Welcome to Wednesday on the GWN blog! We have a scintillating topic today. Mimi DiFrancesca talking about writing sex scenes.
Let’s talk about sex, baby… You’re writing a story and you know that your characters will eventually be getting physical together. Out of nowhere that makes any sense, you’ve begun feeling nervous about how to write this scene. It feels like the same kind of nervous you felt the first time you…ya know. (Insert covered mouth giggle here).
The weird part about anxiety over writing a sex scene is that we dive right in with enthusiasm when we kill off a character in a bloody and fantastically violent way. Chatting with another writer recently about what our search histories on our computers look like, we wondered if the NSA really is monitoring us, just what the heck they think we are actually up to. Maybe there should be a cyber-tag we can use identifying us as writers and not lunatics. I’ve researched some very weird things for my dark urban fiction novel. I can now hold a plausible debate over who would win a battle between a samurai or a ninja. It’s a ninja, by the way. I have also researched some extra steamy things for an erotica book and the research trail on my laptop even makes me blush, occasionally.
When we write about sex, we may fall into a few categories. We may choose to distance ourselves from the action by making it too technical and reducing a beautiful and sensual experience down to what reads like a medical report on a standard root canal. We may tell the truth and (maybe) expose some of our own personal preferences in the privacy of our bedrooms. Or we may embody our characters more completely as we write and allow some amalgam of the technical aspect and use of a poetic hand while fashioning the language of description.
Sex is a tactile experience like food preparation and consumption. We see it, we smell it, we hear it, we taste it and we touch it. Lips can touch in a kiss but who wouldn’t want a lover to desperately hunger for a taste of us? The scent of someone attractive to you registers even before your conscious mind has done all the calculating of their qualities. A cologne can override a logic switch and we forgive the one we haven’t spoken to all day because they smell…delicious. We hear sex words that drop like safety deposit keys into our ears and unlock a yes that we’ve been holding down inside of us like a protected heirloom. The silky texture of skin under our fingers makes us want keep touching until we have explored every curve, every surface and angle and every hidden cave of wonder. Our smooth instep as it grazes the hair of his calf when we run our bare foot up his leg can ignite a fire in us that can only be doused one way. Reading about sex should be a multisensory experience, with your character adding that elusive 6th sense of knowing what comes next and showing it to us through their actions.
The words we use to describe body parts can be a stumbling point for some writers. Unless all your characters are Victorian era virgins, you are going to want to write a character one day that sounds more like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and less like Jane Austen. And I’d venture a guess that in the throes of hot, steamy passion, even Jane probably let a few colorful words fly in her starched linen world.
Ironically, I am restraining myself in the use of “colorful” language as I write this blog post as I’m not sure what the reader’s reception is here for back room banter. In my own life, I could probably make a pirate blush and I do not refrain from using any word that my character might use just so I don’t shock readers. Those who know my work have come to expect the unexpected.
I’ll offer an exercise for any writer who is having a challenge at letting their keyboard create other words for penis, vagina, breast or any other body part; what can be done with them or to them. Get out a piece of paper and write down every single word that would have gotten you thrown out of school as a kid, grounded by your parents or had your mouth washed out with soap by your severely proper, Aunt Marge. (I write from experience. Newsflash: Gold Dial Soap is not a food option) Go for it. Think of subway walls and highway overpasses. Quote from rap music and movies that you had to turn off when your kids entered the room. I’m talking Saturday night and three tequila bottles later at the Jersey Shore set. Write them all down and then read them out loud, preferably to a few people like girlfriends who you shared that tequila with. Ask them to add to your list.
We’re trying to make all these descriptive words, dirty words, profanities and blue language a part of the costume and character of the people in your stories. The only way you can allow your characters to be real and three dimensional is by giving them permission to be themselves. After you’ve written them all down, read them out loud and have a really good laugh. Then, you need to get over it. They are just words and they are not “your” words. They are your characters words.
Herein lies the heart of writing a sex scene; it is not you having sex, it is your character. You, in this instance, are the accidental voyeur who is documenting the moment like an anthropologist/poet finding surprise and sensual wonder in the fierce beauty of sexual encounter. You will stand there in awe and tell us what you saw. And if you still shy away from using graphic language, there is poetry to be written in the thrusting gasps of lovers who take each other over the edge so many times that there is nothing left unknown between them.
By now, you have probably read some sex scenes in books that were gratuitous, silly and physically impossible or written like a marginally functional teenager’s MTV fantasy. You may also have read scenes that left you flushed and dreaming of deserted islands and all the time in the world. I hope that when you come to the moment when the clothing comes off and your characters get down to doing what brought seven billion people on to the planet in the first place, that you will take the writing on as a sacred challenge.
Someone out there in Reader World has never had it as good as your characters are giving it to each other. Someone out there is stopping their life for five minutes and living vicariously through your pages.
You have a choice to either button them up to their chins and or you can let him weigh her breast with his hand while the cool breeze from the open window sends a wash of goose bumps over their naked skin. Every time you write a sex scene, it’s the first time for those characters. Make it memorable even if your own first time was more like a Saturday Night Live skit, write the first time you wish you’d had.
Sex is real and honest in its urgency. Be exactly that through your pen or keyboard and you’re reader will be right there with you needing a cold shower or a hot encounter when they finish your story. Now get out there and write some smut. Make me proud.
About Mimi: Writer, Former Columnist, Poet, Blogger, Artist, Jewelry Designer, Event Planner, Ridiculously Good Cook, Animal lover, Traveler, Photographer, Metaphysics Guide and Connoisseur of Hilarity and a Certified Hypnotherapist. She is a published author, lives in Mid Michigan with her Great Dane and family and is currently working on a fantasy romance, an urban fiction novel, a sci-fi romance and erotica, under a pseudonym. Member of the RWA, MMRWA and CCWA.
Visit Mimi’s website: http://www.WordNinjaGirl.com
Cindy here again!
Great, informative post, Mimi. I don’t write many sex scenes but I will have to keep these tips in mind for when I do.