroughly impudent, lower class boy, who advises the hero that breasts are called “knockers.” Knockers, Franzeca retorts, were not in use, even when spelled “nockers.” Bummer. I wrack my brain but can’t come up with terms that a six-year-old might use. Where to turn? The website sex-lex.com. Type in breast and you’ll get a huge list of synonyms. wazzojugs, lulus, begonias… The crucial next step is running some options through the trusty Oxford English Dictionary (which will tell you exactly when a word appeared in the English language).
But there’s another difficulty faced by historical authors. A Kiss at Midnight is my very own version of Cinderella. And my heroine Kate very sensibly realizes that she has no future with the prince, Gabriel, given her lack of dowry and his need for one—not to mention his fiancée. I doubt Cinderella ran home thinking that the prince would be trotting after her, holding a shoe. Kate decides to give Gabriel her most prized possession. But—Kate is a virgin, and virgins are hardly as knowledgeable as the sex-lex. Plus, those pesky historical restraints…
So I used the word kiss. It’s historically accurate, it’s remarkably flexible, it suits many an occasion. You can kiss at midnight, you can kiss outdoors in a garden, you can kiss in a bed in a turret. You can kiss in joy, or in heartbreaking goodbye.
Where I ended up—after writing Kiss at Midnight and When Beauty Tames the Beast—is realizing that when it comes to the most difficult scenes, less exotic language is better. So what did knockers turn into? Peaches. Suitable for a six-year-old, and evocative as well.
So what language do you find in historical sex scenes that you’d rather not see there? Or what do you see that you like? Here’s an odd example: shagging sounds like the 1960s to me, but it actually shows up in a 1788 dictionary, which means it was in use well before that.
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