Making It (work): The *Art of Writing Sex.

dark-n-sexy*Disclaimer: In no way am I suggesting I’ve mastered the art of (writing about) sex. Just so you know.

Writing my first book was mostly an exercise in learning how NOT to write a book. Along with sorting out dialogue, tone, character arcs, tension, and pacing, I also had to sort out sex – specifically, how to write sex into a book.

I thought it would be easy. After all, sex isn’t hard to figure out, right? A + B = … you get the idea. However, turns out writing a sex scene that works is not a simple formula. There are a number of things to take into consideration: for example, your characters’ tendencies, the tone of your story, your genre, and what you’re comfortable with. Also? The matter of “voice” still applies. When I tried to write things a bit more “sexy” I ended up laughing, then cringing, then laughing some more while I tapped the delete button for a few hundred characters. I had created a hot mess, and not of the sexy variety.

The number one thing I learned? I had to write my sex scenes the way I wanted to read them: subtle, sweet, quirky, unpredictable, with a dash of romance and definitely without any euphemisms (specifically, “making love”).

I’ve since been told by my agent and more than one editor that I write sex “really well” – a compliment I take a strange amount of pride in. So here’s how I approach sex in my writing:

  1. Don’t always make it obvious. It doesn’t have to begin with blatant flirting, or end with cuddling — sexual tension is good, but it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the expected result. I always love it when characters behave in an unexpected way, including just as they’re about to jump in the sack.
  2. Know when to yell, “CUT!” When it comes to descriptions of sex, less is often more, unless you’re writing something where the whole point is MORE MORE MORE (MORE). Then I say go for it. Show me what you’ve got. Otherwise, cover it up a little and only show me just enough to get my mind going…
  3. Make it real. As the others have mentioned, sex rarely happens the way it’s portrayed in the movies — including in romantic comedies where the characters tend to have very awkward first sexual encounters, which are perhaps slightly more true to life, before they sort out the, um, kinks. And even if it does at times play out Hollywood-style, it won’t always, so don’t blanket your sex scenes with the same veneer of perfection.
  4. Stay within your genre. This is critical. I write women’s fiction, which means sex is likely going to show up at some point BUT it’s rarely center-stage. When I’m reading erotica I expect there will be lots of sex, right away, and it’s going to be hot and heavy across the pages — full of details that make me blush and in awe of the author who can write sex so unabashedly. I wish I could … it looks like fun.
  5. Skip the euphemisms. Unless your genre, or characters, or contract encourage or demand such things as “throbbing member” or “her dewy pink rose” or “up to the hilt” or any other euphemism, stick with the less is more mantra I mentioned above. A hint of something can be far sexier and titillating than a play-by-play. Having said that, going too far the other way {if I ever read “sexual intercourse” in a book and it isn’t part of a school curriculum sex-ed scene, I will be forced to stop reading immediately} doesn’t inspire much either.

{ It should be noted I am the child of hippies, and sex discussions were undertaken freely and honestly and from a young age, so unlike the other ladies I don’t worry much about writing something “too sexy” for my parents 🙂 }

Author: Karma Brown

Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

4 Replies to “Making It (work): The *Art of Writing Sex.”

  1. Another factor is the narrator when you’re in first person. The most explicit book I’ve written was in third person, but in first person you have to consider what the narrator would say (and what he or she wouldn’t say).

    My mystery stories are narrated by my detective’s “Watson,” who also happens to be her husband, and he would never describe sex with his wife. So, asterisks. 🙂 The narrator of my most recent story was working very hard on being a “gentleman,” so no explicit scenes there (though he does spend a fair amount of the story in bed with his girlfriend — maybe I should write a version of the story from her point of view 🙂 ).

    1. Ha! I love the *** thing. And yes, you’re right about the narrator! I only write in first (at least so far), and I find my narrators rarely stretch outside of what I’m comfortable saying…comes back to that write the scenes the way I like to read them 🙂

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