Friday, July 11, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 2

***Insert generic disclaimer: This is about SEX***

Do you need a sex scene?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of writing a sex scene that will arouse, educate, and (heh heh) inspire your readers, and will advance so many things in your book itself, we should contemplate whether or not we need a sex scene at all. Not in the “Should they have sex here” sense (that will be covered in part on Wednesday when we start talking about chemistry), but in the sense of “Do I actually need to write sex? Couldn’t I just fade out from a kiss?”

Well. My feelings on this are strong, and perhaps not popular in all circles. And I’m well aware that there are some subgenres in romantic fiction that frown on sex scenes—Inspirational, for example. Of course if you and/or your readers believe strongly that premarital sex is wrong, and your book ends before the wedding, you wouldn’t even contemplate writing a sex scene. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Mostly. (Really.) But if you’re writing Inspirationals, you’re probably not hanging around my potty-mouthed corner of the internet, right?

I don’t particularly care for those who get loud and nasty about it, and denigrate myself and other erotic writers as filthy smut-peddlers (I enjoy being called a filthy smut-peddler, but not in a mean way). I get irritated and angry when it’s time for the bi-yearly “Romance with sex in it isn’t REAL romance” debate, courtesy of some RWA letter or writer’s blog or whatever. (Because there is apparently nothing remotely romantic about the joining of two bodies into one, especially not in the most literal sense when the act creates another human being; when people call it “making love” they do so in the spirit of bitterest irony. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be romantic—I kind of like it best when it’s not, actually—but the idea that it never can be is ridiculous.)

And I admit, any variation of the sentiment or phrase “Writing sex is for people who can’t write WELL” or “Writing sex is a cop-out and takes no skill and is catering to the lowest common denominator” or “Writing sex is easy” or “If you have to resort to writing sex to sell your work then there’s a weakness in your writing skills” (yes, I’ve heard all of those, once to my face, even) absolutely infuriates me. I wouldn’t be doing this little series/workshop/whatever if sex was easy to write, guys. I wouldn’t have already heard from several well-published, very good, successful professional writers that they’re glad I’m doing this because they have difficulty writing sex scenes. Sex is NOT easy to write. I truly believe writing a good sex scene is a challenge, no matter how many you've written. It’s disrespectful beyond measure to dismiss the work of another writer in that fashion; it’s extremely rude and it’s just a nasty, mean thing to say.

Okay, rant over, sorry. Let’s move on. The question here is whether the sex scene is actually necessary, and whether you can do without it, and here’s my take on that:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings (or lack thereof; we’ll cover that later too), their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene.

But since the sex scene must do all of those things, and since in order to be effective the sex scene should be the only thing that does all of those things…well, we start to go in circles now, don’t we?

I am a firm believer in putting sex in books. I’m for it; there’s really no other way to put it. I love writing sex scenes. I like reading sex scenes. I wait for sex scenes. And yeah, I get rather unhappy when the door is closed in my face.

Because you can tell me the characters had sex all you want. You can show me how they smile at each other, or how they touch hands at breakfast, or whatever. But the fact is, if you haven’t given me the sex scene, it feels like telling. You’ve deliberately excluded me from something, something I as a reader feel entitled to. I’ve waited two hundred fifty pages or whatever for these characters to act on their feelings, and you’re going to show me a couple of kisses then fade to black? But…but what did they do? What did they say? How did they look at each other, what did they feel, how did they touch each other? How did their feelings change? How do you plan to show me all that stuff without the sex scene?

As writers we pick and choose what our readers see, of course. It’s boring otherwise; we don’t need to write every minute of their every day. I personally don’t care to read about or write about the toilet habits and experiences of characters—but you can bet your ass that if it was important to the story, I would, whether I liked it or not.

And far more than that, there’s an implication I really dislike when the bedroom door is closed. I’ve mentioned before my distaste for people who run around making films or writing books to “illuminate” the concept that sex is a profound human experience and that while having it we are vulnerable or we are our true selves or whatever. My distaste isn’t for that idea; it’s for the idea that in saying sex is a profound human experience blah-blah-blah we’re somehow saying something clever and original. Um, duh.

BUT. Sex is a profound human experience—or at least, it damn well should be, especially in romantic fiction. The mere act itself should change us, shake us, make us see ourselves and/or our partner differently. So I strongly, strongly resent the subtle (or not-so-subtle) implications of those sex-scene naysayers, which are: that sex isn’t about people and relationships but is merely a distasteful biological imperative; that it doesn’t involve hearts or minds or souls but only sticky engorged naughty parts; that sex really isn’t important; that every couple in the world has sex the exact same way; that it shows us nothing of importance about ourselves or each other and therefore does not need to be part of the story.

The dirty underside of that stick is a sort of contempt for readers, in the idea that they don’t deserve to see the characters’s private moments, that such times are either too good and special for the likes of them—as if our characters are real people who will look up from their bed of sin and shriek and pull the covers over themselves, and the reader is nothing but a nosy, interfering houseguest who doesn’t know when to leave the room—or worse, that the reader is a perverted busybody for daring to even be interested in such things, that wanting to know the characters and their relationship as thoroughly as possible is somehow wrong of us. We’re filthy voyeuristic beasts, you see, those of us who expect to be treated like adults instead of like Pittypat Hamilton or something. Good thing we have the author there to keep our dirty little minds out of the gutter, where presumably all manner of revolting deeds are occurring, too distasteful and gross for the writer to detail for us. Oh, they’ll let us know it happened, but the event itself is simply too icky to detail. And that's crap. We should be seeing it, because it's important to see it.

**Um, at least most of the time. There is a small exception, and that is when the characters in question are involved in a steady sexual relationship and this is not an erotic romance. I mentioned Friday how, although Greyson and Megan spend a good chunk of the time period covered by Demon Insidedoing delightful things in bed with each other, only two of those scenes are detailed. The first because it gives the reader a good look into where their relationship is at the start of the book, and the second because, IMO, it jumps both relationship and story forward by a huge bound (and is hopefully scorching hot too.) So I will give you a pass for later books in series or second, third, fourth, etc. encounters that don’t significantly expand or change the relationship or affect the story.

But dammit… If you can honestly tell me that your characters having sex isn’t an important enough moment for the reader to share, then your characters shouldn’t be having sex at all.

Wednesday we're going to start looking at chemistry and building anticipation, and then we'll begin with the real mechanics.

I still have room for a few more scenes, so don't be shy! Oh, and if you've already submitted one and would like to increase your word limit to 1250 instead of 750, that's fine--go ahead and resend it. I decided to do the crits as two posts per scene, so that gives us more space for length. Heh heh.


BernardL said...

I agree. Writing a sex scene into the plot, which accomplishes all the items you've covered so far, takes more skill, not less.

Robyn said...

Filthy smut peddler.

I read all kinds of things, but I do write inspys. I couldn't tell you why; it just seems to work out that way for me. Sometimes the door is closed, sometimes not, but I don't have a lot of detail. ANY kind of sex scene, 10 page full of nitty-gritty or sweet fade-to-black, take skill to write. I suspect that's because books take skill to write.

Charles Gramlich said...

I was going to call you a filthy smut peddler but Robyn beat me to it.

I agree, sex scenes are not easy. Fortunately, I don't need 'em in most of my work.

cindy said...

i am all eyes on this lecture series, yo. =) i wrote my first sexual scene and it was really really hard. it wasn't for romantic love or even lust (not on my heroine's part, anyway), but i'm not sure if it'd been any easier any which way.

looking forward to your other posts on this topic. and thank you for sharing!

laughingwolf said...

dee, this is a wonderful put down of the moralists out there, brava!

i have no argument on any point you make, and look forward to learning more

in my own writing, i've not had to get into the 'what and how', too much... mostly cuz i seem to end up writing horror/fantasy, intentionally or otherwise

yes, sex is involved, but i have a lot to learn about how to write it well, so i'm glued to your advice

Seeley deBorn said...

Yup, I do love me a nice long sex scene. In fact, I've got one that lasts a whopping 14 pages...I suppose that's a bit long for this event. Fortunately it's not the only one in the book. ;)

I can't imagine writing without sex. Even the epic historials (the non-romance onces) that are brewing in the back of my mind include sex scenes.

Seeley deBorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kirsten saell said...

Dee, you're my hero.

I'm with Seeley. Even back when I was writing what I figured was straight-up fantasy, sheesh, people were falling into bed left and right. All the best stories are love stories, and sex is often a huge part of that.

Bernita said...

Ah, we're all so depraved ...

laughingwolf said...


your sit is the only one where i
keep getting this shit!

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laughingwolf said...

i even checked spelling, and i typed 'site' grrrrrrrrrrr

December/Stacia said...

It's tricky, Bernard, it's really no different from any action scene except the focus has to be so much tighter. So I don't get where the "writing sex is easy" crap comes from, or rather...writing sex is easy. Writing good sex is hard. :-)

But you don't have to have a lot of detail, Robyn, for it to be important and a good scene. And like I said, I really don't mind when there's no sex at all, I just dislike when there is sex but we don't get any picture of it. Doesn't have to be explicit, but like I said, I do think if it's important enough to the plot to tell us about, it's important enough to show us.

Lol Charles! Gee you guys sure know how to make a girl feel good about herself. :-)

Thanks Cyn! And you're welcome!

Thank you laughingwolf! I just don't understand what morals there are in being so rude to someone else who's doing nothing wrong. I certainly have morals. I wouldn't read, for example, pedophilia, and would strongly disapprove of it and would probably be vocal in my disapproval. But aside from the fact that pedophilia is a CRIME, I think there's a huge moral gulf between an explicit scene involving consenting adults and one involving abuse of a child. The two are hardly equivalent. Don't like sex scenes? Skim them. It's just a scene in a book, it's not a picture being shoved in your face.

Oh, yes, Seeley, good long sex scenes are quite pleasant. :-)

Thanks kis! And yes, all the best stories are love stories, aren't they? Isn't that a famous quote or something?

Yep, Bernita, we're terrible filthy people, lol.

Laughingwolf, maybe you should try commenting on the lj if you're having problems here? The link is in the sidebar. I know this particular fun gang isn't there, but it might make it easier for you until whatever the problem is solves itself.

laughingwolf said...

sorry dee, yours is the only one that gives me probs constantly :(

ill try the lj next, for sure

i agree with you on your moral stands, i should have put theirs in quotes, since i don't see anything moral about them grrrrrrr

kirsten saell said...

And yes, all the best stories are love stories, aren't they? Isn't that a famous quote or something?

It is, D. Problem is I can never remember who said it...

Oh no, laughingwolf! Don't go there! Those lj people are nothing but troublemakers.

laughingwolf said...

lol ...ok kirsten!

btw dee, pd finally got here, just got into it a bit when sleep interrupted... will do it justice later

December/Stacia said...

Oh, so my book put you to sleep, Laughingwolf? That's, um...nice of you to say. :-)

Kim said...

It seems like sex scenes were a lot easier to write when I was just starting out. Now I have to find a way to make them different and progress the story... oh, the pressure! =)

December/Stacia said...

Lol Kim, I know what you mean! But it only seems harder, really; you do all of these things without thinking. It's when you think that it suddenly seems all complicated and weird and you want to throw the whole book in the trashcan. :-)

Thanks for the comment!

laughingwolf said...

not at all, dee... i'd been up bout 18 hours at that point, and wanted to keep reading, but could not keep my peepers open... :(

sylvia said...

I know I'm late to the party but I am here and stepping through your series - good stuff. One day I might even write a sex scene! ;)