In lieu of Leone Ross, who unfortunately couldn’t make it to Grrrl Con, For Book’s Sake founder Jane Bradley steps in for an hour on how to write good sex scenes. We’re all familiar with the Bad Sex Awards – and if you aren’t, go read more about them, they’re magnificent – and as a writer, you want to make sure you’re steering clear of the cornerstones of bad sex writing.
Some quick take aways:
- Ask: Why are they actually having sex?
- Inject some truth and emotion in the scene too
- There’s always magic in the first draft – just try to keep it as you edit
“Writing about sex is like writing about anything.”
“Emotion and authenticity are as important as what goes where,” explains Jane, before asking everyone to do a simple task: write about two people kissing. Everyone does, swaps their piece, gets feedback, and then chats about how they found the process, anything that surprised them, and what can be taken from this. Then there’s a few real examples – some subtle, some not quite so subtle, good and not so good.
“Rhythm is important but very hard to do,” she explains. One tip from the Write Like A Grrrl course is to go through each sense, have a column for each and plan. You don’t need to use every sense, but it’s nice to consider as you’re writing.
Then ask: why are they actually having sex? Is it literary fiction, or erotica? “Writing about sex is like writing about anything” – make your reader engage with what you’re writing and it will have the most impact. Put it in the context of what you’re writing.
Write the truth – is there laughter? Have real moments. Sex is revealing, so show a sense of vulnerability – if a character doesn’t show vulnerability, then that says volumes about their character.
“My vagina is not an orchid.”
Looking at some examples, language comes up. The floral, flowery name for women in sex scenes is raised as a cliché, with “my vagina is not an orchid” being the finest quote on writing in this field you’re likely to hear. Beyond the terminology, the most effective sex scenes have a level of emotion in them – show don’t tell – what does a feeling mentioned actually feel like? How does it manifest itself?
A quick overview of dos and don’ts:
- Give yourself permission to notice the erotic/romantic in your own life
- Remember crap lovers can create great erotic/romantic writing too
- Ground your writing in the character
- Remember it’s got to have a function
- Avoid cliché
Get it all out on the page. “There’s a lot of magic in the first draft,” says Jane. “The skill of editing is keeping the magic and refining it.”