The Coup, Day 3 – Putting the Bite in Sex Scenes
It’s Day 3 of the The Coup! This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but between unexpected doctor appointments for myself (I’m fine, but my shoulder is gonna take about 5-8 weeks to heal), my 9th wedding anniversary (we forgot until Facebook reminded us LOL), and an unexpected Denny Basenji vet visit (he’s fine, just pissed off that he is being subjected to medicated wipes), things got a bit…wild.
However, we of the revolution are nothing if not stalwart, and to make up for missing yesterday, I promise a SATURDAY post! Maybe even a Sunday post. BOOYAH! Yeah, I know. I’m kind of tearing up from my own generosity, too. Frankly, I’m having so much fun, I may not give the blog back to Kristen after this week. Okay. I might let her post occasionally. We’ll see.
So, today’s topic should be fun, if perhaps a bit edgy. At the very least, I hope to skirt the bounds of propriety and induce mild squirming. I mean, any time you write about sex and writing sex scenes, squirming should be involved.
The Wide World of Sex
There are all kinds of sex scenes with all different levels of heat, from the kiss-fade-to-black and mild groping, all the way to full frontal erotica that tests the limits of our taboos. Aside from providing purposeful or inadvertent wanking material, sex scenes actually can serve a real purpose in the story.
A sex scene can complicate or resolve a relationship. Sex can be used as one of the bad, impulsive, very human decisions that a character makes. Done right, a sex scene is a brutally accurate barometer about the psychological, physical, and emotional state of a character. One character can use sex as misdirection and distraction for another character. Sex scenes can deepen our immersion in the world, identification with the characters, and indulgence in the fantasy and suspension of reality. Finally, sex can be used to explore some of the most profound ideas about human relationships, gender roles, and power.
This is assuming, of course, that it is a well-written sex scene.
A badly written sex scene reads like the bastard offspring of a technical manual and IKEA assembly directions. It’s mechanical, predictable, and worst of all, barely titillating. That is a cardinal crime.
A sex scene must always have some element of arousal to it, and the only exceptions would be describing rape or incest. Even if we are trying to write a scene that is meant to be troubling, part of what makes it disturbing is that something resonates with us. Something about it arouses us physically despite the rational part that knows it’s wrong or dangerous.
The trick is knowing how to define and create what is arousing to us, the characters, and the reader. Yet, doing so is an exercise in uncomfortable vulnerability. I mean, how embarrassing is it to admit we get hot and bothered writing a sex scene? *raises hand* Yes, that has happened to me. Do I like being open about it to you all? No. But, if I don’t have the courage to write sex scenes that turn me on and to share the power of doing so with writers I am coaching, then, I should stick with illustrating IKEA assembly directions.
Friends and Family, Asking ALL the Awkward Questions Since…Forever
So, how do we start?
First, we have to be honest with ourselves about what we find sexy, seductive, dangerous, desirable, and taboo. Also, we have to be honest about what doesn’t appeal to us. This is not to say that our characters have to mirror our tastes perfectly. But, in order to write convincingly for our characters, we have to accept our own likes and dislikes before we bequeath any or all of them on our creations.
The more explicit and daring the sex you write about, the more likely you are to get the question of, “Uh…is your sex life really like that?” Depending on the person and the mood, I have often answered, “No. It’s worse.” In general, however, a good way to shut people up with that invasive question is to pose this question in return: “I wrote about a serial killer. Does that mean I have to be a murderer?”
The only reason we should ever feel embarrassed about writing a sex scene is if it poorly crafted or doesn’t fit in the story. If we put our best work into it, and if it is an organic part of the plot, then we can be fiercely proud of what we have written. Sex is also less ‘noticeable’ as something shocking when it is done well and fits naturally within the story.
Speaking of shocking, whom exactly are we worried about shocking? Parents? Friends? Co-workers? Interestingly, this is one of the biggest hurdles I encounter with many young female writers. There is a crushing trepidation about shocking everyone they know with their writing, whether it’s on the side of dark/twisted/gory or sensual/sexual/explicit. As a result, darkness becomes taupe, and sensuality and sex end up as racy as the raunchiest episode of “Little House on the Prairie” – in other words, not.
I know this fear is a real thing. I was just like that all through my twenties. Then, something changed. Maybe it’s because I turned thirty. Maybe it’s because my ambition and desire to get better at writing reached a point where it was stronger than my shyness. Maybe I realized that despite the fact my father was a psychologist and my mother was a social worker, they wouldn’t judge me for venturing into more adult territory with my ideas. As it turned out, they were incredibly supportive. However, even if they hadn’t been, the most important realization I reached was that my audience was bigger than them. My audience was bigger than my co-workers, former classmates, gym buddies, and Facebook friends.
If it all worked out, then people I had never heard of and would never know would end up reading my book. They wouldn’t know anything about me other than my name and the short bio at the back of the book. I wouldn’t be Cait. I would be abstract. I would be perhaps the least important thing about the book. Whether it was a chaste kiss or a menage a trois BDSM scene, my readers would experience it through my characters. Not me.
And then, I was free.
Free not just to use the “naughty” words, but to tell the full, profound truth about the beauty and menace of sex in human relationships. I was ready to be an author, not just a writer.
Fantasy vs. Reality
I’m just going to put this right out there because I promised I was going to push buttons and stir the pot.
For the love of God, why are men in romance and erotica novels so damn chatty when they are having sex?
Now, hold on. I understand that dirty talk, sweet talk, and other dialogue can be an integral part of both the scene and the fantasy, but seriously, far too many of these guys end up sounding like women who subscribe to Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter and want to help the heroine self-actualize through a healthy, accepting sex life.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the ideas, per se. However, if our goal is to write a strong, dominating alpha male, then we have to make him sound different from the women in the story. If the primary character we want the reader to identify with is the heroine, then yes, we want to explore her thoughts and feelings thoroughly. But, the hero needs to remain a bit of a mystery.
There is nothing as frustrating, maddening, and addictive as the dialogue or hint that leaves us (and the heroine) wanting just a bit more to confirm exactly how the hero feels or what he thinks. To echo Kristen Lamb, why make it easy for the characters? To have a hero who confesses his love – in excruciating, and dare I say it, pedantic detail – leaves nothing to be desired. It sets up no problems to solve and leaves no room for growth. This goes for both romantic scenes and sex scenes.
That’s not to say we don’t want total silence on the part of our hero. A certain amount of dialogue is usually necessary to move the scene forward. Also, part of the fun of writing romance and sex scenes are indulging a little bit in having our characters hear things that would be like pulling eye teeth to hear in real life.
But the key here is ‘a little bit.’ Sex and power always go together, and by having our dominant character lay all his (or her) cards out on the table, we bleed out any power, mystery, and allure. Even worse, our characters begin to sound the same.
I would imagine the same principles of power dynamics and differentiation in expression would apply in LGBTQ stories. However, my experience in working with editing LGBTQ sex scenes is limited, and I may not be aware of emotional touchstones and physical details that are crucial to any basic scene.
Just remember, sex talk and dirty talk are great, but no one wants an overly emotional Chatty Cathy standing over them with a whip.
I’m a Tease
There is so much more I want to talk about in terms of writing sex scenes and sensuality in general. However, this blog is already getting long and overdue. Therefore, like a fan dancer, I will simply flutter my feathers at you all and tell you that I am offering a class on W.A.N.A. for writing sex scenes.
In this class, I am going to get, shall we say…granular…in terms of words to use and avoid, details for turning two-dimensional sex into three-dimensional, experiential love-making, pacing (because it matters in both writing and sex), and even how to tackle (literally) complicated scenes with two or more people/equipment/etc.
More information on the class below!
Class Title: How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here)
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $40 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 14th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 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!
****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.
Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.
Cait Reynolds was my answer.
She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.
OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds
Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds
July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125
Classes with MOI!
Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)
Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)
Branding for Authors July 27th $35
OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds
Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM
Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson
Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40