If you missed part 1 check out here Writing Sex Scenes (part 1)
First know your characters, second know your location.
Words – If you are writing a gritty crime novel in modern-day, words like “fuck”, “tits”, “blowjob” might seem appropriate. However if you are writing a fantasy-type novel set in ancient Egypt they aren’t. Think about your words carefully.
She stood before him, daring to look into his scarred face, hands shaking beneath his gaze.
“What do you want?”
Darkness filled his eyes as he pushed her to her knees. “I want a blowjob.”
She stood before him, daring to look into his scarred face, hands shaking beneath his gaze.
“What do you want from me?”
Darkness filled his eyes as he pushed her to her knees. “Please me.”
In the second example we haven’t spelled it out like in the first one, we keep away from the words that don’t fit and yet the message is still clear.
While there are some published writers who use more crude terminology in fantasy books, this isn’t usually the norm and it can put many readers off. So in the end, if you want to include those kinds of words, be aware how it may affect your reader-pool.
Anatomy – Learn the anatomy of both genders. What it looks like, how it reacts. Don’t focus everything on the main sexual organs. Erogenous zones are not limited to the sex organs. If in doubt think about soft skin areas – e.g.: curve of the shoulder, the line of the neck down from the ear, the waist etc.
There is a reason vampire novels are often passionate – the “pulse points” were a vampire prefers to bite are located in some of the erogenous zones – neck, wrist, crook of the elbow, inner thigh, over the heart.
Also, the body is full of nerve endings that connect. For example: stroking up the side of the neck can make the lower back tingle. Think about how other parts of the body react.
Quick note – Nipples don’t revolve on either gender. The human body is not a radio that needs to be tuned. In fact they are very delicate so any sharp twisting or biting should be kept to a minimum – unless your character really likes that. (teasing and nibbling are okay).
Description – Don’t just describe the obvious physical signs of arousal. This is connected to the anatomy knowledge. Think about how the body responses, heart rate increases, pupils dilute, breathing becomes shallow, skin becomes flushed etc.
How about the skin erupted in goose-bumps when your hero kisses the heroine’s neck or the tightening of muscles below the waist at the whispered proposition of sex? If your situation is secret or rushed, maybe the characters’ mouths become dry, a nervous sweat on their palms?
Always remember to show don’t tell. (for more detail on this try my Show don’t tell tutorial)
Example: She wanted him. The look of his naked body aroused her. (Tell)
Example: She reached for him, her eyes widening as they took in every inch of exposed flesh. (Show)
With descriptions especially about the physical body be specific not general. Your reader will build a picture but make sure you give them enough.
Example: He was strong and muscular (general)
Example: He had a broad chest, firm thighs and tight muscles that swelled beneath his sleeves. (Specific)
Kisses – A sensual kiss should not instantly include a tongue down the throat. If there is fiery passion then it may feel like hunger, maybe the kiss is rough, verging on painful almost – a hint of teeth, the slightest nip to the lips. If the kiss is chaste start soft, barely brushing the lips, kissing against the bottom lip. A slight breath parts the lips and the kiss then deepens (if you want it to).
Think about your characters – if you are writing about a street walker would there be kissing on the mouth? If it’s an assault, a kiss by the perpetrator would do more harm – a show of intimacy during a rape. Would that be what the victim would be haunted by?
Positions – Don’t name the sex positions in your novel. If your characters are entwined, up against a wall then say so. Do not give the name for the position. That will do little to anyone reading it who isn’t familiar either with the position or the name of the position.
Remember your characters’ height – this seems to be a big fall down with writers.
If your heroine is 5’2” and you’re hero is 6’0” then in the missionary position (which remember you wouldn’t call it that in the scene) his mouth is not in line with hers.
So having them kissing is not going to be as easy as it would if your characters were similar heights. If you want them to be more intimate, want kissing during the love making then think about changing the position to something more suitable such as him sitting and her on top. Think about the dynamics.
Gender – You may know your own gender, there will be personal experiences and knowledge but if you are writing a sex scene that includes the other gender you need to know that too. Research is the key here.
If you’re female read male mags (they give some insights into the male mind…. Disturbingly so sometimes). If you’re male, read the female mags (ditto). However do not take any of this as definitive, we are all different, we all want / react differently but it will give you insight.
Discuss the scenes with your friends and/or partner of the opposite sex. They can give you insights into thoughts, feelings, moods etc. Just remember to be tactful and don’t make them too embarrassed. Letting your friends read the scene will help to show any inconsistencies.
The same goes if you are heterosexual writing a homosexual scene or vice versa, if you have no experience on this then do some research (again be tactful) and don’t just “assume” stereotypical concepts.
Senses – As with all writing remember to add all senses. Sex is more than just body parts joining. Remember to set the scene.
Example: He tasted of honey when his mouth found hers with a hunger that threatened to tear her asunder. She sat perched on the edge of the rough wooden table, kept her there by his hands possessively squeezing her hips. Fire burned through their blood carrying with it a deeper need that was barely kept at bay.
In the distance music sounded, doors opened and shut as people stumbled around in the next room. It drew her enough to pull from his kiss and turned her head towards the door. Was it even locked? She could not remember, as his hand moved to dance fingers up her bare thighs all thought was lost.
Here we have taste, sound, texture, feelings… start small and build up. But do not overwhelm a reader. The imagination is powerful, you need not spell everything out – let the reader complete the image.
Culture – Think about the time period or culture you are writing in. This connects back to your choice of words. Build on the culture you are writing, does it allow for a man (or woman) to have numerous partners?
Is sex only for procreation and not pleasure? Is rape allowed as the “spoils of war”? Maybe before a pair can couple there must be a ritual. Must the woman bathe in milk? Must the man be shaved completely?
What about a royal house that must only intermarry amongst itself? What issues or problems are caused by such a thing? Is there punishment for bedding someone of higher/lower status? Does skin colour or caste or religious belief limit partners or increase them?
Cuddling – this is the image that many films and novels like to show. The loving couple, after their sexual encounter snuggle up together. Now speak to a number of any ACTUAL couples and you often find this doesn’t happen.
It should not always be assumed that the man has rolled away fast asleep. Sometimes both members of the couple want their own space. Sex can make you hot and sweaty… and not everyone want to be pressed up against someone hot and sweaty when they themselves feel like that? Depending on the kind of sex maybe your characters both tumble into a heavy sleep.
So don’t assume a) your couple should cuddle, b) that if they don’t the woman will be sad and the man selfish c) every sexual encounter should include cuddling
Sleeping – People react differently after sex, some get tired, some get active, some feel sore… again this goes back to the sex act itself. If the sex act is intense or “energetic” then tiredness may hit, especially if one partner is doing more of the work (this occurs in some positions).
Talking – What about a character who uses this time to talk. Maybe a couple where (for example) the woman wants to discuss a serious matter, does she wait until her partner has been “sated” and is too rested to walk out of the conversation? Would he/she feel obligated to listen, after all they just got sex. Would this be a good time for one partner to ask for a favour or break bad news? (this is often good for manipulative characters)
Negative reaction – Stands to reason that a victim of an attack may cry, scream or just become numb and remain almost, blank. If your character was the victim of an attack, maybe they would shower, scrub their skin or go straight to the police, maybe they would ring someone, maybe they would confide in a friend or keep it a secret. Maybe they would plan when they could track their attacker down, maybe they would self-harm or overdose.
There are no definite answers to how a victim will react, a strong character who is raped may fall apart, maybe even hide the crime or hurt themselves. Whereas a seemingly weak character who is raped may show a hidden strength, may go to the police or plot against their attacker. Maybe they were chosen because the rapist believed they were too weak and would not face a trial or cause a scene etc.
What about the attacker in this? A story doesn’t have to be written from the victim’s point of view? What would your attacker do? That would depend on their thoughts – motives? Where they angry, desperate, ill? Do they think that their victim “loves them”? Would they feel shame or exhileration? Would they escalate? Would they go home to their husband/wife and be loving? Would they see no crime at all?
Paid – If your character is a sex worker or even a slave, there would be no cuddling. I also think crying (especially with a sex worker) wouldn’t go down well. Maybe they would demand their payment, argue over it? Would they try and remove the feeling of what has happened with a shower, with drugs? Would they go back to their home and tend their kids, reminding themselves why they have to do this?
If they are a slave, would they have a duty? Would they have to bow before their owners, or even wash them? This would be the final ritual?
These above ideas are just a few…just to get you thinking about “other options” for after sex. Define your characters, your situation and your sexual scene and then match an “after sex” scene to fit it.
In essence sex scenes can become so much more than developing a character’s relationship or adding a little excitement to a novel. You can cover social stigmas, cultural differences, crimes, prejudices, coming of age experiences, hidden fetishes etc. If you plan a sex scene right you can add whole new dimension to your novel and characters.
Quick Example: The rape of a young soldier when he returns from a war. He has faced horrors, wished to come home for so long. He sees his old town as a place of safety away from such evil and cruelty witnessed in battle. Yet it is in his home town where he suffers, this assault changes him completely and how he views his “sanctuary”.
A single sexual scene (ergo a violent one as mentioned above) can change the whole story, it can lend weight to a character’s personality change, to how they react, it can address issues he will face etc.
Other Sexual Acts – Obviously as well as sex, there are various sexual acts ranging from the mild to the specialised. As with all sexual writing think carefully about how you write these and how your reader(s) will take it. Your stories are not erotica so avoid being too explicit unless you are aiming to be gritty right from the off.
NB: Be aware that any heavily gritty sex scenes should NOT be at the very start of your novel, most publishers/editors (from what I have heard) tend to avoid books that are excessively sexual or violent right off the bat.
Whether your characters are performing oral sex or engaging in a three-some avoid making the whole scene “tacky”. Unless you are actually describing a pornographic film, try not to write it like one.
Sexual acts can automatically come across as being seedy. Society has moulded us to see various situations as taboo.
For example: The idea of a threesome is seen differently by most men and women. This can appear slutty to some, to others a perfect fantasy. If you put such an act in context of a culture or society you create that sees it as necessary you change perceptions again. In the end it is all about how you write it.
Something that can drive a novel series is sexual tension. Readers love to see characters with a little sexual chemistry. It’s even more enjoyable when there are other characters on scene and you are not sure who your hero / heroine will finally choose. Having them jump into bed too early is never as satisfying as the times they “almost” get together before some obstacle or situation stops them.
It is often recommended (for series writing) to keep the tension going, do not automatically have your hero/heroine getting together in book one. However at the same time, don’t drag it on forever. Either they should get together by the end of the series or the series ends with the hint that it is still unresolved (this allows for the reader to make up their own mind) or as another option they don’t get together at all!
However be aware that your readers may become connected to your characters. This can mean if your character A chooses character B instead of character C, expect to find yourself with comments from readers who really liked character C and wanted A & C to get together. Unless you already had ideas about whom your characters would become sexually active with – try to avoid pandering to everyone’s whim by having character A sleep with character B and C.
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