Michille: Writing Sex Ahead of Schedule

The KissSex 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?

13 thoughts on “Michille: Writing Sex Ahead of Schedule

  1. Michille, I definitely thought of Amanda Quick when you mentioned sex scenes that don’t quite work out. I actually enjoy that in her stories. It is a nice change of pace from the traditional boy+girl = world class sex straight off the bat. Makes the stories feel a little more realistic (and they do usually get it right eventually 🙂 ).

    In your story, if you are having them get together before you would really like to, can you play off that and have them knowing (or realizing) that they’re jumping in too soon or have them doing it for the wrong reasons to begin with?

    • I could write that into the short version – them realizing it is too soon – and then cut it out of the full-length story. The big problem is that the scenes represent the stage/element. Condensing an entire road of trials to one scene, one trial, instead of an act is what makes the love scene jump early.

  2. Was I reading a description here where the lovers jump into bed on the initial meet, or the first date, or something, and then decide that wasn’t a good idea, so by the end of the book they shared a really intimate kiss? I think Michaeline referenced something like that. I can see something where something happens, a spark ignites, they jump into bed, maybe it goes badly, or not, but then the next day they think, whoa. But by the end of the book they know each other and the commitment is real. You can make that first awkward sex scene work!

    This project of yours sounds so interesting. I can’t wait to read it.

    • Kay, that was a comment I made a couple of days ago, when Justine posted about sex scenes and we were talking about how it’s a different challenge in contemporary romance. I’ve never read a book like that, but I’d like to. I think it could work.

      Your story sounds like a lot of fun, Michille. I’m especially looking forward to the BANG! scene 🙂 .

      • I remember reading a story where the hero and heroine get caught in a building in the first scene and there is an earthquake and they almost get buried alive so they have sex right off the bat as a survival instinct kind of thing (I can’t remember the name of it). Then they don’t get intimate again until after the ‘betrothal’ scene. It worked in that one. The story is a lot of fun to write except when it isn’t. Aren’t they all.

  3. I love those scenes because they feel so real. Sex is an interesting thing because there’s this weird dichotomy that doesn’t exist with other forms of desire. Sex gets better, from a technical perspective (rhythms, favorite erogenous zone, etc.) as a couple becomes better sexually acquatinted, but there’s generally an inverse relationship to the degree of sexual excitement, which declines with repetition. That doesn’t happen with other forms of desire. With food, the more you eat, the more you want and it definitely doesn’t happen with money/material things. Okay, enough rambling.

    Cah’t wait to read your final product!

    • I didn’t know that about sexual desire versus other desires, Jeanne. I wish I had more desire for vegetables than I do for chocolate truffles. My desire for vegetables, especially certain ones, definitely declines.

  4. I recently had the same issue with getting the characters into bed too soon. They didn’t know each other well enough, I didn’t know them well enough. Now they’ve retreated to their separate corners and I’m having a hell of a time getting their sexual tension onto the page.

    “The story is a lot of fun to write, except when it isn’t.” So true!

    • Some scenes almost write themselves and sometimes I think I’d have better results if I banged my head on the keyboard. I think for shorter version, the entire project will be bound together, so my rationale, reflection, synopsis and representative chapters will be together. Hopefully, whoever reads it will know that it isn’t the full work. I also think on edits, I can make it less abrupt.

  5. I once read a historical where the heroine had laryngitis, went wandering on the moors, and was picked up by a lord who thought she was his assignment/hussy arranged by one of his pimp-employees. She couldn’t protest because of the laryngitis, and the rest of the book was discussing trust issues. Not a great book, but since I remember it over the decades, it must have had something to it.

    There are a lot of ways to short-circuit the build-up to romance. 1) It’s the One-Night Stand That Turns to True Love. 2) Danger and adrenaline has them plunge into each other’s arms before their brains catch up. 3) Drugs, alcohol. 4) Mistaken identity. (-: There are definite problems with all of these.

    Maybe the ying and yang you need are just the two characters, acting together in distinct ways that complement each other perfectly. A good-cop/bad-cop routine that has a sexy spark to it that makes them think, “Hmm, maybe this person would be a good long-term partner.”

    Oh, I recently read the beginning of something where the characters were already engaged. When the book opened, it was clear in chapter one that they’d just had sex the night before (but tasteful! not in a crass way), and I wouldn’t have minded seeing them get together again for sex in Chapter Two. I’m OK that they didn’t, but it would have been something logical.

    The story reminded me that romance isn’t just something that happens when two strangers meet. The on-going romance (and work) of maintaining a relationship is something that must happen continuously. There are no Happy Ever Afters in real life — just pauses of bliss before the next damn thing comes up.

    • No HEAs in real life???? Gasp. I didn’t know you were so cynical Michaeline. There will be more build up in the full-length novel. I just found the difference in writing a love scene when they were strangers to me and each other such a different experience than writing one when they knew each other better and I knew them better.

      • LOL. Happiness is a temporary condition, but we can extend it and make it a recurring condition. “Ever after . . . .” sounds a little exhausting, to tell the truth. But of course, fiction has to be BETTER than truth, “they” say (-:.

        I think you make a good point for saving love scenes for the end and writing them . . . . I think I would try it both ways, just to cover my bases. There’s a certain spontaneity when two people are almost-strangers, and maybe if the author also feels a little timid yet excited, it comes through in the scene . . . . IDK.

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