Let’s Talk About Sex, Shall We?
I’ve been reading a lot of books with sex scenes in them lately. (New Kindle = new Kindle book addiction). Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts on the subject. Now, originally, I had assembled those thoughts into a meandering, chaotic rant. Fortunately, I did a little editing before posting this blog and organized my rant into what I now call my “8 Rules for Sex Scenes.” Bear in mind, this is all highly unscientific and subjective to the extreme. Nevertheless, this is what I have to say on the subject.
For illustrative purposes, I have pulled a couple of sex scenes from my book Gratification, one involving the 2 main characters, Preston and Maggie, who have deep feelings for each other and destined for a happily-ever-after. The other involves Rod and Taralynn, 2 supporting characters with feelings for each other at all and are using sex as a means to manipulate each other. So, on to my rules.
Rule # 1: (and frankly, if you decide to ignore ever other rules here, please remember this one). Your sex scene should not be boring. If I’m skimming through a love scene (and you’d be surprised how often I am), the author has gone off the tracks at some point…and not in a way that makes me think hot and steamy bad boy. This is a scene involving sex, perhaps the most popular subject in the history of mankind. This is not the place to bore your reader with mechanical descriptions and over-used clichés. So, how you may ask, does one keep Clara from skimming? The answer to that question brings us to Rules # 2-8.
Rule # 2: Answer the question: Why are these characters having sex? If your answer does not involve something about revealing character and/or moving along the plot, your characters should be doing something else. Rod has the following thoughts while having sex with Taralynn, helping the reader understand why he’s having sex with her: “And Preston thought it was a bad idea. In his mind, he savored a secret victory over Preston. Now that she’d said the word, however, the reality of marriage to Taralynn got him thinking. He wondered first whether she really meant it. Or, was she merely toying with him, as he was with her? Who proposed marriage on the very first date? She could very well have her own agenda at play.”
In fact, this entire scene provides a glimpse into the minds of both Rod and Taralynn, and sets events in motion that come into play later on in the book, providing the reader with multiple things to think about while the scene is taking place. This particular scene really packs an emotional punch, one that defies the reader to skim. At the end of the day, that is what we authors should be going for: an emotional reaction from our reader.
Rule # 3: Use your setting to enhance your characters: Not all sex takes place in a bed in someone’s bedroom. If you are trying to convey intimacy, a private setting accomplishes this quite well, but it doesn’t have to be a bed in someone’s bedroom. How about a secluded beach? Or deep in the woods? Setting is a great tool to set the mood and reveal something about your characters. Are they people who would feel comfortable making love outdoors? How about making use of other areas in the house? In the first love scene between Preston and Maggie, they are so eager and have been denying themselves for so long, they begin making love in the kitchen.
In stark contrast, Rod and Taralynn have sex in a dark corner of the bar, emphasizing the lack of intimacy between the characters.
Rule # 4: Word choice matters: As with setting, the specific words used can convey the feelings and attitudes of the characters involved. With Rod and Taralynn, crude terms like ‘tits’ are used. This shows the lack of caring he has for his partner. Deep affection between partners can be shown with soft word choices and more injection of emotion into the scene. Even between partners who love each other, however, cruder terms might sometimes be appropriate. Make up sex, anyone?
Rule # 5: Less is more: Naming of the actual body parts involved should be done sparingly. That way, it will have more impact when they are used.
Rule # 6: Sex is not about sex. It’s about emotion: Even between 2 characters who care nothing at all about one another, they still, individually, have feelings about what is happening. Maybe they feel contempt for their partner. Maybe they feel indifference. Whatever it is they’re feeling, it should show up in your scene.
Rule # 7: Sex does not happen in a vacuum: Show what leads up to the act. Let your reader see and feel it through your POV character. What does she/he think/feel? Engage their senses. What does this person see, feel, hear, taste and smell? Bring in their emotion. No one makes love with a blank mind. Are they fantasizing about something or someone? Are they happy? Sad? Ashamed? Whatever it is, let your reader experience it.
Rule # 8: Your sex scene should elicit an emotional response in the reader: Note, this response doesn’t have to be arousal, (although, if this is a scene between 2 characters in love, you should be going for that as well), but your reader should feel something. Be it sympathy, anger, disgust, tenderness, (depending upon the scene). The emotional response you should be going for is determined by Rule # 2…why are these characters having sex? Answering that question for your reader helps you achieve Rule # 8, provoking an emotional response in your reader.
Well, that’s about as windy as I get with one blog. I look forward to reading and writing some well-written sex scenes, and feeling aroused, amused, disgusted, or whatever.
Happy Reading!Clara J