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Be a sex-writing strumpet

Oooh, before we get started I have some fun news! Several years back I wrote an article for EREC, about the word "cunt". A couple of days ago I submitted it to Lady Jaided, Ellora's Cave's online magazine, and it's been accepted. I'm quite tickled by this. So be on the lookout--Lady Jaided is free to read, and I'll link to it when the article is posted.

Part One: What does a sex scene do?

***Insert generic warning about adult language. We're talking about writing sex scenes here, guys. This is not for children. Despite my best efforts there is no way I can do this and not stray into adults-only territory.***


Before we begin…as always, the little disclaimer. This series is about how I write sex/love scenes. It is not about the best way or the only way; it’s about MY way. I assume if you’re reading it, it’s because you read my blog and therefore have at least a passing familiarity with me and/or my work (although that’s certainly not necessary) but, more to the point, that you actually find my sex scenes enjoyable and arousing and are therefore here to get some insight on them and how I write them, and what I’ve learned from writing them. In other words, I assume we have some general basis for agreement about what is hot in a sex scene, and that you have some confidence in my ability to write them. If you don’t like my sex scenes and think my work in general is crap, that's certainly your prerogative, but then why are you here? Seriously. I don't mean that in a rude way, but I'm doing this for fun and to help people not only improve their confidence and skill but figure out what THEIR way is, and nobody needs someone who's going to argue and pick on people in comments. It's never happened here but I've seen it enough times elsewhere to make me wary. I'm not one of those prissy "This is a safe place, which means dissenters will be destroyed like roaches under my pearly-pink heel" people, but I do ask that dissent is kept respectful. And that's the end of my sincere little welcome/warning for those who aren't regular readers of the blog; I'm thrilled to have you and would love you to stick around. /rant.

We will also be touching upon a few of the things I wrote about in my Heroes series, specifically the bits on chemistry. I’ll link to those when we get to them.

So. Writing sex scenes. How about that, huh?

In my mind, a sex scene has four main purposes:

1. It shows us something about the character(s).
2. It shows us something about the relationship.
3. It advances the story.
(there is a subrule here. We’ll call it 3a, and it is It increases tension. Sounds kind of funny, because you’d think of it as a release of tension, but we’ll get into that later.)
4. It arouses the reader (Note: I am speaking specifically about sex scenes in romance/erotic romance/urban fantasy with romantic elements/erotica. I will later deal with sex scenes that don’t have this element, but for now, this is where our focus is so this is what the purpose of our sex scenes is. Okay?)

That seems like an awful lot for one sex scene to cover, doesn’t it? Especially the bit about advancing the story, because let’s face it. There are lots of critics out there who claim romance or erotic romance is just a tiny story with a bunch of sex thrown in to pad it out.

They’re wrong (at least they should be; we’ve all read books like those, but do you really want to write them?). And here’s why.

Because in a romance/erorom/romantic uf, part of the story, be it large or small, IS the relationship. How is it possible for two people to have sex and it changes absolutely nothing about their relationship? How is it possible for us as readers to “see” them together in the most intimate of situations and not know something more about them, not see their relationship change? How is it possible for us as writers to ignore the impact of that?

It’s not. No matter what, once your characters have had sex, their relationship changes. Irrevocably. Actually, their relationship should change with every conversation, every casual touch, every glance, every kiss, even if it’s not readily apparent. But it is impossible for your characters to have sex and not see each other differently afterward. And that is one of the “jobs” of the sex scene, to show that relationship actually changing (before the reader’s very eyes! Just like one of those magic sponges that swells in the tub. Something should certainly be swelling in a sex scene, anyway. Heh heh.)

So. We know what a sex scene needs to do. If it doesn’t do those four things, it doesn’t belong in the book. This is true even for the most sex-filled erotic romances. If the sex isn’t exploring, defining, and advancing plot, character, and relationship, it needs to go away. And in an erotic romance or a regular romance, you have a lot of room to maneuver in those strictures.

A brief example: When final edits on Blood Will Tell were complete, it went to the final readers, who gave the book a rating of “S” (EC recently changed their ratings, btw.) S books are fine, of course, but they don’t sell as well as E-rated or higher. I was given a choice. Sell it as S, or add more sex.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. But it was difficult figuring out where to add the scenes. I finally came up with two: the pool scene, and one of the hotel scenes (the one where Julian wakes up Cecelia.) Now, adding sex is all well and good, but I had to figure out how to do all four things with each scene. Where did those areas need to be expanded?

It took me several days to hit on it, but I did. The new pool scene shows several things: How Julian feels about a decision he’s made, which up to then the reader hasn’t understood was a serious and drastic decision to make. In showing that, it also shows how important Cecelia has become to him. It gives us an insight into her understanding of him, and his respect for her opinion (a big deal for someone used to being in charge and ignoring others's opinions). It adds tension both by showing Julian lying yet again to hide his true nature and by showing their relationship grow increasingly close—and both of those things also advance the story. Finally, hopefully it was damn hot. I sure thought it was when I wrote it, and it remains one of my favorite scenes in the book.

The other addition, the hotel scene, works in a different way. It brings Julian’s guilt into clear focus and allows the reader to see what exactly is holding him back. It’s the first time he admits to himself what his true feelings are. In doing those things, of course, it jumps the story—remember, the story here is ABOUT their relationship, and everything else is secondary—forward. Is it arousing? Well, I think so, but it’s certainly not the hottest scene in the book by any stretch. It’s not particularly explicit. But if I did my job, it aroused the reader because of those emotions and feelings.

This isn’t to say, though, that an erotic romance has to be about sex. I’ve grown tired of the “magic vajayjay” conceit, whereby the heroine heals people or gains power through sex, and thus has sex with numerous partners, or one partner numerous times, purely as a sort of exercise of strength. That isn’t to say it can’t still work, but I think readers are becoming jaded by it; it’s regarded as lazy and silly now (and the “magic vajayjay” applies also to those stories where the base healing power of sex is overblown to the point where one good bed session heals all the hero/ine’s hang-ups and emotional problems. Be very careful about keeping change realistic.)

So. Next time we’ll start getting into mechanics. I have a LOT of material planned. I’m also inviting readers to submit sex scenes/snippets of sex scenes here, for suggestions and critique. I’m happy to do it, but I’m not going to do a ton of them—five or ten at the most. So if you’d like to be included send me an email with the following:

*Snippet/scene. No more than 750 words, please (yes, it’s a lot, but that’s why I’m not doing many). Include a line or two with the set-up.
*Statement saying it’s okay to post and critique on the blog
*Okay. You guys know I’m not going to rip your work apart or be cruel, and I’m not going to allow any commenters to do so either (not that they will.) I’m thinking I will probably moderate comments when we do these just to be sure. BUT. I plan to be blunt and detailed. So really, don’t submit if you’re not ready for that. Don’t submit if you’re then going to run around the internet talking about what a bitch I am and how I wouldn’t know good writing if it stabbed me in the windpipe with the twisted wire from a spiral notebook. (No, I know none of you would do that, but again, just being careful.) I’m not claiming to be an expert (and if you want to see my "credentials", go ahead and click on the "Reviews" tag in my sidebar), I’m just trying to pass on what I know and have some fun doing it. So dumb as this may sound, please just let me know you understand that the critique may be an actual critique, not a “Yeah! This is awesome and you deserve awards!” and that you agree to that.

All submissions will of course be kept anonymous. All character names will be changed; I’ll probably just sub Hero/Heroine or perhaps something generic like Jack and Jill.

Whee! I’m really excited about this!

I had planned to change my blogging schedule for the summer and do only Mondays and Thursdays. I may still switch to that, depending on how this goes, but as I said I have a ton of stuff to cover here. We're going to spend a few days examining the purpose/timing/etc of sex scenes--the basic stuff--and then move into the mechanics of voice, language, rhythm, dialogue, setting, characterization, all that stuff. Along the way I think we'll have a really good time.

So for now I'll still be here Mon/Wed/Fri but we may switch in August. Mondays I will probably do "personal" blogging, with sex stuff Weds and Fri. And I'll probably do the critiques every day at the end of August, so we can apply what we've learned in comments. I'd really like all snippets to me by the end of this week though. It's no fun if you've already spent a month and a half studying and thus submit perfect scenes.

And if there's anything in particular you'd like me to cover, comment or email me. We'll do a FAQ before the crits, or maybe I'll slip them in as we go along.


( 16 people said — Say something )
Jul. 9th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
This sounds like fun.
Jul. 9th, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
Thaks Tom. I hope it will be!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 9th, 2008 08:17 pm (UTC)
Hey there!

Of course, by all means link to it wherever you like. The more the merrier! Hopefully we'll all have fun and learn something, me included. :-)
Jul. 9th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
This is awesome and I'm going to UFL the discussion if you have no objections.

And Hi, how the hell are you? ;D
Jul. 9th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
Of course I don't object! Like I say above, the more the merrier.

And I'm okay. How are you? Feeling better? Do I owe you an email? (Yeah, probably. I owe everyone emails.)
Jul. 9th, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
Cool. Consider it done. And, no, I don't think you owe me an email. I just am really wondering how you are and I'm a smidge sassy today, so, I said hell. ;D
Jul. 9th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, geez. You don't want to know how I really am. Trust me. :-)
Jul. 10th, 2008 01:14 am (UTC)
Word count limit
Yikes. I have such WORDY sex scenes. Several pages of flirting/taunting, then they talk way too much during sex. Finding a whole scene compressed into 750 words may be impossible for Mr. Wordcount here.

Hey, there are some quickies.....hope is reborn.
Jul. 10th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
Re: Word count limit
Is 15 pages too long for sex scenes? I'm just asking.

Call me, Mr. Max Wordcount
Jul. 10th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Word count limit
Nope. A sex scene can be as long as it needs to be, as long as we're still learning something about the characters, relationship, or story. :-)

Put it this way...is 15 minutes of actual sex too long? :-)
Jul. 10th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Word count limit
Hmm. See if you can do it, and if you absolutely can't email me. I'm thinking of letting everyone have 1k words instead anyway, as several people have mentioned the difficulty of 750 words.
Jul. 10th, 2008 01:15 am (UTC)
Boy this is going to be great..I have learned so much already. Because the current WIP is YA I thnk I will sit this first snippet out. Maybe create something at a later date.
Jul. 10th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, well, that's disappointing. But I'm glad you're enjoying it so far and I hope you'll continue to! :-)
Jul. 11th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
of course I will continue to enjoy it.. silly woman! I do have the a "snippett" but it's young adult worthy so nothing of any consequence gets whipped out or goes in anywhere. I feel like I would be wasteing everyone's time..
Jul. 10th, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
This has been a road block for me. I'm not a prude but writing about sex sometimes feels awkward or at worst like I'm a lech. Thanks for putting this subject into context.
Jul. 10th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! And I do plan to cover writing all types of sex scenes, from the very graphic to the more hazy-soft-focus. A sex scene does not have to be full of c-words and ripped clothing and grunts to be a good scene or to be arousing. There's no need to do more than you're comfortable with.
( 16 people said — Say something )

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