Michaeline: Sex Scenes I Didn’t Have to Write

Woman in 17th century dress, entertaining female friends from her curtained bed.

“Y’all are fine right now, but as soon as my honey gets here, we’re a-shuttin’ this curtain and gettin’ through four sets of corsets.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, a lot of us had a lot to say about sex scene (Kay, me, Nancy on 8LW), and I had a major breakthrough. In romance, the sex is often supposed to show the POV character going in for orgasms or fun or comfort . . . and coming out with orgasms, fun, comfort AND True Love.

That explained a lot about the sex scenes that I haven’t written in the past.

Last year, I wrote a romantic short story where I quite firmly closed the bedroom door on the readers. There really was no point. As far as I was concerned, the pair had shown their Natural Compatibility through fighting to defeat the villain. They were on the same wavelength, and they gained mutual respect for each other through the fight scene. So, when they headed off for post-battle sex, there was really no point in showing that, I thought. (-: Pardon the pun, but it would have been anti-climactic. The sex was a reward for a job well done, and I left it to the readers’ imaginations to envision their own very satisfying happy ending.

In a different short story, my characters were having really great sex. And again, I shut the door firmly on the readers. They had to pick up the action again in the next paragraph. There were some technical issues involved (honestly, I’m not quite sure if one of the characters is a boy or girl, and it feels very important not to probe that issue). But the other issue was that the short story is actually a sort of prologue to a series of short stories that are essentially romantic in nature. The main characters in this sex scene were having great fun, but it wasn’t True Love – that was supposed to come later. I didn’t want to confuse readers with their Natural Compatibility. They got along very well on a lot of shallow levels, because my hero Jack seems to be a very compatible sort of guy. He loves the ladies, so he makes himself so. It seemed to me that a great sex scene would seal the deal, and make readers think these two were meant for each other.

I’ve only read a few romances where the heroine had great sex with a guy who was not her True Love. She reported on the sex as being great, but it wasn’t actually shown in any detail. I do think this is a smart move if you are playing by genre rules. If you show two characters having great sex, the romance reader tends to say, “Ah ha! True Wuv!” This happens even if you’ve given several clues that, no, no they aren’t meant for each other at all. And once a reader has an idea in their head, it can be very hard to dislodge it.

The thing is, a lot of romances depend on Natural Incompatibility to add frisson and conflict to the plot. The very wonderful Loretta Chase in her great book The Lord of Scoundrels uses a disparity of temper between the hero and heroine to good effect. Dain behaves very badly, and when Jessica shoots him in the first third of the book, I felt the pleasure of catharsis. (Soon followed by guilt that I liked the scene so much, but that’s a different problem for a different day.) Eventually, Jessica and Dain go for the nurse/patient routine, with her healing his psychic wounds, and they discover a happy ending through great sex, fertility, and finding roles where they can be compatible with each other. (Please don’t think I spoiled this book! The book is much more than this paragraph, and deserves a good read, if you haven’t read it already.)

So, incompatibility is not a tell for These Aren’t the True Lovers. Great sex, shown on the page, is often a huge tipoff, though, and must be used responsibly when writing for readers of romance.

And, if like me, you are writing for readers of SFF, keep in mind that there’s a big crossover between the two genres’ consumers, and that even a lot of “straight” SFF readers love a good love interest to spice up proceedings. You might be able to get away with a great sex scene between two people who aren’t soulmates, but you’ll have some convincing to do later to show your ‘shipping fandom that there’s a new guy/girl in your protagonist’s life now.

BTW, I found a great, practical and funny list of rules for writing sexy sex scenes. I haven’t read the guy’s books, but I love this advice. Steve Almond tells us what’s what on the Utne Reader website. What do you think? Even after my week of soul-searching and a whole blog post justifying my approach, I love the comfort that step number 12 gives me.

7 thoughts on “Michaeline: Sex Scenes I Didn’t Have to Write

  1. That UTNE Reader article is great, but while I’m not familiar with that guy’s work, it seems clear he doesn’t write romance. Sometimes in romance, you find characters who are thinking during the act or who aren’t swept away (Faking It comes to mind), but usually the sex in romances is idealized as a mechanism for the characters to commit to each other or discover home truths about themselves and the relationship. Thinking about the car ad, as this guy mentions, won’t fulfill the story promise of a romance—unless as you point out, those characters aren’t your H/H or they’re not meant to be together. But sort of like making a soft pussyfart during intercourse, while I was reading this article, all I could think was, “Huh! The UTNE Reader still exists! Who knew?”

    • Everything Kay said.

      I really wish Jenny C hadn’t taken down the He Wrote/She Wrote blog diary that she and Bob Mayer posted when they were writing together. There was some fabulous back-and-forth about sex scenes. One fun fact I do remember is that near the beginning of Don’t Look Down, the hero has sex with a gorgeous actress who is not the heroine. Jenny said he could have a good time, but not THAT good, because the actress is not The One. Bob said something like ‘are you crazy? she’s gorgeous, she’s an actress, OF COURSE he has an AMAZING time.’ Jenny won the argument, Bob wrote the scene, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

      The UTNE article reminded me of the SmartbitchesTrashybooks Romance Novel Reader Workouts of yesteryear. Like a fitness version of a drinking game–read a romance cliche, do ten crunches. Workouts III, IV and V are about sex scenes, but they’re all good. http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/?s=workout

      • That’s hilarious — instead of downing a shot at a cliche, one can exercise to it, and feel better about oneself in the morning!

        One argument that I’ve seen floating around quite a bit is that romance in almost all of its forms idealize or fictionalize the male.

        I’m not quite sure how that connects with what I’m going to say next, but in a lot of romance, both men and women must adhere to certain standards. For a very long time, women had to be virgins in a romance, and while men could (and often were) rakes, sex with the women (if it occurred during story time) had to be something he’d never experienced before. Sometimes great sex, sometimes a “homecoming”, sometimes a deep sense of connection.

        But outside of romance genre, when male writers write about sex, it’s very often just sex. Absolutely wonderful, but instead of great sex being a reward or a goal, it’s often just something addictive — great sex often leads to the search for more great sex (and most often, not with the same person).

        I’m kind of chasing my tail here. There are always gender outliers — women who write very earthy sex, and men who write very idealistic, gentle sex. I guess the big thing is how you write it, and if it fits into the story or not. I think the reader can smell fear when a writer is feeling it during the creation process, though. (-: Although, in a certain type of sex scene, that can add to the eroticism, I suppose. Committing to sex is full of excitement and eagerness, but also a fear of rejection, a fear of doing it wrong, and sometimes a sense of how ridiculous the whole procedure is.

    • LOL!

      I think perhaps the guy has a mild case of genital envy — I haven’t noticed the male organs making music ala the woodwinds section. It’s amusing that a guy finds that erotic. I do hope this doesn’t start a trend of women writers making their male characters rhapsodize about queefing, though.

      The really nice thing about romance is that there is so much of it, one can’t really make sweeping generalizations (like I’ve been doing). Going through the grocery list during foreplay is not uncommon in my limited experience, and a lot of women writers seem to feel free to show the sex as it is. (-: And a lot of times, make the sex-as-it-is resonate with the book’s theme or the characters feelings and development. That’s pretty cool!

  2. Pingback: Jilly: Writing Flawed Sex and No Sex – Eight Ladies Writing

  3. Pingback: Jilly: Writing Flawed Sex and No Sex – Eight Ladies Writing

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