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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Writing sex scenes

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... *sex* and how to write it - or not! - by Clare London.


Sex scene writing – it’s like Marmite, isn’t it? You love it or hate it! LOL. Confess now – have you ever written “insert sex scene here” (or those very useful XXXXs) on your manuscript, then continued on with the rest of the story?
It’s A Significant Event for many writers’ stories, but:
- You shouldn’t be scared of it
- You should make it the best you can, and
- You should make it work for the book!
And I want to give you some thoughts and tips on how you can do all that.

The Fear!!

What of? Being embarrassed to visualise intimacy in print? Thinking it’ll reflect on you the author? Winning the Bad Sex Writing award? Forget all those and be brave!

Now, if you are *truly* embarrassed or horrified at writing sex in your book – then please don’t! No one insists. HONESTLY. Okay, so there’s the saying that sex sells – and it does, to many readers – but a good book is much better. Many, many readers like romantic tension instead, many like the intimacy to stay beyond the bedroom door. Imagination is often far more powerful than we can put into words. Your good book will last in a reader’s memory far longer than another shower sex scene.

And if you force the issue – well, that’s when the “XXX”s start to appear, because you think you *have* to write sex scenes, but you don’t have the *feels* for it. All that will happen is that you’ll be mortified, your writing will be uneven, and the reader will feel either dissatisfaction or discomfort. You have to want to write it – to like writing it! - to make it convincing.

But I want to have sex scenes in my book…
Okay, that’s great! So make them the best you can!

Sex doesn’t have to be unique. It doesn’t have to be shockingly different / more dangerous / outrageous than other sex scenes in literature. Anyone who’s ever had sex knows that there are a limited number of physical permutations *wink*. Consider what you find sexy, and channel that feeling into your writing. For so many authors, what they like to read is what they enjoy writing. But at the end of it all, what makes a sex scene GOOD are the characters and the emotion between them.

Following on from the logistical issue is another reason why the “XXX”s should be avoided. Your sex scene is JUST a scene i.e. it will be one part of the flow of the overall story. If the characters are getting close, if their feelings are moving towards sex, then the build-up will already be in the story. The sex scene will just be the next narrative step. No one should be having sex out of the blue, with no warning. Even it’s a business transaction, even if it’s a drunken fumble, even if it’s Lust hitting them between the eyes with its flaming arrow. There should *always* be something in the text – however short, however wacky, however unexpected - that leads up to it, to tantalise both the characters and the reader. Just as there will be an aftermath, a cooling down, a period of shock / delight / love / dismay / where did I put my trousers etc.

Make the sex part of the story. Use it to move on either your characters or the plot. They will be changed by it in some way, and not just physically. Make that as much a part of the story as their jobs, their families, their battle against global supervillains!

Well, one reader’s Tab A into Slot B is another reader’s purple prose LOL. It’s difficult to say if there are right or wrong ways to write sex, though I’d recommend avoiding ridiculous phrases like purple-headed flowers and squelching grottos! I mean, who would ever say that in real life?
Referring back to the point about keeping it part of the story. THINK your way into it – I call it method writing, as I often try to project into one of my characters to see how they would speak and respond in a situation. If your character is shy, he’s not going to suddenly spout reams of personal feelings OR a full porn movie script. One character may be clumsy – it’s their first time, maybe? – and he’ll apologise a lot. They may laugh as they get ready: they may want to do it in the dark. They may be impatient, they may be nervous, they may know exactly what they want. This is all so much more important than describing the body parts in action.

If you want to excite, use bold words like thrust, hard, grip, push, passion, throb, shove, penetrate, arch. Short sentences, fractured dialogue, unfinished sentences and thoughts. Characters will gasp, grunt, growl, shout, grit teeth.
For a sweeter, slower romance, use words like stroke, caress, sigh, ache, cling, slide. Take longer over description and dialogue, the characters will share emotions, consider their surroundings, savour the sensual feelings. They will whisper and murmur.
Consider your characters’ backgrounds – are they athletic / body conscious / not very fit? Are they experienced, have they dated a lot or a little? Would they say cock and pussy aloud? Would they swear a lot, or just give inarticulate cries? Keep it real in the context of the story.

THINK your way through the scene. It doesn’t have to – probably shouldn’t – go on for 8 pages LOL. If they’re excited, things will be explosive and passionate but probably fast. Try and plot the progress as if it were happening in front of you. By all means, imagine yourself in the scene yourself! If you feel sexy on behalf of your characters, that’ll shine through the writing. Remember to imagine/fit that single scene into the rest of the book, so there’s balance between Sex and Story. Pacing is important – and that will add credibility to the story.

So now we’ve established the principle that, whatever you do, one reader’s love of raw f***ing is another’s love of unicorns singing, and you can’t anticipate either, so you must write the story you want to LOL. It’s YOUR story, your characters, your plot. You want readers to love it, but you can’t write for them all. Be true to your own feelings, whether they’re sexy or sweet. Many readers like a whole range of books, from hot to sweet to inspirational. Your book will suit many of them, and in many moods.

Craft it well, make it plausible, and you’ll have a showcase for your style. Your characters will be remembered as sexy – not just for what they did in bed.

~~Clare London~~~


Sandy Parks said...

From someone who struggles with sex scenes, you pegged all the important considerations. Thanks, Claire.

Clare London said...

Thanks Sandy. I genuinely think an author should write what they're comfortable with, and that readers will appreciate the book as a whole. But it's good to have all "weapons" in our armoury :)

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