Monday, August 25, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 20

***Insert generic disclaimer***

What exactly are they doing?

Eep! Sorry this is late! Today is a bank holiday in the UK—I forgot it was Monday!

Anyway. So we’re basically done with foreplay, but today’s topic is still part of it, and leads into the rest of the week. BTW, I’ve got four topics left to cover so it looks like we’ll be doing the critiques in September, ack!

One of the things I tried to subtly impress upon you in Friday’s post was the importance of descriptive words. Go read it again if you’re not sure what I mean (Go ahead. I’ll wait.) I know we’ve discussed language a few times, in a few different variations, already, so we’ve already touched on this and alluded to it. But I really, strongly feel that the two keys to a hot sex scene are smoking chemistry and evocative language, so you’ll have to put up with me talking about it again.

Because this post isn’t just about evocative words or action words. It’s about description.

In “normal” writing we try to keep description at a certain level. We need it, of course. A book with no descriptions isn’t a book, it’s a script (and even those have a level of description). But we can’t go overboard. Every step someone takes can’t be purposeful, ever touch can’t be gentle, every movement can’t be fluid.

But a sex scene is about emotion and sensation. It’s about building a certain rhythm with your words. Sometimes you need to add words to make that rhythm work; sometimes you need to take them away. But they have to flow, and they have to draw the reader in.

Remember the line I used in Part 5? “Bob set Jane onto the bed and lay down on top of her. Without a word he put his cock into her.”

And we changed it to “Bob threw Jane onto the bed and lunged on top of her. Without a word he thrust his aching cock into her.”
So we added action words, right? (And “aching”, which is description, which is what we’re doing now.)

But it’s still not very good. So let’s add more description—which is almost exactly the same as adding more emotion and sensation—to those two basic sentences. How’s this:

Bob growled low in his throat and threw Jane onto the soft bed. The satin sheets cooled her fevered skin, but she barely had time to feel it before he lunged on top of her. Every inch of his hot, bare skin touched hers, made her sizzle with need.

He didn’t speak. He didn’t need to. Instead he shoved her thigh up, making room for his hips, and in one swift, smooth movement thrust his entire thick length into her slick heat.

Now again, this isn’t great. (I feel bad giving you guys kind of generic crap examples, but there’s a reason for it, which you’ll find out this week or early next. Trust me.) But it’s much better, isn’t it? Because it’s more descriptive. Because it gives us some insight into what Jane is feeling, seeing, thinking. Because we’re describing what’s happening, the act of thrusting is given some weight; it becomes something we can experience along with Jane, not just something we’re being told about.

Your sex scene should be descriptive. Describe everything for the reader. How hard is he? How wet is she? How desperate are they? What does everything feel like, look like, smell like, taste like? If you don’t give the reader this information they won’t be drawn into your scene the way they have to be.

So here is a list of descriptive words. None of these have to do with setting, because we’re going to do setting separately along with POV.

swollen oversensitive/sensitized achingly sensitive (although again, being descriptive doesn’t give you license to be lazy and fill your scene with telly adverbs) slick needy aching desperate hot heated hard weeping velvety waiting shaky/shaking trembling glorious (there’s a whole family of complimentary descriptions—gorgeous, beautiful, etc. etc.—use them!) erect (nipples can be erect too, don’t forget) burning greedy smooth hard turgid tumescent wide thick searing rock-hard iron-hard rampant demanding rigid soaking delicate tender tender folds delicate folds glistening leaking salty musky sweet aggressive raw tight strong heavy tight muscled

That’s not a complete list, by any stretch. But it’s a start, I hope; share yours in the comments if you like!

The point is, nothing in a sex scene should just be done, unless it’s for effect or fits the rhythm. In the little example above, Bob thrusts into Jane with one swift, smooth thrust, because the two sentences before the thrust were fragmentary so we needed something longer for the rhythm. If we’d had a longer sentence, perhaps a line of dialogue, or perhaps he was playing with her ladyparts or she was caught in swirling need or whatever, we could have just said “He thrust into her” and it would have been a great, strong declarative sentence—because it was surrounded by description elsewhere.

A sex scene should be fun to write, and it should be fun to read. Let yourself play with words, pile them on, build towers with them.

And it’s not just about what their bodies feel like. It’s not just about what they’re doing. It’s about how they’re doing it. This goes back to the post about emotion and sensation; remember the two examples? One was pure action and rather dull. The other added characters and all that good stuff and was (hopefully) much more effective.

Don’t have your hero simply put your heroine on the bed. Give him a stronger, manlier action word (“manly” is an okay descriptive word too) and make her feel it. Don’t just tell us he has a big cock; show the reader how the heroine feels about that by describing his big, gorgeous cock, and how thick it is or how threatening or how her mouth suddenly feels dry.

But you’re not just describing body parts, you’re describing actions. Every one of those actions has to have a purpose, and the way you show the reader that purpose is through description. He doesn’t just touch her, he glides his hand over her. He doesn’t just pick her up, he gathers her in his big strong arms. He doesn’t get on top of her, he covers her with his body, he presses his wide, strong chest to hers, he crushes her under his delicious weight, he covers her with his warm living flesh. If he kneels before her, why does he do it? Is he looking at her ladyparts and licking his lips, erotic hunger glowing in his eyes? Is he kissing her thighs, nibbling the tender skin behind her knees (warning: some of us are very sensitive back there and get weirded out when it’s touched. Just FYI.) No movement should be basic. Basic is awkward. Basic is boring.

Action without description is bland, and it’s dangerous in a sex scene. Just as in a real-life sex scene, you don’t want to spoil the mood.

So. Go back to one of those published sex scenes you really like, and get out a sheet of paper or open a Word doc or whatever you like. Read the scene start to finish. Now read it again, this time writing down every descriptive word in the scene. Every adjective. Every adverb. Every strong verb (you can put them in separate columns or lists if you like.)

Do the same with a few other scenes. Hey, if there’s a scene you don’t like, that didn’t touch you in any way, do the same thing for it. Is there more or less description in that scene? What percentage of description seems to work for you—how much is too much (yes there is such a thing as too much! It’s hard to reach but it is possible.)

Now look at your own scenes. How much description do you use? Do you have as many words as the scene you liked? Are there any actions that have no description, and why? Is it for rhythm or is it simply because you didn’t put any description in?

Now write a short new scene, but with a rule: You must use at least two descriptive words for every body part and every action. Don’t worry about repeating them (but try not to if you can avoid it); don’t worry if it sounds right or not. But you cannot put a cock on the page if it isn’t iron-hard and slick with need. You cannot put a cunt on the page if it isn’t weeping and oversensitive. Thrusts must be hard and desperate or gentle and tender, kisses feverish and frantic or slow and deep.

Let it sit for a while and re-read it. Compare it to your other scenes. Is it hotter? Does it work better for you?

You can go back and edit it, take out the words you don’t like—obviously a sex scene where everything has exactly two descriptive words is going to read a bit metronomic. But it’s a start, and hopefully it will make you more comfortable with using description.


laughingwolf said...

dang dee, that's brilliant... i can see where i could take hours, or days, to get it 'right'!

Bernita said...

Right on!
I particularly like the word "rampant". "Bold" is nice too.

Charles Gramlich said...

When I hear "rampant" I always think heraldry. lol.

Good advice there.

BernardL said...

It is so easy to turn an erotic scene into what reads like a rape. The fewer emotional words a writer includes, the more aggressive the scene plays out. As in your illustration, you could have a beginning point of 'Jack threw Vanity on the bed. Vanity screamed as Jack plunged into her' Yikes! Good post, D. :)