Kristen Lamb

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How to Write Superior Sex Scenes: Ignite Your Readers & Burn Them to Ash

Hey Guys, Cait Reynolds, my co-author/partner in crime/therapist/evil half is here to talk about the birds and the bees and maybe bees tying up other bees. The “How To” of writing superior sex scenes is vital, just uncomfortable for me. Sorry. I blame my upbringing.

I’m a Texan with a Lutheran mom and Baptist father. I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and have had far too much vacation bible camp to be much help. In fact, legally, I cannot write a sex scene until every member of my family dies…and likely not even then.

If you need help with plotting a fight scene or murder? I’m your gal.

All this said, roughly 80% of publishing is powered by the romance genre. This is a FACT.

I read a LOT of romance, myself. Sadly, however, there are “romances” so over-processed and crammed with filler they need a foil tray instead of a book cover.

TV Dinner sex scenes.

Tired, overdone, dry, uncreative and no one looks forward to consuming this stuff (unless starving and desperate).

Now, the great romances? Those suckers should come with warning labels. Those stories set us ON FIRE and do not relent until we are ash.

Though I know these books when I see them, not my skill set to teach, so Cait, A.K.A. Bad Teacher taking over….

When to Have Sex? (Besides the, uh, obvious)

I need to clarify here that when I use the word ‘sex,’ it’s a kind of shorthand for a wide range of heat and scenes, from the breathless near-kiss to the no-holds-barred prolonged BDSM menage a trois.

With bees *giggles*….

Kristen, go away or I will stab you. Where was I?

Basically, when I use ‘sex,’ it means that physical arousal has become part of the scene and may influence emotions, insights, and decisions (good and bad but always “complicated”).

Whether we write it sweet or scaldingly hot, there always has to be a reason behind sex for our characters. Sex scenes are not exempt from the rules of plotting. Let me say that again.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES SUBMIT TO THE RULES OF PLOTTING

And yes, I am all CAPS LOCK on you on the super important stuff and no talking back *adjusts leather yoga pants*.

As I was saying..

This is not to say that a character’s decision to give in to temptation has to be rational (in fact, it’s often better for the plot if it isn’t). However, sex must always fit coherently within the logical structure of the story.

We can’t just throw in a sex scene because it has been a chapter-and-a-half since our characters got it on.

Another cardinal sin is timing a sex scene when the emotions of the characters don’t match up to where they happen to be in their arc.

Let’s use Seraphina and Taylor (my favorite stand-in’s). If Seraphina is having trouble accepting that what Taylor did was for her own good, she is going to struggle emotionally and intellectually with the pull of intimacy with him. Too often, we flip a switch on Seraphina and have her go from manic to melting in the space of one kiss.

While she can certainly give in to the physical sensations, emotionally, she’s not going to be in the same place as her physiological responses. She’s going to be conflicted going into the moment, and who knows where she’ll be by the end of it?

THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Conflict is the living, beating heart of any story, and to excuse sex scenes from this rule is to water down both the meaningfulness and the sizzle of sex.

Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing, and we run the risk of smashing it to pieces when we interrupt the logical flow of a story–something the reader is attuned to, even if they don’t know it.

In short, when it comes to a sex scene, we can’t just stick it in any ol’ place any ol’ time we feel like it (Sorry not sorry–I had to go there). When the moment is right (um, I have been reading too much of Kristen’s Cialis blog post), a good sex scene is just what the characters and the plot need.

How to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

Let’s say we’re reading a mystery. We pick it up with the expectation of suspense, the pleasant anticipation of trying to figure out the whodunnit for ourselves before the detective, and a thrilling game of literary cat and mouse.

The author announces in chapter three that it was the butler in the library with the candelabra, and the rest of the book is spent finding more clues that confirm…yup, it was the butler in the library with the candelabra.

I don’t know about you, but I would be throwing that book across the room…unless I got off on reading the same conclusion over and over again. (Surprise! It was the butler in the library with the candelabra! *facepalm*)

So, why do we yet again exempt sex scenes from this basic rule of fiction?

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES ADHERE TO THE RULES OF PACING

If Seraphina and Taylor jump into the sack in chapter three (with or without the butler & candelabra optional), then what is left for them? Misunderstandings and emotional conflict?

Sure.

But…the snap, crackle, and pop when we break through the Latent Unresolved Sexual Tension (L.U.S.T.) is utterly and irrevocably gone.

There’s only ever one first time. One moment of true surrender. ONE.

After that, it’s just indulging in a habit with more or less consequences.

If we are writing high-heat romance or erotica, there is definitely an expectation of having lots of fairly explicit sex scenes. But there’s nothing that says we have to go all the way on the first date with the reader.

There’s a certain irony in the idea that we as writers are supposed to be endlessly creative, yet, when it comes to sex scenes, we too often tend to go for the obvious, low-hanging fruit (insert innuendo here).

Anticipation is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Highly intoxicating and addictive.

Temptation and then DENIAL of the NEED as long as possible. The longer the chase, bigger the payoff.

When we (readers) binge read a book, our hearts are pounding, and we simply cannot stop because we want…we need what has been denied over and over. The final act is called a CLIMAX for a reason. Remember that. Jot some notes if you need to.

We writers must understand that what arouses readers to a state of almost painful excitement is always the tease (yup, more innuendo). The author leads a merry chase–hinting, confusing, tantalizing, showing a bit of ankle, running in the opposite direction.

We loves her. We haves her. We needs the Precious!

LITERARY FOREPLAY IS CRITICAL!

Yep, more CAP LOCK there *cracks whip* *adjusts black-framed glasses* I’m being tough. #BadTeacher

Wanna get all sexy with no lead up? No work? No game?

What is it that our characters fear about intimacy?

What is something that pushes their emotional and physical boundaries?

What have they never done before?

What is dangerous to them?

Where would they never engage in physical intimacy?

The more we know our characters, the more we can create moments and scenarios that begin to build the pressure of L.U.S.T. until a single spark makes all their clothes explode.

Done properly, we can build enough ridiculous tension and prolong the anticipation so that the first full sex scene can happen halfway or even two-thirds of the way through the book, and the reader won’t even notice because they’ve been hot and bothered since chapter two’s encounter in the coatroom of the restaurant.

Where to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

A good editor will come down on us like a ton of bricks if we get too mechanical or bogged down with unimportant details. Every scene has its own particular balance of dialogue, inner thoughts, action, and description.

The exact proportions of each element may differ for different POVs, genres, scenes, level of heat, etc., but they are always present.

Why then, for the love of all things Taylor and Seraphina, do we forget this rule when it comes to sex scenes? Why do we subject the reader to the (sometimes literal) blow-by-blow description of what Seraphina is doing to Taylor and vice versa?

It’s painfully easy to let a sex scene slip into “Insert Tab A into Slot B” territory when all we focus on is what body parts are touching other body parts.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES HARNESS THE RULES OF DESCRIPTION

There’s so much we can put into a sex scene to enhance it, make it vibrant, touch a chord of reality with the reader, and create a truly unique moment for our characters. Let’s just look at the mechanics.

We wouldn’t describe every single action a character takes to prepare a lasagna. Why are we doing this with a sex scene? If we truly know our characters and what they long for, fear, desire, and dislike, then we can draw the reader’s attention to what is daring, unusual, and dangerous for the character.

For example, I could describe in agonizing minutiae how Taylor undresses Seraphina. It would probably end up sounding like every other undressing scene in every other book.

Taylor hurriedly undid the buttons on her blouse, getting impatient and yanking it over her head. She gasped as he hooked his hands into the waist of her skirt and deftly turned it around so he could unzip it and slide it down her legs. (I can’t go much further here without getting both more mechanical and explicit and in trouble with Kristen, but you get the idea.)

Eh. Meh. Blah.

But…what if we spun the moment this way?

As Taylor tore at her clothes, Seraphina wondered at herself, at her impulsive decision to leave work in the middle of the afternoon to meet him at the hotel. The constant patter of rain against the windows reminded her of the stream of emails she was willfully ignoring.

She looked at the man responsible for her temptation, the agent of her transformation. Every piece of clothing he ripped away peeled away the shell of the cold corporate woman, and every hot breath against her skin baptized her in the fire of a primal desire.

In your mind’s eye, you saw Taylor taking off her clothing. I didn’t have to beat you over the head with the buttons or smack you with her skirt. I didn’t give you guidance on how to take off Seraphina’s clothes. I put you in her head, and I bet that for a split-second, you heard the patter of rain against a window ;).

Getting Some…

All of this is just the tip…of the iceberg. (YES! I HAD TO!)

I talk about this and so much more in my class, “How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes–No Safe Words Here!”

The thing is, this Friday is the last time I’m offering it this year (and probably well into next year). So, if you want to have an awesome time and learn a ton about writing SUPERIOR SEX SCENES, sign up for MY CLASS THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017, FROM 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST!

CLASS DESCRIPTION

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $45.00  USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 20, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl have sex several times, though the scenes all kind of blur together at some point. Girl (or Boy) ends up in trouble at the hands of criminals/jealous ex/drug lord and needs Boy’s (or Girl’s) rescue.

Boy and Girl have celebratory sex and live happily ever after.

Sound all too familiar?

Maybe like the tens of thousands of schlocky “Schlongs of Shanghai” titles all competing for KENP (Kindle pages read) and the top 1,000 ranking on Amazon?

But, there’s no denying that erotica is one of the hottest genres around and has a very real place in literature. Yet, to write a work of erotica that provides both the escapist fantasy that readers want while creating a fast-paced story with memorable characters and riveting, unique sex scenes is probably harder than trying to find that billionaire cowboy with six-pack abs who’s into ménage-a-trois.

This class will not be for the faint of heart or those who blush easily!

We are going to tackle the nitty gritty of the erotica genre as a whole and sex scenes in particular…and use ALL the words in our discussions!

Topics covered include:

  • When to introduce sex into the story and the sex v. plot ratio –
  • Creating chemistry in one easy step
  • Decisions, decisions: Purple prose v. crass cusswords –
  • How to avoid the cookie-cutter Alpha male (and corresponding Mary Sue female) –
  • Keeping the sex fresh, interesting, and unique in every single scene – How realistic to make sex in any given scene v. how much detail is TMI, even for your readers?
  • What really makes a scene sexy?
  • What makes a story sexy?
  • BONUS: How to talk about erotica as literature and fun facts about the history of erotica!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. REGISTER NOW!

GOLD PACKAGE

Get one hour of phone consultation with Cait and workshopping of a sex scene of up to 2,500 words! This is personalized instruction and guidance on making your writing sizzle!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

10 thoughts on “How to Write Superior Sex Scenes: Ignite Your Readers & Burn Them to Ash”

  1. Scott PettyScott Petty

    If there’s no context, then it’s just porn. Taking notes on this post! Thanks.

  2. SherrySherry

    Dang, where is the like button. Thank you so much for sharing this! Great information and ideas. Sharing this on my social media for sho.

  3. Ana CalinAna Calin

    Amazing article, amazing writing! Truly enjyable, you’re a terrific writer, Cait

  4. Linda K. RodanteLinda K. Rodante

    Since I write Christian fiction, this title was a sure turnoff.

    • Kristen LambKristen Lamb

      I talk about all writing here and romance is a huge genre. Additionally, my favorite of all love stories, of couples coming together are best when the passion and desire are unmet, off the page and become something more. Love. It’s why I believe Christian romances are the hardest to write well, much like clean comedy far more difficult because don’t have access to the graphic language and low-hanging fruit of being obscene or toilet humor.

      Yet even in a love story, much of what Cait addressed here works and makes a better story. That and she defined “sex” as everything from heightened attraction (which I enjoy and write) to the other end of the spectrum which I don’t read or write. Some of the best Christian fiction I’ve ever read, which had me dying for the pair to get together, to make it, are Christian historical romances from Jody Hedlund. Jane Eyre never shows skin, no consummation, nothing out of marriage and yet women have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy since the 1800s because of the tools laid out here.

  5. Jini Ellyne (J. Ellyne)Jini Ellyne (J. Ellyne)

    I always get in trouble for disagreeing with the teacher but can’t resist sometimes, sorry teacher. Keep me after school if you must. I don’t write “sex books” to titillate readers; I write epic adult fantasies with some very explicit sex scenes in them. I agree with most of your advice and never include a sex scene just for titillation. I do make those scenes be necessary for driving my plot forward. For example, in my current WIP I have written a scalding hot, very explicit sex scene between Merdraud (aka Mordred) and his father’s wife (but not his mother) Guinevere. It needs to be very hot because Merdraud falls in love with Guinevere and steals her away from Arthur which, in my novel at least, is the reason for the civil war that destroys the United Kingdom of Britannia that Arthur built over the course of decades of battles with foreign invaders and results in the tragic deaths of both Arthur and Merdraud on the killing field of Camlan.

    Where I disagree with you, teacher, is in your two versions of the love scene between Taylor and Seraphina, I actually prefer the first, more explicit version, better than the second version. While disparaging it, you actually wrote a steaming hot scene that got my juices flowing. On the other hand the second version typifies what I don’t like about supermarket romance novels — all sweet and sugary with cliches instead of spice. Am I bad to feel this way teacher? Is there something wrong with me? Forgive me please; punish me if you must.

  6. Dominique BlessingDominique Blessing

    I won’t be able to take the webinar, but do you have a book available? I’d love to refine my love scenes.

  7. Carl D'AgostinoCarl D'Agostino

    I have read many adventure/thriller novels where it seems sex scenes were included just because an author felt such needed to be included out of some obligation to readers who are entertained by such. Often they seem very contrived and even seem to be written by someone else. I don’t remember the names of husband/wife team that often collaborate on writing a novel other than their individually written novels. He writes spy/adventure/crime/ thriller and she writes romance with heated sex scence genre. When they work on a novel together we get half of each genre and it’s just ridiculous as the two genres do not coagulate.

  1. Como escrever cenas de sexo arrebatadoras: taque fogo nos seus leitores e queime-os até o talo! – O Caminho Interior

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