Okay – I chuckled when I received Misha’s title – I’m no prude (if you’ve read my books you know that already) – but I’m always looking to find new ways to improve the craft of writing an aspect of romance novels which is so important. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference.
How to Write Sex Scenes If You’re a Prude Like Me
Okay, “prude” is definitely too strong a word. That title should probably read: How to Write Sex Scenes if You’re Somebody Who Doesn’t Want Anyone to Know that You Even Think About Sex Much Less Enjoy It. Or maybe: How to Write Sex Scenes If Your Mom Reads Your Books and It Grosses You Out to Know That She’s Reading Your Descriptions of Hot Naked Sweaty Cavorting.
Most healthy human beings love good sex, and these days, books featuring hot sex are more in demand than ever. If you’re a sultry, seductive, Kathleen-Turner-in-Body-Heat type, maybe it feels natural to dash off a few thousand words about thrusting, heaving and quivering. But what if you’re a shy, nerdy, Ally-Sheedy-in-Breakfast-Club type, and writing about naughty bits makes you all awkward and uncomfortable (even more so than usual, I mean)? Being the latter, I’ve had my share of challenges when it comes to writing intimate moments. Finally I just decided to play to my strengths, and to approach sexy writing in the nerdiest, least sexy way possible: I broke it down into a series of mathematical equations.
Naughty-Fun Body Parts = Sex
Naughty-Fun Body Parts + Purpose = Sex Scene
Naughty-Fun Body Parts + Romantic Emotional Purpose = Love Scene
Now, this is obviously a very stripped-down, simplified perspective. But it’s as good a place to start as any. So taking these elements, here are a few things to think about (dare I say “chew on”?) when you’re getting ready to write a sex scene:
Sex vs. the Sex Scene – The biggest breakthrough I had in writing sex scenes was when someone dropped this knowledge on me: it’s not about the sex. The sex is a trapping, a device (sometimes literally), a method that the characters use for expressing themselves or forwarding their purpose, whether good or bad.
In fiction, every scene should serve a purpose. A sex scene is no different: it needs to have a purpose within the universe you’ve created as a writer, and should contain some element that connects it to the larger plot line. Sex scenes aren’t just about the naughty-fun body parts. There’s always something else going on.
Emotion vs. Romantic Emotion – Romance novels are all about the beauty of emotion. What do the characters feel for each other, and what kind of inward/outward journeys do they take to find their happily-ever-after?
The first sex scene I ever wrote was for my debut novel, Homesong. The story centers around childhood sweethearts who, as teens, are separated just as they’re about to consummate their innocent young romance. Years later they meet unexpectedly, and guess what? They fall in love all over again. Their first sexual encounter is a very complicated thing. There’s a lot of hurt between them, a lot of secrets, and a lot of guilt. There’s also the very simple, straightforward desire to enjoy each other’s bodies in a way that they were denied two decades earlier. And – most importantly, from my perspective – there’s the fact that they’re still in love with each other, although neither of them is ready to admit it yet.
So you’ve got romantic feelings in sex scenes. But of course, the emotional spectrum is broad and varied. Anger, blame, curiosity, ambition – there are all sorts of fascinating things your characters can feel when they’re having sex. In fact, in Karleen Koen’s wonderful Through a Glass Darkly, none of the scenes that depict sex are romantic. Most of them are political: the two (or three) people who are sharing a bed are also usually sharing some conspiracy. The sex in that book is detailed and exciting, but it’s not about love. It’s about a connection being made, a purpose being forwarded, a deception being perpetrated.
If you’re writing a love scene, imbue it with romantic emotion. If you’re writing a sex scene, have some fun with it and see what other emotions and motivations your characters might be experiencing.
Naughty-Fun Body Parts – Whether we’re talking about the twig and berries or some highfalutin’ hooters, our wonderful language has many names (and nicknames) for our fabulous fun parts. So how do shy writers like us discuss the naughty bits? Well, this might seem like a cop-out answer, but it really depends on what kind of book you’re writing.
Language in sex scenes tends to be genre-specific. At the erotica/romantica end of the spectrum, you have a variety of fun slang and four-letter words to choose from. And whether you’re shy or not, you should use the terms that are appropriate for your book. You’re writing for an audience that expects and enjoys it, and one thing you never want to do is disappoint your audience. So be as explicit as you like, and have fun with it!
At the other end of the language spectrum (the end at which I tend to dwell), you’ve got euphemism, metaphor and simile. For example:
Euphemism – When they danced, his attraction was made plain by the rigidity that pressed against her.
Metaphor – When they danced, his attraction was an unyielding baton that beat a tempo of lust against her tender flesh.
Simile – When they danced, his attraction was as unmistakable as a volcano rising mightily out of the sea.
Okay, those might not be particularly imaginative examples (and at least one of them is downright silly), but hopefully they get the point across. Using euphemisms, metaphors and similes, you can communicate a wide variety of images, sexy and otherwise, and still maintain your shy-writer mystique.
So even if you’re a bashful nerd instead of a lusty bombshell, write as much sex as you want, and enjoy it! Whether you let your mom read your books or not is up to you.
So – do you love writing sex scenes or do they make you shudder? Do you have any tips to add to Misha’s awesome idea?
On Wednesday, Shelly Ellis talks about what does and doesn’t fly in multicultural romance.
I was born in the beautiful city of Charlottesville, Virginia and I’ve lived in the DC area all my life. Everyone in my family is an avid reader, and when I was little my mother “encouraged” me to read by offering to pay me two cents per page of Hop on Pop! It was an unusual strategy, but it worked: before long I was a bona fide book junkie (thanks Mom!).
My first novel, Homesong, a multi-generational family story, was first published in 2008, and was a finalist for the Bronte Prize for Romantic Fiction. It was followed in 2010 by Still Waters, a 1950s romantic suspense. And my first contemporary romantic suspense, Her Secret Bodyguard, went to the top of Amazon’s Hot New Releases in 2011.
I still live in northern Virginia, with my wonderful husband, my bossy college-student sister, and my even bossier cat. I would love to hear from you! I hope you’ll use the form below to get in touch.
Misha’s website: http://mishacrews.com/
- My, What a Nice New Kindle You Have, Grandma. . .with Carlene Love Flores
- Ask an Editor: Theresa Stevens on Ten Steps to A Clean Submission
- Sloan Parker – Write What You Know: A Woman Writing M/M Romance
- Ask An Editor with Theresa Stevens – Understanding Heroes
- How “Once Upon a Time” Can Lead to a Happy Ending for Your Manuscript, by Teresa Medeiros