Friday, July 8, 2011

Adding Some Heat Between the Sheets

by Calista Taylor

Though I love coming across a steamy hot sex scene in a story, I can honestly say that, for me, a sex scene is by far the hardest thing to write. I agonize over every word. But no matter the difficulties, when done right, I think an intimate scene can add a lot to your story if you choose to add one in. Here are a few things that help me...

* Avoid repeating yourself. —Often, easier said than done, in this type of situation. You need to make sure that things aren't getting repetitive, not only in what the characters are doing, but also in your choice of words. And that is where some of the difficulty comes in, since there are only so many ways to refer to one's anatomy. If your manuscript is set in a different time period, you're further restricted by the language that's appropriate for that period, leaving you with even fewer words in your arsenal. However, some things can be assumed. If you've already referenced a particular body part, and the action has not strayed too far, then you can often skip another reference. Another way is to reference a different area in close proximity, as long as it's clear where the action is headed.

* Think about the small details. —By doing this you pull the reader into the scene. I'm not normally one for a lot of details, but this is where you need them. How does her skin feel to the touch? Does he taste of whiskey when he kisses her? Can he smell her perfume? Is his stubble rough against her soft skin? Does the firelight cast a golden glow across her skin? Does that same light catch the planes of his muscular form? The details will help your reader visualize the scene and pull them in. Even if you choose to remain pretty vague about "the act" itself, by including the little details you still keep the scene intimate.

* Use their thoughts and emotions.—Sex is an intimate act (even if your characters are not necessarily intimately involved) and there are bound to be thoughts if not emotions. Too often you come across a sex scene and it's just the physical act. By adding thoughts and emotions, we again keep the reader involved in the scene. Furthermore, emotions can often up the stakes with such an intimate act.

* Make sure the scene is not confusing. —I think this very important. Too often when the writer tries not to get too explicit or if the writer is trying something a little "creative" *ahem* things can get muddled in the process. Nothing pulls a reader out of a scene faster than having to figure out what just happened, or trying to account for all the body parts during an acrobatic feat. This can be especially difficult to do if there is more than one person of the same sex involved, since you can no longer say his/her or he/she and have it be clearly understood.

* Be creative. —I know this goes without saying, but it can be easy to start repeating things. Try for a little variety, especially if you have more than one sex scene in the manuscript. A quickie or an all night affair, slow and sweet or fast and rough, fun or tender. Even within the one scene, change things around a little.

* Take into account the character's personality and history. —This is something that will keep the reader involved beyond just the sex scene, as it can add insight and often lend a bit of surprise. Is your character normally shy and timid, but a fierce and dominant lover? Or do they stay true to their personality? Did something happen to them in their past that causes them to react a certain way when intimacy is involved? And most importantly, what's at stake when these characters become intimately involved? All these personality quirks will lend depth to your characters.

It can be difficult to write a sex scene, but I think it's well worth the effort and can add another dimension to a story. Do you write sex scenes into your stories or is it something you completely avoid?


Richard said...

You've made some good points there. Thanks.

Christopher Hudson said...

It's probably just me, but, unless you are specifically going for titillation, I can't say I've ever seen how the graphic details of sex help with character or story development. When I'm reading a novel and come across a graphic sex scene, it always seems like a side bar ... 'hey, check this out'. Knowing that characters are intimate is all I need ... I don't really care about the details. Anyway, I guess the answer to your question is that if you're hoping to find a steamy sex scene in one of my books, you'll be disappointed.

Calista Taylor said...

You're most welcome, Richard.

Christopher, I do think that not every story warrants a sex scene, and if it is gratuitous, then I think it will feel out of place. However, I think the intimacy, when the emotional aspect is included, can enhance an understanding of the characters' relationship.

Sophie Perinot said...

Calista -- I agree that sex scenes can tell you quite a bit about a relationship. More than that, they sell books and they are appearing in more and more genres that are not romance.

Christopher this may be a male/female thing (as a gross generalization).

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post, Calista! :)

I obviously don't include sex scenes when I'm writing YA or MG - but I've got one in my romantic suspense. And I agree - writing this kind of scene can be HARD! You don't want it to be silly or same old-same old. It has to match the style of the rest of the ms & the characters. When it's done well, it can add a lot to the story - especially when the emotions are involved. Thanks for the tips!!

Calista Taylor said...

Sophie, I agree 100% on all counts, including that it could very well be a male/female thing.

Jemi, as hard as they are to write, I have found that after years of doing so, it's finally gotten easier. And completely agree about matching the style of the ms and staying true to the characters. : )

Rick said...

My current ms. has two love stories going, but it isn't romance, it's a horror/thriller, so the need to show the intimacy between the two pairs of lovers and how that develops was secondary to keeping the story rolling. Still, I felt it very important. I concentrated on the foreplay, those intimate moments before and after the actual sex, the teasing, the seduction, the emotion, a few physical reactions, but left the actual sex scene to the reader's imagination. Suggestion can be as strong as spelling it out.

On the other hand, when I have written explicit sex scenes, readers' reactions have confirmed that what's most effective isn't the mechanics. God knows, we all pretty much know how it goes. What grabs readers is how the character(s) is/are feeling about what's happening. Sensation. Reaction to sensation. I think where people find difficulty is trying too hard to find new ways to name the bodyparts and sexual acts. Your points are good ones.

Leslie Rose said...

I agree with you that using the emotions as an anchor will make the physicality of the scene effective. Thanks for the breakdown.

Calista Taylor said...

Rick, I completely agree about the build up being as important if not more important than the act itself. Great point!

Leslie, you're most welcome!Thanks for stopping by.

Lani Wendt Young said...

Thank you for sharing some excellent tips. Im new to writing romance and it can be very difficult to NOT be repetitive. I hate reading books where people get into absolutely ridiculous things - as if the writer got sick of writing the 'same old same old' stuff. Its impt to me that whatever intimate scenes i write - are believable and can successfully draw in the reader. Your tips will certainly help with the writing.

Calista Taylor said...

Lani, I'm so glad this will help. I feel that when well done, it can add another dimension to the relationship and your story. And it does get easier the more you write intimate scenes. : )