Justine: Let’s Talk About Sex

writing sex, writing foreplay, eight ladies writing, justine covingtonOr, about writing sex. I started reading a book last week called “Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet” by Stacia Kane. Now who can resist a title like that?

Apparently not me.

In truth, I’ve been working on my sex scenes in my WIP and felt like I was missing something. So I picked up the book at the suggestion of my amazing critique partner, Jennifer Windrow. She writes snarky, sexy paranormals and does a great job (IMHO) writing sex, foreplay, and all that stuff.

Then this week, Jeanne, one of the Eight Ladies, posted on our private blog a New Yorker article by Richard Brody on the “Fifty Shades” movie in which he discusses the importance of foreplay in movies to show, among other things, “the stages of erotic progress, from the restaurant to the car to the door, from the first kiss and the aroused gropes to the subtleties of tender empathy and intimate knowledge that make the difference in any encounter.” Brody goes on to suppose that the reason these foreplay scenes aren’t filmed is because it reveals what the writer and/or director is fantasizing about or imagining in relation to the script, scene, story, characters — and themselves. In other words, it shows their vulnerabilities.

The same could be said for writers. In the sex scenes we write, we are putting ourselves on the line, so to speak, taking little bits of our lives, our experiences, our fantasies, and our imagination to create something magical between our characters.

Miss Kane hits on this point in her book. She also talks about the purpose of sex in a story. She insists (as did Jenny Crusie when we did the McDaniel program) that sex should not be there for the sake of having sex; rather, it should move the story forward. Sometimes, it will be a big shift. Other times, it’s more subtle. But in either case, it advances either character development, plot, or both.

I wish some writers/directors would take that advice. Nothing irks me more than sex for sex’s sake. The last “super hero” movie I watched with my husband had that. The hero saves the girl and is trying to get her away from the bad guys. They hole up in a little hut in her old hometown (which also happens to be where he was a POW more than 70 years ago), and they have sex. Nevermind that she barely knows the guy. Nevermind that they don’t end up as a couple. Nevermind that there’s not much foreplay. It’s just sex. (Bonus points to those who can guess the movie!)

Same goes for some romances I’ve read (not counting erotica – that’s a slightly different flavor of lollipop), where you expect the H/H to have sex…only after the first time, which is indeed momentous and a “move the story forward” moment, they keep having sex, but nothing between them changes (or if it does, the changes are so small that I don’t notice and end up skipping the sex scenes because really…who needs to read about the mechanical aspects of sex a dozen times?).

This is where I feel Brody’s column on foreplay becomes relevant. Think about what foreplay is…it’s an unfolding. A reveal. An invitation into intimacy with someone else important to you. It’s a great way to reveal character. It can show the developing trust and tenderness between your H/H. Or how your H/H are learning what each other likes/turns them on/enjoys. Or what they learn about each other — the freckle on her backside, the pattern of hairs on his leg, feeling for the first time a man’s hot skin in contact with her own (remember, I write historicals, so for my Heroine, that’s a Big Deal). It’s an opportunity for role changes…perhaps your Heroine becomes the instigator, signaling a shift in the relationship. She’s an active part of the relationship now, rather than a more passive participant.

As I delve into my WIP and look at the intimate scenes I have between my H/H, I’m going to be conscious of what develops or changes between them in each scene. Of how their intimacy moves the story or their character arc forward. I’m going to think a lot about foreplay and what it can reveal and see if I can’t work some of that unfolding and discovery into my characters words, thoughts, and actions.

What are your thoughts on sex/love scenes? What irks you about them? What do you like about them? How do you address them in your own work?

11 thoughts on “Justine: Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. (-: Oh, I remember a time when hot skin on hot skin was a huge sensual pleasure. Or better yet, hot skin on cold skin, giving warmth, giving coolth, sharing the temperature until it became the same . . . .

    For the most part, I’m happy if the author closes the door on the bedroom. I want to see the passion and that they love each other, but I’m not all that interested in seeing someone else’s idea of how sex works. Sometimes it works. A lot of time, it’s stuff I skim over. Sex is fun, sex is healthy, but a lot of times, it’s just a way to connect. And there are other ways to show connection.

    • This is where I think foreplay is hugely underused…it can be a great way to show that passion without the tab A/slot B stuff Michille mentions below. I think about the whole “first base, second base” analogy in regards to sex and how oftentimes, just going to first or second base is a great way to show that emotional connection. It doesn’t all have to culminate in sex. Nor should it, IMHO.

      I think back often to “An Affair to Remember.” I don’t think Grant and Kerr kiss for the audience but one time. The first time, you know it’s happening, but you don’t see it (they’re on the stairs of a ship and he takes a step up, you see their bodies close together, but because the upper deck cuts out of view their heads, you never see them actually kiss…love it!). Sometimes leaving it to the imagination is far better than showing us. Sometimes not.

  2. I hate writing sex scenes, and I’m lousy at it. And, like Michaeline, I don’t much like reading it, either. For me, the good stuff is everything that comes before sex or after sex. The actual sex scene isn’t usually that interesting to me. It’s almost always predictable—a foregone conclusion—and, I don’t know. Most of the time, reading sex is like reading IKEA instructions.

    It’s all well and good to say that the love scene has to move character and plot and be erotic and charming and be a turning point or a crisis and show the whatever of the H/h, but I think I don’t have enough skill to do all that. And that’s a little scary, because I usually think that if I were a good enough storyteller, I could write sex just fine. But I don’t. So my inability to write good love scenes challenges my assumptions about how I write in general. On the upside, in a way—given how few love scenes I actually read in the books I pick up—writing sex is hard for everybody, no joke intended..

    And that’s a real problem, because if you write contemporary romance, you pretty much have to write sex, unless you write inspirational, which I do not. So I put in the obligatory sex scene—one at least. Sometimes two. I do my best with them. I try to keep the plot, character, eros, charm, turning points, crisis, etc., in mind, but the scenes are still flat. I almost always think the book would be fine if I left it out. And that just shows how I’m not getting it right.

    • Had to laugh at the IKEA instructions! I’m with you on what happens before, and particularly after. Although most men conk out after sex (believe it or not, they’re biologically wired that way), it can be very tender and sweet if he’s playing with her hair or she’s drawing circles with her finger on his bare chest. It’s a good time for love talk, too. They’ve just bared themselves completely to each other…I would think the words tend to come easier.

      I’m not sure whether or not my H/H will have sex in my book. I know they’ll come close. But to put it in wouldn’t really serve the story. It wouldn’t advance things in any way. That happens without sex. I was talking about this with my friend last night (she’s not a writer) and her take from a strictly reader POV is that if it’s there, great, but if it’s not, as long as the author is showing that physcial and emotional connection, fine with her. So I guess I’m saying don’t feel pressured to put sex in the book for sex’s sake. You can do the foreplay and afterglow stuff and just leave out the climactic part in the middle. 😀

  3. I’m right there with you, Kay. I’m writing a paranormal and I think the expectations are high that paranormals will contain really hot love scenes. Think I’ll pick up Ms. Kane’s book and see if she has any pointers.

    • Her book was originally a series of blog posts, so you might see if you can find them online. I haven’t looked…with all the running around I do with the kids, it’s easier for me to tote a book in my purse/backpack than to keeping pulling pages up online…plus, I’m underlining things and making notes at the end of each chapter (sort of like “key points to remember”).

  4. I love a well-written sex scene, though I’ve also read a lot of not-so-great ones. I don’t like ones that read like an IKEA instruction manual – we all know what goes where, thanks 😉 . The scene has to be an important point in the development of the love story, and I want it to be specific to the characters, not something that could be dropped into any old book. Frex, (sorry!) take Lord of Scoundrels. The first time Dain and Jessica make love is sexy, but it’s also a hugely significant moment in Dain’s voyage of self-discovery. Like most of the important encounters throughout the book it’s initiated by Jessica and it rocks Dain’s world to the foundations, even though he is known to be (as Loretta Chase beautifully puts it) “the greatest whoremonger in Christendom”.

    To Kay’s point about contemporary romance, I think it’s a different challenge. In a historical, even a kiss or a touch is risky and could spell ruin for a gently-bred lady, so physical intimacy is of itself hugely significant. In a contemporary that’s probably not true so the writer has to find another way to make love-making emotionally significant. Some writers do it by giving the hero or heroine serious back-story damage to overcome. I don’t enjoy those. I do like the idea that you could have fun, healthy lovemaking with relatively little emotional investment at the beginning of a book, and a simple kiss that means everything at the end.

    • I like the idea of that sort of backwards development, Jilly…the sex is fun and physical at the beginning, but at the end, a single tender kiss contains a wealth of emotion.

      It’s interesting reading Miss Kane’s book, because I naturally equate it all to “how does this work in a historical?” Having read them since I was about 14 (long, long time!), I don’t jive with the “he’s a stallion in bed and can bring even a reluctant, unwilling woman to sexual ecstasy.” Just as Chase does with Dain, I think there needs to be discovery on both sides. And WILLINGNESS on both sides. But that’s an evolution in romance writing that has been a long time coming.

  5. I think Nora Roberts does a good job with sex scenes. Hers are more about emotion than Tab A and Slot B mechanics. If you’re really into them, pick up a Stephanie Laurens. Her scenes last a dozen pages, sometimes more. If you’re not into them, Debbie Macomber’s stuff is squeaky clean.

    • I’ll have to go back and look at Stephanie Laurens, but I know that after awhile, I started skipping them. A twelve-pager is fine the first time, but after that, give me the short version. 🙂

      Never read Debbie Macomber. My mom has, though. I’ll have to ask her what she thinks about that.

  6. Pingback: Michille: Writing Sex Ahead of Schedule | Eight Ladies Writing

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