Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sex is Revealing

The first sex scene I wrote was for my second novel, and I almost didn’t write it. I plan my novels quite extensively, and, in this one, I’d planned for two characters to fall for each other and have a romantic tryst, but I hadn’t really planned for them to take it much further than a kiss. In the first draft I used the typical PG-13 Hollywood tactic of “fade to black, cut to next scene”. When I read it through, however, I faced a mental neon sign flashing “Cheat, cheat, cheat”. I couldn’t get passed this: I had to write that sex scene.

So I did. I’d read books where euphemisms are used to describe what is going on between the couple and I was determined to avoid this. I used correct anatomical terminology and no cutaways, but I did stick to what my protagonist was feeling (emotionally and physically).

And suddenly my characters revealed a lot of information that I would never have guessed otherwise. The nudity revealed a scar on my protagonist’s body that not only explained her motive for a crime she committed, but also how she got away with it. The sex scene itself was brief, awkward, embarrassing, and disappointing. But only for the couple: for me it was electrifying in its revelation of character, and I even got a message in there about the side effects of illicit drug use.

I would never have discovered how much one’s characters can develop themselves had I not taken the leap of writing something that made me uncomfortable and embarrassed. My advice: even if you cut it later, write it. You never know what a sex scene will reveal.

How about you? Have you written a sex scene? Do you use euphemisms, fade to black, or do you go the full monty?

---------------------------------------------Elsa Neal
Elsa Neal is based in Melbourne, Australia. Read more of her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog. Visit her website for more articles to improve your writing craft

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20 comments :

  1. Definitely full monty. I admit I like writing sex scenes, especially funny ones.

    My Darcy Mutates

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  2. I've not written one. It was very interesting to me that when you wrote yours it revealed so much to you about your characters. That alone would make it a worthwhile exercise, even if you later cut it.

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  3. I enjoy writing them, but its always hard for me to keep them from getting overwrought and almost campy. In YA you have to strike the right balance of passion vs. too much information. They really are the hardest scenes for me to write.

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  4. Interesting to read your take on this. I've tried to write some sex scenes, don't think I've done it well, but I continue to practice, mainly because it's fun, and sometimes it can be good for the development of characters and plot >:)

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  5. I like funny ones too, Enid! I wrote a sex scene once in which the man and woman involved were dressed in winter outerwear, out on a deck in center city Philadelphia, suddenly beside themselves with the need to do it and do it now. They had to fumble with the clothes, figure out how to do it in the darkest recesses of the deck--and there was a parrot inside providing commentary on the noises he heard. It was a hoot! Didn't end up in the book--ultimately, I decided to suggest the possibility of this romance without developing it--but I sure had fun. As good sex should be.

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  6. Depending on the story and the characters, I can either go with the fade to black, or full Monty. I do use correct terms and not the euphemisms that you see in some books.

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  7. Shouldn't that be "full mounty". Okay, going back to my corner now. Great concept, Elle. I'm with Helen about the surprise benefit to writers.

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  8. I admit I've never written one, but I hope, if the plot or character development would be better with one included I'd be able to do it.

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  9. YES! Though not quite as graphic. I write YA. But it was pivotal and important as it turned out and I'm glad I wrote what was uncomfortable for me.

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  10. Hey, great post! I love writing sex scenes, and like you say - you can decide later which elements are important to leave in, and which ones verge on gratuitous. I think you learn a lot about your characters by seeing them in bed with someone else - are they kind? are they into pleasing others? are they confident? do they have a wild side they don't show a lot? a sweet side they hide around most people?

    Thanks for this post - I've been reading too many of the "let's lead readers to the bedroom door" kind of posts - which is great if it works for someone else, but I agree - come on inside.

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  11. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Kathryn,
    A parrot providing commentary on the noises? That sounds hilarious. It does sound like it would've been a hoot to write.

    Elle
    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

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  12. We need to kick Kathryn to get her book published!

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  13. Oooof, I have approached my keyboard with trembling fingers on this topic.

    I admit in my first novel I pretty much did the setup, everything faded to black, and voila, next morning they are having breakfast in bed thing. It's pretty much all I felt comfortable doing.

    I do have another issue besides me being squeamish. My relatives are very straight-laced, and they read my stuff. I know I shouldn't care, but it's hard to step over certain lines, and still be able to look them in the eyes at the next reunion.

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  14. At some point, I'm going to interview an author I know who wrote a book with a priest character in it, and you can guess what happened. There is a possibility she lost a Catholic client over the matter. It can get complicated, that's for sure.

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  15. Yes, I have and I love reading well written sex scenes.

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  16. Relatives can be a definite problem, especially when they're (figuratively) perched on your shoulder overseeing what you're writing. I don't think one can write like that. You might need to consider a pseudonym...

    Elle
    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

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  17. If the sex scene is very long and describes every single thing that happens, believe it or not, I get bored.

    I don't write long sex scenes and don't describe every single thing that happens. Also, if it doesn't in some way teach us something about the characters or enhance the plot, then it's disappointing to me.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  18. Glad to find your blog.
    I write romance so, yes, I have written sex scenes. When I started my first story I was itching to get to that first scene, but then the time wasn't right in spite of my outline. When I finally got there, it was much more difficult to actually complete. Why? Because, as you say, it tells us so much about the characters.
    I blogged about this in a tongue-in-cheek way recently at http://courtlyromance.blogspot.com/2010/10/romance-genre-no-nos.html

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  19. I'd love to read this funny sex scene, Kathryn. "A parrot inside providing commentary on the noises he heard" I wonder if parrot can imitate moaning sounds...LOL

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  20. Fade to black would be my technique and for the same reasons you felt yourself.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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