Tag Archives: writing sex scenes

By Jove, I Think I’ve Got It!

It only took, in the end, five tries and six sessions to write the first sex scene I expect to publish.

I got it from an original ridiculous 5,ooo words to a practical 1869…enough detail to be interesting, not so much as to be tedious. I think. I hope.

Huzzah?

Is that…worth celebrating? I simultaneously feel like the scene should have come easier (ha!) and am terrified I’m going to have to re-write it yet again.

Maybe also there is fear that I will have to start Chapter 1 over from the very beginning yet again.

I think I like this version…but I’m also worried there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on with it, or just exhaustion with trying such that I’m settling for the current iteration simply because I am out of patience with it.

I am literally making this face about it, is what I mean:

I think I love my draft?

Which is maybe not the healthiest place to be.

I am just worried about this opening because normally openings come on an inspiration – to be fair, this one has a prologue that did – and I have never really had to sort of search and flail about and test different variations before finding the right thread to start with.

I am worried about having to do it over because I am so fucking sick of it AND because I am really excited to get into the meat of the story, both new scenes that are replacing old inadequate ones (events-wise, I mean, because I dropped a sub-plot) and tweaking extant scenes to better suit the themes I decided were most important after seeing the thing as a whole laid out in Scrivener. I am genuinely excited about the raw material I have to work with, and so ready – so very, very ready – to get to those parts and get this whole into coherent enough shape that I can enjoy reading it. Because it’s a story I’ve been waiting…

**stops for math**

…three and a half years to read! Actually more like 5 years. It’s been three and a half since I started writing it, but I’d had the kernel long before I started writing it out.

Well. Nothing else I can do about it tonight – I’ve shot my load (heh) word-wise and can at least rest easy knowing that I trimmed the inciting sex scene enough that it won’t be more than half my sample, and possibly a good bit less than half of it depending on what the revised final word count is.

Now THAT is a noble cause!

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Romance Novelist Whinge: Problematic Sex Scene Requires Fourth Re-Write

This is another of those posts where I am tempted to just leave it at the title.

In the never-ending novel revision project (never-ending because I am writing it 100 words at a session, and I have like…17,000 words to go), I am up to the first sex scene. And I’m writing it for the fourth time. Which, I dunno, maybe sounds like a lot of fun? It’s not. At all.

See, the first sex scene is basically the inciting incident for the whole rest of the book, so it happens REALLY early on. Like first chapter early. And it isn’t necessarily meant to be a sexy, hot sex scene. But I don’t want it to not be at all sexy, either, because it’s in the part of the book that would be in a sample download, and something that’s too either analytic or bad (in the sense of bad sex, not a bad sex scene, which are not the same thing!) might turn off (heh) readers who are trying out my work for the first time. So, since plot-wise what matters is that the hero and heroine have sex by mistake (it’s complicated), not what kind of sex they have, I would prefer it to be at least moderately good sex and a moderately good sex scene.

Hence writing it four (or more – God forbid) times.

The first time it was waaaaaaaay too long and involved and tender. The second run swung too far in the other direction, and it was just too abrupt and selfish (on the hero’s part) and not fun to read (there was spit involved. It’s funny in a Joe Abercrombie book…not so much a full-on romance). The third time did a better job with pacing and mood, but was still a bit too ornate and also hinged on a revelation I decided the heroine does not make. Or, rather, one she makes but the hero misunderstands – it’s just one more part in their ongoing conversation where one says a thing and the other hears something different.

I’ve got the fourth version started; it’s written up to the end of the heroine’s POV section, and I will be able to use the intercourse section of the third version (also heroine), so I just need the hero’s perspective for the bit in between. I haven’t had a good block of time to sit down and write it, and I will say from experience here, that sex scenes really do read best when they are written pretty much in one go and gotten on the first take. Like, I can’t write this section in 100-word increments and expect to get a workable scene.

Coitus Imaginus Interruptus is the fucking worst.

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The Only Compliment a Romance Writer Needs

Got feedback from another beta reader, someone who does not normally read romance but knows me personally and thus reads mine. She agreed with my executive decision to cut the out-and-out sex scene, citing its lack of necessity to the plot or their relationship, which had pre-marriage moments of passion that were (well) short of sex. Her confession: “Still, those parts of the story were just titillating enough to make me very eager to see my husband come home from his business trip!” 

Well. Hot damn. That is the best and only compliment I could hope to receive about my romance writing. My work here is done, folks.

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The Challenge of Being Joan Wilder

I read a quote somewhere recently about how if what you’re writing doesn’t scare you–that is, if you aren’t worried about being able to pull it off–then you aren’t challenging yourself or writing to your full potential. I totally agree with that assessment. As long-time readers of my posts know, I have a generalized fear of making all my characters introverted over-thinking automatons who can rationalize themselves out of any emotion and any poor decision, but I don’t think that’s really what the quote is talking about.

What has been giving me performance anxiety (swallow now, you’ll laugh in a minute when the sentence catches up to my pun) for probably the last two weeks is a sex scene. Specifically the scene I was going back and forth about whether to include in the novella-cum-short-novel at all, that I decided to go ahead and write and then decide later where I wanted the story to end or if the sex ought to be included even if the story ends after the point where they have sex. Today I managed to bite the, er, bullet and slap something into my story document that, I hope, will be the heart of a good sex scene.

What inspired me, oddly, was a sexy interlude I’d written in the long novel I’m also trying to finish up, which had been pretty terrible the first time I wrote it but had gone through at least one full re-write and a revision and is now pretty damned good, at least to my tastes. Reading through that scene while trying to decide which story to pick up today kind of gave me that “look, you did it once, and you KNOW how awkward that scene was the first time, so it’s not a big deal if you write a bad one to begin with, it can be fixed, but you can’t fix something that isn’t there, so just do it and see how it goes” pep talk.

So I wrote it out. I haven’t gone back and read it since I finished drafting it this morning, and I am kind of terrified to. Will it be terrible?  Will it be unusable? Will it justify the paralysis that gripped me for two weeks because I didn’t know how to approach this scene? Will I have to delete it all and start over, and face the same road block for two more weeks? This is the boggart hanging out in my writing desk today.

What I actually find amusing in this scenario (although, sadly, not amusing enough to dispel the boggart) is that, despite what it might sound like, writing sex scenes isn’t all that fun. I mean, imagining them is awesome! Always a good time. LOL. But writing them is actually pretty tricky. There’s several reasons for that.

First is the basic fact that you can’t just write a list of what got touched and pushed and slotted where. That isn’t a sexy sex scene; that’s a how-to manual. What makes sex scenes fun to read is when you as a reader can empathize with what the characters are feeling, both physically and emotionally–their excitement, their desire, their pleasure, their sense of connection. Their reactions to the physical actions are much more important than actions themselves.

Second is the danger of having all your sex scenes feel the same. In romance, most sex takes place between a couple who are new at being lovers, and in historical (which is what I am focused on writing now and for the forseeable ever) the heroine is often a virgin. Thus there are certain, shall we say, boundaries that aren’t likely to be crossed the first time, and in fact most of the time the sex will be the same–missionary with the standard elements of foreplay. Thus the staging of it becomes important, along with, again, mood between the characters and their reactions to what they do.

Third is making sure that the length of the scene and the explicitness of it are consonant with the overall story. If you’re writing a 20,000 word story, you don’t want a 5,000 word sex scene. That’s waaaaaay too much of the overall word count. If the story on the whole has been sweet, a short and vague scene is probably better suited than a really hard-core scene with descriptions of creamy heat and pounding cocks, while if you’ve spent a good deal of the build-up being explicit, you don’t want to blue-ball the reader with something more PG13 than R (or more R than NC17, as the case may be).

In my experience, the best way to write sex scenes is to have a base scene that was written “in the moment” as I’m really imagining the way the scene unfolds between those characters that is then edited and revised away from a description of what happened into a suggestion of what happened and the story of why it mattered. My first drafts of sex scenes are almost invariably too A-B-C-D lists of events. I have to understand what happened to then start cherry-picking the acts to focus on and relate back to the characters’ experience of what happened. My scenes are always longer than I want them to be and not actually all that sexy the first time I read it back, because when I am no longer in the moment but just looking at the words, I understand that all my words did was convey what the characters did, which isn’t enough. If that was all romance readers wanted, they would just watch video porn and save themselves the hours of reading to get to that point.

On the flip side, though, is that sex scenes I write with an editorial focus on feelings and whatnot tend to have no heat to them. They are boring to read, because there is none of the physical rawness that comes with that kind of video-style exposition of the what-hit-what. It is a waste of my time to try and write a sex scene in the style of a finished scene on the first go.

Maybe some day I will have written enough of the damned things to have a better sense of how to construct them with both emotion and heat, but for now I have to just settle for taking the long way about it and editing them into submission.

…And now I have a picture of my inner editrix clicking into the room with a crop and thigh-high boots to get those naughty, recalcitrant scenes into shape. Oh, dear.

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To Have The Sex, Or Not To Have The Sex; That Is My Question

I have blogged before (many, many, many times before) about the relationship sex in the romance genre has to the story that contains it (or pointedly doesn’t contain it).  Until tonight pretty much all of these discussions of “should they do it or not” with respect to my own work have been academic; with all the stories I was writing, I knew in advance whether or not the story had sex.

But the time has come, my friends, for me to face this particular quandary.

Do they do it before the audience, or does the curtain fall beforehand?

I am down to the last scene or two of my novella. I’ve put in an additional 5000 words or so since I initially thought I was finished, in order to bridge the gap between proposal and wedding and clean up some of the dangling plot threads around the lovers’ family situation. So now I am down to writing the end…and I am not quite sure where it ends.

On the one hand, I have the fact that this is a novella whose story ends with the wedding of two virtuous characters who make a point not to have sex beforehand even though they could have and wanted to. My personal feeling is that sex would sort of be gratuitous to the story if it is literally the last scene of it. We know they connect sexually, so there is no doubt it will be good and no need for sexual healing to complete the emotional journey. In this case, sex could not further any part of the plot.

On the other hand, I have my hero starting the last scene (or is it?) from his point of view counting down the hours until he can finally hit that. Not including the sex, therefore, seems like slamming the door in the face of the readers when, even until the very last scene, I’ve been drawing out the sexual tension.

What to do, what to do?

Any romance readers out there who care to chime in? Is it more annoying to you to have an utterly gratuitous sex scene at the end of a story, or to get blue-balled by a writer who decides to close the door since the sex isn’t furthering the plot?

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: Yes, Those Really Are My Fantasies

Or, The Catch-22 of Writing Sex Scenes

Writing sex scenes is harder than you might think.

Let me qualify that statement: writing good sex scenes is harder than you think.  I don’t mean “scenes of good sex” but “good scenes of sex”–yes, there is a difference, and, yes, a sex scene can be good even though the sex in it is not.

What do I consider a good sex scene? A bedroom rumpus that is:

1. Hot – a sex scene is only successful if it makes my lady parts react.

2. Based on characters involved – sex scenes can very easily become tedious–after all, there are not that many different ways to do it, and if you’re an adult with an active sex life you’ve probably done most of them already. Literally the only thing that can be unique about a sex scene (except for the first few times you read them, when you’re 12 and sneaking your mom’s romance novels) is the specific experience of those specific characters.

3. Honest – “Inspired” might be another word for what I mean here. I have found in my own writing that the only times sex scenes work when I read them back later is if they are based in one of my actual fantasies. Usually written when I am in the midst of creating the fantasy–written on an inspiration.

Which creates the catch-22 of writing (and then publishing) sex scenes:  either you write a bad sex scene and have to suffer the embarrassment of having published it, or you write a good one and have to suffer the embarrassment of publicly sharing one of your most private fantasies.

I am not talking about shame here–I don’t feel ashamed of my sexuality–but simply the desire all of us have to keep some experiences private. I don’t need my co-workers looking at me and knowing what gets me hot when I masturbate or the details-changed-to-protect-privacy version of a great bout of sex I had with my husband (last week’s How I Met Your Mother episode got into that, with Marshall and Lily having no stories to tell that aren’t about each other and thus TMI for their friends).

Conversely, I have the human urge to share experiences and the writer’s rejection of limiting what I share only to certain “acceptable” aspects of my life.  Writing should be one of the only forums in which a person can operate away from the Satrean “bad faith” and simply be honest. That honesty makes you feel vulnerable and exposed.  It is also what draws readers in and makes your words and your story resonate.

So why not, as an author, simply skip writing the sex scenes in the book, as many veteran romance fans will say that they do when reading? Because omitting that experience (in cases where the characters have sex in the story–I’m not talking about romance novels where the love is unconsummated until after the final page) is equally in bad faith with offering a fake experience.  If the point of romance novels is to explore love, the process of falling into it and the experience of it in all its shapes and forms and colors, then to omit the sexual experience from that narrative is to imply that sex is not a part of loving.

I am not saying it’s the only part, but it certainly is a part. For example, the first time I felt from my now-husband the sort of tender cherishing that comes only from love was during sex…when we were making love one last time before he went away for a summer, maybe six months into our relationship. The other times we’d had sex we’d had sex; that night we were making love. Nine years later I still remember that night, and that feeling between us as a promise we made long before we said the words “I love you” to one another.  If we had not had that particular sex with one another, perhaps we wouldn’t have had enough to hold onto during a summer apart. So there’s a piece of direct experience from my life that says sex matters in courtship and love. Therefore, if I am writing about the full scope of falling in love, for those characters who have sex in the part of their story I am telling, then I am going to share their experiences because the sex informs the story.

And if I’m writing the sex at all, then I am writing it honestly.

In my view there is nothing in between writing honest sex and writing in bad faith sex that, by virtue of its inauthenticity and careful construction, fails to accomplish the one thing a sex scene should accomplish: to make the reader feel engaged by the experience of the characters as if it were their own experience.

In the end, I would be less embarrassed at sharing my honest experience of the world than either propagating cultural myths about female sexuality or writing such bad sex scenes that everyone who reads it thinks “Well, no wonder she writes romance novels: the poor woman obviously doesn’t get what she needs at home.”

As an addendum: If you really want to know how bad bad sex in romance novels can get, I direct you to the Tumblr whose name says it all–Twatspert.  Fair warning:  There be dragons.

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Monday Morning Like Joan Wilder

Or, There’s nothing like a racy scene to get your day started off right.

My current work in progress has a sex scene pretty early on–it’s one of those romance plots where a sexual encounter works as a catalyst to begin a relationship that would otherwise never have developed.

Yesterday I finished the scene leading into that encounter.  So when my alarm went off at 5:15 this morning, it was for one purpose, and one purpose only:  so that I could get up two hours early and write a sex scene.

That, my friends, is called winning.

This is the glamorous life of a romantic novelist that I have been dreaming about since I first saw Romancing the Stone.   

The best part?  I didn’t quite get the scene finished…which means Tuesday will have exactly the same agenda. Darn.

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