So now we have some word ideas in mind. Maybe we’ve started thinking a bit more about what kind of hot-button (no pun intended) words we can use, what sort of tone we want to give our scenes? And how do we make sure that tone fits in with the rest of the book?
In some cases, your genre will assist you. I don’t have to worry quite so much about this when I’m writing for Ellora’s Cave simply because EC only publishes explicit, linguistically graphic sex. So if you’re specifically writing erotic romance you have a bit more leeway (although having said that, I’ve been disappointed a few times by “erotic” romances that really were no more graphic than “regular” romances. In one case the only difference I could find was the use of the word “pussy” [a word I dislike, btw. I use it, because there aren’t a lot of alternatives, but I avoid it whenever possible. There’s just something about it—the hissy s, the stupid shape your mouth makes when you say it—that bugs me. I actually much prefer “cunt”, but I know I’m weird in that respect. However, that brings up a very good point about reader tastes and expectations, which we will go into more at another time. I’m sure you know pretty much what I would say there anyway]. And believe me, just the word pussy does not eroticism make, at least not in my opinion.)
As we discussed on Friday, your hero and heroine need to react to and interact with each other. This is where the work of writing the sex scene begins, and this is where you start making language choices that will determine what sort of scene you’re going to write.
For example. Here is a snippet from the second chapter of Blood Will Tell, where Cecelia, already having noticed that Julian is sexy and attractive etc. etc., first has a real physical response to him:
Julian opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it again. His gaze was making her nervous.
Or was that nerves? It was more like…restless. Something in his eyes had changed as he looked at her, and without knowing why, her body suddenly ached for movement, her stomach filled with butterflies.
Not to mention the distinct damp sensation in her pants as her pussy came to life under his dark scrutiny. She squirmed slightly, uncomfortably certain that he knew he was turning her on. Certain too that infuriating as he was, she wanted him.
She never could resist a dare.
Here is the same moment—or the same type of moment anyway—from Personal Demons (this, by the way, is in Chapter Six—another important point):
Megan bit her lip and laid her fingertip on one of the little spikes. It was as dull as it looked. Without realizing it, she’d been expecting the spikes to feel slimy, alien. They did not. They felt like skin, no different from hers than anyone else’s.
Goosebumps appeared on his back. She ignored them. Ignored, too, the way her heartbeat quickened as she ran her fingertip all the way up his spine and back down. She repeated the motion with her palm. His skin was soft. The firm muscles beneath it seemed to ripple as she touched them. Heat gathered between her legs.
Drawing in a long, shaky breath, Megan forced herself back to earth. This was not a seduction. The very idea was laughable—to her, at least. She had no doubt Greyson would be willing. She suspected Greyson would somehow manage to put off the apocalypse if doing so would get him laid.
So here we see something of the difference. In Blood Will Tell, we’re thinking about sex less than two full chapters in—actually, she’s already thought of it a few times, I believe the first mention is on page four—and we’re thinking of it in graphic terms. Fun things are starting to happen in Cecelia’s pussy; whereas Megan feels hot between her legs.
There’s a few other differences as well, can you spot them? Cecelia is aching and squirming; she wants Julian and isn’t afraid to admit it to herself. Megan is more conflicted. She’s admitted earlier that she finds Greyson attractive but isn’t willing to make the final step into saying she wants him; she’s too guarded, and is convinced Greyson is simply a man-whore.
Now part of this is the women’s characters. But part of it is deliberate choices to let the reader know what’s coming. Someone finding Cecelia’s pussy in chapter two (yes, I know, just giggle and move on) knows that we will probably get to the sex fairly soon—male and female funparts are like guns; you shouldn’t take them out if you don’t intend to use them—and that it will be linguistically at least somewhat frank. Whereas the reader who’s made it to Chapter Six of Personal Demons knows that while there probably will be sex—even calling it “between her legs”, I have still metaphorically flashed Megan’s ladyparts at the readers—the language will probably not be as graphic.
This spreads to your whole book. The example I used previously was if the worst word in the book is “ass”, you can’t suddenly start throwing cunts and tits etc. around. Nor can you have two characters who have hot and graphic conversations or thoughts suddenly clam up or become flowery when it comes to actual sex. You need to keep the sexual tone consistent, right from the beginning (again, there are some exceptions; if your book is about a character’s sexual awakening you can get away with this sort of modest-to-open change, but in general, you can’t).
When your characters react to/interact with each other, their sexual thoughts and feelings must foreshadow the sex to come. If you use “pussy” (or whatever word) that first time, feel free to use it again; but if you never use it and suddenly do, your readers will be jarred by it, and the scene won’t work as well as it should.
It just doesn’t feel right, because whether you’re in first person or third the fact is that a narrator who thinks/says “Gosh golly” when she’s mad isn’t likely to become Annie Sprinkle when it’s time for sex. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with that sort of incongruity; you can, and to great effect (although I can’t help but think that would probably be a more humorous than erotic scene).
But your sex scene should not jar the reader; you’re trying to pull them in, to make them feel what the characters are feeling, and you can’t do that if your language choices are throwing them out.
Any questions? Or has that made it clear enough?
I’ve got a tad bit of space left in this post (I’m trying to keep them at around 1500 words each) so this seems like a good place to slip in discussion about terms for bodily fluids.
My personal feelings are as follows:
I dislike any phrase that begins with the name of the body part from which the fluid in question emerges. “Pussy/cunt cream” or “Cock cream”…ech. No thank you. I find them distasteful. Likewise jokey terms like “baby batter” (who thought that was sexy, seriously?) I’m not crazy about “cum” either as a noun or as a verb—it reminds me too much of ads in the back of Hustler magazine, with some empty-eyed barely-legal being triple-teamed and the words “I’ll make you cum” or something equally tacky above it. (Oh, the Google will be loving this post, sigh.) I don’t have a problem with “come”; I just don’t like the misspelling (frankly, any deliberate misspelling feels tacky to me.)(Oh, and btw. In most erotic works "cum" is the noun; "come" is the verb: "I'm going to come!" shouted Hero, and his cum spilled from him.)
So here’s what I use:
For women: Arousal cream fluids wetness “evidence/proof of her arousal/pleasure/orgasm”. I’ve seen “honey” used, and like it fine, but I’ve not used it myself.
For men: I have occasionally used “fluid”—for example, when describing pre-ejaculate—but generally I use “seed”. It has a touch of old-world feeling I like. It’s concise. It doesn’t make me feel like I need to wash my hands afterward.
Of course, these are simply my preferences. But this is, I believe, another slightly touchy area (much like cunt. No pun intended). Just as “cunt” can get you in trouble, so too can too-explicit descriptions of semen or too much graphic accuracy. Perhaps because pornography is so focused on getting that Money Shot? So that just “feels” porny, and thus turns some women off? Hmm. That’s a really interesting question, actually, but I digress. The point is, this is one area where I am very conservative because I feel it has the potential to really turn readers off. You are of course free to disagree and use whatever terms you like, but I personally would only go into ejaculatory details if the scene—and the other scenes in the book—were particularly graphic.
And really, I don’t have a problem having only one word to describe semen (I think I might have used "semen" once or twice, now that I think of it.) Because I just don’t need to describe it very often. Even romance heroes don’t usually come more than once per session, after all, and I don’t need to describe the semen or explicitly mention it every time—that would be rather redundant.
So. Your assignment now is to (pick whichever applies):
Go back in your WIP and see what words you use when describing your characters’s physical reactions to each other. Is that the level of terminology you want in your sex scene? Try heating it up by adding some more explicit words, and see what difference it makes, or lowering it down. Do that in the sex scene as well, using the word list I provided and/or your own words that you wrote down or thought of. See how the scene changes, and whether it blends into the rest of the book better or worse than before.
Write a scene out of the blue, one either considerably more graphic than you’re used to or considerably less. How does that feel? Comfortable? Uncomfortable?