Friday, August 01, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 10

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Character and Dialogue: Shut up and do it

I wasn’t sure if the topic of dialogue really fits in character or relationship/story—and we’ll be discussing it a lot more in Foreplay. But hey, we’re merging the subjects a little bit anyway as we go, so why not, right?

Okay. I hate talky sex scenes.

I really dislike them. As Miranda said on Sex and the City, sex is the one place where you don’t have to talk. It just feels weird to have characters carrying on a conversation during sex (most of the time; yes, I can think of situations when the ability to carry on a normal-sounding conversation while otherwise engaged would come in handy, or whatever, but in general). I think there are far better things for mouths to be doing, and frankly, I just find it a little dull. Unsexy. Shut up and do it already.

That doesn’t mean the act has to take place in hallowed silence. It’s fine if your characters want to say each others’s names, or the ever-popular “Yes! Yes!” or “Ohgodpleasedon’tstop” (which is totally sexy, IMO) or, if we’re having one of those lovey-dovey moments, the “I love you”s and whatever. It’s all fine. Sometimes it can work very well. There’s also the ever-popular patented Alpha Male “Come for me,” in which the heroine invariably does (any of you ladies out there want to say if that works in real life? Cuz I’ve never tried it, but I have my doubts.)

But I cannot count the number of sex scenes I’ve read where the characters are having long conversations about how they feel, what they’re doing, how much they like it, what they’re going to do next, blah blah blah blah, and it is so uninteresting I want to fall asleep. Who does that? I have never been with a man who insists on constantly talking during sex (aside from the general babble, which I do like—you know, “words falling out of his mouth”, but none of them detailed--I used this in Personal Demons, for example, because Greyson is such a talker most of the time anyway it made sense) and I don’t think I would want to be. Doesn’t he have more important things to focus on?

The trick is, keep it simple. Remember, these people are having sex. Supposedly really good, hot sex. How long a speech do you think you can make in the middle of the sort of sweaty, rampant, mind-blowing multiple-orgasm-playground sex our characters tend to have?

I know we play with the bounds of physical reality a bit. (How many grown men—above the age of, say, thirty—do you know who can go four or five times in one night, one right after another, without the aid of modern medicine? Yeah, I thought so.) So I guess it’s not totally out of the question to believe people are capable of long eloquent speeches while performing semi-acrobatic sexual acts. But seriously, let’s try and keep this to a decent level.

Because dialogue interrupts the sex scene, nine times out of ten. Or rather, too much dialogue does. Anything over a sentence or two is too much.

But what are your characters saying?

Here’s what I think is the biggest issue, the most common pitfall in writing dialogue during sex: Writers forget characterization, and write what they think is sexy or romantic.

And it might be, sure. But when you’ve set up a strong, silent hero who doesn’t talk about his feelings, it’s simply not appropriate or believable to have him suddenly giving long, flowery speeches of love. And to be perfectly honest, while I’ve heard some lovey-dovey speeches in my time, and even made a few (please control your shock, I know), it’s not usually been during actual sex. Why? Because that’s just too much. Speech first, then sex. Or sex first, then speech. But—and here’s today’s little theme—in sex, our bodies talk much more eloquently than anything we can say.

Nor is it appropriate to go in the other direction, and make him a Pottymouth McGee. This is, I think, another common error: Thinking that “hot” dialogue will make the scene itself hotter. But it won’t. Because honestly? Perhaps it’s unenlightened of me or something, and I’m sure it’s kind of amusing coming from me, Miss Dirty Language, but it feels disrespectful somehow to me. I don’t mean in every situation; such language can be useful in dialogue at certain points in a story. I’ve written it before. And I’ve written a few scenes along the line of “Does that feel good? Tell me,” etc. But I believe when we’re talking about “normal” men and women, getting naked together for the first time, it’s rude and vulgar for a character to force dirty talk on another character. There's a difference between "I'm going to fuck you now, Heroine," (hot) and "Here I am, fucking you. Feel me fucking you? Yes, you feel it. Because my big cock blah blah blah" and you just want to smack him and tell him to give it a rest.

In fact, in looking back on my collected works (ooh, I can’t decide if that sounds pretentious or impressive) I’ve found only one sex scene with extensive dialogue, and it isn’t technically a sex scene. It’s Eighth Wand’s mutual masturbation scene, and even it stays, um, within my dialogue comfort zone, let’s say. Here Royd and Prudence, brought together by magic and knowing that no matter how deeply and quickly they’ve fallen for each other a future is impossible, give each other something to remember later (edited for brevity):

“When I do this,” he said into her neck, “when I do this at home, uishta, do you know what I’ll be thinking of?”
She shook her head, still unable to stop watching. He ran his palm over the head, then swirled it back down, his fist tightening.
“I’ll think of this. This, now. You watching me.”
Now she understood why he wanted this. Not just because he wanted to see her open herself in such an intimate fashion. But because he would be alone again, alone and thinking of her.
“I’ll think of your body,” he continued. “How it feels to be buried inside you. How you look at me, the sound of your voice. The scent of your skin. The taste of you.”
Again she reached for him. This time he let go of himself and took her hand, guiding it to her pussy.
She bit her lip. “Royd, I—”
“Show me. Give me something more to picture in my mind, something to imagine you doing. Let me pretend we’re doing it at the same time. Please…”
She hesitated, aware that beyond everything else they’d done together, this was totally uncharted territory.
Aware it was something she could give him that would be his alone.
Her thighs parted. […]
“You have no idea how beautiful you look,” he whispered. “How beautiful you are, to me.”
The words made her bold. She rolled over him to his other side, suddenly determined that if he wanted a memory, if he wanted to picture her pleasuring herself, she would give him something to picture.
Her head rested on the pillows. She spread her legs wider, aware that this was turning her on in more ways than one. The blackness in his eyes was almost frightening, the naked desire on his face intoxicating.
His hand moved faster as she started moving faster too, dipping her fingertips into her cunt and bringing them back out coated with her juices. Every bit of skin between her legs was over-sensitized and needy, and everywhere she touched brought a different sensation, a different shock of pleasure. She slid her fingertip around her entrance, then just inside, then around again, spreading her legs as wide as they would go. She slid her left hand down too, to hold her lips apart.
“Yes, Prudence,” Royd gasped. “Show me everything.”
Without planning to, she started talking. “I wish this was your hand,” she whispered. “Your fingers slipping into me. It’s so hot in there, Royd, so hot and so wet. Can you see how wet I am?”
“Yes,” he groaned. “Yes.”
“That’s because of you. Because I’m thinking of you, thinking about your tongue and your fingers and your cock…I want you so bad.”

Now I’m rather proud of that particular bit of dirty talk, because, just as it was for Prudence, it wasn’t planned for me either. But I think the most important thing about this scene—aside from the fact that along with being (hopefully) pretty hot, it strikes me as rather sad—is that the dialogue spurs the action. Royd’s verbal, vocal approval makes Prudence bold. When she finally begins to speak, it’s from a place she’s never touched within herself (and I don’t mean physically.)

In other words, this isn’t dialogue for dialogue’s sake; it’s dialogue that expands character and relationship, and moves the scene itself forward. It seems to me—it’s the “make it hot hot hotter” thing again—some writers forget that dialogue doesn’t simply exist to heat things up. It has to be in character. It has to be the impetus for the movements; either the mouth or the body must talk. Because Pru and Royd aren’t technically touching each other or having sex here, I felt free to let them say a lot more. Quite simply, they had no other way to communicate. But in an effective sex scene—one involving actual intercourse—there should be lots of other ways.

Also, you may notice the dialogue tags here stray from my semi-loose “always use ‘said’” edict. I think you do have a bit more play in this in a sex scene. Don't go overboard; but "said" can be a little matter-of-fact for a sex scene.

Like I said, dialogue is an important part of foreplay, and we’ll be getting much more deeply into all the fun that can be had with talking before. We may even have a chance to get into talk after, too. But remember, what your characters say and how they say it has to serve their characters, not just the scene. In fact, I believe it should serve their characters more than the scene.

You don’t need dialogue to make a sex scene hot, but you do need the characters to be true to themselves. Talky sex is telling, not showing, the majority of the time.

If they’re not, the reader will see it, and it will pull them out of the scene. Sex isn’t the time to get fancy with dialogue.

If your characters have that much to say to each other, write a dialogue scene, not a sex scene. The point of a sex scene is to let their bodies do the talking.

Some exercises to try:

Reread one of your sex scenes. Remove all the dialogue and read it again. Does it flow better, or does it really need the dialogue? Add the dialogue back in, one line at a time.
If your scene has no dialogue, add some in. How does that change the scene?

Find some published sex scenes you really like. How much dialogue is in there? How do you think that dialogue adds to the heat of the scene? Would it be hotter without it, or would it not flow as well? Remember, this is all about rhythm.

Write a scene where the characters constantly talk about what they're doing. How does that work for you?

Remember, this is all my opinion. The exercises are designed (and I use that word loosely, lol) to make you think about how you use these elements and whether or not you agree.


BernardL said...

Very clear example, and I agree about the dialogue tags in sex scenes. That is one place the mundane 'said' sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. :)

Robyn said...

I find I like the "he whispered hot dark words to her" but those words aren't articulated. It doesn't pull me out of the scene.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have GOT to make time to read this entire series!

Charles Gramlich said...

Seems to me, if there's mental room for a lot of conversation then you aren't doing it right.

December/Stacia said...

*nods* Yep, Bernard. It does indeed. It just feels wrong, especially when the rest of the language is/should be very descriptive.

Yep, me too, Robyn. I like to imagine those as, like, half-gasped little phrases, and I think that's hot. It might sound weird actually described, but the "dark words" or whatever works really well for me.

Lol Written, please do! I'd love to know what you think. :-)

Exactly, Charles. It just feels artificial to me, and like something is wrong if the characters themselves are so bored with the sex they're having that they can have a little chat right in the middle of it.

kirsten saell said...

"Here I am, fucking you. Feel me fucking you? Yes, you feel it. Because my big cock blah blah blah" and you just want to smack him and tell him to give it a rest.

Oh, so true, D. That kind of dialogue tends to be one-sided, too, which just pulls me out of the moment so fast.

Terse instructions and a few breathless "oh god"s are usually the extent of dialogue in my sex scenes. Maybe a "That good?" "Yesss..." here and there. I've made exceptions, but not many. Once things get really involved with the characters, talking is pretty much the last thing on their minds.

Seeley deBorn said...

I'm not one for dialogue to start with. Maybe that's why I like writing sex; no talking. lol

Bernita said...

"hot dark words" is a great ,line.
Think a scene might fall a little flat to a reader without a groan or two, really.

Jennifer said...

I've really enjoyed your blog. It's interesting and fun to read! :) I was refered over here from Absolute Write and I'm adding you to my favs.

Btw, for what it's worth: In reply to your question: "There’s also the ever-popular patented Alpha Male “Come for me,” in which the heroine invariably does (any of you ladies out there want to say if that works in real life? Cuz I’ve never tried it, but I have my doubts.)
It works for me. But most things do, ha ha.
Thanks for your wonderful blog.