I’ve been working on a scene in my latest romance that’s been really difficult for me to write. Why?
BECAUSE IT’S GOT SEX IN IT.
Now, before you freak out and think I’m all kinda prudey or something, chill, friends. Not the case. The sitch is, writing sex scenes is difficult. Let me amend that. Writing GOOD sex scenes is difficult. Or perhaps I might even mean EFFECTIVE sex scenes.
And this scene has been a pain to work on because it involves a lot more than just a “do me now” kind of scenario. These characters have a history, and it’s a hell of a lot more than just sex that’s involved in this scene. There’s a lot of emotional stuff going on, and some unpacking of baggage. Not all sex, obviously, is like that in romance or erotica. Which got me thinking about the different types of sex scenes and how to approach them as a writer.
So I came up with some questions to ask yourself when you’re writing a sex scene or thinking about writing one (and no offense to M/F or M/M writers; some of this is a little more F/F specific).
(Heh. Read on to see the questions)
1. Does it fit the tone of the overall narrative?
That is, if you’re writing a thriller, for example, and your characters are hiding in a warehouse as the Russian mobster’s henchmen are sniffing around outside, it’s probably not a good time for the horizontal mambo between characters. In other words, match the sex to the scene. Or your reader will be thinking: “WTF? The Russian mobsters are about to bust up in your business and you’re gettin’ it on?????” Which is not to suggest that a thriller can’t have sex in it. It most certainly can. But do the somethin’ somethin’ in a more appropriate place and time. Relaxing on a beach with drinkies before jetting off to Hong Kong to infiltrate the evil corporation makes more sense for a little play action passing than when you’re holding your breath behind the door as the night watchman at that corporation comes in to check on things.
2. Does it fit the personalities of the characters?
This is a big one for me as a writer. I like to think I know my characters pretty well, but sometimes they surprise me and they might be a little adventurous in the bedroom. Or maybe they’re a little uptight in the bedroom. The thing is, you as the writer have to make the sex believable both as an act between two people (if you’re writing 2-people sex, that is) and as an act that reflects the personality of each of those people as individuals. So if you’ve got a character who’s been a little reserved throughout your piece, but she’s attracted to this other woman, think about how she’s going to react in the bedroom. Will she continue with her reserve? Or will she be a little more liberated in the bedroom? In either case, her reactions and responses need to make sense within the context of her character arc overall and also within the context of the plot.
3. Does it move the plot in ways the plot is supposed to move or is it simply a gratuitous WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM just cuz you felt like sexing it up?
I’ve talked to a lot of readers, and you’ll get a lot of different answers as to when a sex scene is “gratuitous.” One of the things I’ve heard from romance readers is that they want a sex scene in some romances (or some feel “cheated”) and they want it in a scene in which it makes sense for it to happen. In other words, you as the writer have a responsibility to convince a reader through your plot and characters that the sex is supposed to happen exactly where you wrote it, and that it’s part of the overall narrative and that it makes sense within that narrative. So you need to really think about what you’re doing with that scene, and whether it hooks into the plot or whether it is just a stumbling block on the way to resolution.
4. Does it flow nicely or do you have clunky sex terms in there?
You know the ones. Like “love button” for “clitoris.” Or, god help us all, “love canal”/”love tunnel”/”love grotto” for, you know. The va-jay-jay. Speaking of clunky sex terms, I’m one of those people who thinks the biological term for something does not always sexy make. I don’t use “vagina” or “clitoris” in my F/F sexy-time scenes. You’d be surprised how a term for something can completely fling you out of the mood of a scene and make you think “Oh, no she di’n’t just say love nub for nipple…” Having said that, there are, of course, people who hate words like “nipple.” Okay. If you can come up with an alternative that WORKS WITHIN YOUR SCENE, by all means, use it. The trick here is to keep the reader reading and keep the scene moving. You don’t want a reader busting out laughing over a term you’re using.
Along those lines, THINK ABOUT WHERE YOUR CHARACTERS ARE POSITIONED. Read a sex scene aloud. That will make you think about where your characters are placing their hands and how their bodies are positioned. Sometimes, something you’ve written is impossible physically. Readers pick up on that, friends. So really think about positioning and placement. Like a photo shoot, people. Envision it, write it, then read it aloud.
5. What is the purpose of this here sex? (related to #3)
A sex scene has PURPOSE beyond just two people (again, if you’re writing 2-people sex) consummating however the hell they want to consummate. It’s a plot mover and a characterization builder, and how characters approach this event is a vehicle for the story and also for characterization. Don’t just throw your characters into sex because you’re not sure where else to take the story or you think it’s time for them to get it on. Sex scenes shouldn’t be used as place-fillers. Like every other scene in a book or story, they need to serve a purpose. They are part of the infrastructure of your plot, and they need to be treated as such, rather than as gratuitous interludes.
Unless, of course, you’re writing porn or erotica. In which case, the entire point of the story is the sex. That’s a discussion for another time. Let’s stick to writing other genres for purposes of this blog.
Anyway, writing a sex scene requires you to be a voyeur into your characters’ lives. If you’re not comfie with that, you need to get comfie with it if you want to write a good, effective sex scene. Sex is one of the most physically intimate things (and possibly emotionally, depending on your approach and other factors) that occurs between people, so when you write it — regardless of the genre — you need to think about how it’s going to work within that genre, within the plot you’re dealing with, and with the characters you’re writing to make it work, keep your reader involved (and get all voyeuristic with you…heh), and keep that plot moving.
A sex scene can make or break a narrative. So use it wisely, grasshopper.
Happy Friday, happy writing, happy reading!