Fortunately for inspiration’s sake, the book I randomly pulled from my TBR pile turned out to be little more than a series of sex scenes strung together by a barely noticeable plot (thank goodness it was a freebie).
It was disappointing, because I was hoping to get some pointers for the contemporary novel I’m working on, but it got me thinking about the difference between a sex scene that helps move the story along and one that could be removed without any discernible impact.
Naturally my thinking led me to the internet and to a couple of great posts over at the terribleminds site: 25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene by guest poster Delilah S. Dawson (Author Of Wicked As She Wants) and 25 Things You Should Know About Writing Sex, by Chuck Wendig.
These two blog posts, along with several others I found during my search provided some good suggestions and things to keep in mind when writing sex scenes.
How are the characters different at the end of the scene? Are they more comfortable together? More awkward? Does either one regret what just happened or rethink their involvement? Are there ramifications for what they just did? As we learned at McDaniel (and countless other places) the purpose of a scene, any scene, is to move the story along and show the characters growing and/or changing. If they end up the scene exactly the way they started it, then maybe the scene doesn’t need to be there at all, whether they had great sex or not.
There are sites out there with examples or “cringeworthy” sex scenes from novels. In many cases it’s because of the word choices, not because of the action in the scene. If a scene moves the story along and definitely shows the characters changing, but makes you think “ick” or roll your eyes or skim/skip, then that scene is not as effective as it could be. Everyone has their own preferences, so you’re not going to find an answer that works for all readers, but it’s something to think about.
Word Choice Corollary
This is a story, not a doctor’s office, a how-two manual, or an essay for your college entrance exam. Clinical terminology can make the scene feel cold and, well, clinical. Scouring the thesaurus to find those ten-dollar words instead of more commonly used terms can draw attention away from what’s actually happening in the scene and focus the reader’s attention on the words themselves. Don’t do that.
Though it applies to all scenes, it is extra important in sex scenes to keep track of the details. Who’s wearing what? Where are they positioned? Is what you’re describing even anatomically possible? Whatever your characters are doing, you want to make sure it wouldn’t take three arms and body parts of unusual size to reach everything they’re supposedly reaching. When the details cause your reader to stop and go “wait a minute,” then you’ve broken the flow of the story. In the book I just read, for example, the heroine put on a skirt in the beginning of the scene, only to have the hero remove her shorts a few paragraphs later; and somewhere along the way his tattoo moved from his arm to his back.
The best advice I found during my search was the recommendation to go back to my favorite stories and see how they did it.
“See what works for you and what doesn’t. Notice how the author builds to it, what the characters say and don’t say, the words and euphemisms and cliches used. Or– best homework ever– have sex.” ~ Delilah S. Dawson
So, what makes a sex scene work for you? Do you have any for recommendations of books that you think had really effective scenes? You know, for research purposes only. 🙂