Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 3

***Insert generic disclaimer here***

***Additional disclaimer: This post contains some minor discussion about, um, my own actual sex life. So if you are a member of my family—I know you guys read here once in a while—I think we’ll all feel better if you go ahead and skip this post***

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.

Writing sex without embarrassment

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.)

Remember, a sex scene is just a scene, only with naughtyparts. Think about what you want this scene to say about your characters and get it on the page.

You're telling their story, after all. Not your own.


Anna J. Evans said...

Great post Dee,

I'd also add "get in character" to your list. Though you certainly aren't your characters, as you've said, it can help to get inside their head.

And the deeper you can get into their POV, the more you begin to think and feel like them, and the more easily the sex scenes flow. Because then you're not thinking about you at all, you're just Heroine A or Hero B, enjoying what's happening with your lover(s).

I find that especially helpful when writing from the male POV, as it keeps my "voice" more on track if I'm thinking like a man rather than thinking like a female writer. (Or at least trying to think like a man, lol.)

Anna J. Evans

Bernita said...

Very good!
I think fear that the reader will identify the characters w/the writer is the biggest obstacle - and may lead to bland sex scenes.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Anna! Yep, we're going to talk about going deep (heh heh) when we get into the real mechanics of it all, but that's an excellent point. You could probably even say that thinking from the male POV (or the opposite sex POV anyway) removes the writer further from the "People will think this is about me" feeling, and so make it easier. I'll be sure to mention that, thanks for the suggestion!

Thanks Bernita! I know it was one of the things that made me the most nervous when I started out.

kirsten saell said...

OMG, D. I think I'm in love with your potato peeler...

I've had creepy guys ask me if I've tried everything in my books. I smile and say, "Of course! How can I write convincingly about someone chopping a man's fingers off when he won't talk if I've never done it? How can I properly describe the friction of ribs against steel when you pull your sword out if I've never...what? Oh, you mean the sex. Nah, I don't do that stuff..."

Charles Gramlich said...

Good points all. I guess I tend to forget somewhere in the sex scene that I'm not writing this stuff for me. LOL.

BernardL said...

I am taking notes, and find only one minor disagreement with the last section. We are never reverent when we remove clothing, and yea, I'll speak for all men on this, D. :) When I read the word 'reverent' referring to a man's thoughts as he's disrobing a woman, I start laughing. We may be feeling a lot of different emotions: trepidation, blessed, eagerness to the point of insanity, or even plain old lust; but never reverence. :)

December/Stacia said...

Lol, kis, I think I fell in love with it a little bit, too! And that's a great answer. I don't know why people feel that because we write sex it's okay to ask us insulting, presumptuous personal questions.

Hee, Charles! It should be for you partly; writing a good sex scene should turn you on. But it just doesn't have to be because it's something that would normally turn you on, if you know what I mean.

Bernard--then you should be. If you can't revere my body--at least the first time, or when we're having a deep emotional moment--then I'm not letting you into it. Sorry, hon, but I'm pretty firm on that one.

laughingwolf said...

i have a ...ahem... bone to pick on one idea... since YOU write every word, YOU are fully responsible for EVERY kink, or non, your CHARACTERS exhibit... how could you NOT be?

otherwise i agree on the whole lot

thx dee....

BernardL said...

D, women aren't the only ones who fake things. We men do 'reverent' but we ain't thinking it. :)

Gabriele C. said...

I think that potato is into SM. :)

The strange thing is that I have no problems to write M/M, bondage and other kinkiness, even rape (both genders) and torture, but I've shied away from a sweet hetero scene so far.

Not that I absoutely need them in my books, and if I'm going to have one, it'll be considerably shorter than 14 pages ;) but I should try my hands on something at least once.

Anonymous said...

While the sheer physical actions in my sex scenes are imaginary, or ripped from porn movies, what I do try to add from my own love life is the passion the two characters have for each other. I think I'm very lucky that after nine years Jason and I are still very attracted to each other, and are playful. I like to imagine how I can make the characters feel the same way about each other.

Of course, I have an erotic-horror piece coming out soon that's all jealousy, obsession and lust. The relationship there is very strong but not good. Which of course shows that problems with sex itself can be character defining and plot driving.

December/Stacia said...

Well,'re right. To a point. Yes, for example, I decided in Eighth Wand that Prudence would be a very sexually open character and that sexual openness would be something of a metaphor for personal openness in the relationship. But there is a point where the characters take over and you're just writing, not really thinking about it. You throw something in because it just appeares in your head and discover later it fits perfectly with a subplot you want to develop, or whatever.

Well, Bernard, that strikes me as incredibly depressing.

Lol Gabriele! And actually, sweet romantic sex scenes are my least favorite to write. I dislike sugary talk and think most of it is cheesy beyond belief. But they are necessary sometimes, yeah, depending on genre of course.

Aw, Michele, that's so sweet! And awesome; things like that are always a pleasure to hear. And yes, exactly. Everything about sex offers so much opportunity for deepening character and conflict; it's one reason I love them so much.

laughingwolf said...

point taken, dee :)

Gabriele C. said...

Maybe they aren't necessary in epic Fantasy or Historical fiction where the relationship is not the main plot. I suppose that's the reason I go for the stranger variants or the sex that doesn't work, because that can turn into an important plot development.

December/Stacia said...

Gabriele, the sex should be an important plot development no matter what the genre is, or the sex doesn't need to happen at all, IMO (see last week's post on this). :-)

sylvia said...

Write out the conversation and then write out the scene using actions to convey their words - what a brilliant idea. Particularly suited towards sex where there is a conversation taking place on anothr level, I admit. But I do like it on a general level as well. I think I'm going to try it on an aviation article and see what happens. If I end up sleeping with my co-pilot, you are in big trouble!

Reverence: well, that's funny. It's not something I expect or rank up or whatever - I'd be as likely to laugh as anything else. But as I started to write this, I remembered the first time I had sex with my (current) boyfriend, he got on his knees to pull my skirt off. My breathe caught in my throat and although he's long since forgotten the moment it still sticks in my mind.

So yeah, a show of reverence can be good and the show is likely good enough.

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