Friday, August 29, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 22

***Insert generic disclaimer***

What are you doing to me?

The heat inside her roared like a beast, rising up into her throat and escaping as cry of pure, wanton delight. She’d thought last night she could never experience anything as wonderful as him on top of her, thrusting inside her. Now she knew she could. In this position, his balls thudded softly against her clit with every thrust. She lifted her ass and spread her legs a little more, making it easier for his skin to touch hers.
He was so hot, the thickness of him searing her insides, his pelvis warm against her behind. Slowly he danced out of her, rolling his hips so his cock touched every inch of her walls, then just as slowly crept back in. She rocked her hips against him, circling in the opposite direction, and the tightening of his fingers on her hips told her how much he liked it.
Royd slid one hand up her spine and looked down to watch himself sink into her body and reemerge, slick with her moisture. He would never, could never grow tired of that sight. He leaned back a little, bending his legs further to get a better view. All the while, Prudence’s sighs and gentle moans egged him on, told him what he wanted to hear. Her cunt was tight and hot around him, welcoming him with every thrust. He thought of the way those walls had felt around his tongue the night before and almost exploded. He wanted to taste her again, wanted to feel and explore every inch of her body.

What did you notice about that excerpt? Anything? Anything you want to comment on?

Did you notice the POV switch?

I know conventional wisdom is to never, ever head-hop. And I agree, generally. It doesn’t always bother me but I do notice it, and generally find it too “telly”. It’s not fun if you don’t get to deduce things for yourself. (For example, in one of my books I have the heroine push the hair out of her face, close her eyes, and smile, feeling the breeze on her skin. When she opens her eyes the man she’s with quickly looks away and busies himself with something. Hopefully it’s obvious to the reader that he was watching her, probably open-mouthed with a stupid look of longing on his face [stupid to him, I mean] and that he’s now embarrassed at almost being caught. I could easily have slipped into his POV for that and told the reader he was watching her and thinking she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen up close, and that she was smart and brave and all that stuff too—or whatever sappy thoughts he was having at the moment—but I don’t think that’s anywhere near as much fun, do you? Or as interesting. I like subtle clues, and I think readers like them too; it makes them feel smart, and I like to make readers feel smart, because it makes them feel engaged, and obviously that’s the main goal, right? I digress.)

So generally, POV switches should have a scene break, or at least a line break (a blank space) between them.

Except for sex scenes. Or rather, except for some sex scenes.

I know, you might not agree with me (ooh, I’m controversial!) But I think, if you’re writing a book from multiple POVs or from both characters’s POVs, you ought to have at least one sex scene where we get to see into both their heads. Generally that One Scene is the big “I love you” sex scene, because it’s such an important moment that frankly I think the reader deserves to see into both people’s heads. I also like to switch at some point during the First Sex scene, and one of the more emotionally charged ones in the middle—angry or frantic sex, say. Any sex scene that represents a huge leap or is emotionally fraught is a good place to let your reader see into both heads.

Like I said I know there are some who won’t agree with me. It’s also very possible your publisher will force you to put a line break in there to signify the switch. Personally I think if you do it right, the reader will hardly even notice; it will feel right and natural to them to see into both characters’s heads, and it’s for that reason I dislike the line break. I think it calls unnecessary attention to the switch and interrupts the flow of the scene. But it isn’t that bad and like I said, I know it’s a necessary evil at some houses, so there you go.

The point isn’t how it should happen, not really. That’s a matter of house style and what your editor wants. It’s a matter of whether it should happen, and why.

Oh, and. Only one POV switch per scene, please. I used to switch back and forth more, but once should really be enough (unless you’re writing a ménage, in which case you may want to dip into all of their POVs—they're generally longer scenes, so you have some room).

I like the switch, though. I like to show the reader that both characters are feeling the same thing, thinking the same thing. I like the reader to see how significant a moment this is for both characters. It gives the reader a more complete picture.

And it can really amp up the heat level, because, as in the example above, not only are we seeing/feeling what Prue feels, we feel it from Royd’s POV as well. In a different seen we might experience her orgasm with her, then switch so we can experience it with him—and then we get his as well. It can extend a scene and give us more room to play.

There’s another point to the quoted scene, as well, and that’s detail. Detail is an important part of writing a good sex scene. We’ve touched on this quite a few times throughout the series; it’s one of those topics that’s too important to ignore but too big for its own topic, IMO.

Royd doesn’t just pull out and thrust back in. He doesn’t just look down. He looks down to watch himself sink into her body and reemerge, slick with her moisture. We’re giving the reader that image; a feeling and thought to go with the action, especially in the next line when we learn he would never, could never grow tired of that sight. And to drive it home (no pun intended) he lean[s] back a little, bending his legs further to get a better view.

I could have simply said Royd looked down to watch himself fucking her, or whatever. And in a different type of scene that might work. But it’s a little telly, and it’s simply not very detailed.

Details matter. Don’t just tell us or even show us what the characters are doing; show us why, and how they each feel about it. Every action has a reaction, yes, and you want to include that, but every action also has a reason.

Your hero doesn’t just thrust into the heroine, he thrusts into her, feeling her slick, hot walls grasp him. Or tighten around him. Or give under the pressure of his thrust. Your heroine doesn’t just feel him thrust into her, she feels every inch of him sliding against her wet, sensitive skin, feels her body welcome him, feels her tight walls being invaded. Just as Prudence, above feels how hot Royd is, the thickness of him searing her insides, his pelvis warm against her behind. He doesn’t just pull out of her; Slowly he danced out of her, rolling his hips so his cock touched every inch of her walls, then just as slowly crept back in. Later, as Prudence gives Royd a blow job, instead of simply touching herself, her other hand slid[es] down into her panties, onto her incredibly sensitive clit. She moved farther down, slipping a finger into her cunt, drawing her silky moisture out to spread over her aching flesh.

See? They don’t stroke each other; they stroke each other, their palms memorizing the planes and contours of the warm, living flesh beneath them. They don’t just kiss, their mouths dance, their tongues tangle, devouring each other, breathless.

The devil’s in the details. Heh heh.

This weekend’s assignment: First, check your own scenes. Have you used POV switches? How do you feel about them? Do you think they’re in the right place? (I believe there are two places ideally suited for POV switches; one, immediately before or after he enters her, and two, immediately before or after somebody comes.)

Take one scene you’re written solely from one POV, and add a switch (remember, when writing from the male POV, think about what this man would be thinking and what you want any man to be thinking during sex. It’s okay if it’s a little cheesy, this is just practice.) Now rewrite it with the switch in the other direction—if the scene starts with her and ends with him, switch those around. And as always, the POV should be with whichever character has the most to lose emotionally, or will be changed the most. Obviously, if you’re writing a historical and the heroine is losing her virginity, that moment should be hers. If your hero is breaking a vow of celibacy, that moment should be his.

Now, reread that scene, or any of your scenes. Have you described every action fully? Are we getting a complete picture? When he climbs on top of her, for example, is every his bare skin hot against hers, everywhere? Does she feel his erection against her thigh and shiver? Are either of them shocked, amazed, pleased, thrilled, to be so close to each other? How does she see him, when he does it? This sort of thing is especially important for movements that may otherwise be awkward; if you’re not going to brush over it (“he stripped off his clothes”) you need to go into detail (“His fingers couldn’t undo the buttons fast enough for her; she struggled to help him”, that sort of thing.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 21

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Sex: It’s not just for bed

Just as we describe every movement in a sex scene—or almost every movement—and just as every movement has its purpose, so does setting. Your characters aren’t just interacting with each other; they’re interacting with what’s around them, even if they’re not actively doing so.

For example, in a bed, sheets may be soft or rough. They may float on top of the mattress or sink into the featherbed. They may fist the sheets, push them out of the way, burrow under them.

All those are pretty elementary, really, because let’s face it. No matter how adventurous we may be, I think it’s a safe bet that the majority of our sexual encounters take place in bed. We’re all familiar with how pillows can be used to prop up bodyparts or bitten to muffle sounds. But what about other places? What do you grab when you’re in a car, say, or up against a wall in an alley?

In Day of the Dead, Santos and Yelina have sex for the first time in a cemetery—on a bench beside his dead love’s mausoleum, to be precise. And there were a few reasons why I chose this setting.

One, because the story is set on the eve of Dia de los Muertos, so I wanted to get as much graveyard imagery in as I could. Two, because by having Santos break his seventy-two years of celibacy by his love’s grave, I could add some guilt and thus emotional intensity and complication to the plot. Three, because I could use it symbolically; death of the old love and birth of a new one (this worked especially well—not to toot my own horn—because I left some ambiguous little hints there that Yelina might be the reincarnation of Esperanza. Just hints, and you can form your own opinion, but I liked that ambiguity and liked the extra depth it added to the story). Four, because it gave me a chance to introduce grave-robbing, and who doesn’t want grave-robbing in their erotic romance? Five, because given the plot and general setting, it was a good place for the characters to run into each other—Santos would naturally go to Esperanza’s grave on such an important holiday, and Yelina might reasonably choose to visit her father’s grave on that night as well. And six, because who doesn’t want to write public sex in a cemetery at night? Seriously, that’s hot.

But the point is, it wouldn’t have been as hot if I’d just stuck Santos and Yelina in a graveyard for no reason. Just like you can’t just stick your characters places for no reason.

We all know agents and editors dislike static settings. Why have endless pages of people sitting around in a living room or kitchen, drinking tea and chatting? (Yes, I know I’m guilty of overusing this in Personal Demons. Shut up.) Why not have that conversation on a rooftop (everything is better on a rooftop, trust me)? Or on a bridge? Or in a speeding car, on a beach, in an opium den, underground, in a dark alley, on a rusty fire escape?

You can’t always do that, of course. In the middle of the night, when the characters are home, it makes no sense that after someone tries to break into their house and they defeat them, that they would then get dressed and put on coats to go find a rainy, rat-filled alley in which to discuss the break-in. But try to find more active settings, and that goes for sex as well.

Off the top of my head, here is a partial list of places where my characters, in all of my books, have had sex. I’m not putting bed in here, but pretty much all of them have had sex in bed at least once. Often more than once, but in different positions etc. So:

Hot tub
Hotel room floor
Bathroom counter
Up against a lightpost on the street
In a public park, hidden behind pine trees
Hot, dusty attic
On a desk in an office
On rocks by a waterfall
Up against a tree
On the beach
In a field
On a front lawn
Poolside chaise lounge
Forest clearing
Bedroom floor
Up against a wall in an alley
Up against a wall in a living room
In a museum
Workout room

I might very well have missed some, but those are the ones I remember. Now look at that list. Think about it. How do you imagine the sex up against the lightpost, on the public street, was different from a scene in bed? How might the hot, dusty attic be different from the forest clearing? The museum from the field? Picture those scenes as you imagine them. What are the difference?

See what I mean? Setting feeds action, and action feeds setting. When you’re planning for your characters to fight and have angry sex, what setting would be best for that? You can have them fight anywhere, right? You don’t have to start a fight in a bedroom just because there’s a bed handy there. How much better to have them fight in a nightclub, which is already hot and too-close in atmosphere, and get so overwrought they end up in the hall, not caring who sees, Maybe they can even get busted for it, and add a huge complication.

Maybe you want them to be tender and romantic. Bed is a good setting for that, but how about the public park? How about putting the tender scene in the nightclub—how will you use the atmosphere differently then? Rather than being so angry they don’t care who sees, they’re so wrapped up in each other it’s like no one else even exists. See?

You don’t need to veer into cliché here. You don’t want to do that. You don’t want all your tender scenes to happen in the forest while the little bunnies watch and the little birdies chirp sweetly, or on a wrought-iron four-poster bed with flowy white sheets and sunshine pouring in. You don’t want angry scenes to always take place during thunderstorms on fire escapes against rusty bars. But you can try those. Even better, mix them up, and let the reader feel the incongruity between action and setting.

And don’t just put them in a setting and forget about it. Just like you feel the bed beneath you or the wall cold against your back, so do they. You don’t want to go overboard with it, of course—the focus needs to be on the sex—but interacting with the setting adds depth and reality to the scene.

For example, from Day of the Dead:

“Yelenita,” he whispered, rolling her clit between his index finger and thumb until she wanted to sob out loud. “Yelenita, mi amor.”
The stone of the bench scraped against her back, but she didn’t care. Didn’t care at all, because her thighs rested in his iron grip and his mouth descended on her pussy. A low, gasping groan escaped his lips, vibrating against her as he sucked her clit into his mouth.
“Santos, oh God, Santos…” The tree branches above her swayed dizzily in the breeze, the night air cooling her fevered skin as she trembled under his talented onslaught. He pulled back, teasing her with his tongue, then slipped one thick finger inside her, twisting it easily in her soaking channel.

So here we have the bench and the trees. I don’t mention the setting again for a page or so, when we’re back in Santos’s POV and he’s looking at Yelina:

And here she was, her smooth curves gleaming in the dappled moonlight coming through the trees above, her body warm and alive and full of promise in his arms, and he trembled as he took off his trousers and cool air swirled around his swollen cock.

But the setting is there; it adds a little flavor to the scene, it grounds the scene in its setting, so Santos and Yelina are people having sex in a place and not bodies floating somewhere. The setting becomes part of the scene, albeit a very small part, and that’s what you want.

Your setting should be part of the scene; it should add to the emotion, heat, and intensity of the scene just like the words your characters say or the way they touch each other. It is a third, minor character in the scene. Don't neglect it.

I was going to do POV as well but this ended up being longer than I expected. So, here’s the assignment. Take one of your sex scenes and move it to a different setting. It doesn’t have to be sensible; this is just an exercise. But take the scene and remove all references to setting, adding a new one. This time, put the scene in any of the places I listed above.

How does the scene change? Does it at all? How does it feel working that new setting into the scene, does it gain or lose something? Is it more interesting or less?

Make your own list of places you’d like to write sex scenes, and keep it somewhere you’ll be able to find it. Go through some of your unpublished work; how many scenes take place in a bed? How many of those can you change? Even changing the weather outside can make a difference; is it hot and sunny so the sun makes bright golden rectangles on the sheets and caresses their skin like a warm hand? Rainy, so they need to light up the room on their own? Snowy? Does the wind whistle around the corners of the building? Do they hear it over the roaring of blood in their ears or their own gasps and moans?

Think of a setting you’ve seen used particularly well, or not well. What was done right or wrong? What would you do differently?

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.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 19

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Foreplay 3: Tips, tricks, and hints

Just as everyone likes different things in bed, everyone is going to like different things in written sex and foreplay. I’ve never made any bones about the fact that certain things just turn me off; I try very hard to keep my sex scenes what I consider classy. Erotic and hot, rather than crude—even when my characters are being crude there are places I don’t go. For example, although there’s nothing inherently wrong with having the hero manually stimulate the heroine and then lick his fingers, it squicks me out a little so I don’t write it (in fact, there is never any evidence on the hero’s face that he has just performed oral sex, because yuck. At least to me. This is what women’s thighs and bellies are for; he can kiss and nuzzle them until he’s nice and clean. Again, some women find the evidence sexy, and I certainly don’t mean and am not implying that they’re crude or disgusting because of it; come on, I find the idea of the hero drinking the heroine’s blood hot, so I’m hardly one to judge. It’s just something I don’t find arousing so I don’t write it. I don’t use phrases like “eat pussy” and I don’t have characters say things like that either. Again, personal taste. No pun intended.)

But just as we drop linguistic hints throughout the book of how hot or “open” the sex scene is going to be, we really do this with foreplay. Once the kissin’ starts, the reader learns exactly what s/he is in for, so make it count.

And what about kissing? We’ve talked so much about talking and cunnilingus and cocks, we’ve barely talked about kissing at all. It’s funny; although kissing is a huge part of a sex scene I never really think of it that way, I guess because my characters have usually kissed at least a couple of times before the sexing starts. But what about those kisses? Are they soft, delicate brushes of the lips, gradually gaining in intensity as each person feels how much the other wants this? Or are they crushing, passionate, bruising? (I know there are people who think things like “bruising kisses” are lame and cliché. But you know what? Things don’t become cliché if people don’t like reading them. I love the bruising, breathless kiss and will never give it up, personally.)

What about touching? Not just touching intimate parts, either (although of course, there’s lots of fun to be had from delving into those wet folds or gently grasping that hot, hard, thick cock already slick with desire). Does the hero bury his hands in the heroine’s hair? Does he stroke her face, her throat? Her ribcage? Does he skim his hands over her breasts, and how does she react—does she grab his wrist to hold it there (which can show she’s comfortable with him and her sexuality and wants more) or does she pull away? Does she have a moment to think how she wishes her breasts were bigger or smaller or prettier, is she that type of girl? Or is she absolutely confident that he finds every bit of her beautiful?

Where are her hands? Does she run them over his board shoulders, or press them against his chest, feeling how different his body is, how hard and manly he is? (Hey, I actually do think stuff like that, and I bet I’m not the only woman in the world who does. We like how different your bodies are, men, we want to emphasize that, just as I’m sure you like how different our bodies are.) Does she feel the heavy muscles of his back under his skin? Slide her hands down to his firm ass (or bottom, or whatever—I rarely use “ass” in a sex scene, I’m not sure why), or over his narrow hips to the front? If he’s hairy does she play with the hair, feel it under her fingers, tickling her sensitive skin like a thousand little electric shocks?

Who undresses whom, and how? In Personal Demons, Greyson—being the little hedonist that he is—takes time to undress Megan slowly; he wants to enjoy every second of it, to savor what’s about to happen, but when it comes to his own clothing he just wants it off and tears the buttons of his shirt to get it that way. He also has her remove the garter belt and stockings she was wearing; why do you think he does that? A lot of men would have wanted her to leave it on (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because obviously garter belts and stockings are very sexy and what man wouldn’t want to see his woman in them? I love wearing them myself.) What does it say about him that at least this time he wants her completely naked, so he can see and touch every inch of her? (I’d actually be very interested in anyone’s thoughts on that; it surprised me a little when I wrote it.)

But what about your characters? Do they tear at each other’s clothing? Do they leave a trail of discarded garments across the floor, or a heap by the bed? Are there articles of clothing they don’t even bother to remove at all (shirts, socks, panties still around an ankle, what?) I think half-dressed sex can be incredibly hot, especially if the clothing constricts movement.

Where do they kiss each other? Earlobes, necks, collarbones? Stomachs? The hipbone is incredibly sensitive on men and women; nibbling it always evokes a response in both the character and the reader who’s had it done to them and remembers what it feels like. What about toes and feet and legs? Hands? I’ve never been a fan of writing finger-sucking simply because once the finger is in the mouth it can be awkward to pull it out. But you can do it, and simply replace the thumb with her mouth or whatever, thus skimming over the awkward stuff. Does he suck her breasts and nipples? Hard or soft? Slow or fast? Does she bite his chest gently? Does she suck on or otherwise play with his nipples? A lot of men like that, too.

And what about oral sex? What is he doing with that mouth of his? Savoring, sucking, nibbling? Exloring, teasing, tasting? Slipping his tongue inside in a shallow rhythm? Does he pull her plump, hard little clit into his mouth? What does she do when she comes, when she feels herself getting ready to? Is she a bold woman who buries her fingers in his hair and presses him closer, or is she biting her fingers or palm or gripping the pillow or fisting the sheets in her sweaty, trembling hands? Is he holding her legs open, or caressing her breasts? Are her feet propped on his shoulders?

How about when she goes down on him? Is he gathering her hair in tender hands, holding it above her head, out of the way? Is he watching, and if so, what does he see and how does she feel about it? Does it turn her on to know he’s watching? Does she look up and meet his eyes? How intense is that? Is she running her fingernails over his balls, scratching lightly? How about his inner thighs? Is she just sucking his cock or is she letting her tongue play over the top, down the heavy, hard length of him? Does she vary her speed or the depth? Does she flutter her tongue over that little skin ridge on the underside, or down to his sac? Does she pull one of his balls into her mouth? If you’re writing a very graphic scene, is she bringing her fingers into play at his rear entrance? How does he feel about all this—safe, sexy, incredibly turned on, desperate?

When you write foreplay or sex, you’re inviting the reader to experience what the characters experience (hell, when you write any book you do that, but you know what I mean.) You want to use things the reader has felt, seen, tasted, smelled, as well as evocative words and dialogue and all that other stuff, to evoke a physical and emotional response. In short, you want to turn them on. So think of writing foreplay as trying to get your partner into bed. What do you do? What are the buttons you have to press?

Describe everything! Foreplay and sex is where you can let your language go; be as evocative and descriptive as you can (next week we’ll do another list of words to help get you going).

Foreplay is your chance to write a long, hot scene where nobody gets too graphic if you don’t want to. For example, most of the lines and suggestions I’ve made above are more graphic; they’re ideas for you to use as well as wording suggestions. But you can write an oral scene where he kisses down her stomach—spend some time on it, make her really feel and think about it—and then “his mouth moved against her, his tongue, so hot, so wet (remember, everything should be wet!!)…she’d never felt anything like it before. He teased her, tormented her, calling from her sounds she didn’t know she could make and feelings she didn’t realize she could feel, until her entire body convulsed and she was left breathless, her heart pounding, floating somewhere above the bed in a delicious daze.” See? Nary a four-letter word in there, but we all know what happened and that it was good.

So. Take a good hard look at your foreplay scenes. Where can you expand them? How much do your characters move? You don’t want anyone to ever be still; that’s not sexy. Keep them moving! Are they feeling every bit of what’s happening, thinking about it, tasting it, experiencing? Are they truly interacting or does it feel like they’re bloodless paper dolls? Remember, oral sex is more than a few quick dips of the head—it should generally be more in your scenes as well. Take your time, and let your characters take their time if they’re so inclined. I promise you, most of what turns your readers on will be foreplay; just like in real life, don’t think you need to hurry up and get to The Good Stuff. This is the good stuff!

Find a published foreplay scene you particularly like. What are those characters doing? How is what they do different from a scene you don’t like; is it language or graphicness or is it something deeper, something you’re just not connecting with? Why do you think you didn’t connect with it?

Take those pure-touching scenes you wrote Wednesday and add some interaction. If he’s thinking how beautiful she is while he strokes her breast, how lucky he is or how much he wants her, how do his thoughts intensify when he sees her ladyparts? What does he want to do with those? Likewise, if she’s touching his muscled chest or the thin line of hair on his abdomen, how does she feel when she sees his cock there? What is she anticipating? Write it down! Write it all in there!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 18

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Foreplay 2: Who are you?

As we discussed Monday, a large portion of your sex scene is probably going to be foreplay. You’ve spent your entire book, or at least large chunks of it, preparing the reader for this; so how do you bring it all home?

By being true to your characters, and writing the scene as honestly as you can.

Now, of course some things in a sex scene are a bit idealized. Nobody ever has bad breath. Everybody comes, often more than once (for the women, anyway.) Everybody smells good (more on that in a minute), men almost never need more than a few moment’s encouragement to get hard…it’s a lovely world, really, and not always true-to-life, but you must be honest when it comes to your characters’s emotions. Because those emotions drive the scene and make it theirs; those emotions develop and strengthen their characters and their relationship.

Monday we looked at an atypical foreplay scene, a big fight. So today we’ll focus on more “traditional” foreplay.

Here’s a snippet from Blood Will Tell. I think it’s still a bit unusual in that it doesn’t include any oral sex, but let’s see what you guys think:

He put his arm back around her and pulled her close, so her head rested on his chest. Under the covers, his legs snaked around hers. The hair on his thighs rubbed against her own smooth legs, sending shivers of delight through her entire body.
She flipped over so that she straddled him, her hands braced on the smooth muscles of his bare chest. His cock stirred beneath her and she gave a little wiggle, making him gasp.
Cecelia smiled, suddenly determined to show Mr. Mansfield what kind of woman he was dealing with. “I think it’s my turn to be on top.”
She centered herself over the hard shaft of Julian’s now-erect cock and moved forward slightly. He sighed softly as her wet lips stroked over the head and back down again, and she sighed as well when her clit came in contact with the silken skin covering the head of his dick.
His hands slid between her legs to toy with her clit, then rose up to play with her nipples, tugging them gently with fingers covered in her own juices.
She dropped her head back and let her hands fall, lightly running over the head of his cock before they reached the trimmed hair of her mound. She separated her lips and began gently pulling at them, glancing down to see Julian watching her hands, his face transformed by lust.
“You are amazing,” he whispered, as she slid her index finger down over her clit and began rubbing it lightly. The sensation of being watched combined with what she was doing made her incredibly hot, and she let her eyes fall closed as she continued teasing herself with her fingers. Her hips started moving, her wet pussy sliding deliciously along the length of his cock, fiery and rigid against her own soft flesh.
“Cecelia.” He grabbed her hips, pulling her upward so that he could fit himself inside her. She pulled away.
“Not yet,” she whispered, enjoying the frustration on his face. “I’m in charge here.”
“Oh, Jesus,” he groaned, throwing his head back on the pillow and closing his eyes.
She grinned. “Patience is a virtue.”
“It’s not one I want to learn.” He gasped as she ground herself harder on his rampant cock, teasing him by letting the tip slide just into her entrance then pulling away again. His fingers dug more deeply into her hips, but he did not try to move her again. He was letting her control things, at least for the moment, and Cecelia enjoyed the power in a way she never had before. Watching Julian’s reaction to her was incredibly sexy.
She rubbed against him faster, his gasps filling her ears, her blood racing as her clit became more and more sensitive and engorged against his cock. She leaned back, her full breasts moving gently, her erect nipples dark red against her pale skin.
She reached down behind her and let her fingernails scratch gently up his inner thighs. His hips jerked up beneath her, and when she ran her nails across his balls he groaned.
“Enough,” he growled, and before she knew what was happening he lifted her up again and impaled her in one smooth, quick thrust.

(I used “dick” in that scene; in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, btw, but I used cock so much I needed some variety.)

So what do we notice here? First, there’s a lot of dialogue. I think it’s fairly sexy dialogue, too. I also think that for those of you who haven’t read BWT, it gives you a fairly good picture of what the Julian/Cecelia relationship is, or at least has been before this: lots of banter, with Julian dominant (I still think he got two of the best lines I’ve ever written for a hero, btw; right before their very first kiss Cecelia says, “Wait a minute. I don’t even think I like you,” and he replies, “You don’t have to”; and later she tells him her mother warned her about men like him and he says, “Let’s go back to my place. I’ll show you why she was right.” Sigh.)

Second, this is Cecelia’s conscious attempt to assert some authority, to stop being Julian’s sex toy and start being a strong woman. How do you think it worked? What do you think it says about her that she feels confident enough to do that, what does it say about the relationship and her hopes for it that she feels the need to do that?

For me, what makes this scene still a bit atypical is that it doesn’t include any oral sex. Oral sex is one of the touchstones of foreplay, IMO; if you recall, this entire series started because I was thinking about oral sex and whether everyone has to trade off equally all the time. I don’t think they do, personally. I’m happy to assume they’re both getting and giving some, I don’t need to see it every time. And yes, to me, as a woman, it’s far more important that I see the woman get hers than it is to see the man get his. I’m pleased by both, but as I said in that long-ago blow job post, the woman is the partner who isn’t guaranteed and orgasm from penetration; she’s the one who can come and still have sex immediately after. Logistically it makes more sense, and emotionally it makes more sense; if he isn’t even going to make sure she comes he’s kind of a jerk.

For this reason I am intensely annoyed when I read heroines in romance or other genres—I haven’t seen this in a while but it seemed to be all the rage at one point—who really enjoy, um, manual stimulation but don’t like having oral sex performed on them for whatever reason. Who are these women? More to the point, who are the men who’ve been giving them head in the past? Because seriously, if you can’t arouse a woman that way, you are really doing something wrong. (Yes, this is a total digression.) It’s oral sex, it’s not rocket science (incidentally, I was so pleased with that line that I almost used it for the title of this post. Oral Sex: It’s not Rocket Science); the heroine-who-doesn’t-enjoy-it always feels to me like a projection of the writer’s discomfort with sex or her own ladyparts, or a cheap “modern” way of using that old romance trope of “I never really liked sex until HE came along, sigh.” I don’t particularly like writing those heroines and I don’t particularly like reading them.

I can buy a virginal heroine being nervous or uncomfortable with oral sex, sure, but not a woman who’s supposed to be at least somewhat experienced (and again, if you want to make her nervousness or discomfort part of her character that’s fine; just don’t suddenly yank this “I hate oral sex” crap out of your hat because you, the writer, aren’t comfortable writing an oral scene or think it makes your hero look Especially Manly or whatever. Making her uncomfortable is fine, if there’s a reason for it, especially if you’ve set that reason up and made it a part of her character. It can be incredibly hot to have the hero explain exactly what he’s going to do to her and how very much he wants to do it; if he’s that type of guy, go for it.

The simple fact is, women should like oral sex and a true hero wants to give it. End of story. A man who doesn’t want to do it, or who makes derogatory statements about it, is not a hero; he is a jerk. (I will never forget reading a snippet of a book where the hero looks up from his task and admonishes the heroine for not keeping her pubic hair properly trimmed. If a man did that to me I would have done a damn good impersonation of Van Damme cracking a guy’s skull between his thighs. But then I always keep tidy, too.) A heroine who won’t give head is not a heroine I want to know; she’s prissy and frigid.

Sorry, I realize I’ve digressed all over the place, but that’s why foreplay gets its own week instead of just one post.

The point is, foreplay is a golden opportunity to really get into your characters’s heads. Don’t wimp out on it. Even if they’re just saying some nice things to each other, even if they’re barely speaking, every word and every action counts.

This is your chance to have the hero or heroine really take charge; it’s your chance to show how well they know each other; it’s your chance to show them interacting as people, just people. Be honest about who they are and what they want; show their weaknesses as well as their strengths.

Maybe someone is shy about their body. Maybe someone is so desperate they can barely speak. Maybe there’s anger there, or sadness. Remember how we can illuminate subtext through sex? That’s especially true of foreplay.

Your readers are not going to enjoy and be aroused by your foreplay if the characters themselves are not. Use this opportunity; let them do what they want. Your readers will thank you for it.

Try writing some sexy dialogue for your characters. Really think about what they might say, and how to make it theirs.

Write a scene where the hero is simply stroking the heroine’s body. First from his POV, then hers. No dialogue. What are they thinking? How does what they think play itself out through their actions?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Announcement

So... I have news.

My dark urban fantasy Unholy Ghosts--which my husband described as "Ghostbusters meets Escape From New York"--sold to Del Rey, in a three book deal! I don't have any official word on release date yet but we're hoping for Fall '09.

I'm so, so excited, and to celebrate, here's the blurb from the original query letter I sent my agent and a little excerpt!

Sometimes addictions are more trouble than they're worth…

Owing money to drug lords is never a good idea, especially not if you're Cesaria "Chess" Putnam, possibly the only woman in the punk-rock ghetto known as Downside who really has something to lose: her job as a Debunker for the omnipotent Church of Truth.

Chess's dealer offers her a choice. She can catch the mastermind behind the fake haunting of an abandoned airport so he can smuggle drugs into it, or spend weeks in the hospital after his enforcer breaks her habit for her—along with most of her bones. Chess picks the airport, but when a rotting corpse turns up with a soul still trapped inside and it looks as if the person responsible is one of her co-workers, she realizes the airport's ghosts are real and this case is far more dangerous than a beating. Hey, who said downer-addicted loners made good choices?

And here's a snippet, from the scene where Chess meets her dealer, Bump, and he outlines his plan:

He moved like he was riding a platform with oiled wheels, silently and smoothly, faster than he looked. Rings glinted on his fingers and diamond studs sparkled in his ears, but his clothes were surprisingly nondescript. Chess imagined it was his “at home” look, because the few times she’d seen him out on the streets he looked like a bedraggled medieval king. Tonight, though, he wore a plain burgundy silk shirt—another shade of red to add to the off-tune chorus—and black slacks. His feet were bare save a gold toe ring on his right foot.

He pulled a baggie out of his pocket and tossed it casually onto the table in front of her. Pills slept inside, each one whispering a promise. Pink Pandas snuggled against green Hoppers, Blue Oozers and red Nips looked patriotic set against the pure, clean white of the Cepts. Every one was a different ride. Up, down, sweet or sleazy. Two month’s worth of good feelings, right there in front of her. Her mouth filled with saliva, which she swallowed along with some of her pride in a preemptory move.

“You into me, Chess.” Bump’s voice slurred low through the room, adding to the impression he gave of a man who thought slow, moved slow. It was a lie. Bump hadn’t become Lord of the streets west of Forty-third by being slow. “You into me fuckin good, baby.”

With effort she tore her gaze away from the bag and focused on his scraggly beard.
“You know I’m good for it,” she said, hating the faintly whining tone that crept into her voice. She cleared her throat and sat up straighter. “I’ve always paid before, and I’ll pay again.”

“Naw, naw. This ain’t like before. You know what you owe? I give you the number, you see what you fuckin think. Fifteen, baby. Fifteen big ones you owe. How you pay that back?”

“Fift—I do not, there’s no way—”

“You forgetting the interest. You owe Bump money, you pay interest.”

“I never did before.”

He shrugged. “New policy.”

New policy, my ass. What the fuck game was he playing? She’d expected to be threatened, maybe. She hadn’t expected this. “Even if that’s your new policy, my actual debt can’t be more than four grand. What interest rate are you charging, two hundred percent?”

“Don’t matter what the rate is. I fuckin charge the interest I want to charge.” He leaned back against the arm of the other couch and pulled a knife out of his pocket, then started cleaning his fingernails with it. “I says it’s fifteen, so it’s fifteen. When you pay me?”

“I can go somewhere else.”

“Aw, sure, ladybird. You go anywhere you want. You head on over to Slobag on Thirtieth, see how them tattoos get ’preciated by the fuckin scum down there. But you still owe me.”

Again she glanced at the bag. Bump smiled. “You want one? Go ’head. You have one. Whatever you like.” He picked up the bag and held it out to her so it gapped open. “Go ’head.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “What are you going to charge me for that?”

His laugh seemed to come from his feet and roll up his body. “I don’t gotta charge you none for it, baby. You owes me enough already, ain’t you?”

He folded his knife and tucked it in his pocket. “Course…now I’m thinking…could be I know a way you pay. A way you work off your owes.”

“Forget it.” She started to stand up. She’d never go that low, no matter what. Even she had a little self-respect, and the thought of letting a grease stain like Bump have his sleazy way with her…ugh.

“Aw, baby, I know what’s in your head. Not that. Though if’n you wanted to I could take you on a real sweet ride. That’s a promise from Bump. The ladies never had it so good as when I give it them.”

He laughed, then shook the bag at her. “Go on. You take one. I know what you need, don’t I? Don’t Bump always know? Bump’s your fuckin friend, yay? So you trust Bump. Take what you want, then we have a chatter. Maybe we help each other.”

Warily she reached for the bag. Her impulse was to grab an Oozer, but she managed to refrain and took another Cept instead. She had a feeling she would need her brain for this one.

“Good, that’s real nice. Now, why don’t Bump tell you what? You hear my plan?”

She nodded, dry-swallowing the Cept.

Bump sat down next to her, close enough for her to smell the pipe room on his clothes. He smiled. “Maybe I got a problem. Maybe you help me with it.”

Uh-oh. She was going to have to turn him down. The only people who ever asked witches for favors were those who wanted either unholy luck or unholy deeds done, and she didn’t much feel like doing either. Especially considering Bump was already a pretty lucky guy, and she wasn’t a killer.

“What’s the favor? I’m not agreeing, I’m just asking.”

“Oh, I think you agree, ladybird. I think when you hear, you say yay. Let me run this down. You know the airport?”

“Muni?” Even if the third Cept had kicked in—which it hadn’t—she wouldn’t have been more mystified. Triumph City Municipal airport was a major hub, and one of the few areas that was heavily policed. Most Downside residents, especially drug dealers, stayed as far away from Muni and the surrounding factory district as they could.

“Naw, naw, what you fuckin say? Muni. Not Muni. Chester. You know Chester Airport.”
“Chester’s been shut down for years.”

“Yay, it have. But maybe Bump wanna open it back up. Maybe Bump can expand his fuckin business, he open it up.”

This was starting to make some kind of sense. “I don’t have enough pull in the Church to lean on the city leaders for something like that, nowhere near enough.”

“Bump got the pull. Bump gonna open that place wide up, see, wide up. But Bump gotta problem. Bump’s planes—planes carrying them sweet pills you ladybirds like—Bump’s planes crash. Something attacking planes, dig? Make they go all silent. Turns they off.”

“I don’t know anything about planes. I’ve never even been in a—”

“Not planes, ladybird. Ghosts. Say Chester haunted. Don’t guess on that. Somebody sending signals, making planes silent. Electromagnetics and such, yay? You find sender. You find sender, you rid they.”

He leaned back and lit a cigarette, letting smoke wreath around his head. “You catch me them fake ghosts, so my planes they fly. You catch, ladybird, and we even. No more debt to Bump.”

Squee! I love this book so much, and I'm so excited I get to share it with everyone! It's got ghosts and drugs and gore and great music and black magic and tattoos and death curses and a black '69 Chevelle and a hot Asian guy and a big huge greaser and...all sorts of cool stuff, and I hope everyone else loves it as much as I do!

Thanks for letting me gush a little!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 17

***Insert generic disclaimer***

What Part of Sex is Sexy?

Okay, so we’ve looked into why your sex scene is there, language, rhythm, and the expansion of character and relationship, so it’s time to start the really fun stuff and talk about amping up the sexiness of your sex scenes. We’ll do more of this as we go along, but I wanted to slide us into it easily today, to make us all ready and willing. To prepare us, if you will. To make us desperate for more.

In other words, to talk about foreplay.

The thing is, while writing about sex usually involves penetration, covering the physical act of penetration is the least important part of writing the scene. And it’s the least interesting. And I honestly believe this is where a lot of people slip up. Because, despite my strong belief that no two people make love the exact same way as far as their feelings and emotions etc. etc. go, the fact is, once Tab A is inserted into Slot B, all that’s left—physically—is a little friction.

Obviously when writing that friction—as we’ve already covered—you add emotion and sensation, thought, allusion, and imagery to make that friction interesting and different (as do different positions etc.--having sex from behind, for example, is a very different experience from face-to-face; it looks different, it feels different physically and emotionally). But the longest sex scene possible—I believe Blood Will Tell’s bathroom scene is one of the longest instances of penetration I’ve written—is still going to be much shorter than foreplay. Like in real life, foreplay can go on for pages and pages; penetration is probably not going to last longer than a page or two--twenty or thirty minutes tops (and let’s be somewhat realistic here; do you really want it to? Chafing isn’t fun. Neither is numbness. I’ve never understood people who go on and on about hours of tantric sex; I have stuff to do. I’m fully aware that may just be me, but really, whether it’s in real life or in books, there’s only so much you can do once the actual business gets started.) I’ve never consciously planned this, but in thinking back I think my scenes on average are about 70-80% foreplay. Of course every scene is different. I’m a fan of rough, fast, must-have-you-now scenes, but I would say the majority of my scenes hover in that percentage.

Foreplay doesn’t have to be achingly long hours of teasing and kissing and touching, either. Here’s a bit of foreplay from Black Dragon, my attempt at an “old school” medieval romance (not only does this have a different voice from my usual work, because it’s an old-school historical, but it’s from Cerridwen Press so is one of my less graphic scenes; it also contains a minor linguistic anachronism or two [which I explained in the book’s Author’s Note, lest you think me lazy]):

“I hate you,” she said, tears in her eyes at both the cruelty and truth of his words. “I wish we had never met, I wish we had never married, I wish I had never come here.”
“Aye? Then that makes two of us, my lady, for I do not like you much either.”
“You do not like anyone, including yourself,” she snapped. “Tell me, Gruffydd, what happened to you in life that made you so eager to grow up to be a complete bastard? You are certainly ready enough to examine my flaws. How about yours? How about the way you refuse to show any vulnerability, as if you can be more than human simply by willing it so? The way you will not allow anything to be important to you?”
“I will not. How about the way you hate having people help you in any way? How about the secrets you keep? Finding out what you want for your meal is a trial, much less anything about you or your life. You say I like to hide behind a façade and then tell myself nobody understands me. I am not surprised you see this, my lord, for I have never in my life met someone who hides as much as you do!”
“Stop it.”
“What else are you hiding, Gruffydd? What other ways do you devise to cause pain to yourself, to—”
“Stop it!” he yelled. His fists were clenched at his sides.
“Oh, are you angry? Are you actually showing some feeling? Forgive me, you have never done so before and I fear I am not seeing correctly.”
“Stop it, Isabelle, or I swear I will—”
“You’ll what? Hit me? I would not be surprised if you did. I have been expecting it since the day we met.”
“Do not tempt me!”
He grabbed her shoulders, his gaze burning into hers, rooting her to where she now stood. Livid at both him and the fire started in her belly by his mere touch, she twisted sideways, struggling to pull free from the feelings in her heart and body.
But he pulled her closer, making escape from the heat of his skin and the strength of his hands impossible. She gasped. For a moment they stared at each other, their faces furious, chests heaving in unison, before his mouth fell on hers, devouring her lips as his grip threatened to squeeze the life from her body.

Now, I know the fight-into-sex isn’t exactly original (nor is the "Don't tempt me!" line--it's pretty cliche but so what?), but I don’t care. I love it. I love writing angry sex, because angry people are people with less inhibitions, people whose passions are already raised. That’s why I’m using this particular scene; it shows you don’t have to write traditional foreplay for the reader to still believe these people are ready for some sex. I’m particularly proud of this scene because it enables me to do a couple of very important things, and show how well the characters know each other (Gruffydd’s analysis of Isabelle’s character came immediately before this and sparked her tirade, but would be too long to excerpt here); it also gives the reader an additional insight to Gruffydd’s character because, although Isabelle doesn’t know it, he self-harms, which makes her comment about him devising other ways to cause pain to himself extra sharp and explains why he goes from angry to furious in about a second and a half. (And, true to form, the actual sex part of that scene is only a few paragraphs of raging, angry, violent sex; 70-80%, remember? Not a rule, but a guideline.)

So in this bit of foreplay we see the characters know each other well. They’ve obviously spent time watching each other and paying attention to each other, even if they won’t admit it. Spending that amount of time studying someone indicates passionate feelings; we don’t absorb that much about people to whom we’re indifferent. It also shows us the relationship at something of an impasse: because they’ve had sex once before, they now find it difficult-to-impossible to be around each other under any degree of emotion or stress without touching, but neither of them is willing to acknowledge it. They’re using sex to solve their problem, in other words, and the problem is they can’t admit their feelings.

I know the effect here is a bit deadened because you haven’t read the book and so aren’t familiar with the characters, but in the book itself, again if I’ve done my job, by the time Gruffydd plants that kiss on Isabelle the reader’s heart is pounding too, from the emotional intensity of the moment. And like any other stress or high emotion, it’s easy to translate that into sexual intensity.

Just like the rest of the sex scene, foreplay must advance the relationship; it must advance the story; it must interest and arouse. How you do that is up to you; the above example is just one way (we’re going to get into more traditional foreplay Wednesday and some writing tips and examples on Friday.) Honestly, since the sex scene is the culmination of every moment the characters have shared up until then, you could say the entire book is foreplay—and as we discussed in Friday’s post, you can and should bring images and thoughts from their previous interactions into the sex scene, in order to make the entire thing more cohesive.

Foreplay is where your characters assert their individuality. It’s what makes this scene uniquely theirs, and not anyone else’s. And just like real life, it’s terribly important.

So. Find a published sex scene you particularly like, but this time focus on the foreplay. What is it about the foreplay in that scene that does it for you? Is it very sexy, and why? Is it clever, or funny, or angry? Find several scenes; is the foreplay similar in those scenes, or very different? What is the foreplay-to-penetration ratio of your favorite scenes?

Take one of the scenes you’ve written and re-read it, stopping as soon as penetration occurs. How much foreplay is there? Have you stretched it out long enough, is it as intense as it should/could be, or does the real action start when the real action starts? Is that ratio the same for all of your sex scenes, and if so, how can you mix it up a bit? Remember, not every scene has to be 70-80% foreplay, not at all. But if you’re looking to heat up your scenes, expanding the foreplay should be the first thing you look at.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 16

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Whose hand is that?

Ugh, apologies for posting this late. We had to go get glasses for the Faerie. Yes, the curse of my terrible vision has crossed into the next generation.

So. I’m actually having a bit of a hard time with this one, because it’s basic. You’re writing an action scene, so you need to make sure the physical action flows and makes sense. If a hand appears, the reader needs to know whose hand it is. This is especially important when writing ménage-and-more type scenes (and btw, it occurred to me that in Monday’s post I mentioned that the scene is about two people, and have repeatedly throughout referred to H/h or two people. This is simply for ease in writing and brevity; it’s not meant to imply in any way, shape or form that scenes should or have to only involve two people. I’ve written a few ménage books, as you guys know, and like them just fine and in my case they were certainly romances. Just wanted to get that on the record.)

So. A sex scene is an action scene, and you need to make sure the action flows and fits the scene. How do you do that? What exactly are they doing, anyway? (We’re going to work on choreography etc. later, too, this is just an intro.)

Here’s where the potential problem comes in. Because we’ve pretty much all had sex, and because we’re intimately familiar with the act (no pun intended) and with what we’re writing, it’s easy to slip and create body parts out of thin air. Or forget to mention something. Bad sex writing often isn’t just clunky or drab; it’s laughable, because it can create such odd images in the reader’s head, even more so, I think, than other bad writing.

I can’t for the life of me remember where I saw this, but I will never forget reading on a blog or something an example of bad sex writing. It was something about the hero “spreading the twin lobes of [the heroine’s] clitoris.” Ummm… Yeah.

But most mistakes aren’t that bad, or that obvious. They’re things that make perfect sense to you, the writer, because you see it in your head. For example, you might think it’s very hot to have the hero lift the heroine and brace her against the wall—and it totally can be—but if his hands are under her thighs, it is impossible for him to them grab her breast unless you mention he shifts his grip. Yes, it’s the type of thing you’d expect the reader to know—too-detailed sex writing is bad too—but you really should at least give the reader some clue.

So here’s some common mistakes:

*If the hero is physically inside the heroine, he cannot lick, suck, or kiss her bellybutton. Breasts I’ll buy, depending on the height difference and how limber he is (although I’ve seen editors and readers ding writers for that too, so be careful) but there is absolutely no way his cock is inside her and his mouth is anywhere near her stomach. Try it out with your partner, seriously.

*If you’re writing a ménage, you need to use names. It might be very clear to you which “he” is behind the heroine and which “he” is in front, but once somebody grabs her hair we need to know who it is—unless you’re going for a “She wasn’t sure which one and didn’t care because of the blissBlissBLISS” sort of thing. Using names all the time can sound clunky, but trust me, you’d much rather use names than have your readers laugh or get confused.

*If the heroine is giving the hero head, he cannot do the same to her unless you specify she is turned around or have him turn her around.

*Nobody’s arms reach their feet when they’re lying down flat.

*If the hero is much taller than the heroine, they can certainly kiss while having sex but not with their chests pressed together. (Trust me on that. My husband is a foot taller than me.)

*Also with the height difference thing, if he’s much taller and they’re standing up, he needs to seriously bend his knees or she needs to find something to brace her feet on or something.

*Two men cannot enter the heroine from behind at once.

*Clothes have to come off or be otherwise out of the way. You don’t have to describe this in detail, at all; I’ve blogged before about how my heroes rarely wear underwear simply because I hate writing removal of male underwear. You can say “Her clothes seemed to melt away under his skillful hands”; you can have the hero tear her panties off; whatever you like. It’s supposed to be sexy, not a laundry list. But the reader is not going to just assume they’re naked if you don’t at least give a hint.

*Beware of phantom body parts; keep a clear picture in your head of what everyone is doing and where their hands and feet etc. are.

What others can you think of?

I know quite a few writers who use books like the Kama Sutra or The Joy of Sex to help them choreograph and write sex scenes. I never actually have, but somewhere I’ve got a sex book (that my MOTHER gave me, no shit) with lots of nice pictures of different positions and stuff. Books like that—guides—are worth checking out. Porn really isn’t, at least not for these purposes. Because porn is a fantasy. The job of a pornographic actor or actress is to make the sex look hot; it doesn’t matter if they’re cold or uncomfortable or their back hurts or their arms feel like they’re going to pop out of their sockets, they have to look like they’re having a great time. It may be a great visual to have a woman balance on one leg on a railing while somebody nails her from behind, but a reader is going to think of the physical awkwardness of it simply because s/he can’t see the character’s face.

There is a lot more to cover on this topic but it intersperses with stuff we’ll be ding through the remainder of the series, so apologies that this installment isn’t everything it could be. We will get there. For now I just wanted to get some basic stuff out of the way.

Beware of phantom body parts or bodies doing things they physically cannot; re-read the scene slowly. Act it out (literally, heh heh, or even with dolls or your hands or whatever. Make sure you’re giving the reader something real to picture.

I do want to touch very quickly on POV here as well. We’ll do more on that close to the end—I don’t think POV is a very involved topic, frankly—but someone asked about writing from the male POV so here’s my thoughts on it.

I love writing from the male POV, especially sex. And I find it fairly easy to do; of course, they’re my sex scenes and I like them, so of course this is something I think I’m good at, but the reviewers seem to agree. And there is a bit of a trick to writing sex from a male’s POV, sure, but it’s an easy one.

All you have to do is ask yourself what you want a man to be thinking when he’s having sex with you.

Do you want him to be worshipful, reverent (Yes, Bernard, lol, reverent.) Do you want him to be thinking this moment feels like forever? Do you want him to be thinking how beautiful you are? How good you smell?

What type of man are you writing? A big Alpha who’s always in control? What would the reaction of a man like that be, to discover during sex that he’s losing that control?

Now, you don’t want to go too overboard with this. Remember, he’s still a man. He’s not going to be picturing unicorns and rainbows. But he is going to be seeing the heroine a certain way, without flaws. He is going to be overwhelmed by certain things about her. He is going to feel things, just the way the heroine does. She feels him stretch her inner walls and fill her up; he feels those walls grip him and surround him with wet heat. She feels his chest hot and hard against hers; he feels her breasts crush against his skin.

What I’ve just done there, with the little examples, is something I like to do a lot. I mirror their thoughts and sensations. If he sees her, even for a dizzy moment, as some sort of goddess he’s worshipping with his body, I like her to think of herself that way or that he makes her feel that way. It’s a way of demonstrating to the reader how in-tune they are. It adds depth and cohesiveness to the scene, and again, makes the scene uniquely theirs.

Writing sex is just like writing any other action scene; you must make sure the actions flow and are physically possible. You don’t have to get fancy, but you do have to make sure everyone’s body parts are accounted for and everything makes sense.

You don’t want people laughing at your sex scene.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 15

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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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 14: Guest blog

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Guest Blogger: Emily Veinglory on Submissive Men

Okay, guys. (First, apologies for the slight delay--my BFF Cori called just as I finished posting my b-day message.)

If you've spent any time writing erotic romance or reading about those who do in the last few years, you know who Emily Veinglory is. She is a multi-published author of m/m erotic romance and straight erotic romance, an incredibly nice woman, who also runs EREC, a site which compares erotic romance epublishers and is an incredibly valuable resource for anyone looking to publish in that market. Emily works hard, guys, so that we can all get the most from our work, and I admire her tremendously.

So, without further ado...

Sex Scenes: Beyond the Alpha Male—Emily Veinglory

There is no doubt that the alpha male remain the "dominant" type of fictional fantasy man, but there are other options. The market for Domme fantasies is expanding but still relatively small, but there are also less explicit types of sex scenes focusing on less-than-macho men or more-than-damsel heroines. The key, in my opinion, to writing a sex scene with broad appeal is to focus more on what the male character is, not what he isn't—and why the heroine wants him enough to *take* him. The male may be 'mastered' by his mistress throughout the whole story, or just in one scene as a change of pace. Here are just a few of the possibilities:

The seduction: Maybe the guy holds crucial state secrets that a little pillow talk might reveal or he's pining after some other girl who doesn't return his affections. Whatever the problem, the answer is clearly for our protagonist to let our her inner vixen--to set the scene, pour the wine and slip into some 'more comfortable'. What matters here is that the heroine has a chance to revel in her own sexual power, be it a new awakening or to reel in a hunk she has been toying with for a long, long time.

The refined man: He comes in many forms from geek chic to noble dandy.
This is a man who is bound up tight in conventions, culture and codes that stop him from enjoying life, and sex, to its fullest. Perhaps he has been burying himself in a high powered job, considering joining a seminary or sublimating his creative energy into producing fine art. Clearly what he needs a lusty heroine able to release his beast within and show him how to enjoy the true pleasure of sex (so maybe the world loses the next Rembrandt but what's a girl to do?).

The beginner: Some young men come from just plain deprived background.
They are buff and fine and just waiting for an older woman to give them the schooling they need. And there is no need to stick to the basics, this could be a really extended series of lessons so he will be ready to service any need his future girlfriends might have—unless, of course, he realizes that he has all he needs right here!

The repentant: A man can be very alpha indeed, perhaps too much so. Maybe he treated the heroine badly back in high school, broke her trust with an affair, or pushed too much in trying to woo her and scared her away. In any case he can chase and chase, but never get any closer if the girl. So what is a man to do? Perhaps he hands over all the power and gives her a chance to 'punish' him for his mistakes… will it be a little light spanking or a lot of heavy pegging? Well just how naughty has he been, and just how much does he seem to be enjoying his punishment?

I could go on, but perhaps I need to save that for another day (another 'rule' of erotica, always keep them coming back for more). But whether it is a little kink or turning of the tables, or a whole story about how to tease and tame your hero, consider letting your heroine take a walk on the alpha side--your readers will thank you and her hero will be begging for more!

Go know you want to

So it's my birthday today. I'm about to post today's sex writing guest post, but I want to open a separate thread to ask everyone to give me a birthday present.

Delurk. Say hi. You can do it anonymously, in case you're, say, a superspy whose real identity can never be known. But really. I see how many hits this blog gets, and I want to know who you are. Why don't you comment usually? Don't be shy! Come on! All I want for my birthday (I am thirty-five, btw, geez) is for you to say hello.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 13

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More on chemistry and character, and opening to questions

Okay, a couple of things first. Today my older daughter Princess is seven. Which means I’m posting this and will be away pretty much all day, so if you ask a question in comments please be patient.

Also, Monday is my birthday (groan). I will be posting Emily Veinglory’s guest post then, on how submissive men can be sexy too and some ways to bring that dynamic into the relationship. It’s such a good post it actually made me consider writing a less dominant man, honestly.

Now. Several people pointed out to me on Wednesday that the Sharon Kay Penman scene didn’t do it for them. Several more mentioned that if they knew the characters better, it probably would have.

Which is exactly the point that I’ve made here, a few times (and I’m not being bitchy; I was really pleased to see those comments because A. It proved me right, and I do so love to be right; B. It shows y’all are really paying attention; and C. It shows you guys are really absorbing and feel comfortable speaking up—you’re really getting your own ideas on what works and what doesn’t, and what you would do differently, and why something does or does not work for you. Which is AWESOME.)

Remember the “bold statement” in the “Chemistry” post of July 18th? There were two of them, actually; the first was “A sex scene is the culmination of everything the hero/heroine have done, said, and been through together from the moment they meet (or the moment the reader meets them)”.

The second was “Your Hero/heroine should react to and interact with each other. If they don’t do that, nobody’s going to be interested in seeing them have sex.”

This is where erotic romance has a bit of an advantage, simply because it is so graphic, and the more graphic a scene is, the easier it is to turn someone on with it.

But every sex scene is hotter if the reader is involved, and I chose those two exaples to illustrate that point. You can—and should—involve them with evocative language, with rhythm, with imagery (we’re doing that next week), with a little dialogue, with emotion, sensation, and thought; there are lots of ways to do it and lots of little tricks you should be using. But the number one most important point is to emotionally involve the reader before the sex occurs.

Now, I appreciate this is my blog, and my work, and I’m obviously not posting it for critique—what would be the point? Blood Will Tell was published over a year ago; Eighth Wand ten months ago. It’s not like I’m going to go back and edit them at this point, not when they’ve each already sold several thousand copies in ebook format. BUT. I expect that each and every one of you noticed something missing in the scenes I’ve quoted (perhaps not as much with the Eighth Wand scene, as it was a dialogue-heavy scene and I gave you some background first.) But certainly Monday’s BWT scene—especially as it too was a very emotional scene, actually—suffered for lack of your personal emotional involvement with the characters.

Remember what we said the other day, about the difference between pornography and erotica/erotic romance? The difference is emotion. A sex scene without emotion, no matter how well written, is just a cheap thrill. You must involve the reader first. You must make them anticipate.

Now, again, we’re starting to really reach a point where the topics are so intertwined it’s hard to separate them. I don’t want to go too much into foreplay, because we’re doing foreplay in depth week after next. We’ve already discussed chemistry and emotion, but we still need to view everything through those lenses. And it’s hard to talk about imagery and allusion here when we’ll be doing them next week, along with actual mechanics—what goes where when, how to avoid making it sound like somebody has three hands, that sort of thing.

So honestly? I think I’m going to cut this one short. I feel kind of guilty about that, because I try to give you 1500 words and this is just over half that. But it’s two am here (I was baking and decorating a birthday cake, plus I’m an insomniac), and I have to be up at like eight in the morning for the birthday stuff. So I hope you guys can forgive me.

Also, I’m opening up to questions. I won’t be able to answer them until later, but I’m five hours ahead of the East Coast (US) anyway, so what the heck. Ask anything you like, and I’ll answer it as soon as I can.

Here’s a thought/suggestion as well. Think about what you think is your weakest point as far as writing sex goes. Leave it in comments, so if I haven’t covered it or touched on it and don’t have it in my loose plan for the rest, I’ll know to fit it in.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 12

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How graphic do you need to go?

Not very. Really. Obviously I think the more graphic the better, but…

As we saw in the last post, the key to a hot sex scene isn’t so much what the characters are doing. It’s what they’re feeling.

I’m going to share with you a scene from a book I didn’t write. This is from Sharon Kay Penman’s second medieval mystery (and a fantastic book—I’ve blogged before about how much I love her work and how I think the hero of the mysteries, Justin de Quincy, is hot as hell. Funnily enough, this book is the first of the Justin books I read, and it’s this scene which took him from attractive and appealing to totally, completely HOT for me. This is from Cruel As the Grave, used with permission:

The lovemaking that followed was unlike anything Justin had experienced before. There was more than lust in their eager, out-of-control coupling. He’d brought anger into the bed, too, a stifled rage that found expression now in the urgency of his demands. He was not gentle, not tender, afire with his need for release, for redemption, for oblivion. Claudine was soon caught up in his incendiary passion, burning with the same frenzied fever, and for a brief time, there were no secrets between them, no betrayals, nothing but sweat and scratches and muffled cries and pleasure so intense it was almost akin to pain.

When it was over, Justin was exhausted, drenched in perspiration, and shaken, both by the reckless abandon of their lovemaking and that it had happened at all.

See? Now look at that scene again. There is not one graphic word or line in it; no erections, no cocks, no pussies or “entrances” or “tunnels” or anything of the sort. There’s not even an “he entered her” or “he shoved himself inside her”. The most graphic words in it, in fact, are “lovemaking” and “coupling”.

But it’s still hot. It’s still a satisfying scene. I would have liked it to be more graphic, sure, because of my freakishly obsessive love for Justin. But this was fine with me, especially as Cruel as the Grave is not a romance; it’s a mystery. While the Justin/Claudine relationship is an important subplot, I don’t expect the same level of explicitness from other genres; while I expect the sex scene in a romance or erotic romance and, to a lesser degree, urban fantasy, to be arousing, I don’t expect the same from other genres (although obviously I’m happiest if they are.)

When this scene is done, even though it’s only one paragraph plus a few sentences long, we feel like we have read an entire sex scene. By amping up the language as she goes (see how the first few sentences are matter-of-fact statements, and as the scene goes on we see more commas, more words upon words, until finally we have the last phrase of the actual scene, with no commas at all, so the sentence is read in one breathless gulp) Penman makes us see the scene. We see candlelight flickering off those bodies; we hear the sounds they make; we see the sheets crumple and twist beneath them. And most importantly, we see the depth of Justin’s feelings, which you guys don’t know about, because you haven’t read the book (which is why you need to go buy it right now; well, first buy the first book The Queen’s Man, then this one. Buy them together so you can go right from one to the other). But I bet all of you can give an educated guess as to why Justin is so angry in this scene, and what went wrong between him and Claudine.

Now, again, if I’ve done my job, the frenzied lust in this scene and the frenzied lust in Monday’s Blood Will Tell scene are on a par with each other—by which I mean you felt it in both scenes. But my scene is extremely graphic, and this one isn’t, and that’s why I chose both of these as examples.

How graphic the language is, is entirely up to you. Obviously I am a fan of the graphic scene, because I have a dirty mind. You may not like it or be comfortable with it, and in those cases, this is perhaps the type of scene you could be going for (and, again, FOREPLAY. Very important. You can get away with only a few lines of actual sex if you’ve done a good job with foreplay. But I’m getting ahead of myself now.)

I got a question that made me realize I’d forgotten something important when we discussed language, so this seems like a good place to fit it in. The question related to finding appropriate language for the audience and scene, and the use of graphic terms in romantic scenes.

Here’s what I do. The more romantic the scene, the more euphemistic the language. I don’t mean I start pulling out the purple prose, just that words like “cunt”, which I’m perfectly comfortable tossing around in other scenes, do not feel to me as if they belong in a very romantic scene—a “consummation” scene, as opposed to a sex scene. In my romances there is almost always a “we love each other” sex scene, when all questions have been answered and our characters have admitted their feelings and, naturally, the intensity of their feelings makes them want to physically express them. So they do.

I never use “cunt” in those scenes. In fact, I rarely use any graphic language at all (cock is still in there, of course, because as we all know, cock is always appropriate and is always welcome, like French fries or a cold drink. Cock is the anti-drug. I could come up with these all day, people, seriously.) But beyond that, those scenes are heavily emotional. They should still be arousing, but think about it. When you had sex with your partner, or your past partner, or whatever, for the first time when you knew you were really in love, were you competing in the Kama Sutra Olympics or were you really, deeply, feeling instead of acting? (If you care to answer that anonymously [or as yourself, of course], btw, I'd be very interested in the replies, to see if I'm right about that or not.)

That doesn’t mean those scenes can’t be wild, if that’s the sort of couple you’re writing. It just means that those scenes must above all focus on sex as the culmination of and expression of love. It can still be arousing, it can still be hot, it can be however you want it to be—but I personally believe graphic language of the highest level doesn’t belong in those scenes, because it spoils the mood.

You do not need graphic language or description to write a hot sex scene. What you do need is evocative language and a strong grasp of your characters and what emotions the scene is supposed to convey.

Every word you use in a sex scene must add to the mood, remember? Don’t pass up the chance to use it as effectively as possible, and don’t feel you have to go beyond your comfort zone to turn people on. That Cruel as the Grave scene made my heart pound, I can promise you. You can have the same effect on your readers simply by writing about passion and emotion; you don’t need to write about physical actions if you don’t want.

But you have to give them something.

So, here’s an assignment. Remember the scenes you wrote on Monday, with just pure physical emotion? Pull that out again (heh heh, see, I plan ahead!) Does it really need the physical stuff?

Find a book with a not-so-graphic scene that turns you on or you particularly like. What about it gets you? Is that something you feel you can bring in to your work?

Write a very graphic scene, with dialogue, graphic language, whatever you like. Now try rewriting it using the cleanest—but still evocative—language you can. Does the scene still work?