Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet

Oooh, before we get started I have some fun news! Several years back I wrote an article for EREC, about the word "cunt". I submitted it to Lady Jaided, Ellora's Cave's online magazine, and it's been accepted. I'm quite tickled by this. So be on the lookout--Lady Jaided is free to read, and I'll link to it when the article is posted.

Part One: What does a sex scene do?

***Insert generic warning about adult language. We're talking about writing sex scenes here, guys. This is not for children. Despite my best efforts there is no way I can do this and not stray into adults-only territory.***


Before we begin…as always, the little disclaimer. This series is about how I write sex/love scenes. It is not about the best way or the only way; it’s about MY way. I assume if you’re reading it, it’s because you read my blog and therefore have at least a passing familiarity with me and/or my work (although that’s not necessary) but, more to the point, that you actually find my sex scenes enjoyable and arousing and are therefore here to get some insight on them and how I write them, and what I’ve learned from writing them. In other words, I assume we have some general basis for agreement about what is hot in a sex scene. If you don’t like my sex scenes, why are you here? Seriously.

We will also be touching upon a few of the things I wrote about in my Heroes series, specifically the bits on chemistry. I’ll link to those when we get to them.

So. Writing sex scenes. How about that, huh?

In my mind, a sex scene has four main purposes:

1. It shows us something about the character(s).
2. It shows us something about the relationship.
3. It advances the story.
(there is a subrule here. We’ll call it 3a, and it is It increases tension. Sounds kind of funny, because you’d think of it as a release of tension, but we’ll get into that later.)
4. It arouses the reader (Note: I am speaking specifically about sex scenes in romance/erotic romance/urban fantasy with romantic elements/erotica. I will later deal with sex scenes that don’t have this element, but for now, this is where our focus is so this is what the purpose of our sex scenes is. Okay?)

That seems like an awful lot for one sex scene to cover, doesn’t it? Especially the bit about advancing the story, because let’s face it. There are lots of critics out there who claim romance or erotic romance is just a tiny story with a bunch of sex thrown in to pad it out.

They’re wrong (at least they should be; we’ve all read books like those, but do you really want to write them?). And here’s why.

Because in a romance/erorom/romantic uf, part of the story, be it large or small, IS the relationship. How is it possible for two people to have sex and it changes absolutely nothing about their relationship? How is it possible for us as readers to “see” them together in the most intimate of situations and not know something more about them, not see their relationship change? How is it possible for us as writers to ignore the impact of that?

It’s not. No matter what, once your characters have had sex, their relationship changes. Irrevocably. Actually, their relationship should change with every conversation, every casual touch, every glance, every kiss, even if it’s not readily apparent. But it is impossible for your characters to have sex and not see each other differently afterward. And that is one of the “jobs” of the sex scene, to show that relationship actually changing (before the reader’s very eyes! Just like one of those magic sponges that swells in the tub. Something should certainly be swelling in a sex scene, anyway. Heh heh.)

So. We know what a sex scene needs to do. If it doesn’t do those four things, it doesn’t belong in the book. This is true even for the most sex-filled erotic romances. If the sex isn’t exploring, defining, and advancing plot, character, and relationship, it needs to go away. And in an erotic romance or a regular romance, you have a lot of room to maneuver in those strictures.

A brief example: When final edits on Blood Will Tell were complete, it went to the final readers, who gave the book a rating of “S” (EC recently changed their ratings, btw.) S books are fine, of course, but they don’t sell as well as E-rated or higher. I was given a choice. Sell it as S, or add more sex.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. But it was difficult figuring out where to add the scenes. I finally came up with two: the pool scene, and one of the hotel scenes (the one where Julian wakes up Cecelia.) Now, adding sex is all well and good, but I had to figure out how to do all four things with each scene. Where did those areas need to be expanded?

It took me several days to hit on it, but I did. The new pool scene shows several things: How Julian feels about a decision he’s made, which up to then the reader hasn’t understood was a serious and drastic decision to make. In showing that, it also shows how important Cecelia has become to him. It gives us an insight into her understanding of him, and his respect for her opinion (a big deal for someone used to being in charge and ignoring others's opinions). It adds tension both by showing Julian lying yet again to hide his true nature and by showing their relationship grow increasingly close—and both of those things also advance the story. Finally, hopefully it was damn hot. I sure thought it was when I wrote it, and it remains one of my favorite scenes in the book.

The other addition, the hotel scene, works in a different way. It brings Julian’s guilt into clear focus and allows the reader to see what exactly is holding him back. It’s the first time he admits to himself what his true feelings are. In doing those things, of course, it jumps the story—remember, the story here is ABOUT their relationship, and everything else is secondary—forward. Is it arousing? Well, I think so, but it’s certainly not the hottest scene in the book by any stretch. It’s not particularly explicit. But if I did my job, it aroused the reader because of those emotions and feelings.

This isn’t to say, though, that an erotic romance has to be about sex. I’ve grown tired of the “magic vajayjay” conceit, whereby the heroine heals people or gains power through sex, and thus has sex with numerous partners, or one partner numerous times, purely as a sort of exercise of strength. That isn’t to say it can’t still work, but I think readers are becoming jaded by it; it’s regarded as lazy and silly now (and the “magic vajayjay” applies also to those stories where the base healing power of sex is overblown to the point where one good bed session heals all the hero/ine’s hang-ups and emotional problems. Be very careful about keeping change realistic.)

So. Next time we’ll start getting into mechanics. I have a LOT of material planned. I’m also inviting readers to submit sex scenes/snippets of sex scenes here, for suggestions and critique. I’m happy to do it, but I’m not going to do a ton of them—five or ten at the most. So if you’d like to be included send me an email with the following:

*Snippet/scene. No more than 750 words, please (yes, it’s a lot, but that’s why I’m not doing many). Include a line or two with the set-up.
*Statement saying it’s okay to post and critique on the blog
*Okay. You guys know I’m not going to rip your work apart or be cruel, and I’m not going to allow any commenters to do so either (not that they will.) I’m thinking I will probably moderate comments when we do these just to be sure. BUT. I plan to be blunt and detailed. So really, don’t submit if you’re not ready for that. Don’t submit if you’re then going to run around the internet talking about what a bitch I am and how I wouldn’t know good writing if it stabbed me in the windpipe with the twisted wire from a spiral notebook. (No, I know none of you would do that, but who knows who might submit?) I’m not claiming to be an expert, I’m just trying to pass on what I know and have some fun doing it. So dumb as this may sound, please just let me know you understand that the critique may be an actual critique, not a “Yeah! This is awesome and you deserve awards!” and that you agree to that.

All submissions will of course be kept anonymous. All character names will be changed; I’ll probably just sub Hero/Heroine or perhaps something generic like Jack and Jill.

Whee! I’m really excited about this!

I had planned to change my blogging schedule for the summer and do only Mondays and Thursdays. I may still switch to that, depending on how this goes, but as I said I have a ton of stuff to cover here. We're going to spend a few days examining the purpose/timing/etc of sex scenes--the basic stuff--and then move into the mechanics of voice, language, rhythm, dialogue, setting, characterization, all that stuff. Along the way I think we'll have a really good time.

So for now I'll still be here Mon/Wed/Fri but we may switch in August. Mondays I will probably do "personal" blogging, with sex stuff Weds and Fri. And I'll probably do the critiques every day at the end of August, so we can apply what we've learned in comments. I'd really like all snippets to me by the end of this week though. It's no fun if you've already spent a month and a half studying and thus submit perfect scenes.

And if there's anything in particular you'd like me to cover, comment or email me. We'll do a FAQ before the crits, or maybe I'll slip them in as we go along.


BernardL said...

Nice insights, thank you.

Bernita said...

STRONGLY agree that sex scenes must advance the characters, the relationship and the story.
Even if it's only a kissing scene.

Robyn said...

I don't like the Magical Healing Hoo-Hoo, either; especially in paranormals where she has to screw him or HE WILL DIE. It feels contrived and manipulative.

Kerry Allen said...

I hear ya on 3a. With the possible exception of a sex scene on the last page, sex should complicate matters, if not outright screw them up.

I think the Magical Vajajay That Saved The Universe is a result of the usual misinterpretation of a simple guildeline (i.e., "A sex scene should serve some purpose in the story other than gratuitious jollies"). Some people have no concept of subtlety, so it mutates into "A sex scene should be of such significance, it resolves all the story's conflicts," and hence the Legendary Vagina of Peace and Happiness was born.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Bernard! :-)

And Bernita, yes. It doesn't matter how many sex scenes there are, they should still advance the story. Otherwise they're useless and pointless.

Oh, yes, Robyn. What bugs me so much about those, too, is the way they remove responsibility; if she HAS to or they'll/he'll die, there's no need for dirty bad-girl things like actual physical desire or choice. I hate that. It's okay for her to be reluctant or timid, but dammit, she should be having sex with him because she's at least grown-up enough to say "Yeah, I'd really kind of like to fuck this guy."

December/Stacia said...

Lol Kerry, exactly! It has to be part of the story, yes, but use your imagination. And see my comment to Robyn about that too. I may like to write dominant men and submissive women but I don't like to write characters so passive they can't admit they just plain want someone.

Charles Gramlich said...

The biggest thing for me is that there be a decent story there. The sex scenes have to serve the story not the story serving the sex scenes.

laughingwolf said...

fucking google ate ALL five of my attempts to post GRRRRRRRRRR

laughingwolf said...

goddamn thing ate yet another attempt to post!

can't find your email, i must be as dumb as google?


Seeley deBorn said...

Magical healing cunts?

Wow. Very glad I've never come accross one of those.

December/Stacia said...

Charles, I could have sworn I replied to your comment yesterday! But yes you're absolutely right. Everything should serve the story first and foremost.

Poor Laughingwolf! I hope it gets better!

Lol Seeley, haven't you? Then yes, you're lucky. It seems to have died down a bit now but for a while it seemed to be everywhere. Try doing a search for it on Smart Bitches, they've mentioned it quite a few times.

kirsten saell said...

Hee, D, did you see the lolporn they put on SB's over the book where the H had to have anal sex with the h or there would be an apocalypse or something?? "Im in ur ass, savin teh wurld!"

I almost had to have my own ass surgically reattached, after laughing it right off.