How to Write a Sex Scene

How to Write a Sex Scene

I am a ghost writer. This means where someone has a scene (or a story) that they don’t want to write, they ask me to do it for them. In college this would have been called an ethics violation to the Cod of Conduct, or fraud. In the wide world of professional literature, it’s called freelancing.

Neat.

In the months that I’ve been doing this I can tell you 95% of my work is romance, and more often than not, I’m writing the naughty scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. More often than not I am getting $80 or more to write 3k words about a couple of characters doing the horizontal tango. But it has me thinking, why the hang ups?

trying-to-flirt

Yes, I know that America is the strangest mix of prude and sexually obsessed. I know that we are weird about it, but many of my clients come from India, Thailand, Canada, and Australia. So, it has little to nothing to do with the location.

The fact is, I have  no clue why an author can write the most heart-wrenching death scenes, pick apart the psychology of watching a thunderstorm, and get gloriously visceral with battles…but can’t write about bumping uglies.

Ugh, I hate that term, but I’m using it anyway.

So, below I have a step by step process, and some tips, for writing a sex scene.

 

lets-do-this-ucas-gif

  1. Make sure the scene is necessary
    • I think one of the main hangups that any author can have is trying to force a scene. I know that a lot of us believe that we HAVE to show the sex between two (or more) characters, but that’s not always true. Sit back and really think about whether or not you NEED to show the scene. Don’t just write it because everyone else is, that’s going to make the scene feel forced.
    • How do you know it’s needful? Just ask yourself the following:
      • Does it add something to the story?
      • Does it reveal something important about the characters that cannot be shown in another, more natural, way?
      • Is it appropriate to the intended audience?
      • Does it further the plot or turning point?
  2. Plan
    • Even if you are a pantser, you still take the time to think over a scene before writing it. If you have evaluated (and possibly reevaluated) that a steamy scene needs to happen, sit down and think about the characters involved. How would they approach sex? Everyone does it a little differently, and in a way that is most comfortable to them.For instance, If you have a heterosexual scene between a submissive male and an aggressive female, don’t suddenly switch their personalities because the clothes come off. Yes, some people who are submissive out in the world are more aggressive in the bedroom, but you better be prepared to back up the switch and still make it sound natural to the character.
    • Things to think about:
      • This is where those five question words really come into play (who, what, where, when, and why…the how is pretty much the entire scene.)
      • Who are the characters involved, and how to they feel about one another?
      • Is this encounter sensual, languid, comforting, aggressive, or something else? The ‘flavor’ of the scene is very important for picking word choice. There is a huge difference between taking ones clothes off, ripping ones clothes off, slithering ones clothes off…you get the idea.
      • What is so important about this scene? Let’s take out SubMale and AggFemale from earlier. Let’s say they’ve been friends for a long time and he has been having a lot of self confidence issues since his last gf left him. The importance of this scene is his confidence boosting. Keep that in mind throughout the scene.
      • Where is this taking place? Yeah, this is important. Where should matter. Don’t just have them couple (or trio, or quartet) in the bedroom because that’s where the sex happens. Bedrooms are great when you want the scene to have safety and confidence. But if these two characters have been angling to get into the skirt/pants/spacesuit for some time they are probably going to hop ion whatever semi-private, mostly horizontal surface they come across.
      • Why. Okay, this one is the biggest one. WHY is this scene happening? Is this the moment when two characters turn to each other for comfort? Have they been holding back from going to bed with one another? Should they be here? Why are they having sex? This thought needs to be an ongoing theme for the entire scene. It should impact your words and the characters action.
  3. Organize
    • Sex, in real life, is messy. I’m not saying that makes it bad, sometimes messy is awesome. What I am saying is that people don’t plan out an encounter before it happens. But you are an author, and your characters are in your head. You need to think about your characters sexuality before you write the scene. Re-using my submissive male/aggressive female couple why is the male a submissive person? Is it just his last break up? Because in American society guys are encouraged to be aggressive sexually and socially, so what in his background makes him more prone to a more docile approach? Perhaps he grew up in a highly feminist house, or perhaps because he was bullied or picked on as a youth.

      In counter, our aggressive woman, what formed her sexuality? What does she like about being in command? What about the situation appeals to her, and how emotionally attached is she, if at all? Think of all of this and more, for a while. Let the thoughts simmer, maybe jot some notes down, and then:

  4. Write it all in one, uninterrupted, sitting.
    • A sexual encounter is one thing that flows into another. I’m not being metaphorical here. Sex is a singular act made of many motions, like a dance. In order to get that flow, you need to write it all in one go. Throw yourself into that scene as much as possible. Don’t get too distracted as it unfolds, just let it all happen.

      I would say that this is the most important rule for writing a steamy scene.

  5. Leave it alone for (AT LEAST) a week.
    • You are going to be very tempted to go back and read what you’ve done. Don’t. Right now it is still too fresh. You either think it’s perfect, or you think it’s crap, and like any rough draft the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. You need to leave it alone.

      Once upon a time, while I was working in the grand world of fast food I was writing a love scene between two of my characters in between taking drive thru orders. I got home and immediately wrote up the scene, certain that it was the best thing I had ever written. I, being the tech genius that I was, lost the file a while later.

      I was crushed. I was certain that this scene was the most evocative and emotional thing I had ever written. It haunted me because I had lost it. About two years later I brought it up to a buddy of mine and she gave me the weirdest look. “You mean the one between (character A) and (character B)?”

      “Yeah! Do you remember it?”

      “Yeah,  you sent it to me. I think I still have it.”

      She sent it to me that night and I re-read it and nearly gave up writing altogether because after two years of being enamored of the memory, I realized that the scene was….okay. It wasn’t terrible. There were some good lines, and the characters were good…but the scene was a solid B at best.

      What I am getting to is that you need to take time away from all your writing before you edit, but I think emotional scenes (which you sex scene ought to be) need this the most.

  6. Edit
    • This is a step that doesn’t need a lot of explanation, but is still important. Make sure that the scene matches the characters, their actions, their word choice. I’ve found that sex scenes are the hardest places (for me) to distance myself from what I like, from what my character likes. So make sure that you didn’t just write out your own dark fantasy, but rather stayed true to your characters.

 

Thank you for reading! I hope that at least some of this has been helpful. If you have any particular problems, thoughts, or ideas leave a comment and I’ll do my absilute best to respond! Happy writing!

Writing 101- The Rules of Writing (and when to break them)

When it comes to writing there are no limits on rules. If you’ve done your homework before jumping into the deep end of word-smithing, chances are, you’ve probably read them. If you’re a bit of a teachers pet you can parrot them out at will.

Gold star for you.

Before I decided to dedicate myself to my writing I spent four years as an amateur editor. It was a great experience that taught me a few things. Some rules, like don’t use the passive voice, are really great rules of thumb and should be taken to heart. Others should be used nine times out of ten.

Let’s go over some of my favorite ‘soft’ rules.

  1. Show, don’t tell. I know that this is the motto of enthusiastic writers-to-be everywhere. It stems from the quote “Do not tell me the moon is shinning, show me the glint of light on broken glass,” by Anton Chekhov. What people often forget is that this a single sentence is pulled from a letter between Chekhov and his brother and it is heavily paraphrased. He was talking specifically about nature. The full quote:  “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” Chekhov was expressing that if you are describing the natural surroundings of a thing do it gently.
    If you need a paragraph or two to give a little bit of backstory or set the setting…go ahead and just tell me. Don’t bog down your story with poorly contrived conversations that exist purely just to get a point across.
  2. No Prologues. So, here’s the thing. Chances are, if you wrote a prologue, you are attached to it. It was, quite possibly, the scene that set you off to writing. It set your mood and gave the story some unf. It may even have some really great literary nuggets in there. That’s wonderful. Nine times out of then you wrote that prologue for you, not your reader. You can hack it off and the story is still great. But,e very now and then, you need that prologue. It really sets things up and shows something better than any other scene could. If you aren’t sure, ask someone else.
  3. Never use the word ‘said’. Okay, this one is very tricky. I think it might be better used if you say ‘never overuse the word said.’ First and foremost your characters should have unique voices. A line of dialogue ought to tell the reader, flat out, who is speaking. If your characters suffer from sounding too similar…that’s a bigger problem than the word ‘said’ ever could be. Now, sometimes that familiar dialogue tag is necessary. That’s totally okay. But use it wisely.
  4. Avoid cliches. Yes. You absolutely should avoid cliches, like the plague; overusing them is tantamount to beating a long dead horse. I’m funny. Ha-ha. Now that those are out of my system I can go on to say that every now and then a cliche offers comfort and familiarity to a scene that otherwise might not be there. If you want to describe someone with raven-black hair, that’s fine. But don’t fall back on it every single time. As a writer you should be aiming to pen the next greatest cliche, not build your work on them.
  5. Don’t start with the weather. The opening line of one of my works is: “The summers in Clairefield, Virginia were an unrelenting fever….” I fought with myself for days over this line because it breaks this rule. After a while (and sooo many re-writes) I said “Screw it, I love my line and starting somewhere else feels wrong.” It suited the rhythm and the feel of my writing. Maybe I’ll change it in draft four.
    I’m not saying start your story off with “It was a dark and stormy night”, but I once read a morbid humor story that started with that line and it was fabulous.
  6. Don’t describe your characters. This is another one of these writing rules I feel is poorly worded. What I think a writer should avoid is doing a point-by-point description. Don’t tell me Hair color, eye color, height, weight, and build in a single paragraph. Spread it out over their entire introductory scene, starting with the single detail that is most obvious about the character.

What it comes down to is you have to figure out your own style. Yes, there are rules, and you have to work with them but keep in mind that people have broken these rules time and time again to great effect.