How to Write Superior Sex Scenes: Ignite Your Readers & Burn Them to Ash
Hey Guys, Cait Reynolds, my co-author/partner in crime/therapist/evil half is here to talk about the birds and the bees and maybe bees tying up other bees. The “How To” of writing superior sex scenes is vital, just uncomfortable for me. Sorry. I blame my upbringing.
I’m a Texan with a Lutheran mom and Baptist father. I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and have had far too much vacation bible camp to be much help. In fact, legally, I cannot write a sex scene until every member of my family dies…and likely not even then.
If you need help with plotting a fight scene or murder? I’m your gal.
All this said, roughly 80% of publishing is powered by the romance genre. This is a FACT.
I read a LOT of romance, myself. Sadly, however, there are “romances” so over-processed and crammed with filler they need a foil tray instead of a book cover.
TV Dinner sex scenes.
Tired, overdone, dry, uncreative and no one looks forward to consuming this stuff (unless starving and desperate).
Now, the great romances? Those suckers should come with warning labels. Those stories set us ON FIRE and do not relent until we are ash.
Though I know these books when I see them, not my skill set to teach, so Cait, A.K.A. Bad Teacher taking over….
When to Have Sex? (Besides the, uh, obvious)
I need to clarify here that when I use the word ‘sex,’ it’s a kind of shorthand for a wide range of heat and scenes, from the breathless near-kiss to the no-holds-barred prolonged BDSM menage a trois.
With bees *giggles*….
Kristen, go away or I will stab you. Where was I?
Basically, when I use ‘sex,’ it means that physical arousal has become part of the scene and may influence emotions, insights, and decisions (good and bad but always “complicated”).
Whether we write it sweet or scaldingly hot, there always has to be a reason behind sex for our characters. Sex scenes are not exempt from the rules of plotting. Let me say that again.
SUPERIOR SEX SCENES SUBMIT TO THE RULES OF PLOTTING
And yes, I am all CAPS LOCK on you on the super important stuff and no talking back *adjusts leather yoga pants*.
As I was saying..
This is not to say that a character’s decision to give in to temptation has to be rational (in fact, it’s often better for the plot if it isn’t). However, sex must always fit coherently within the logical structure of the story.
We can’t just throw in a sex scene because it has been a chapter-and-a-half since our characters got it on.
Another cardinal sin is timing a sex scene when the emotions of the characters don’t match up to where they happen to be in their arc.
Let’s use Seraphina and Taylor (my favorite stand-in’s). If Seraphina is having trouble accepting that what Taylor did was for her own good, she is going to struggle emotionally and intellectually with the pull of intimacy with him. Too often, we flip a switch on Seraphina and have her go from manic to melting in the space of one kiss.
While she can certainly give in to the physical sensations, emotionally, she’s not going to be in the same place as her physiological responses. She’s going to be conflicted going into the moment, and who knows where she’ll be by the end of it?
THIS IS A GOOD THING.
Conflict is the living, beating heart of any story, and to excuse sex scenes from this rule is to water down both the meaningfulness and the sizzle of sex.
Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing, and we run the risk of smashing it to pieces when we interrupt the logical flow of a story–something the reader is attuned to, even if they don’t know it.
In short, when it comes to a sex scene, we can’t just stick it in any ol’ place any ol’ time we feel like it (Sorry not sorry–I had to go there). When the moment is right (um, I have been reading too much of Kristen’s Cialis blog post), a good sex scene is just what the characters and the plot need.
How to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…
Let’s say we’re reading a mystery. We pick it up with the expectation of suspense, the pleasant anticipation of trying to figure out the whodunnit for ourselves before the detective, and a thrilling game of literary cat and mouse.
The author announces in chapter three that it was the butler in the library with the candelabra, and the rest of the book is spent finding more clues that confirm…yup, it was the butler in the library with the candelabra.
I don’t know about you, but I would be throwing that book across the room…unless I got off on reading the same conclusion over and over again. (Surprise! It was the butler in the library with the candelabra! *facepalm*)
So, why do we yet again exempt sex scenes from this basic rule of fiction?
SUPERIOR SEX SCENES ADHERE TO THE RULES OF PACING
If Seraphina and Taylor jump into the sack in chapter three (with or without the butler & candelabra optional), then what is left for them? Misunderstandings and emotional conflict?
But…the snap, crackle, and pop when we break through the Latent Unresolved Sexual Tension (L.U.S.T.) is utterly and irrevocably gone.
There’s only ever one first time. One moment of true surrender. ONE.
After that, it’s just indulging in a habit with more or less consequences.
If we are writing high-heat romance or erotica, there is definitely an expectation of having lots of fairly explicit sex scenes. But there’s nothing that says we have to go all the way on the first date with the reader.
There’s a certain irony in the idea that we as writers are supposed to be endlessly creative, yet, when it comes to sex scenes, we too often tend to go for the obvious, low-hanging fruit (insert innuendo here).
Anticipation is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Highly intoxicating and addictive.
Temptation and then DENIAL of the NEED as long as possible. The longer the chase, bigger the payoff.
When we (readers) binge read a book, our hearts are pounding, and we simply cannot stop because we want…we need what has been denied over and over. The final act is called a CLIMAX for a reason. Remember that. Jot some notes if you need to.
We writers must understand that what arouses readers to a state of almost painful excitement is always the tease (yup, more innuendo). The author leads a merry chase–hinting, confusing, tantalizing, showing a bit of ankle, running in the opposite direction.
We loves her. We haves her. We needs the Precious!
LITERARY FOREPLAY IS CRITICAL!
Yep, more CAP LOCK there *cracks whip* *adjusts black-framed glasses* I’m being tough. #BadTeacher
Wanna get all sexy with no lead-up? No work? No game?
What is it that our characters fear about intimacy?
What is something that pushes their emotional and physical boundaries?
What have they never done before?
What is dangerous to them?
Where would they never engage in physical intimacy?
The more we know our characters, the more we can create moments and scenarios that begin to build the pressure of L.U.S.T. until a single spark makes all their clothes explode.
Done properly, we can build enough ridiculous tension and prolong the anticipation so that the first full sex scene can happen halfway or even two-thirds of the way through the book, and the reader won’t even notice because they’ve been hot and bothered since chapter two’s encounter in the coatroom of the restaurant.
Where to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…
A good editor will come down on us like a ton of bricks if we get too mechanical or bogged down with unimportant details. Every scene has its own particular balance of dialogue, inner thoughts, action, and description.
The exact proportions of each element may differ for different POVs, genres, scenes, level of heat, etc., but they are always present.
Why then, for the love of all things Taylor and Seraphina, do we forget this rule when it comes to sex scenes? Why do we subject the reader to the (sometimes literal) blow-by-blow description of what Seraphina is doing to Taylor and vice versa?
It’s painfully easy to let a sex scene slip into “Insert Tab A into Slot B” territory when all we focus on is what body parts are touching other body parts.
SUPERIOR SEX SCENES HARNESS THE RULES OF DESCRIPTION
There’s so much we can put into a sex scene to enhance it, make it vibrant, touch a chord of reality with the reader, and create a truly unique moment for our characters. Let’s just look at the mechanics.
We wouldn’t describe every single action a character takes to prepare a lasagna. Why are we doing this with a sex scene? If we truly know our characters and what they long for, fear, desire, and dislike, then we can draw the reader’s attention to what is daring, unusual, and dangerous for the character.
For example, I could describe in agonizing minutiae how Taylor undresses Seraphina. It would probably end up sounding like every other undressing scene in every other book.
Taylor hurriedly undid the buttons on her blouse, getting impatient and yanking it over her head. She gasped as he hooked his hands into the waist of her skirt and deftly turned it around so he could unzip it and slide it down her legs. (I can’t go much further here without getting both more mechanical and explicit and in trouble with Kristen, but you get the idea.)
Eh. Meh. Blah.
But…what if we spun the moment this way?
As Taylor tore at her clothes, Seraphina wondered at herself, at her impulsive decision to leave work in the middle of the afternoon to meet him at the hotel. The constant patter of rain against the windows reminded her of the stream of emails she was willfully ignoring.
She looked at the man responsible for her temptation, the agent of her transformation. Every piece of clothing he ripped away peeled away the shell of the cold corporate woman, and every hot breath against her skin baptized her in the fire of a primal desire.
In your mind’s eye, you saw Taylor taking off her clothing. I didn’t have to beat you over the head with the buttons or smack you with her skirt. I didn’t give you guidance on how to take off Seraphina’s clothes. I put you in her head, and I bet that for a split-second, you heard the patter of rain against a window ;).
All of this is just the tip…of the iceberg. (YES! I HAD TO!)
I talk about this and so much more in my class, “How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes–No Safe Words Here!”
The thing is, this Friday is the last time I’m offering it this year (and probably well into next year). So, if you want to have an awesome time and learn a ton about writing SUPERIOR SEX SCENES, sign up for MY CLASS THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017, FROM 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST!
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $45.00 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 20, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl have sex several times, though the scenes all kind of blur together at some point. Girl (or Boy) ends up in trouble at the hands of criminals/jealous ex/drug lord and needs Boy’s (or Girl’s) rescue.
Boy and Girl have celebratory sex and live happily ever after.
Sound all too familiar?
Maybe like the tens of thousands of schlocky “Schlongs of Shanghai” titles all competing for KENP (Kindle pages read) and the top 1,000 ranking on Amazon?
But, there’s no denying that erotica is one of the hottest genres around and has a very real place in literature. Yet, to write a work of erotica that provides both the escapist fantasy that readers want while creating a fast-paced story with memorable characters and riveting, unique sex scenes is probably harder than trying to find that billionaire cowboy with six-pack abs who’s into ménage-a-trois.
This class will not be for the faint of heart or those who blush easily!
We are going to tackle the nitty gritty of the erotica genre as a whole and sex scenes, in particular, …and use ALL the words in our discussions!
Topics covered include:
- When to introduce sex into the story and the sex v. plot ratio –
- Creating chemistry in one easy step
- Decisions, decisions: Purple prose v. crass cusswords –
- How to avoid the cookie-cutter Alpha male (and corresponding Mary Sue female) –
- Keeping the sex fresh, interesting, and unique in every single scene – How realistic to make sex in any given scene v. how much detail is TMI, even for your readers?
- What really makes a scene sexy?
- What makes a story sexy?
- BONUS: How to talk about erotica as literature and fun facts about the history of erotica!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase. REGISTER NOW!
Get one hour of phone consultation with Cait and workshopping of a sex scene of up to 2,500 words! This is personalized instruction and guidance on making your writing sizzle!
About the Instructor:
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.