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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing Sex Scenes (ConCarolinas Writing Panel)

Well, the title pretty much says it, but the topic of this panel, which took place late on the Friday night, is mostly about writing sex scenes. I found it amusing and informative, and even though I don't currently write anything that calls for scenes of an overly-detailed nature, it still contained a wealth of useful points.

As always, these are my notes of what the speakers had to say, mostly in the order they were taken and sometimes reworded for clarity.

* * *

Writing Sex Scenes 
Authors: Mason Lavin, Jana Oliver, Barbara Friend Ish

For Starters ...
- There has to be a lead up, a purpose for the scene.
- Structure: build-up, climax, aftermath, the scene before and the scene after
- Without a plot and characters you care about, it's porn.

Things to consider:
- Word choice should be sexy, romantic, sweet.  (E.g. don't use "dribble" - neither sexy nor romantic)
- Sex can be the riskiest thing you can do. Sex can ruin characters' lives, change or complicate the plot, show character growth
- Very like writing a battle scene
- It has to *fit* with the story.
- Sex has consequences for the characters and plot.
- Sex scenes are action scenes. You have to be aware of where the bodies are.
- Body parts do not act on their own. Don't use "her hips thrusted"; she thrusted her hips. Don't use "his eyes roamed over her body", either.
- If what you write turns you on, it will likely turn on your readers, but that doesn't mean you have to write from specific experience.
- Be careful not to repeat the same sex scene twice
- Like fight scenes, they should escalate
- Things don't always go well in sex scenes; things can go wrong
- Sex scenes are an opportunity to explore character
- Historical sex scenes: research what they wear because clothing (and its removal) are important (e.g. a corset? chainmail bikinis? hoop skirts?) ; research locations for plausibility (e.g. in a moving carriage?)
- Level of explicity - determine what specifically are you writing. (e.g. there are different Harlequin imprints for different levels of explicity.)

Things to Avoid:
- Avoid harsh, crass words for body parts / actions; find other words parts (though "core" is overused!)
- Avoid "ing" words like throbbing, heaving, etc.
- Avoid being clinical with descriptions. People don't want literal/clinical. They want romance. Readers have to be invested in the character.

SF and Fantasy Applications:
- In science fiction and fantasy: the bodies have to work.
- Writing paranormal, alien, etc characters: the story has to be consistent in voice. Nonhuman or alien best written in longer pieces, to show the differences.

Final Thoughts:
- Writing a really good sex scene can be really difficult.
- It is like a battle scene: character may be thinking, "I'm dead, time to live, nothing to lose"
- Try not to rush the scene just because you're uncomfortable. Even if it bothers you, that's the way it should be.
- Sex can be horrible, healing, used to show vulnerability and character development
- If it's not working for you, it's probabl not working.
- If it is uncomforable, you've left something on the table.
- If writing erotica, you may want to separate this type of fiction from your author persona with a pen name.
- Understand where something crosses the line.
- You *really* have to show and not tell here - it's an action scene!
- People judge  you less harshly than you judge yourself.
- Erotica should not be writen in second person or present tense.
- Know where everyone is, what state of undress they're in, and what's going on.
- Vulgarity works less well than you might think.

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