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  1. larryprg
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    larryprg Senior Member

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    Writing Sex Scenes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by larryprg, Jan 28, 2012.

    I am pretty well-read in the 20th century American classics: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald.

    I have not read much current commercial fiction and I really don't want to, so I have a fresh voice.

    I am creating a novel (definitely not erotic) with a heterosexual male maturation plot, from different angles and a unique parallel development of the two main characters.

    My question(s) for you guys:

    In a current commercial fiction novel, how graphic, descriptive, explicit can/should sex scenes be? (that are totally related to plot development)

    Putting aside the emotional, how can/should I approach the anatomical, physical, biological features of such scenes?

    I heard somewhere that the sex scenes in some of Jim Webb's suspense borders on the pornographic, which is certainly not how I'd like my work to be referred as.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, here's the problem:

    Read more contemporary fiction and see what the norm is, though keep in mind that different publishers are going to have different takes on this kind of thing.
     
  3. Miss Jo
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    Miss Jo Member

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    I think any sex scene should have some ambiguity to it. it makes it more exciting for the reader because they get to fill in the blanks. If you spell everything out then there is nothing left. It's as horrible or as romantic as you typed it. Depending on the mood you want for the after-sex effect should decide how deep and explicit you may want to go in the scene.

    Being a maturation plot though, you have a lot of room if your writing the characters' thoughts or actions. Make him/her feel embarrassed or awkward. That's how it generally happens :p I would only go as X-rated as the people you hope would read your book would like.

    Just my opinion :) wish you all the best!
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with thirdwind.

    With sex scenes, like with anything else, it is the gratuitousness of it that makes it pornographic. So, if there is no context, or the context is a poor excuse for simply dwelling on the sex. However, I think it is also very important to be comfortable with the language of sex - there is nothing more annoying than recognising that the writer is uncomfortable with describing what happens. Because sex is like any other action sequence, cause and effect.
    I would imagine that the best thing for someone unsure about this would be to read lots of good books, including the ones with good sex and romantic scenes in them, to get the better idea how it can be done, and then drawing on your personal experience in order to make it authentic.
     
  5. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    If you haven't read much contemporary fiction, how do you know your voice is fresh? What you mean is that you don't have modern influences, but that's not the same as being fresh. Maybe not reading whats currently out there, and relying more heavily on the classics of the 20th century will have the opposite effect, and actually make your voice sound old fashioned and dated.

    If you're writing contemporary fiction, you should be reading contemporary fiction. Very few people can be truly unique, but if you don't read what's already in print, how would you know anyway? It makes you sound a little arrogant, to be honest.

    Guess this is why you should be doing more reading - it's called research. Coming on here and asking others how to do it is no substitute for seeing for yourself.

    I'm afraid you have to bite the bullet and do the work.
     
  6. dasylum
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    dasylum Member

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    Be graphic, but keep it short and sweet. Unless there is an emotional message you want to get through by having the scene, then obviously you have to slow down to mention only the parts that highlight the emotion.

    And, like everyone else, I don't believe your voice will be fresh at all if you skip over so much history. People's tastes have moved on since those days. I think you should read Post Office by Charles Bukowski, it isn't too modern, but it's very contemporary, and brilliantly written.
     
  7. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    I would just keep it to a need to know basis. Write only what's essential for the reader's understanding.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to read examples from publishing houses that deal with the genre you write in, there's no other way. If you write to publishers and ask them what they want/permit, they will say the same: "look at what we publish" and "the sex scenes should not be thrown in gratuitously but advance the plot or enhance character". Following that directive, I learnt a lot about how to write sex scenes--vocabulary, length of scene, amount of explicit detail etc. The books I bought for research all fall open at those scenes LOL. Personally, if there is some point to the sex scene and it's well done I don't care if it's explicit although it gets tiresome if halfway through the book the couple get it on and then it becomes a sex fest until the end, taking over all the other action. Humour, tension and/or lots of romance in sex scenes also ups the quality of it, to me.

    20th century classics, and all other good writing, will help you with descriptive writing, which includes describing sex scenes. I usually stick to the rule of "never name genitalia, never use flowery euphamisms", i.e. don't say "she reached for his ****" say, "she reached for him". Otherwise, IMO, it can read like a soft porn movie script or manual for mums learning to breastfeed or something (although some writers with a bent in that direction can still manage to be original). Not naming parts biologically doesn't mean to say that you cannot be pretty explicit or erotic.

    But each to his own.
     
  9. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^This!
     
  10. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    The main thing that ticks me off when reading sex scenes is when the writer takes on a completely different voice and it fails to blend well with the overall style of the novel. Eg: drastic changes in their vocabulary; the tone feels off; dialogue feels out of character; more/less detail in description; etc. Keep in mind when you're writing the scene that it is still part of a larger story. How you choose to write this one scene should very much depend on how you've chosen to write the rest of the story.


    As for what you can get away with - research! I've been writing M/M romance/ero for five years (I've considered it my "main" genre for the past three) and I read several published books in the genre every month from a variety of authors despite not being a huge fan of how many of the current popular writers choose to portray it. I find anthologies useful for this. I also read a lot of amateur work online to see what is going on in that scene too.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, I agree with all the others - if you want to write contemporary, you have to read it.

    Second, my favorite sex scenes (both for reading and writing) are those that pay only the smallest, most necessary attention to the physical act (and agree with madhoca - don't make it an anatomy lesson), and instead focus on the emotional and sensations (meaning how it feels when his hand is gliding down her back, not that he's doing it).
     
  12. larryprg
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    larryprg Senior Member

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    You all have been EXTREMELY helpful. Since my novel is not going to be much of a thriller, action or mystery, for it to be mass-marketable, my main focus needs to be on the sex, certainly without overdoing it!

    From your input, I see that the story and scenes absolutely need to only be used for character and plot development and just dance along under the envelope of being gratuitous, salacious, erotic or pornographic.

    I REALLY don't want the reader's ear to be distracted with the music from previously-viewed porn movies: "boing, chickie, boing, boing!"
     
  13. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Hahaha. It's bow chicka wow wow.

    I can't imagine being able to writing a contemporary sex scene without having read a few, so I agree that'd be a step in the right direction.

    Many great authors do not describe anything anatomical. They describe subtle actions, feelings, observations during the act (I'm thinking of The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold; the scene where the sister loses her virginity). Many other great authors do describe penis-to-vagina contact (here I'm thinking Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett). Do either or anything in between; just make sure you're comfortable writing about sex, and that it flows with the rest of the narrative.
     
  14. Wanderer
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    Wanderer Member

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    Literary Review hold The Bad Sex in Literature award every year, examining contemporary writers who provide poor descriptions of the beast with two backs. It might be work seeing who was last years winner and checking out their stuff to see what they were doing wrong. When writing sex you have consider what is the purpose of including it in the story, if it's key to the plot that it's passionate or dirty then it's probably apporpriate to write it like that, if it adds nothing to the story then a few hints that they're 'doing it' would suffice. Look at Dan Brown, there is no sex description but lots of indications that the characters will get it on. On the other hand, Clive Barker's horror stories often have some very graphic sex thrown in as it fits with the rawness of his writing. Lots of writers can show that sex in writing can be beautiful and vividly described without being pornographic and equally Anais Nin showed us you can write dirty stories and they can be artistic.

    I can never remember who but a famous critic once declared Pride and Predjudice 'pornographic' due to the great suggestiveness of the characters, while writing that includes normal anatomical things doing what they are supposed to is nothing to be ashamed of. Why should we be coy about describing genitals, everyone has them and their beautiful, ordinary or horrific depending on whose watching.

    One thing to conisder is that writing sex is not easy, I've tried several times in many different ways and am rarely pleased with the results (also writing one handed is harder than I thought :rolleyes:). I think though the common theme of this post is that you need to read more contemporary fiction to see what everyone else is doing. If you can do it differently or better, do!
     
  15. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    "she got him on the node between neighbouring needs"... Wtf is the node between neighbouring needs?!
    This is really funny but also a little bit traumatising :D
     
  17. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Stephen King is on there too, although to be fair it seems his entry (pardon the pun) is intentionally awkward and kinda comical in a cringey way.
     
  18. DDentonas
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    DDentonas New Member

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    Well it all comes down to why are you writing the sex scene for? Do you write it to bring the characters emotionaly closer? Describe their feelings more then the act. Do you wan't to show characteristics (like for example that the main character is powerful and in charge) write something that shows those characteristics (He grabbed her and threw her on the bed and got on top of her or something) ? Do you wan't to excite your audience? Write as you would write to your gf, no holds barred.
     
  19. KinkyCousin
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    KinkyCousin Member

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    That was an interesting read, I can't understand how she could smell her breast on his breath and describing him as smelling "breastfed" doesn't sound very attractive.
     
  20. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Totally to be expected, considering that King has came right out and said that he finds the whole business rather awkward and off-putting (the writing of it I mean).
     
  21. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Reading the top ten list of the bad sex awards, it seems men are worse at writing sex scenes than woman - I can definitely see a trend in the way that men write sex scenes, and the things that tend to make them so cringe worthy. Men are very physical about sex, and this often leads to the anatomical approach that can be so sterile and awkward. They are also more likely to be blunt and even gross about the mechanics and biology of it. If the intention is to make sex scenes a turn off, they seem to be succeeding ;)
     
  22. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    To be honest, I'm not a big fan of sex in romance. I blame the second Matrix movie where they had a full, graphic visual of Neo and Trinity having sex in their room...with little to no other reason but to have them have sex.

    Not every romance has to have sex. Just leave some clues like "Wanda rested her arm around Daryl's bare chest, feeling it rise and fall with every breath." to hint that they just did it.

    The readers can fill in the gaps with their imagination.
     
  23. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Who said it was romance? Don't think he OP is writing that kind of book.
     
  24. Blue Night
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    Blue Night Active Member

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    Larryprg, you posted: “Putting aside the emotional, how can/should I approach the anatomical, physical, biological features of such scenes?”

    Why would you put aside the emotional?

    Are you writing a sex scene or a love scene?

    If, and I stress if, your scene is about love, then focus on the emotion and effect.
    Was the man trembling? How did he feel when he finally pressed against her supple lips? Was her face reddened and balmy? Did her chest heave with pleasure?

    You can write a whole page on the experience without going taboo.

    I think most readers know the parts on a woman and man, and how the act is done.
     
  25. ClusterChuck
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    ClusterChuck Senior Member

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    I agree with most here. Describing the ins and outs aren't neccesary in fictional sex. The thing that I've learned from real world experience is every girl is as unique a lover as she is a cook or a driver. Some lick the spoon after beating the bejesus outta the sugar. Others love screaming obscenities at complete strangers in passing to relieve stress.

    The point is. An individual in a sex scene should be as unique in that act as they are in any other part of the story. Give them chracter in thier short game. As in, how they awkwardly fumble a bra strap or grab the picture of jesus half way through and put it face down on the night stand.

    Also, what is more interesting than the cold mechanics is what goes on in the heads of the characters. Niel Gaimen does this very well in a number of his short stories.
     

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