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 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.