Sex in fiction and on the screen is a hot topic right now, thanks (or no thanks, depending on your perspective) to Fifty Shades of Grey. Justine discussed writing sex in her recent post. I recently stumbled while writing a sex scene for my current Work in Progress because it was a little (ahem) premature. My project is a modern take on Sophocles’ Antigone that I am writing it in two stages. The first stage is a set of scenes that represent the elements/components of fiction through time (i.e., elements of Greek tragedy, 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey, Pam Regis’s 8 essential and 3 optional elements of a romance, and popular fiction’s four-act, five-turning-point structure) which will probably end up around 30,000 words. The second stage is to add the rest of the story in to bring the word count to 100,000.
In aligning all the elements/components, I determined that the minimum number of scenes is 16 (17 stages of the Hero’s Journey was the highest denominator minus Refusal of the Call because Sarah doesn’t refuse it). I ended up with 26 scenes because they didn’t all overlap. For example, Stasimon 3 didn’t align with any of the other components, but Episode 2 aligned with Turning Point 2 so I was able to combine those two elements into one scene.
The problem came in when I got to stage 10 of the Hero’s Journey – The Apotheosis – which fell in scene 14. The Apotheosis is a uniting of two opposing sides, i.e., good and evil, yin and yang, dark and light, etc. I write romance so, hello, sex scene – joining the yin and the yang, the man and the woman. So the 14th scene has my hero and heroine jumping in the sack. That would be pretty early in a story. In my representative scene list, the Hero’s Journey Road of Trials stage is scene 10, and it is only one scene. In a full-length story, that would be an entire act. Sarah and Finch are on the page about three times, and BANG, the Apotheosis. It’s very jarring. If someone were to pick up my MLA project from McDaniel’s library and read it like it’s a complete story, they would likely be a little shocked by the abrupt change from a little flirting and some minor sexual tension to BANG! (And it feels like they are just banging because there is nowhere near enough build up.)
When I take the story from the set of representative scenes to the full-length novel, I will be adding scenes that ramp up the sexual tension so it isn’t quite so abrupt. One method that I use in editing to make sure the sex scenes are actually love scenes is Desmond Morris’s 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy. I first heard about this in a session at RWA by Linda Howard (Jenny Hansen has a good post about Using The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy To Build Tension In Your Novel on her blog.) The stages start with ‘eye to body’ and progress through variations of voice, hand to arm, shoulder, mouths, and finally heads get involved before getting to the good stuff – the IKEA manual part of the show. Jenna Reynolds also has a good blog post on Writing Sex Scenes That Matter (caution: it’s a very long blog post but has really good links at the end).
I usually have a lot of fun writing the love scenes, but this was difficult because they didn’t really know each other and I didn’t know them all that well either. I didn’t have a good handle on how they were together. I’m still on the first draft and want to get them on the page a few more times before the BANG so that is definitely going to be a focus on my first editing pass.
It doesn’t work out too well for Sarah and Finch the first time, anyway. I love early love scenes like that, where they get it wrong. Jayne Ann Krentz has some good bungled love scenes, especially in her historicals (as Amanda Quick) where the heroine comes away from it thinking, “Well, that wasn’t worth the effort or the mess.” How do you feel about the ones that don’t quite work out?