So you sit down to write your sex scene. You’re confident. You’ve been reading my little lessons and thinking about what they mean to you, what you agree with or don’t agree with, how they inspire or don’t inspire you, whatever. (Remember, the point of the series wasn’t to make you write a sex scene the way I do; it was to inspire you to dig into yourself and think about what you want your sex scenes to say, what you think is sexy, how you like to write them and what you like about them.)
So you’ve got Bob and Jane kissing in the bedroom. They’re getting pretty passionate. The time is right; you start taking their clothes off. Woo-hoo! Bob slide his hand over Jane’s bottom; Jane moans; they fall to the bed, and…
The scene dies.
Why isn’t it working? You’ve got emotion in there, you’ve got some hot trigger words, you’re all excited, but the words are flat. It’s awkward. Rather than thrusting smoothly into Jane, you keep picturing Bob losing his erection. Or the doorbell ringing and it’s Bob’s long-lost wife with a shotgun. Or Jane suddenly really has to pee. The heat, the urgency, just isn’t there, and Bob and Jane feel like cardboard cut-outs pressing their sexless forms against each other, rather than two fully-fleshed people being intimate with each other.
Calm down. This happens to all of us at one point or another. (Relax, it happens to other guys too.) And it’s absolutely fixable.
First, are you sure you’re in the right mood? I’m not generally an advocate of the “You have to be in the mood/have the right atmosphere to write” shit, not at all. In my mind, if you can’t sit down and put decent words on paper no matter what when you have to, you still have work to do before you can call yourself a writer.
But sex scenes are a bit different, they are. Another erotic writer (unfortunately I can’t recall who) once said that if your panties aren’t wet when you’re writing a sex scene, you’re doing it wrong (substitute the appropriate corresponding metaphor for men). You should be at least somewhat aroused; you should be into the scene. The scene should turn you on. So if you’re mad at everyone in the world and the kids are running around screaming (and kids are the one thing that will distract me while writing a sex scene; it’s difficult to write enthusiastically about cocks when my little princesses are trying to get my attention to sing a Barbie song for me) maybe it’s best to hold off on the sex scene. It’s the one and only time I give myself permission to wait a few hours, or until the next day.
So that’s a possibility, if the scene isn’t working. Try getting yourself more in the mood. Have a glass of wine. Put some sexy music on the iPod. Watch a hot movie, maybe, or read a hot book, or, well, whatever gets you in the mood, up to and including actual physical action.
In my experience, I think a good 75% of the problem is lack of chemistry. Remember, the time to write a sex scene is when your characters cannot wait any longer. If you’re feeling tepid, if they’re feeling tepid, it’s not going to work.
An example: My sex scene in Personal Demons just was not coming off right. Because I’d gotten horribly stuck, for two weeks, I’d skipped the entire aftermath of what happened in the park and gone directly to the ball; the kitchen kiss wasn’t in there. Perhaps I felt a little disconnected from Megan and Greyson, too, but to me they just didn’t feel quite desperate enough yet.
So I went back, and wrote the kitchen kiss. In their first kiss, they stopped themselves; basically ignored that it had happened, and moved on. But the kitchen… I think (hope) it’s fairly clear that had Tera not walked in, that would have gone a lot further. They were completely carried away. They didn’t want to stop (and I didn’t either; I had to make them and myself quit writing, and that’s where you want to be. Again, the time to write a sex scene is when it’s too hard not to write it; the action simply flows, and you have to force yourself to stop it). And it was from that moment that Greyson’s behaviour grew more possessive, or rather, that he started behaving as though sex was a foregone conclusion (“When I’m in your bed,” etc.), and although Megan wasn’t as bold as he was, she sure didn’t argue.
The kitchen kiss did, for me (and again hopefully for the readers) what I needed it to do; it amped the chemistry, it put them in a position where they were actively seeking physical satisfaction from each other. Once that was in place, the sex scene flowed; it remains one of my absolute favorite sex scenes I’ve ever written.
It doesn’t have to be a kissing or foreplay scene, though. I’ve gone back and added more dialogue, a touch, a look, a thought. Anything, to put sex a little more firmly in the characters’s minds and make them spark. A little shared joke, an inadvertent compliment, anything.
So if the scene isn’t working, that’s the second thing to try. Go back and reread all the interaction between those characters. Is it everything it should be? Perhaps it is, but you’ve simply fallen out of the swing of it. Rereading may help you get back into it. Maybe you need to write another kissing scene; maybe it doesn’t need to go into the book (I can’t imagine why, but it’s worth a try, if you really think you have all you can use.)
Okay, so it’s neither of those things. Are you simply uncomfortable with writing sex? This is where some of the exercises we’ve done come in. Remember when you wrote a dialogue scene where the characters expressed their feelings, then translated that to action? Dig that scene you wrote out, or write a new one. That’s your roadmap for this scene; use it!
That “roadmap” will also be helpful if your problem is that the characters aren’t behaving the way those characters would. A hard-boiled cop hero may get mushy, but he probably won’t be entirely comfortable with it; are you giving him dialogue that doesn’t fit him? A woman afraid of being vulnerable isn’t going to react the same way as a woman who’s never been hurt, are you making sure we see her fear?
Try changing the location, too. Nothing says they have to be in bed. Maybe they’re so desperate they do it on the couch. Or in the car. Maybe they’re in bed but instead of him on top, she gets on top. Or they fall on the floor. Don’t be afraid to mix things up; it may unlock the problem and save the scene.
And if all else fails, remember you can always rewrite it. You can always fix it in edits, that’s what they’re for!
A sex scene is a microcosm of the entire relationship. It is the biggest and best opportunity you have to SHOW, not tell the readers what these people feel for each other, how they feel about themselves, and what makes their relationship works. Don’t be afraid of it; embrace it, let yourself go crazy with it. You’ll feel good about it and your readers will love it.
So here’s some final assignments. Go back and reread everything you’ve done so far (if you’ve kept them.) Can you tell which scene was written for which lesson?
Merge all those scenes together, taking a line from one, a line from another, a bit here and there. Reread your new scene. What do you think of it? How does it work for you?
Go to the bookstore and buy a book that interests you, one where you know there will be a sex scene (or grab a book from your TBR pile). Now read the sex scene, and only the sex scene. Make some notes. What does the sex scene show you about the characters, their relationship, the story itself? Who is the dominant one? Are they reckless go-getters, or are they more cautious? Are they in love or do they just really like/want each other? Record every impression you have.
Now read the book. Were you right?
This is our last installment, sort of. Next week we start doing the scene crits; I’d love to see a lot of comments participation for that one!
But what I’d like to do now is open up to questions. Is there anything you think I didn’t cover? Anything you want to know more about? Anything you didn’t quite get? Anything at all. Please ask away. If I get some good questions I’ll post them with answers on Friday. If nobody asks me anything, aside from looking like a big loser, I’ll take Friday off.