Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to write a sex scene


by Mary Margret Daughtridge


In less than two weeks I have to give a talk on how to write a sex scene. The more I thought about it, the less I could think of anything noteworthy to say. I’m no expert, but I thought a scene in which my characters have sex would have the same requirements, craft-wise, as any other.

I did some research. After I read twenty or thirty articles, I realized how to write a sex scene was code for how to write sex that turns readers on and doesn’t turn them off—or if one fancies oneself to be among the literati, how to include the sex that will get my book published but not open it to charges of pandering or titillation. One sage grudgingly admitted one could hone one’s craft by reading a few “tawdry bodice-rippers.”

After several hours perusing the net on the subject, I found only one tidbit of advice all agree on: don’t use gratuitous sex. Yes. Whether the wise ones were romance writers or imagined themselves a superior breed, they all used the exact, same word—gratuitous.

Any advice so universally handed out--not about the craft of story-making, but about how to deal with a topic-- must be wrong.

This isn't guidance about how to write about sex. A rule like "no gratuitous sex" only hamstrings and stifles creativity. Here is my rule in two parts: (a.) no scene of any kind should be gratuitous. And (b.) there’s no point at which the inventive romance writer couldn’t insert some sex if she wanted to--as long as she followed the same rules for inclusion as for any other scene.

Shortly after I turned in SEALed With a Kiss, our editor, Deb Werksman informed me that it was under the 90,000 word minumum. She asked me to please send her 4,000 words, ASAP—preferably a sex scene.

I went back to my first draft and found a sex scene—that I had a lot of fun writing—but that seemed superfluous in the final analysis, so I had cut it. Looking at it again, I realized that with only a little tweaking it could show my heroine Pickett changing (she steps out of her comfort zone) while meeting the first purpose of a romance which is to entertain.

I polished it and sent it to Deb. She loved it, and so do my readers. They comment on the sex in the swing more than any other scene in the book.

So here’s how to write a sex scene: scr** the rules. ( I couldn’t resist.) Make every sex scene about the characters, not about the sex, and have fun.

What advice would you add?

14 comments:

  1. Mary Margret said: "So here’s how to write a sex scene: scr** the rules. ( I couldn’t resist.) Make every sex scene about the characters, not about the sex, and have fun."

    LOVE IT, MM! Great advice, and the only thing I would add is don't make the details too clinical. We all know that Tab A goes into Slot B and we all know the anatomically correct words, but they are NOT romantic. I'm not saying to go all purple prose, but use a bit of creativity. As you said, we writers are supposed to entertain the readers!

    Good luck with your presentation. I know you'll do GREAT!

    AC

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  2. "don't make the details too clinical. We all know that Tab A goes into Slot B and we all know the anatomically correct words, but they are NOT romantic."

    I understand what you're saying--I even agree--but I wouldn't go so far as make some words allowable and some not. Who knows at what point the Latin name will be just what a writer needs to show a character's deep POV?

    I think if the writer has gone "too clinical" she's probably trying to describe sex, instead of focusing on what's happening to the characters. We sense the disconnection from the characters and that's what as readers we object to.

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  3. Giving a presentation on how to write a sex scene! Does that seem like an entry in a high school year's book's most-likely-to list? I completely agree that it has to be about the characters, because the very same actions are not going to play out the same way between different people. Holding hands with one guy ain't the same as holding hands with another: it's not the hands, it's the holders that count. Good luck on your presentation, and I liked the sex-on-a-swing scene too.

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  4. If you can successfully write sex on a swing, MM, you should be fine giving your talk :-)

    I used to worry that if I wrote enough of them, the sex scenes would start to sound alike in my books. Then I realized that my different characters were resulting in different sexual experiences. Like so much of the story, the sex is about the characters, not slot A and tab B (LOL Cindy).

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  5. I agree with Cindy, don't be clinical and make sure it doesn't sound too implausible. One sex scene that was physically impossible between two humans still sticks in my head. AUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

    Linda

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  6. No one has ever accused me of being too clinical, but sometimes I think I might be--but as one who uses a variety of un-romantic words, I say F*** the rules! I really HATE being edited.....grumble, grumble.....

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  7. One of the best comments I ever heard on this subject was where someone was describing one of the sexiest scenes he/she'd ever written (I think it was an agent or editor who said this). Anyway, it was a historical and the H/h were having dinner and the heroine was peeling off her gloves or something like that. Anyway, the scene was so hot b/c the author did it from the Hero's POV and his reaction to her removing a glove. I figure that's the kind of mood you want to set in the scene, whether they go "all the way" or not, whether you show it or not, you want to have a scene that not only moves the story forward and shows us something about the characters, but ramps up the "I can't put this down" factor for the reader.

    And, no, Mers don't wear gloves. Besides, someone's already done that. LOL

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  8. Oh, and where exactly are you giving this talk? I might want to stop by ;}

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  9. sigh. it's early - that would be "one of the sexiest scene he/she'd ever READ" not written.

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  10. Linda,
    Although one piece of advice I plan to give is "think outside the bedroom," I agree there are human limitations. I'll always remember the couple who did the deed on the back of a horse in full gallop.

    OTOH, if you only consider character development, a couple who could do that, could overcome anything!

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  11. Judi,

    Very good point. In one of the sexiest movie scenes I ever saw, the camera is on Sean Connery's face while the woman, who has gotten sweaty working, pulls the rubberband from her pony tail and shakes her hair out.

    All that happens is that he inhales deeply and his nostrils flare. But OMG--the longing! It's over in three seconds--but from that moment I was riveted.

    Again we're reminded that it's not the action, it's the reaction that's sexy, and not the consummation but the longing, the anticipation.

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  12. Judi,

    The conference is October 25, 2008 at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va.

    Here's the url:

    http://www.ph.vccs.edu/announcement.cfm?t=2&ID=3541&sec=60&c=15&path=17,113

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  13. Sounds like good advice to me. I always like advice that starts with sc*** the rules.

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