Oh! I have some great news about the series. Since I tend to write dominant men, I’ve asked uberblogger and multi-published m/m and femdomme erotic writer Emily Veinglory to contribute a piece about submissive males. It’ll be later in the series and you won’t want to miss it! Emily is a fantastic girl and runs the EREC site and blog, an invaluable resource for erotic romance/erotica writers.
I wasn’t going to post this today. I planned to do more on what a sex scene is actually about, as part of the move into what lies behind a sex scene, after which we begin really working. BUT. It occurred to me I hadn’t really left a spot for this subject, and I think it’s an important one.
Because embarrassment seems to be one of the main reasons people are uncomfortable with writing sex, or dislike writing sex. Because if someone is comfortable writing sex embarrassment seems to be a reason why they aren’t comfortable taking their sex scenes beyond a certain point. And because I just think it’s a good one to discuss, and this is my series dammit.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with modesty or discomfort. Those of you who are regular readers know that I generally keep things on the blog at a certain level (I think of it as “one-cocktail adult”, actually—a little looser than normal but not throwing-panties-at-chandeliers), and that there are some things I simply won’t write about in my actual work because for one reason or another I find them overly crude or unappealing. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those who do, just that I have a certain line in my head that I don’t cross—or haven’t yet, anyway. (And later on I’ll be talking more about writing hot sex scenes without being graphic at all.)
But this is the biggest thing to remember, and it’s easy to remember it when you’re writing, say, a werewolf with cynophobia but seems much harder when it comes to sex, as sex is literally much closer to home; it’s writing what you know in the most intimate sense.
Your characters are not you.
I know, I know. Again, it seems very basic. But I have honestly stopped and reminded myself of this on several occasions, when a scene is moving in a direction I’m not particularly comfortable with.
For example, let’s take anal (Please! Ba-dum-bum). The vast majority of my heroines—the vast majority of heroines in erotic romance, really—take great pleasure in all things rear-end. If it’s not actual anal sex (which I’ve only written in three books, two of which were ménages), it’s various fingers and other implements. Because it can be arousing to read and because I know a lot of readers find it so. But in real life? Eh. I have on occasion in the past been with men who enjoyed doing such things to me and I have on occasion permitted them to do so. Most men who enjoy doing those things to me enjoy having those things done to them and I have obliged them (within reason; if you’re picturing strap-ons you’ve gone way too far in your head. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not me.) I can take it or leave it, to be honest, but I think if you read my work (particularly Eighth Wand, which has far more anal play than any of my other books) you might imagine me as some sort of anal goddess, complete with an array of toys. I’m not. Nor have I ever been in any sort of ménage. I have never been sexually involved with another woman. I’ve never had sex in the middle of the day in a public park; I’ve never, tame as it may sound, engaged in mutual masturbation with a partner. Sex in the shower makes me too hot and I have to go lie down in a cool room for half an hour to keep from passing out (I’m very sensitive to heat), so it’s not something I enjoy. But I’ve written all of those things and more (we’re going to look particularly at the mutual masturbation scene from Eighth Wand later in the series, as I’m quite proud of it), and found them arousing to write and arousing to read later (although reading my own work never has the same effect on me as reading others’s does, because I’m always trying to edit it).
It seems rather silly, doesn’t it? Nobody looks at me or reads one of my books and pictures me at home being bitten by vampires or having sex with resurrected Druids or tattooed Fae warriors. But for some reason they do think that I try and like everything I write. So I have to keep in mind at all times that the scene is not about me, it’s about my characters; and that to pull them back from where they want to go because of my own modesty or whatever is wrong. It doesn’t serve the story. It doesn’t serve the characters. And that’s not good.
So how do you get beyond that embarrassment? How do you get those words on the page even if you’re blushing, or picturing your mom (or worse, your dad) or great-uncle Edwin or your kid’s teachers reading it, and imagining you at home in a leather peek-a-boob corset watching porn and, I don’t know, smearing whipped cream all over your body?
Here’s some ideas (and please, if you have others add them in the comments!).
1. Remember, your characters are not you. Their fantasies are not necessarily yours; you aren’t entirely responsible for their kinks (or lack thereof. And yes, of course we’ll cover sex as expansion of characterization.)
2. Plan ahead. Before I’ve even started the book, before the chemistry between my characters starts simmering, I’m already beginning to see the sex scene in my head. And I think this really helps. We’re going to do more on chemistry on Friday, but if I’m picturing them having sex in my head from the very first moment they meet, I firmly believe it helps add that frisson of heat to every interaction. Plus, if you’re nervous, it gives you lots of time to work out the bugs, as it were.
3. Make everybody wait. Now in an erotic romance you don’t have as much time to do this, as you want to get to the sex much earlier. But in a straight romance or another genre with romantic elements… There’s a reason why most sex scenes take place about 2/3 of the way through the book, and it’s because you want everybody eagerly anticipating. Especially you.
4. Write a good kissing scene and interrupt it. Good sex doesn’t appear out of nowhere. You don’t have to use the scene, but you should write it. Write a few of them. Anything to get you and the characters amped up enough that none of you want to wait any longer.
5. Watch a sexy movie. Really. Give it a try.
6. Have a drink. See above. If you need a little loosening up, that’s fine. Remember, you can edit everything later. Funnily enough, while I think sex scenes are among the hardest to write I find them the easiest by far to edit. Sex scenes develop their own rhythm; it’s easy to remove stuff that misses the beat and easy to add things in where a beat is needed.
7. Play some music. I’ve never really done this; I have on occasion listened to my ipod while writing but I’ve never, say, put on some Barry White albums before writing sex. Some people swear by such things, though, and I do admit I have a few songs on my ipod that make me think of sex (Nine Inch Nails’s cover of “Get Down Make Love” is one; The Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is another, along with some Bill Withers. Hey, I think they’re very sexy.)
8. Think about sex. Think about good sex or bad sex or funny sex or sad sex or whatever, about sex you’ve had and sex your friends have told you about. What? It may sound odd, sure, but just the act of thinking about it—reminding yourself that just about every adult on the plenty either does it regularly or has in the past—might help to reassure you that you’re not about to embark on some bizarre and creepy dark journey of the soul. You’re writing about something you’ve experienced in more ways than one; you’re writing about something universal.
9. Write about something that isn’t sex. Make it as sexy as you possibly can. Again, yes, I’m serious. For example, let’s see what sort of sexy things I can say about my couch.
The tawny fabric makes my hand tingle when I rub it, letting the velvety fibers scrape the delicate skin of my palm. Tiny furrows hold cool air, release it like a whisper at my finger’s tender command. I rub a little faster, a little harder, the desperate friction between my hand and the glorious softness beneath it growing, until I can’t take anymore. I stop, my breast heaving with excitement, my heart pumping, arm and palm aching from the frantic movements.
Okay, it’s not a love poem. It’s not great; as you all know 1st person isn’t my thing and I literally wrote this in a minute. But you get the point, which is to look for sexy words and use them (yes, of course, we’ll be doing that too). To think of what each movement is and describe it by feeling as much as by actual act.
Trust me, once you’ve written a sexy paragraph about your potato peeler (oh! The shiny curved handle so hard and heavy in your hand, its swollen ridges digging into your soft palm, the sharp, cruel slicing blade—merciless in its assault, ruthless against the delicate skin of the potato, exposing the pale flesh beneath!), it’ll seem much easier to make actual sex sound sexy.
10. Read some sexy scenes. It will inspire you. Read lots of sexy scenes. Find a few you really like and read them before you write any sex scenes. You don’t want to copy them, no, but seeing how other people handle them might help relax you. You admire those writers, right? And they can do it, so you can too.
11. Have your characters discuss their feelings. Be as cheesy as you like, but no action. Just a dialogue. Now, take all those things they've just discussed and write the sex scene with those things in mind; instead of saying these things they'll be expressing them physically. Instead of saying "I'm afraid you won't be around in the morning," your heroine is hesitant when she lets her fingers play up the hero's chest. Instead of saying "I'm not sure I'm good enough for you," the hero is reverent when he removes the heroine's shirt, or when he dips his head to her breasts, or whatever. Your dialogue is just there to remind you what this scene is really about (and this will be covered extensively later.)
You're telling their story, after all. Not your own.