Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 15

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Imagery and Allusion: making your scene mean something

First, thanks to everyone who delurked and wished me a happy birthday; you really made my day, and I apologize for not yet replying. I plan to do it as soon as this is posted.

Obviously, your scene is going to mean something no matter what—at least, it should. But by adding imagery and allusion, by bringing something bigger and more universal to the scene, you can heighten the tension and hopefully give the readers something special, something to imprint the scene in their minds.

With Personal Demons, for example, I used fire. Now I’m not saying fire imagery is the most original idea in the world—it is emphatically not, and I normally use it very sparingly to avoid cliché. But because Greyson Dante was a fire demon, it worked for the scene (at least I think it did.)

More importantly, though, the fire imagery allowed me to give readers an extremely important clue about Megan and her connection to the demon world. Remember this line?

She opened her mouth and hot smoke escaped with her cries of ecstasy.

Huge clue, right? How did that manage to happen if Megan was entirely human? And it was because the scene established that (thus giving the story another push forward, btw; if the sex scene did nothing else in the book it was necessary because it was the only way I could implant that clue without it being hugely obvious, and I wanted it to be subtle) that I was able to make so much use of the fire imagery. Megan felt it literally, because it was Greyson’s energy, pushing into her and imprinting on her soul. There were literal flames in the room, around the ceiling. There were virtual ones before Megan’s eyes and in her body, and the entire scene was designed not just to please the reader but to plant a little seed there. If you read the scene again you’ll see how the energy works (and what the erotic potential of it is). In all, I’m very proud of that scene because I packed it with as much information as I think I possibly could, and I think it’s a hot little scene to boot.

It doesn’t have to be fire, and your hero/ine doesn’t have to have spiffy sex powers (well, okay, somebody should have some spiffy sex powers—at least until we get to comical/non-arousing sex scenes—but they don’t have to be the magical kind.) In fact, as I said above, it probably shouldn’t be fire and it really shouldn’t be water (again, unless water is a big part of your story); trust me, comparing an orgasm to the ocean wave crashing over your character isn’t going to win you any prizes for originality. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it work, just that it will be harder. (Oh, but—everything should be wet. Wet is sexy. Just be careful with the Jacques Cousteau stuff.)

What does your story focus on, and how can you bring that focus into your scene? Remember, the scene must be a cohesive part of the book. It must stay in voice, it must stay in character. It should be seamless. So what imagery do you use throughout the rest of the story, and how can you use it for sex?

Let’s take, for example…okay. Let’s see what I can make up here. Let’s take a straight contemporary (which I don’t like writing, so give me a break here, this is an example not a candidate for an award) in which the heroine often thinks of or sees the hero as a pirate. He’s not a pirate, and obviously you don’t want to step too hard on that imagery throughout the book, but you as the writer (or I as the writer) have subtly used piratey images and comparisons throughout in the heroine’s POV. Like, she sees him as “swarthy”, or “he walks like he should have a cutlass strapped to his waist” or maybe “he grinned like a pirate who’d just found some free gold.” Maybe he can say something like, “When I see something I want I take it,” and the heroine can then call him a pirate. That sort of thing; you want to be careful with it, because you don’t want readers to roll their eyes and go, “Yeah, we freaking get it, okay? Pirate. Yadda yadda yadda,” but you can plant a seed in the reader’s mind here and there, right? I’ve been building wolf imagery around a character for some time; no one has ever commented on it but I bet if I mentioned it they’d see it immediately (of course, it could just be that either I’m too subtle with it, or everyone noticed it, hated it, and didn’t say anything because they were so embarrassed by its heavy-handedness.)

Anyway, let’s get back to our piratey investment banker or whatever he is, and his Wall Street broker ladyfriend. What might he do, that we can bring a touch of pirate to the scene? (If you suggest having him shout, “ARRR!” when he comes I will slap you.)

Okay, there’s some obvious ones. He can make her feel special, caress her like she’s a pecious jewel or a treasure. He could call her that, if he’s that type of guy. You can bring words into the scene like glittering, or gold, or treasure, or (don’tsaybootydon’tsaybootydon’tsaybooty) hook—yes, you can use that, he could hook her with his hand or she could hook her leg around him. You can bring to her mind images of empty nights at sea, the rocking of boats, the breeze off the Caribbean. You can have him take her, steal her, rob her of her inhibitions or shame; he could even plunder her (mm, I think plunder is a sexy word). Hell, you can have him smell like rum if you want to, as long as there’s a good reason for it (oh incidentally? The hubs got a sample bottle once of Bert’s Bees Bay Rum aftershave. Niiiiice.)

There’s any number of ways you can bring these images into the scene, and any number of ways you can use them. But you want to do something, because your scene cannot exist in a vacuum. By pulling threads you’ve laid before, by reminding the reader of certain words and images, you not only make the scene much more cohesive and interesting, you make it unique. It’s about these characters, these two people, with their specific tastes and smells and memories and thoughts, not about anyone else.

Here are a few images, though, that do not generally belong in sex scenes. This may be personal taste, but I have seen them attempted in the past and found them at best unsexy, at worst distasteful:

*Anything at all to do with fish

*Anything at all to do with children (unless you’re in your final love scenes and the characters are thinking how lovely it would be to make a baby. NO imagery of childhood belongs within ten feet of sex; call me a prude or whatever, but it simply doesn’t work for me.)

*Little furry animals (Yes, I know all about furries, and as Miss Brodie would say, for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. But I don’t want to be thinking about bunnies and puppies when I’m supposed to be getting turned on.)

*Any implication that various orifices are used for purposes other than sexual (again, in a funny or unsexy scene, this may be useful, but not in a sexy one. And see Miss Brodie’s quote above if you disagree. You don’t need me to tell you this anyway, right? If poop turns you on I think you’re already aware you’re in the minority.)

*No thinking of family members, please

What else can you think of?

Make the scene unique by bringing your characters’s unique viewpoints into play. Remember, no matter what the logistics of actual physical intercourse are, no two couple have sex exactly the same way.

Every word and image you use in your story should contribute to characterization, relationship, and plot. So it is with your sex scene. Use the bricks you’ve already laid; it will make the scene that much more appealing, interesting, and arousing to your readers. It will make the scene belong to your characters alone.


Bernita said...

Good stuff!
"(If you suggest having him shout, “ARRR!” when he comes I will slap you.)"
~giggling like a hyena~

Robyn said...

Well, crap. I was totally going to have my next hero yell, "ARRRR! Now that's a booty!"

December/Stacia said...

Lol! (and a little spittake) Thanks guys!

laughingwolf said...

no ARRRRR? pity! :P lol

in my day, what you talk about so well was called 'foreshadowing', but i can live with your terms ;)

kirsten saell said...

If poop turns you on I think you’re already aware you’re in the minority.


But yeah, everything D just said.

BernardL said...

I really like this line: “he walks like he should have a cutlass strapped to his waist”.

Good Post, D.

writtenwyrdd said...

Just checking in to say hi! I haven't been able to sit down at home and read what appears to be a most excellent series. Been to busy. And it's not exactly work friendly...

Seeley deBorn said...

Okay, I remember the smoke, but I'm dense and totally missed the clue. I thought the smoke was him, being part of her. I like it.

I've got a whole earth/sky thing going on in a short right now and I'm quite liking it.

Mary B said...

Well, he could shout, "Thar she blows!"