Sensuous writing, to me, has little to do with sexuality. It has to do, in large part, with engaging the senses, of enmeshing the reader in a world of lush experience. Ray Bradbury is a sensuous writer. Robert E. Howard was, despite the fact that he is often considered a hyper-masculine author. When you read Bradbury or Howard you feel the chill wind, taste bitter drink, hear the crack of ice, and pant from the heat. But the details are put together in such a way as to create a sense of exotic beauty. And there is more. Sensuous writing not only excites the senses, it creates a mood, most often a melancholy one.
Poul Anderson was a master of sensuous writing. His book The Broken Sword, or his long story “The Queen of Air and Darkness” illustrate Anderson’s love of language and command over mood. They sing with poetry. Even the darkest imagery is combined with a sense of sad beauty.
For me, and feel free to say if you disagree, I find the most sensuous writing in the fantasy genre, followed by science fiction. Mainstream literature seems to be suspicious of sensuous writing, and hard bitten genres like noir and crime fiction try to immerse the reader in gritty detail. These stories also create a mood, but not one that is infused with beauty. There are times when I want just that kind of mood, but more often than not I seek out the beautiful, even if that beauty is tinged with darkness.
I strive for sensuality when I write, and I think I’ve gotten closest to it in my fantasy work, such as in the Talera Trilogy, and in some of the stories that appeared in Midnight in Rosary. While many of the stories in “Midnight” feature vampires, most of these are not ‘horror’ vampires but ‘fantasy’ vampires. And there is a clear difference. Sensuality is important to fantasy vampires, while gritty savagery is the drape that clothes horror vampires. Some time back, I put up a link to a free story from Midnight in Rosary. I’ll post it again here since it indicates the kind of sensuality I’m talking about (and in this case has some sexuality as well.) The story is called “The Poetry of Blood” and the link is here.
I’ll end with a couple of quick passages from the Talera series, these two from Wings Over Talera. Here, for the first time, Ruenn MacLang meets Vohanna. With Vohanna, I hoped to create a villain who would combine both beauty and evil, attraction and threat. These are important elements of sensuality in the language of fantasy literature. At least, I think so.
1). There were no adornments anywhere upon Vohanna—-no web of black pearls in her silken flag of hair, no bright jewels at her finely sculpted ears, no copper brassards clasping her upper arms. She wore no kohl to darken her sable lashes, no paint upon lips that were already riper than the rising sun.
In her form, she looked guileless and fragile. In her face, she looked...innocent. But her gaze was ancient and black upon mine, with firefly runes twining and beating in the depths of her glance. I felt that glance like a bruise.
2). Vohanna took another step toward me. And a third. Down the skull steps from her throne she came, and it seemed her sandals spurned the dusky wine that cascaded beneath her feet. Her eyes teemed with scarlet embers and with...other things.
“Kneel to me, Ruenn,” she said.