Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adding Some Heat Between the Sheets

Though I love coming across a steamy hot sex scene in a story, I can honestly say that, for me, a sex scene is by far the hardest thing to write. I agonize over every word. But no matter the difficulties, when done right, I think an intimate scene can add a lot to your story if you choose to add one in. Here are a few things I've found have helped me...

* Avoid repeating yourself.-- Often, easier said than done, in this type of situation. You need to make sure that things aren't getting repetitive, not only in what the characters are doing, but also in your choice of words. And that is where some of the difficulty comes in, since there are only so many ways to refer to ones anatomy. Once you add the additional constraints for what was in use during a certain time period, you're left with even less words in your arsenal. However, some things can be assumed. If you've already referenced a particular bodypart, and the action has not strayed too far, then you can often skip another reference. Another way is to reference a different area in close proximity, as long as it's clear where the action has now headed.

* Think about the small details. -- By doing this you pull the reader into the scene. I'm not normally one for a lot of details, but this is where you need them. How does her skin feel to the touch? Does he taste of whiskey when he kisses her? Can he smell her perfume? Is his stubble rough against her soft skin? Does the firelight cast a golden glow across her skin? Does that same light catch the planes of his muscular form? The details will help your reader visualize the scene and pull them in. Even if you choose to remain pretty vague about "the act" itself, by including the little details you still keep the scene intimate.

* Use their thoughts and emotions.-- Sex is an intimate act (even if your characters are not necessarily intimately involved) and there are bound to be thoughts if not emotions. Too often you come across a sex scene and it's just the physical act. By adding thoughts and emotions, we again keep the reader involved in the scene.

* Make sure the scene is not confusing.-- I think this very important. Too often when the writer tries not to get too explicit or if the writer is trying something a little "creative" *ahem* things can get muddled in the process. Nothing pulls a reader out of a scene faster than having to figure out what just happened, or trying to account for all the body parts during an acrobatic feat. This can be especially difficult to do if there is more than one person of the same sex involved, since you can no longer say his/her or he/she and have it be clearly understood.

* Be creative.-- I know this goes without saying, but it can be easy to start repeating things. Try for a little variety, especially if you have more than one sex scene. A quickie or a long night affair, slow and sweet or fast and rough, fun or tender. Even within the one scene, change things around a little.

* Take into account the character's personality and history.-- This is something that will keep the reader involved beyond just the sex scene, as it can add insight and often lend a bit of surprise. Is your character normally shy and timid, but a fierce and dominant lover? Or do they stay true to their personality? Did something happen to them in their past that causes them to react a certain way when intimacy is involved? All these personality quirks will lend depth to your characters.

I hope this helps. Any other suggestions? Do you write sex scenes into your stories or is it something you completely avoid?


Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

What great tips, Calista! I bookmarked this one. Will be bringing it up as I edit my steamier scenes. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

When I write sex, I tend to do so obliquely, in the manner of Hemingway. By this I mean that the focus is on what the participants say, and what they do in broad strokes (no pun intended). Then again, I write lit fic, so my intended audience doesn't necessarily expect down-and-dirty descriptions of sex acts... :)

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

Steamy scenes are my absolute favorite things to write! My MCs haven't quite gone... all the way - but to me the best parts are written in the build up anyway.

Great tips!!

Cali MacKay said...

Carolina & Sara, I'm so glad I could be of help. : ) Looking forward to reading what you guys come up with!

Simon, you're right-- genre often plays a huge role in how detailed a sex scene gets. I think romance gets pretty detailed, and steampunk romance, even more so. It's great that you can still convey your intimacy through what your characters say or do.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great tips, Calista! As a teacher, I'm keeping my writing strictly PG :)

Cali MacKay said...

Jemi, of course! Besides, you can still create an intimate scene with dialogue and emotions, without it getting physical. : )

Anonymous said...


Like Jemi, my manuscripts are PG. However, relationships play a big part in my YA I just finished. Your advice to Jemi rings true in this situation.

Passing this on to my Romance writing buddies!

Cali MacKay said...

Thanks for passing on the info, Cat!

Rhiannon Hart said...

I haven't written a sex scene yet, but I'm planning one for the third book in the series I'm writing. I look forward to it, but with some trepidation! There are so few words with which to write about sex that don't sound clinical or laughable. I'm going to have to start book marking good sex scenes in YA books. The one in Graceling springs to mind. Detailed yet not graphic.

Wonderful post. I like when people tackle difficult subjects!

jmartinlibrary said...

Calista: I love this post for highlighting two key elements: inner dialogue and sensory details. If you can nail those, pardon the pun, you can master the physical aspects of the scene.

Cali MacKay said...

Jm, I think you're quite right. Nailing those two things really does pull the reader into the scene. Too often writers give us just the physical, since it's such a large part of an intimate scene, but forget that there are other things happening.

Denise Grover Swank said...

I really could have used this site a few weeks ago when I wrote my first sex scene. Two glasses of wine and a few hours later I think I had a pretty decent scene. Its still rough draft, but it won't need a total rewrite in editing/revisions.

Cali MacKay said...

Rhianon, that's exactly how I feel about being restricted with the vocabulary. I'm always keeping a mental tally of what words have been used and where. lol.

Denise, I'm sure a few glasses of wine would help matters. I'll have to give that a try next time.

B. Freret said...

"Nothing pulls a reader out of a scene faster than having to figure out what just happened, or trying to account for all the body parts during an acrobatic feat."

This is such a wonderful quote, and so true. Does anything shatter a moment while reading quite like thinking ABC is happening, only to realize three pages later that XYZ was happening? Not that I know of.

My hunch (and it is only that, an uneducated hunch) is that when a writer can sell an intimate scene, she/he can sell anything.

Thank you for this blog entry, great stuff!

Cali MacKay said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Boudreau. I'll admit, I hate getting to a point in a story that makes me wonder if I read it all wrong, forcing me to scan back through the pages to try and figure out if I misunderstood something. I guess there's something to be said for clarity.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I personally don't feel I have a problem writing them and reading your tips I see now I'm probably right. I totally agree and with what you've wrote, and already do most of that.

Your third point (emotions) I would argue is the most important, at least in terms of that is the one that is missing most often.

I would only add two more things - don't give the characters information they wouldn't have. In our modern age (with TV the internet and really detailed sex scenes in books) very few people lose their virginity without having some idea about what is coming. A great deal of fantasy/steampunk hero and heroines lose their virginity knowing loads of different positions. Comments like "He grew up on a farm" do nothing to explain oral sex. It's not something horses tend to be involved in.

My second point is that writers with little experience in writing sex scenes can become embarrassed and that embarrassment can shine through their words. No one should be embarassed about sex.

Great blog, by the way. Love the header image, utterly gorgeous.

Cali MacKay said...

Scribblar, I'm so glad you like the blog! Those are some great points. It's indeed important to keep in mind what would be realistic for the time period one writes in.

As for being embarrassed about sex, I'd agree that no one should be, however, I know that it's not always the case. I think everyone has a certain comfort level, both for writing and reading sex scenes. I think that can also be said for other genres such as horror and thrillers/suspense. However, if one is going to push themselves to write outside their comfort zone-- which I always recommend-- I think one needs to keep in mind that it will take time and practice before the awkwardness falls away.

P.S. - Images of the Ziegfeld Girls are always so beautiful, and in such a timeless manner.