When “Doing it” Feels Right, Put the Sexy in Your Novel

sexI’ve enjoyed reading the other Debs posts this week about S-E-X. It seems we all agree that including the dirty deed in our novels should only be included if it feels right. “Doing it” when it feels right is all well and good, but how do we write it well?

Study the Greats: This is definitely the best place to start. Pick up a few romance novels and study how these authors set up a great scene. A few of my favorites include Diana Gabaldon’s steamy scenes, A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Eloisa James, and Sherry Thomas.

Bring on the Emotional Tango: Think of the emotional connection (therefore chemistry) as a tango. One partner leads, another pulls away–and the leader whips the partner next to him in return. There’s a flash of leg, a sexy pout, a push and pull. While not every novel calls for this dynamic, the concept is the same. The emotional push and pull between characters (and eventual physical deed) is what makes the story interesting. In fact, without it, a novel lacks conflict and tension and is a snooze fest.

Choose the Level of Nitty Gritty Wisely:  When I read a romance novel, I have to admit, I want to read some nitty gritty, otherwise I’m a tad disappointed. Problem is, what I consider nitty gritty may not be what someone else considers nitty gritty. I mean, I don’t want swear words and all the lubricated mechanical movements described. I do, however, love a passionate exchange with a little detail for visualization.  But if I’m reading in any other genre, a sex scene (or amazing kissing scene) feels like a little bonus package dropped inside the novel that I relish–and that little dash is all that’s appropriate. Decide how much touchy-feely makes sense to the genre. Oh, and I wonder if books should come with a rating label…

Never Forget, Sex Sells: An old adage that’s completely true.

How sexy do you like your novels–for reading? If you’re a writer, what’s your take on the sex?

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Heather Webb

Writer, Editor
Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, her debut historical (Plume/Penguin 2014). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her Twittering @msheatherwebb, hosting contests, or hanging around RomanceUniversity.org as a contributor to the Editor's Posts. She is also the Twitter mistress for the popular Writer Unboxed. She loves making new reader and writer friends. Stop on by her website, Between the Sheets!

This article has 13 Comments

  1. We’ve come a long way in the fantasy genre. Jacqueline Carey broke some boundaries with her Kushiel series, making just about every sexual variation fair game. And George RR Martin certainly hasn’t shied away from being explicit. So yes, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m a bit disappointed in an epic fantasy if there’s a sexual build-up that… er, offers no release (sorry).

    Personally, I never hesitated to add sex where I deemed it appropriate. I wanted to build a realistic world, and sex looms as a fairly large factor in complex relationships between humans. It seemed very natural to include it.

    It’s funny, I always wondered if I’d crossed readers lines for “the nitty-gritty” factor. And early on, almost none of my beta-readers said a word about it–even those who were effusive about most other elements. I never wanted to make anyone uncomfortable, so I never asked. More recently a few younger women (early to mid 20s) have read for me, and these younger folks were not at all uncomfortable. They very openly offered up critique of the sex (mostly positive, thank goodness). I think it’s a generational thing.

    Great tips, Heather! Amen to making emotional engagement the top priority!

    1. You’re right, it may be a generational thing, Vaughn. But that’s fabulous that you’re “doing it” well. LOL. Sorry, there’s just too much room for puns. Yeah, I have to say, I like reading sex in historicals as well and YA has to have a kiss in it. I assumed that was just the girl in me, but I think it’s really cool that men like to read it, too. I always assumed they didn’t care about it as much. Thanks for coming by, Vaughn. Always love to read your comments.

  2. Great post. There is another great author. I met her at a Scottish Festival. They also included Irish and Welsh heritage books. She writes romance novels with a focus on Scottish clans, Her name is Amanda Scott.

  3. There’s not much (explicit) sex in what I’m reading right now, since it was all published between 1860 and 1910. 🙂

    Mostly in writing (in third person) I go by how explicit it needs to be to make the point. The most detailed scene I’ve written so far was about bad sex, because it was the best way to show where the relationship was at that time.

    I also consider the prurience factor, since my stuff is on the Web. One pivotal scene involved two teenage girls. I was very vague there, because it’s icky how some guys are about that sort of thing. (I don’t provide fan service. 🙂 )

    The only part where I got specific was about their pillow talk, which covered many topics and actually told the point of the book, and the reactions of the other people in the house, who were (uncomfortably) listening to the goings-on.

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