Questionable: Sex in Stories
Deb Blake asked:
Sex. I have to put the occasional sex scene in my books, and it is SO hard to write sex scenes (or seduction, or even just attraction) well. Your sex scenes are among the few I actually like to read. Any suggestions?
Sex scenes are about sex the way dinner scenes are about dinner, which is to say, not. Sex is the action the characters are doing, but it’s not what the scene is about. Instead, it illustrates what the scene is about. If the characters have sex and it’s fabulous and there are no problems and they’re the same people at the end of the scene that they are at the beginning, then you can just write “And then they had great sex” and skip writing the scene because it doesn’t move story. But if something happens during the sex scene to change character and move story, then you have to write the scene, but you have to write the action of the scene (that would be the sex) in a way that shows character change and story arc.
The biggest mistake people make in writing sex scenes in books that aren’t erotica is writing the sex. Anybody who reads your book has either had sex or seen it on cable TV, so there’s no need to provide instructions. Your reader knows where everything goes. Your characters are likely not describing the action to themselves, and in fact as things heat up, they’re likely to become non-verbal. So what does that leave you? The things that are different, the actions that change things, the details that make those changes vivid. A sex scene is like every other scene in that it’s part of the story that the reader wants to live vicariously, in the same way she wants to vicariously flirt with the love interest and vicariously defeat that bastard antagonist. So you concentrate on emotion and sensation, putting her in the scene so that she can feel what’s happening, as the events change the characters.
This is one of the reasons that I love writing bad sex. It’s so much more interesting than good sex and it gives you so much more room to arc character and relationship. I think that problems that occur are a lot more interesting because then the characters have to solve them, right there, and the way they solve them characterizes them, shows them things about each other, and deepens the relationship. Anything that makes sex more difficult heightens tension: how do they handle people walking in on them, not being able to find privacy, wanting different things, misunderstanding what each other wants, their respective hang-ups and fears? That’s the stuff that makes scenes with sex interesting, arcs characters, and moves plot.
Don’t write sex scenes. Write fascinating scenes full of conflict that changes character and advances story shown through the sexual actions of the characters. Once you stop thinking “sex” and think “character and conflict,” it becomes a lot easier.