Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing "Love" Scenes

It's the moment you've all been waiting for.

Charlie is writing about SEX.

As my writing has taken a more romantic-sub-genre-twist as of late, this is something that has been coming up, namely with my current WIP. (All the other manuscripts go the route of DisneyOMGtheyjustkissedendscript.)

And no, Mom, don't freak out, I'm not writing erotica (or anything close). (Though if I were, I don't think she'd have that big of a reaction to it. Let's be honest.)

Have you struggled with writing more intimate scenes, or are you working on one right now? How exactly do you go about it? How graphic are you?

Writing Excuses recently did a great podcast on this subject.

Despite being less than in love with Maria V. Snyder's Fire Study, I absolutely loved the way she did sex scenes in Poison Study. This book is a YA (borderline NA), so she had to stay tasteful, which I greatly appreciate. She has a very poetic way of writing what's going on without making you feel dirty.


Here's part of an excerpt from Google Books:

  My response was a delightful surprise. I had feared, after Reyad's abuse, my body would clench tight in horror and revulsion. But the intertwining of our bodies linked our minds and spirits together.

  The distant sound of music vibrated in the air. Pulsing, the magical harmony soon rose to a cresendo and encompassed us like a warm blanket. The prison cell and filthy straw dropped away from our awareness. Whiteness draped in snowy silk around us. On this plan we were equals, partners. Our souls bonded. His pleasure was my ecstasy. My blood pumped in his heart.

  Utter bliss cam in short snatches, although, Valek and I were happy to try again. We had merged, our minds had become one. I drew in his essence, feasting on the feel of his body in mine, exhiliarating in the caress of his skin against mine. He filled the hollow emptiness inside my heart with joy and light [...].

The chapter ends two sentences later.

With the odd reference to music aside (it doesn't fit either character nor their setting whatsoever), I absolutely loved this scene. We know what's happening with it getting pornographic (and if you like raw stuff, that's totally fine, it's just not my piece of cake).

Diana Gabaldon wrote a great article on these scenes too, in which she says, "Where most beginning writers screw up (you should pardon the expression) is in thinking that sex scenes are about sex." I think Poison Study is a great example of this, especially since writers "have an important advantage when dealing with sex, insofar as [they] can reasonably expect that most of [their] audience knows how it's done."

I'll admit that when I have so much as a kissing scene I stare at my Word document for hours just writing that one paragraph where it happens. I flush and get all nervous about it, ha! Fortunately I had Snyder in mind for my current WIP, and wrote the main part of my own manuscript's sex scene long before I actually got to the chapter. I found it helped (and it's a short scene).

So, what do you think? Do you dig in for the detail or stick to a chaste Jane Austen? Or do you avoid romance entirely? 

I'd love to get your thoughts!


  1. I wrote a sex scene a couple of weeks ago. First off, I had my wife read through it to make sure it didn't make her uncomfortable. It didn't, so I knew I hadn't made it too graphic. Graphic sex is pornography. It's pointless trash that isn't worth reading or writing. Sex, however, is a part of the human experience and so ought not to be avoided in writing. Snyder's excerpt is actually a lot like the scene I wrote. Mine had nothing to do with music, but like her's mine was an abstract experience, with very little physical description. I think telling what body parts are doing what where is pointless. Unless you're doing erotica, anyway.

  2. Wow! Great timing with this! I just wrote the first sex scene between my two main characters this weekend, and it's in the third novel in the series! There was a little kissing before, and a hint that things were moving in that direction. It was really hard for me to write, not because it was uncomfortable, but because I love my characters, they'd had a hard time in the past, and getting to this point took a lot of work on both their parts. It ended up being a much shorter scene then I thought it would be, and is more about their connection to one another, their love for one another, than the mechanics of it all.

    Considering I don't write erotica, I prefer to leave it up to the reader to imagine what might have happened exactly, while I share more the characters' responses and feelings. I think it works better for my style of writing than a graphic play-by-play.

  3. I'm a bit proponent of "less is more" when it comes to sex scenes. Unless there are some specific details or moments that are relevant to the plot, let the reader use his or her imagination a little. When I turn on the faucet I just water to come out. I don't need to know how the plumbing works.

  4. I’m not a writer like you, so I’ll share one of my beefs with these scenes. Everything is perfect. Nothing is awkward, nothing is embarrassing, and nothing goes wrong. It never hurts, or is uncomfortable. Everyone comes and enjoys themselves perfectly. This is a more extreme feat when you realize that most of these characters are virgins.
    I believe sex is a wonderful thing and a beautiful joining spiritually, physically, and emotionally. But it is not perfect, and great sex is a skill that is learned.
    When I read a sex scene like the one you showed, it takes me out of the story, and out of the book, which leads to a comparison many people don’t like: porn. While what you are writing, and what I read, isn’t titillating, it can have the same perfection that leads to unrealistic expectations. The bodies are perfect, the setting is perfect, and it lacks any realistic humanity. (Side note: this is especially problematic because generally women will read porn instead of watching it. There may not be porn stars involved, but the lack of realism is just as hurtful to the ideas of sex.)
    There are some books that I would not want my children to read, not because they are explicit, but because the portrayal of sex and intimacy skews ideas and idealizes sex.
    I don’t know that this is really advice, but as a reader, this is what I’m looking for in a rewarding sexual encounter in a book. Good luck!

  5. That is a good point--though I think in reading, most people want to be swept away and want things to be perfect, even when they're not in real life.

    In the case of POISON STUDY, however, neither character is a virgin, they're making love in a dirty dungeon cell, and the girl had just spent the night before vomiting and writhing in reaction to a poison in her body. So certainly not ideal conditions. ;)

    1. I'd actually agree with Anonymous. An idealization of sex can be damaging in an of itself. Though I think there's a difference between poetic idealization like the quote used above and more detailed sex scenes that, despite the additional details, profess/portray that everything is as perfect as, for lack of a better way to put it, their sexual fantasy. (The quote seems to be more about showing that sex happened without a fade-to-black than about developing character or showing their relationship.)

      To Anonymous, I'd say there are plenty of books that portray a more realistic approach to sex. Nothing is perfect, the characters have to come armed with a sense of humor for the less-than-ideal, they try to communicate since they know they won't "get everything right," and so on.

      But there are also plenty of books that turn on the glamorization lights.

      Me? I just want to make sure that the scene is true to character and advances the story. A lot of characters don't need fleshed-out sex scenes in order to show us character growth, so I'm perfectly fine with a fade-to-black or a more poetic summary sans details. Other characters need to show us the growth that comes during that intimacy--but I think that's needed a lot less often than, say, erotica writers say they do. I don't think the audience's...well, appetites...should dictate the book's sex scenes. I think characters should do that for themselves. (I know, crazy.)

      Though I will add my traditional warning about triggering readers. I have too many friends who have been hurt by careless books. On-stage rape, lack of consent, and so on.

  6. I thought Daughter of the Forest had some really great sex scenes *spoiler alert*: the first being when Sorcha is gang-raped, and the second with her husband near the end of the novel. I liked how her fears and memories of pain from the first encounter affected her reaction in the second. It wasn't "perfect", but it was very real and human.

    For myself, on the "lemon" scale, I prefer lime bordering margarita. I'm a big fan (and user) of euphemisms. The Muse Online Writer's conference had a great panel a few years ago on Writing Intimacy (the notes of which I still have if you want them).

    My now current WIP does have a brief sex scene, which will be interesting to do since the woman is half-drowned and hypothermic while it's happening to her. Definitely not the "ideal" setup.

    What'll REALLY be interesting will be the reaction of friends and family who read these scenes of mine, who live in such a conservative (read "uptight") ix-nay culture. Lol, at least OUR parents wouldn't care, but I could see myself being called in for an interview with the bishop... XD

  7. As of now, I hadn't contemplated writing any love scenes. Probably because I'm writing about living people. But I had to say, that ever since I read this post this morning, I've had, "Let's talk about sex, baby, let's talk about you and me," in my head. All. Day. Long. While I shoveled the driveway, while I made dinner, while I changed diapers. Just so you know. :)

  8. It completely depends upon my mood. Some days I just can't make the scene sound right so I leave it at the bedroom door, other times I've written it before I realise and I don't hate it. After reading Amy's comment above, I now have that song in my head!!

  9. What a great post! I was totally terrified the first time I wrote anything racy, and my reasoning was, OH MY GOD! My MOM was going to read this!

    I have gotten a bit better about this, but I still prefer the fade-out before things get too weird. Perhaps this will change in time... ;)

  10. Ha, I did a post like this a couple years ago called 'When Characters Get Busy'. Hehe. I love some romance in my books. But I don't like to get too anatomical or into the nitty gritty. You are right: sex scenes aren't about sex. They're about tension. The best books IMO have so many near misses you think you're going to scream, and then you finally get the real deal. You can get pretty scandalous without writing about actual sex.

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