Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing Sex Scenes - Tough Stuff

by Laura Bickle

I'll admit it. Writing sex scenes is my absolute least favorite part of writing fiction. I can fall into the overall groove of the story and cruise along happily for hundreds of pages. The protagonist is working toward resolving the primary conflict in story: saving a city from dragons and ghosts or guarding the next Oracle of Delphi. I'm into the major plot arc, throwing every obstacle I can create at her.

Before I know it, it's two thirds through the book. Sigh. And I know that I've gotta tie up some loose threats of romance and put some smut in there.

I saw that I typed "threats" instead of "threads." Freudian slip.

Oftentimes, I'll just charge on. Make a note in the margins: "Sex scene goes here." "Insert Tab A into Slot B." I put it off and focus on the parts of the story I'm more involved with.

But sooner or later, I have to face up to it and write the damn thing.

I bitch and moan about it being *expected.* I get snarky about how the real world does not run on love. I try to figure out how to get Tab A into Slot B in a way that hopefully moves the story forward.

It's not that I don't appreciate romance. I do. I enjoy a good subplot of romance, with all the tension and tumult that goes with it. It adds flavor to the story. Like everyone else, my protagonist loves to be loved. I love reading other people's romance and erotica.

Just not mine.

Sex is hard to write. Maybe, if I were writing it for myself, I'd feel differently. But I'm absolutely aghast at the idea of my sex scenes being read aloud and mocked by someone standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. My mother will read my sex scenes, once they're in print. She says they're "tasteful." I have no idea what that means, nor do I want to.

In one of my books, my editor noted that one of my sex scenes was physically impossible, because the protagonist would have to grow a third breast in middle of her back in order for it to work. Needless to say, that wasn't how I envisioned it. That scene took some altering to make it so that the reader and I both "saw" the same thing.

I am consciously trying to loosen up in my work, though. I turned in a book last week that has a whole chapter of sex. I know that sex is not a necessary part of every story. The book I turned in before that had romance, but not sex.

But I know that I need to stretch my muscles. Push through my aggravation and learn to do it. It doesn't come naturally, but...

...I'm starting to enjoy it.

That chapter of sex was difficult. I groused about it the whole time. But I read it back through recently and thought: "Hmm. That's not bad."

I may be improving.

And that's the thing about writing. You've gotta do what makes you uncomfortable. Push out of your comfort zone and find new the bedroom or outside of it.

Image: graur razvan ionut /


  1. You're such a brave and determined writer, I have no doubt you'll succeed. And those stories about the Planet of Three-Breasted women are just *begging* to be written. Can't wait to read the Chapter O' Sex!

  2. Thanks, Jeffe. Some days, I feel like a big 'ol chicken because my bedroom scenes don't flow like I'd like for them to.

    I was thinking about why that was, and why I dislike the process of writing sex scenes so much. I suspect it's because I don't truly believe that love saves the day in real life. Hard work? Sure. Courage and strength? Absolutely. But I'm not sure that love really does, and I can't suspend my disbelief long enough to transfer that to fiction. Not yet, anyway. ;-)

    But, who knows? Captain Kirk probably mightily enjoys shore leave on the planet of three-breasted women. Maybe there's a market out there for it. ;-)

    But I've kind of got to go back to the idea that in order to grow, we've got to do stuff that we don't like doing. Hence, the attempt to make peace with the chapter-long sex scene. ;-)

  3. Love and sex might not save the day, but they can lighten up someone's life/day/hour/whatever, which in turn may lead to that someone doing things a bit differently than he/she would have done without love.

    Looking forward to your next book!

  4. I guess I've always been a little like Laura - love isn't a panacea. There are hurts it cannot heal. It is determination, courage and strength that save the day, world or whatever. However, I came to realize at some point that maybe it was love that gave someone strength, courage and determination. Still doesn't mean sex scenes are a breeze.

  5. Love is complicated, huh? The more I learn about trying to write it, the more I discover it's like peeling back the layers of an onion. ;-)

  6. Heh. I love writing smut scenes. Sometimes I'll throw two characters together into one just to see how they'll react to each other (even if I never actually use it.)

    It can be pretty revealing, actually, no pun intended.

  7. "Get Tab A into Slot B"



  8. Oh, I too have those "insert sex scene here" sort of creative-avoidance holders. I once sent off a "final" version of a story to a beta reader. An indignant flame letter landed in my box a day later.

    "I refuse to read more until sex scenes are added!"


  9. I remember when I wrote my first sex scene...I think I blushed through the entire scene which took me two or three days to write (rough draft). It seemed just like regular smut to me, but it wasn't until I got it published that I realized it was considered "erotic". No wonder I was blushing! Now though, I can get through a sex scene without the red face and averted eyes (which is important when you're typing).

  10. Allison...but YOUR sex scenes are awesome! Mine are, well...functional.

    Brad...cue Beavis & Butthead laughter. Yep, that about sums it up. :-)

    KAK, danicasavet, I'm glad that I'm not alone. Maybe my manuscript is feeling self-conscious because I'm staring at it.

  11. Laura, I too have difficulty with suspension of disbelief when it comes to the sex scenes. I once read a romance novel in which the heroin, a young mother, travels overnight on a crowded train with her infant child. She hasn't slept in twenty-four hours, has endured this travel ordeal, has major life crises happening all around her, and yet the first thing she does upon finally arriving at her destination is spend the night in passionate love-making with the hero. Or the one where the hero rescues his love after she has been half starved and worked to death in a slave camp in the desert, and he immediately throws her down on the ground for passionate sex.


    I keep wanting to write a book in which the sex scenes are real: mediocre sex, awkward sex, I love you but I just really need sleep sex... Not that totally hot, passionate, sex doesn't happen, of course. Must be careful not to paint myself old maidish, which I am definitely not. And I love reading a good sex scene, as long as there is plenty of other action going on. I guess I should stop now or I'll having nothing left to say for my own post, lol.

  12. Kerry, I agree - there's a big difference between believable and unbelievable sex. I think it's an art that I have yet to master.

    I suspect that a lot of good sex scenes have to do with motivation that rings true...not just hero and heroine find themselves *alone* together. In most situations, that's not a sufficient condition to inspire most people to have sex. But then again, I could just be a prude. ;-)

  13. I have to imagine that my family will never read my books, or I can't write sex scenes.

    @Allison Pang: I do that too: just throw my protagonists into bed to see what will happen. There's no better way to figure out what makes the relationship tick. But it could just be that I like writing smut, too.