Sex Scenes

This blogpost may not be safe for work and contains adult concepts

I think this is going to be the first of several blogposts about scenes – writing them, editing them and generally putting them together and my experience of the same. I figure a title like “sex scenes” will get people more interested upfront! Plus I’m waiting for some Microsoft software to download and it seems to be taking all week, so thanks to that you get my thoughts on the subject.

Sex ‘n’ Battle

I thought of this after reading Janet Cameron’s great article on including an intimate scene in her novel Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World and how other authors treat them. For me, I tend to have a category in my head I call “sex ‘n’ battle” (given the setting of my novel, battles do happen) as they both tend to have long, continuous action sequences, are not dialogue-heavy and are not conducive to infodumping of any sort! The difference being that the sex scenes do not generally require pages of notes. Battle scenes are bastards for having to make notes. And battle scenes are less likely than sex scenes to be omitted by writers because…

…”There’s No Need to Go Into Detail”

I’m inclined to disagree. When Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte were writing, the conventions did not allow them to be explicit. But now that these conventions have been changed – if there is powerful chemistry between the characters, if sex is an expression of an emotion that arises naturally from a plot event, then it seems like cheating the reader to close the door and coyly murmur, “And so to bed”. (If indeed it is a bed.) If there is a scene that calls for passion, then I think it’s up to the authors to woman up and get on with it.

But Don’t Do a Sex Scene by Numbers

Here is where the discussion gets a bit NSFW, but if I don’t make it specific it won’t be clear what I’m talking about. It appears in modern literature that deals with straight romance, that there is an Order of Business for sex between hero and heroine. It’s very bad form for the bloke to go straight for the bullseye; no matter how hopelessly turned on he is, he needs to provide the requisite five minutes (at least, they don’t provide the exact time) of oral, at which the woman will invariably achieve her first orgasm, to be shortly followed by the second one when he finally “explodes” (eeek, that sounds messy, if I were the heroine I wouldn’t fancy picking bits of mangled flesh off me after coitus.)

I’ve read several scenes in certain novels with this exact order of events. There’s nothing more of a turn-off than a sex tickybox. It dehumanises the parties involved, makes them little more than stereotypes, and we lose belief in them. The mixed emotions and fallible bodies are lost. Any thrill generated is mechanical and superficial. It’s like what E.M. Forster says: the illusion of life may vanish, and the author degenerate into a showman. Or a porn star director.

Seriously. More novelists need to read John Fowles. “It was ninety seconds since he had lifted her and brought her into the bedroom”. Best ending to a sex scene ever.

And Watch the Pronouns

This one is for same-sex scenes. When you’re writing your scene, with protagonists Rob and Howard settled into a clinch, it can be a bit of a pain to figure out who is doing what to whom unless the reader gets regular reminders. “Rob pulled off his shirt” – it’s not clear whether we’re talking about Rob’s own shirt or Howard’s. Now mind you, a quickly following comment about Howard’s newly bared six pack can get us back on track (and quite happy to hear hear more) but that is a device, and like any device, can wear out with overuse. (And I swear I did not write that with a double entendre in mind.)

No (Info) dumping

I forgot to mention this on the first writing of this post, but it’s important. I can’t think of any sex scene where would ever be legitimate to digress on an “as you know, Bob” thread. The action needs to move continuously – well as continuously as any realistic love scene can be. The narrative needs to be gossamer light.

Build up the Chemistry

Sex, like anything else in a novel, should not occur in isolation to everything else around it. It should serve the plot. I recently read a novel that was based around a love story. A lot of the novel depended in the reader finding that love story plausible. Anyway the author carelessly noted that the characters, “slept together on the first date”. I was raging. Where was the chemistry? Where was the tension? Why should I care? I thought maybe she was trying to do something different and unconventional, but it soon emerged she wasn’t. There are rules for romance. Don’t mess about with them unless you know what you’re doing.

So, that’s sex. Anyone got any requests for any other scene types?

One thought on “Sex Scenes

  1. And I forgot one thing! Humour! It’s quite ok to have moments of hilarity in the middle of a passionate scene. Though it would be wise to remember that in a hero-and-heroine scenario, there are times when the woman shouldn’t laugh – I’m thinking more for anatomical than dramatic reasons 🙂

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