Thursday, April 4, 2013

Writing About Sex (Shh!) – Five Writing Tips

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 
Purchased image from Fotolia
A guy thriller author I know (who shall remain anonymous) said his most mortifying experience about his debut book was that his mother called him after she’d read it and corrected his sex scene.

First…Ew.

And secondly, Ew.



I had another writer friend who thought that writing these scenes would be easy, although he’d never written one before. I said, “Go for it, buddy. Show me what you got.” Since the guy wrote in first person (and I was sure that every protag he wrote was HIM), I wondered how he would handle it. The scene turned into a very short QUICK paragraph. I suggested he try thinking of a sex scene as if he were watching porn, where someone ELSE was in the video. It was my way of showing him that 3rd person might be a better fit for him in a “practice” scene like this. The light bulb went on for him and he got it.
 
Even thrillers and crime fiction have men and women playing roles in the book, so tension and gender differences can be a great way to add conflict. Not all books have to have sexy scenes, but you can decide how much or how little to add if you want some spice to your novel.
 
What is the right balance or blend of romance in your plot? My basic rule of thumb is: if you can delete the romance from your book and the plot no longer makes sense, then you’ve got the right blend and it’s integrated well. In other words, the sexual tension between your protags puts them in more danger and ramps up the stakes. You punish them for wanting to be together.
 
 
Five Key Tips to Writing a Sex Scene:
 
1.) Make the scene about something more than sex. If you’ve built up the tension, make the characters have more at stake than just a romp in bed. Have your woman come from an abused past or have the guy put everything at risk to be with her so that one wins and the other almost loses for them to be together. Make the scene meaningful beyond the physical…and make it emotional. Readers who might not read a sex scene might be compelled to read yours and not skim over it, because the character’s emotions are bare (as well as their bodies).
 
2.) Get creative in your word choice of action and body parts. For some reason, I try to minimize the “usual” choices for body parts and I prefer sexy sounding descriptions of motion. People can “get” what you mean without going into too much detail. I’ve included an example below.
 
3.) Foreplay is often the best part (sort of). Don’t short change the set up of flirtation and intimacy. Anticipation is very much a player in building the tension. Sometimes even the foreplay can make the whole scene.
 
4.) You don’t always have to leave that bedroom (or limo) door open. Sometimes you can ease it closed with only a peek. Take your characters to a point where it works for your book, then close the door and let your characters have their privacy if that’s what you’d like to do.
 
5.) Don’t forget that sex changes everything. Before and after, make it ring true. Once your characters cross the line of physical intimacy with each other, things get complicated. Make it real.
 
Discussion:

1.) If you’re a writer, what challenges do you have in writing sexy scenes? Any tips on making them easier?

2.) If you’re a reader, what hot scenes do you remember from books that have stuck with you and please share your thoughts on why the scene(s) were memorable.
 
 
Excerpt THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD (HarperCollins) by Jordan Dane – Garrett Wheeler and Alexa Marlowe in the backseat of a limo in NYC:

“Yes, I would. Call me if the bounty hunter is receptive to the idea and I’ll make arrangements to meet you.” His somber face warmed to a smile. “But whether she is or not, maybe we could take a few days off to ourselves in Chicago. It’d be nice to get away, just the two of us.”

By the hungry look in his eyes, she knew he meant it. She felt the pull of their mutual addiction. Alexa sipped her champagne and leaned forward to loosen his tie.

“Now you’re talking.” Her throaty voice and suggestive expression sent the message. The business part of their meeting had concluded. “I’d love some downtime with you … alone.”

“We’re alone now.”

“Yes, we are.”

Done with talking, she closed her eyes and kissed him, breathing in the subtle smell of his cologne with her fingers entwined in his dark hair. His lips and tongue tasted like pricey champagne. She hadn’t intended to do much more than kiss him, but when her hand moved under his suit coat, she craved the feel of his bare skin, especially as he nuzzled her neck. The sensation sent a tingling shock wave over her body and things got out of control. Under the silk of her dress, blood rushed down and through her, a surge of pleasure she couldn’t restrain.

“I thought you’d be wearing it.” Next to her ear, his voice resonated against her, driving her crazy.

Alexa understood what he meant. She had slipped the jewelers case into her vintage Dior envelope purse, saving it for when Garrett could put it on her personally. But she didn’t tell him that. She found another way to say it.

“I wanted it to be the only thing I wore the next time I saw you.”

That made him smile. She heard it in her voice when he said, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

He kissed the palm of her hand then reached over and punched a button on a control panel. She heard the soft whir and the window to the driver’s compartment closed. And even though every window in the vehicle darkened with a screen for privacy, she still saw the people and traffic outside.

“Can they see in?” she whispered.

“I doubt it.”

Without another word, he trailed his fingertips down her legs, unbuckling the straps to her platform Miu Miu shoes and tossing them aside. The carpet felt good against her bare feet.

“Garrett? We can’t … not here.”

“What if they can see us, Alexa?” He got to his knees between her legs and stripped out of his suit jacket and yanked off his tie, not taking his eyes off her. “Do you really care?”

Her cheeks flushed with heat. She wanted to glance toward the cab that had stopped next to them at a light. She saw the taxi driver turn his head from the corner of her eye. But she couldn’t take her gaze off Garrett. The man’s swarthy good looks mesmerized her, but behind those eyes was an enigmatic man far too complicated to understand in a lifetime.

On the outside, he wore pricey clothing like a mogul on Wall Street, but underneath it all, a wicked scar or two on his dark skin reminded her of the violence in his life. She’d seen him kill with the same passion she saw in his eyes now.

He’d become as adaptable as a chameleon with one foot in the civilized world and the other in places she was too scared to contemplate. Truth told, that had been the part of him she wanted to understand but never would.

“What if they are watching us?” he asked again, his voice lower. Her rapid breathing filled the quiet vacuum of the limo, mingling with his. As he unbuckled his pants, he kept talking to her, “Let’s give them something to see.”

He reached under her dress, his large hands gripping her hips and lingering.

“Tell me you want this, Alexa. Tell me how much you want it.”

Garrett loved pushing her limits when it came to intimacy. Every new experience put his mark on her. And she knew it.

“I want this … I want you.” She reached up to kiss him, but he only shook his head.

“Take it off. Everything.”

Driven to the brink beyond caring, she didn’t take long to make up her mind. Piece by piece, she took off her coat and silk dress as he watched. She didn’t take her gaze off him, not wanting to break their connection. With every garment she removed, the hunger in his eyes intensified.

She turned her head toward the nearest window and found she wanted someone to see her. She even craved it, but before she told Garrett how she felt, he spoke first.

“Where is it? The necklace.”

Alexa retrieved her purse and gave him the necklace. She held back her blond hair to let him slip it on her neck. The gold chain and diamond dazzled on her warm skin as it flushed with arousal. It was all she wore.

“What do you think?” she asked as she posed for him, her inhibitions gone.

“Priceless.” Drawing her closer, he lowered his lips to her body.

“Oh, Garrett. Yes.”

He knew exactly how to touch her and took what he needed. Like an out of body experience, she pictured the scene in her mind’s eye—in broad daylight, in the middle of traffic. She looked up into the urban landscape of New York City as the limousine stopped at another light and pedestrians crossed the street, peering into their tinted window.

And the sensation was … exhilarating.

 

26 comments:

  1. Good morning, Jordan. That was definitely an early-morning eye opener. A keeper for sure. I recall a Vonnegut passage --- I can't remember which story --- where with tongue firmly in cheek he created a pornographic story within a story that included the passage "...and he rammed the old avenger home." I unfortunately have been unable to make love since ---over the course of four decades --- without that passage running through my mind.

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    1. Oh, Joe. You never said whether that passage has helped or hindered... Maybe that should be a well kept secret for the old avenger.

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  2. One of my old romance novels had a Garrett in it. I think it's the the same guy... :)

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  3. Dang girl, that was hot stuff.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. I wanted this to be about the suggestion of sex yet with a focus on how Garrett has changed her, because that plays into the plot later. My Sweet Justice books are more romantic thrillers.

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  4. Great advice, Jordan, thank you!
    Romantic scenes are always tricky to pull off for so many reasons. It's never felt embarassed to write these scenes, but it is embarassing to think that my mother will probably read them. Not sure how to avoid that: maybe descreetly ripping out a few pages before giving her a copy...

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    1. They say to write as if your parents are dead. I never have told my parents this bit of advice, but it's solid in theory.

      In books like yours (YA), the romance is much sweeter...or an exploration.

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    2. Thank you, that could be the good mindset!
      With the YA book I'm currently working on, I have to go the other direction and write as if my wife will read it out loud to her 6th grade class. More sweetness, less sweatiness :)

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  5. Whew! Bet you won't be talking about THAT in your seminar in OKC! *grin* (By the way, I'll see you there.)

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    1. Oh how little you know me, Ross. Glad we are going to fix that in OKC. You better say HI to me.

      At a conference in San Fran, I was the MC for a writer's conference panel on SEX in fiction. We had a packed house and our panel was so bodacious, we got written up in the San Fran newspaper.

      Didn't your mom ever tell you that SEX SELLS? My mom did, but she was the same woman who on my wedding day pulled me aside and said, "I'd tell you about the birds and the bees, but I'm afraid you'd correct me." That was my big sex talk. No lie.

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  6. Good one, Sechin. My parents attended a speaking engagement I did for a writers group. I was asked to do a reading & forgot they'd be with me. Thankfully they sat behind me as I read a scene that I couldn't just bleep out. Later my mom told the audience that she'd have to put me in time out.

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  7. I like to hint at sexual tension between my characters, but they are not both protagonists. The female is the protagonist, and the role of the male is threshold guardian. I can't imagine them consummating their relationship with sexual contact, but they do have this tension the reader will pick up on.

    I don't think I could write a good sex scene unless it was pure erotica. I don't like sexual contact in a suspense thriller or even fantasy. It would feel like watching porn where the participants are "trying" to act. *shudder* Very painful. I don't mind sexual contact in a romance though.

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    1. It's not an all or nothing component. It can be a lingering essence that's almost a character's voice, rather than a formulaic adder of a fully consumated relationship.

      For me, it depends on the story line, but I find the attraction between two characters adds something for me as a reader. As an example, it would be like the Bruce Willis Die Hard movies. It would be repetitive & perhaps tedious if the whole movie was nothing more than action & special effects. People want him to have those relationships to fight for. That makes him more relatable.

      But at the end of the day, it is the author's call and there are plenty of readers who like a varied read. Thanks for your comment, Diane. Good luck with your writing. I always love hearing from you.

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  8. Dang it! I didn't know you were coming to OKC or I'd have planned to go (I'm about 5 hours north in Kansas).

    Awesome scene. Hot, but not clinical. I have some hard core stuff floating around under a pen name and it is difficult to be graphic without just being anatomical.

    Terri

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    1. Dang! I would've LOVED to see you in OKC, Terri. OWFI is a nice conference.

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  9. I love your tips on writing sex scenes, Jordan! Excellent! And your excerpt is fabulous!

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    1. Thanks, Jodie. Makes me want to take a limo ride in Manhattan. Just sayin'

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  10. If I might, I may quibble ever so slightly about the "give her an abused past" to create extra tension and to make the moment more emotional. A librarian friend recently went on a Twitter-tirade about how many characters in newer books all seem to have the same "abused as a girl" in their back stories. It seemed to her that this was a writer's cheep way to make a character "edgy" and "complex" without having to put a lot of thought into ~how~ to make them so.

    It's probably just picking at a nit but that one thing reached out and smacked me.

    Now asside from that I have to say I absolutely adore the advice offered especially the "close the bedroom door." I tend to apply the rule of thumb of asking myself: Is it worth the fight with the actress to do the nude scene for the sake of the story. If I couldn't make the case to the actress's (or actor's) parent that it had to be there, then it's fade to black time.

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    1. You're right about how this abused past thing can be cliche. Definitely have seen it, but the one series character I did this with, Jessie my female bounty hunter, that extreme abuse permeates everything she is and does. She's physically and mentally scared by it and she'll never get over it. It drastically affects her relationships and even how she lives.

      I chose that for her as a strong driver for every decision & motivation she has in her life. Her low self-esteem consistency is not easy to write. So during the series she is evolving from the dark to lighter shadows, but she'll never be free of the dark.

      So even if an author chooses to pick the cliched abused past thing, they should own it and make it real so it works. But I'm VERY glad you mentioned this. That needed to be clarified and I probably should have chosen better examples. Thanks.

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  11. Awesome post Jordan.

    That scene was right on the money. It's the emotions that matter regardless of the genre.

    Love your tips!

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    1. Thanks, Paula. Hope your writing is going well. :)

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  12. Interesting tips, Jordan. I think my problem (and probably for other male writers) is getting inside the female mind. My last book was challenging for that reason, but my muses were cracking the whip to get it done. The main character is a fifty-year-old female DHS agent who brings down a government conspiracy involving the forced retirement of agents and scientists with early dementia and Alzheimer's and many government secrets. I don't think I could have written this forty years ago, or even attempted it. I wish I had your tips when i was starting out. :D

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    1. Thanks, Steven. When I jokingly talk about writing the male POV, I tell people that I write that scene then go back & delete half of it. The men in my life & former co-workers don't think with the emotion as women do. Things are generally simpler, as a rule. There are always exceptions. But writing the other gender can be a challenge. I would recommend a good beta reader group that includes a few women.

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  13. I like the climax. (Har, har...)

    Seriously, you write this very well. I'll keep these tips in mind for the future.

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    1. Ha! Thanks, Daniel...for the chuckle, too.

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