Friday, February 4, 2011

Building a Fire

Writing a sex scene is like lighting a fire in the wood stove. Some days, you get a rush of blazing goodness. Some days you really have to work for it - to the point of wondering whether it's worth the bother.

We know what ruins a good fire. Wet firewood. Insufficient oxygen. What smothers a good sex scene? The ultimate wet blanket: the internal critic. Isn't it interesting that I can risk life and limb learning to scuba dive, rappeling down rock faces or taking bicycle trips hundreds of miles down the coast and my internal "gasp! You can't do that!" voice is silent. But try to write a scene between two people who've arrived at a point in their relationship where intimacy and trust are necessary and an entire army of horrified commentators gathers in my head, wringing their hands, wailing and rending garments over the fact that I'm attempting to write a sex scene between two people committed to one another. It concerns me that this post of writing sex scenes has turned into the perfect segue to next week's topic. "My Favorite Neuroses". O_o

Return with me to the fire metaphor. A good fire is hypnotic. Mesmerizing. But you can't sit and stare into a roaring blaze unless you went to the trouble of laying a solid foundation. Kindling set to assure a good coal bed, dry wood arranged to maximize airflow. If you put the work in, you get a roaring blaze to stare into while you char your marshmallows.  Sex scenes require the same initial work and that's where my real interest lies. I mean, once the tab and slot joining has occurred, there are only so many ways to describe the - er - ins and outs of the act without. . .let's say 'gliding' into porn movie territory. No, for me, the interesting part is what leads up to tab to slot insertion.

I love the mental, emotional and physical manuevering that lures two people from conflict into tentative alliance, then into attraction, hope, and eventual trust. The actual culminating event then has to live up to all that initial dancing around. But no pressure, right? Sex scenes in my stories serve to break down walls in my characters - walls that need shattering if these characters are to become whole. If the hero and heroine refuse to step over the trust line, if either refuses to take the risk sex represents - entrusting body and heart to another, then there's no way that hero or heroine can achieve any lasting victory at the end of the book. Which makes me wonder whether I expect too much.

Oh, look. Back to the fire metaphor. You know how else you kill a fire? Overload it. It hadn't occurred to me until just now that maybe I'm asking too much of my love scenes - crushing them beneath the weight of all my 'burn hotter!' expectations.

Any fire experts care to weigh in? ;)


  1. There are lots of kinds of fires - from little candles to those that engulf forests. Maybe we just need to keep in mind what kind of fire we're going for?

  2. As an aspiring author who also works at a sex shop, I've got to say that this post seems custom tailored for me :p

    Excellent post!

  3. I'm with jeffe. Sometimes a scene calls for a little sex, sometimes it calls for a lot. I'll go out on a limb and say my characters require a lot of sex. *cough*

  4. I like the fire metaphor quite a bit. (And oddly enough it really is one of the main words writers tend to use when describing the sexy parts - smoldering passion, fiery desire, etc. etc.

    Oddly enough, it's all about water when it comes to love and devotion, but that's probably another post. :)

  5. "kindling for a good coal bed"

    ~nods~ Kindling may be the little twigs not the large logs, but they're a great reminder that it's the little things that keep a romance going.

  6. Great post, and I like the fire metaphor. I'd just like to add, that sometimes a nice comfortable homey blaze is perfect, and maybe it doesn't all have to be dramatic huge flames of desire.