Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Ten Tips For Writing Sex


1. Slow Build-up - or Don't Forget The Foreplay

A slow build-up is vital in a romance, excellent for creating sexual tension in an erotic novel, but less important in a short erotic story (where things need to develop quickly). 

Women readers in particular like to 'know' a character before they can really identify with that character having sex. For women, a strong emotional connection is where it's at. Here are some tried and tested ways to build up to sex slowly: use meaningful dialogue; focus on eye contact (without overdoing it); employ brief descriptions which flash an image across the page rather than force it down a reader's throat; fall back on a little indiscreet public touching (the hip jar as two people squeeze through a door at the same time, for instance); or deliberate brushing against each other in a situation where no sex can happen (on the train during the daily commute, or in a crowd).

So take it easy. Most of us wouldn't rush into bed with a stranger, unless that's our secret fantasy. Fictional sex is often the same.

2.  Don't think of sex as action - Sex is character in action.

As with so much in life, the WHO and WHY of sex in a novel is far more important than the WHAT and HOW.

Feeling, motive, subtext: these are what should inform your sex scenes rather than Tab A fits in Slot B. On a very basic level, sex writing should not read like instructions for the floor game Twister:
'Blake slipped his left arm about her waist while his right hand toyed with her nipple. Teresa kissed him back passionately, her right leg rubbing against his left leg, one buttock perched on the arm of the sofa, the other wavering precariously in mid-air.'
This level of detail can very rapidly become either boring or comic. So write less on the nose, and always bring the sexual act back to the characters involved:
"Blake slipped his arm about her waist, holding her so tight she could hardly breathe. Standing on tiptoe, Teresa kissed him back, revelling in the intimacy of their embrace. At last, she thought, at last!"
Beyond mere physical descriptions, sex in a novel should reflect who these two - or more! - people are, and why they want to fit together so intimately. No two people will have sex the same way (thank goodness). So don't just think back to your own best bedroom performance (you wish) or sexual experience when writing these scenes.

Focus on your characters and how you, as their creator, think they would have sex. Vicars will fondle their loved ones in a different way to porn stars, one would reasonably assume. So repeat the mantra character, character, character - and you can't go far wrong.

3. Sex Is Not a Filler!

Sex in a novel needs to happen for a reason or at a key moment. Choose a point which it feels natural and organic, or a highly dynamic place for sex to occur. Only use sex in a novel, in other words, where you know it will develop or deepen a plotline. This is true even for an erotic novel, where there might be several scenes in a chapter. Don't just chuck a sex scene in every few pages. Consider their best placement for greatest impact on the reader, and try to vary them in mood, style and approach.

4. Sex Is Different for Everyone

As a further progression of point 2, always remember what kind of people your characters are, and what kind of sex they are most likely to have. Don't fall into the trap of copying sex scenes you're read elsewhere. Tailor each one to your characters very closely, and think about character motivation in particular.

Here is a thought which may not be apparent to everyone. Sex is not always about pleasure, desire or the basic urge for procreation. For instance, in a BDSM novel, sex can be about power, fear, or control. It can be about punishment or revenge. It can also be about healing the scars of early trauma. None of these attributes need to be sexual in nature. They become sexualised by the context in which they occur between characters, i.e. when having sex together, or by withholding sexual contact or subverting it into something different.

Again, look for the sexual subtext and employ it. Sexual subtext can be a deliciously subtle tool in the right hands, if you'll pardon the expression. If you can find a strong theme or symbol to underpin sexual subtext in your novel, so much the better. Just don't clout readers over the head with it.

5. Keep Sexual Content Appropriate

Genre and subgenre become incredibly important when writing sex in your novel. When in doubt, do your research at plotting stage, and save yourself the hassle of rewriting later when your sex scene proves inappropriate for the genre. 

If writing Young Adult fiction, for instance, check with the editor you're targeting or do some major market research before having your teens enjoy wild, unprotected sex. Some YA books do include sex, but it's rarely very detailed. There are also the thorny questions of contraception, consent, and sexual responsibility to consider in that market. So be advised and play the sex down in fiction for young adults unless it's absolutely central to your plot. 

For older or Christian readers, sex may need to be more muted too, with an emphasis on loving and committed relationships. Always think: is this sex right for my target reader? 

Of course, you can't please everyone all of the time. So decide on your target readership - or write your story following a publisher's guidelines, if you prefer - and stick to that. In general, don't assume you'll gain or lose readers by modifying your work in some way. Just write the sex that moves and excites you personally, and there's a good chance that it will excite your readers too. Unless you're into something very odd and unusual!

6. Talk Sexy

Don't use too much rambling dialogue during sex. It kills the mood. Equally, too little dialogue makes sex feel mechanical and uninspiring if they're basically silent during sex, or using dialogue which adds nothing to our understanding of this scene or these people.

Each exchange of dialogue in a novel should DRIVE the novel forward to its destination, and that includes during a sex scene. There's no place in your novel for lazy dialogue like this: 'Yeah, do me, baby!' or 'Oh my god, it's massive!'

Look back to No.s 2 and 4 above. Always write the words your characters would say at this special and heightened moment, not some generic sexual exchange that adds nothing to the tension. And please, don't have them quote poetry at each other during the act unless you're a brilliantly accomplished writer or their romance is intended to be comic.

7. Where to Stick It

Sometimes an early sex scene is necessary for the plot (rather than to catch a browsing reader's eye). When this happens, try to keep it low-key in comparison to the longer and more elaborate scenes to come. You can always describe mood rather than actual moves, and then contrast these early scenes with later ones to show how a relationship or character has developed.

When plotting, it's important to think seriously about structure, and to shape a book's sex scenes to make the tension rise slowly and incrementally, like Ravel's 'Bolero'.

For instance, a short romance might have three major sex scenes: let's say at 20,000; 35,000; and 55,000 words, each one hotter than the last. Longer romantic novels would have something similar at the same ratio, and if a subplot involves a second couple - this is useful to ring the changes or swell out a thin plot - they can provide a second to last sex scene near the end.

If you're writing a straight novel that contains sexual activity, your sex scenes should occur wherever it is most useful for character or plot development, and in a way that is reflective of the overall plot.

N.B. All of these so-called 'rules' about structure can be ignored. The book will still work if you're a good writer and the reader trusts you. But if you're flailing about, unsure where to stick your sex scenes, it's a good rough guide.

8. Light a Cigarette and Roll Over

What happens after sex in your novel can be just as important as what happens during it.

You might choose to have that longer conversation now, which would have felt awkward during passion. Or perhaps a sudden shift in mood that again drives the plot forward by REVERSING what readers were expecting from the scene. In one of my recent books, I had a character call his lover by the wrong name during sex. So what started out passionate and loving ends up with a fight.

If you end a chapter or other section with sex, as frequently happens - readers often need the breather of a fresh chapter after a strong sex scene - then consider pace and mood. Your reader may turn straight over to the next chapter, all flushed and panting. So don't start the next section with a gruesome hospital operation or a child's nappy being changed. Let them come down slowly.

Though in a comic novel, a child at breakfast saying, 'Mommy, I heard funny noises in the night,' could provide a funny moment.

9. Keeping it Hot and Tight

In an erotic novel, as opposed to sex within a straight novel or romance, it's vital to maintain both tension and contrast. If a couple are at it every few pages, for instance, look for ways to ring the changes: threesomes, different places, different moods - angry sex; playful sex; dirty sex - new positions etc. Whatever feels new and exciting.

One of the best ways to maintain sexual tension within erotica is to concentrate on language and subtext. If one sex scene is very crude and graphic, make the next one about mood., i.e. instead of 'He entered her with one powerful thrust,' make it, 'He felt like one with her as they made love.'

Be sparing with obscenity. Too many swear words and crudity soon desensitises a reader and makes a story boring and predictable. You want to thrill and excite the reader, not dull her senses. Remember: even erotica needs a plot and a good writing style. So keep things relevant: ask each scene why it exists. And don't just dash down any old sentence. Respect your reader's intelligence.

But don't over-write and draw attention to your style. The story is what counts.

10.  Miss Whiplash

Know your market. Perhaps you're already established in hot romance and would like to move into BDSM erotica. Be aware though, highly specialised erotica should only be written by those who already read and understand it, so avoid wasting your time on something that won't ultimately suit you as a writer.

Niche erotica pushes specific buttons for readers, and uses code which other enthusiasts will spot and respond to: master, slave, rubber, whip, suck, squirt. So read up on the subject, do your research thoroughly. Don't write what you don't enjoy yourself; your disinterest will soon show. And beware both e-market and traditional publishing censorship if planning any bold pushing of the boundaries: all characters these days need to be over-18s, there should be no non-consensual sex, no physical violence that causes actual harm or grief (mild consensual punishments aside), no necrophilia, and no sexual contact with animals.

And lastly, good luck - have fun with it!

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