Rachel Saunders's picture
Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 11, 2013 - 3:32pm

One of the biggest lessons I learnt early one as a writer was that it is far too easy to ruin a good book with a bad sex scene, and that it is better to leave sex out rather than make it cringe worthy. I think this is a mantra that is worth remembering, especially when it comes to sci-fi writing, as it is tempting to have all sorts of intriguing and interesting sexual machinations happen within the contexts of the story.
Personally I love it when a writer is able to balance out the intimate pleasure within the story with enough detail to get across the mood, i.e.. Seafort Saga and Mass Effect, without resorting to cliche and smut. Whenever I write myself I try to bear this in mind, that the power of the mind is able to fill in the blanks, and that the sparing use of words to convey the primal moments to more visceral than spelling out every detail.

I try to write from personal experience and emotion when it comes to intimacy and sex, as I find I can far easier evoke passion, lust, and desire in a cogent way by doing this. It also brings a lot of heart to the scene, which hopefully conveys the character's feelings.

This is my most recent example of an intimate scene, and while it does break my usual rule of using a Victorian curtain to let the reader fill in the blanks, within the context of the story I am using it as a way of showing the character's mindset at this point in time, her loss, desire, and reckless streak. As this is within the bounds of a sci-fi story it is pushing the envelope, and I always prefer to be poetic rather than blunt or crude. 

"I felt my blood pumping through me, my senses piqued. Entering the communal shower room, I stripped off, threw my workout clothes in the auto-laundry, and stepped into the open area shower. No-one else was in there, Elax probably had a splash and dash, so I leaned back against the wall and allowed the water to run over my body. Washing each part of myself, I allowed the water to splash over my breasts, nipples hard with desire. I ached to be touched, yet the pain of her passing gnawed away at me. Rinsing soap from my hair, I closed my eyes and thought of the moments we shared, flashes of her exploration of my most intimate parts ran through my mind causing me to gasp at the memory. Sinking to the floor, I let my hand fall between my legs, caressing the soft flesh, index finger gently inside my sex, thumb on softness. Pleasure shot through me like a lance, and in my passion I let myself escape into memories of her mixed with the exquisite ministrations on my fingers. As the first echoes of my orgasm crept up on my I bit down on my lip to stay silent, and as it took hold of my core being, I fell back into the wall, wallowing in the bliss that came after, mingled with the despair of her loss."

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. February 11, 2013 - 3:36pm

I'm reading Sexwise by Susie Bright right now.  It has a lot of good stuff in it in the way of how to describe sex from a female positive perspective.  While a lot of it is attacking other people's writing (in a funny way, not a mean way), it really does give you some interesting ideas to think about when it comes to your own writing.

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Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 11, 2013 - 3:51pm

Sounds like a good book, will give it a whirl. Personally I am not just trying to write from just a woman's perspective, rather seeing it holistically. As a writer I am in the rather unusual position of being transgender, so have experienced both sides of the coin, which makes imagining scenes from both perspectives interesting. Male sexuality is just as valid a womens, and trying to keep a sense of proportion when writing about either is an interesting balancing act for me.

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bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. February 11, 2013 - 3:58pm

One of the best ways for us to give you feedback would be to submit something to the writer's workshop - maybe a 1,000 word sex scene that we can just tear apart and help with.

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Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 11, 2013 - 4:03pm

Sorry, I didn't mean this to be a crit on my style, more a general discussion of the topic in general, as I am interested in how others view sex and intimacy in terms of genre writing.

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Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts February 11, 2013 - 4:41pm

Christa Faust's class, about writing women in genre fiction (crime primarily,) has a week dedicated to the not boring sex scene. I took it and did horrible at writing women the whole time, still though, great class.

For my tastes, I don't find much worth in the language of sexual acts. I mean I've read plenty of Penthouse Letters, I've done lots of things when I were a feckless horny teenager, but it doesn't express much anything compelling to me fictionally. I'm cool with "we screwed and it was good, then we did something interesting," sort of thing. But I'm happy for other people who want to get turned on while reading a book, especially if it's also a pretty good book otherwise. I have used the stuff though, to show... something. Usually dealt with in an adolescent naivete/horror (there's a whole story about this in the workshop still; it's crap.) Honestly, not so interested in showing the intimacy of sexual relationships either, more so just the camaraderie.

What do you guys think? What makes you think, "yeah, this really needs the whole hog screw scene" when you come across it in your stuff? Does it really pay off?

I'm sure there're some great "high art" novel examples. Oh, I loved the gay screw scenes in Delany's DARK REFLECTIONS, all of them. And even I'd say more than half of Palahniuk's CHOKE was not tedious, which he must've done a fantastic job because I can sometimes find him tedious just in general, albeit briefly.

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 11, 2013 - 6:58pm

What do you guys think? What makes you think, "yeah, this really needs the whole hog screw scene" when you come across it in your stuff? Does it really pay off?

 

I think sex shouldn't be there just to be there. If a sex scene can communicate something about the characters, or serve as a vehicle for something bigger within the context of the story, then by all means, sex the shit out of your book. But if it's like "oh these two characters are dating, people expect them to have sex"... yawn. 

And thay may sound like I am against sex in literature, but it's quite the opposite--I'm just against the expected and the poorly written.

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Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter February 11, 2013 - 8:50pm

I think sex shouldn't be there just to be there. If a sex scene can communicate something about the characters, or serve as a vehicle for something bigger within the context of the story, then by all means, sex the shit out of your book. But if it's like "oh these two characters are dating, people expect them to have sex"... yawn.

I'm with you there, but I suppose it's all based on the genre. If you're doing erotica, then the whole "show the sex scene because this couple is together" kind of scene is kind of implied, but I find that kind of stuff rather boring and more of a turn-off as opposed to a turn-on. I generally find the basic "love-ridden" sex scene pretty cheesy, but that's just me. 

Most of you know the kind of stuff I write, so I don't think I need to get into details.

Like Renfield said, a good sex scene will show you more about the characters involved, but I don't think writing something like, "His manhood slid into my vagina and for the first time I felt like a complete person" is going to cut it. I think a lot of really bad sex scenes try too hard to show how the people involved "get each other". The best sex scenes are more raw, just the sights, sounds, bodily sensations, but of course, they need to be written well.

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Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon February 11, 2013 - 8:42pm

I'm sure if the book is erotica or erotic romance the rules are different and also at novel length there's more room to meander. But especially with short stories, I get bored with blow-by-blows of things I already get or already expect in a given situation. If I could tell them pretty much how it all would go then there is no need for them to give me a full length scene about it. I like it when there's something I don't expect anyway. That may be another way of saying what others have said, that it should have a reason to be included. Also, sometimes a sex scene that goes wrong is more memorable than one that goes right.

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jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 11, 2013 - 8:44pm

I've never read a good sex scene. It just seems stupid. Why would you spend the time on a sex scene and not on all the other possible "facts-of-life" scenes? Toilet scenes, eating scenes, inflating bicycle tire scenes: any one could "show" something about the character, so if you want a sex scene it had better be either important or no more weighted than regular scenes.

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 12, 2013 - 12:13am

By that reasoning we shouldn't be writing any scenes. Sex is at least more interesting that two people eating at a diner, people write about eating at diners all the fucking time (heh, no pun intended).

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jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 12, 2013 - 12:50am

I think it'd be more accurate to say, "By that reasoning, we shouldn't be writing realism."

Anyway, what I meant to convey was the fact that if it's really about "showing," then a sex scene is no different from other stuff, not even "boring" stuff. Imaginary people having sex is not automatically more interesting than imaginary people having dinner at a diner. If you can write good sex but can't write any other everyday activities well, then I guess you should either concentrate on the sex, or get better at the other stuff. If you can make a scene where a guy does nothing but inflate a bike tire really interesting and demonstrative of his character, then you're probably an all-around good writer.

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bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. February 12, 2013 - 9:34am

I was thinking about last night.  I think every movement of the body during sex should be as revealing as a line of dialogue would be.  Each stroke, lick, position, etc. should show something about the character.

As much as I believe that, I would have a hard time writing an erotic scene that was that involved.  An excerpt of a sex scene I wrote is available here  (full text here).  I have no idea what each movement is supposed to suggest, but I did want the sex to be about more than just sex.  

Not that there is anything wrong with writing just about sex.  I love a good fuck scene.  Christa Faust has a few that really worked for me in her book Butch Fatale.  But her sex scenes show me as much about the characters as any good conversation or any other action scene would.  

It's strange that in movies, I'll fast forward through the sex scene 90% of the time.  In a book, I get excited by them 90% of the time.

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Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter February 12, 2013 - 11:07am

It's strange that in movies, I'll fast forward through the sex scene 90% of the time.  In a book, I get excited by them 90% of the time.

Me too. Movie sex scenes are always pretty cheesy, because you can only see people in the act, and the actors are just acting what they're supposed to feel, whereas in porn, the reactions are legit. In books, you can show everything the characters go through. You're actually with them as opposed to just seeing them gaze earnestly at each other.

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 12, 2013 - 1:37pm

I don't know. I think sex can show a lot about a character in ways that other things can't simply because sex has the unique trait of being something that is primal and physical, while society often makes it emotional. It can be both of those things, and sometimes neither. If you're dealing with a young woman from a repressive background, having her go to the bar to find a guy to lose her virginity to is a BIG deal, the way that she reacts during sex could show all kinds of things that simply going out and smoking a little pot wouldn't be able to illustrate, even though it is also a rebellious act.

I can think of other examples where the sex can and should be given more weight than other activities and scenes, where it can show something more clearly than other things can. I've written one that while fairly graphic was also intended to show a sort of power exchange, but was framed in a way that made it clear the character's situation was fairly hopeless. I think it worked. Sex is powerful--you can argue that it is powerful because our society makes it powerful, but it's powerful nonetheless.

I think it comes down to how well it is written, pure and simple. 

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 12, 2013 - 1:39pm

And for what it's worth, JY, after I logged off last night, I was thinking of examples of situations where the sex would be given more weight and to great effect, but I ALSO thought of a great scene where the inflating of a bicycle tire could hold a great amount of weight. I promise you now, someday, I will incorporate it into a story. Maybe I'll dedicate it to you.

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jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 12, 2013 - 8:28pm

but I ALSO thought of a great scene where the inflating of a bicycle tire could hold a great amount of weight. I promise you now, someday, I will incorporate it into a story.

It's about impotency, right? Or masturbation?

By "sex scene" I'm thinking more of the long, drawn-out sort of affair, not just any old description of any amount of sex. Sex is a perfectly viable option as a "thing to have in a story." I happen to believe that eating and relieving oneself (and, yea, even tire inflation) are as well, despite any advice to the contrary.

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jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 12, 2013 - 8:29pm

^^^^^^^[SPOILER]^^^^^^^

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 12, 2013 - 8:37pm

LOL no, the bicycle tire idea I have has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

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Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 12, 2013 - 8:55pm

...whereas in porn, the reactions are legit.

Are you for real?

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Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter February 12, 2013 - 10:50pm

@Dwayne - I AM for real! Clearly you're watching some shitass shit porn.

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Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 12, 2013 - 11:35pm

I'm not a big fan of porn, but those are not words I'd want in the title or the description. 

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Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts February 13, 2013 - 1:38am

Dinner scenes seem like a more viable construction for good dialogue. Sex scenes are typically just flowery physical action and some base metaphors aiming at characterization. As a reader I find them trite. I do though love that the term "sexposition" as officially become part of critical lexicon.

Rachel Saunders's picture
Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 17, 2013 - 5:43am

Personally I enjoy writing sex scenes not for the physical action, but rather the personal expression of the characters. A simple fuck can back raw and powerful, where as making love can be one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose imaginable. Whatever you choose to have your characters doing intimately, it has the ability to draw the reader in and open up a character in ways that are not otherwise possible.

That all said, if you can write a dining scene take evokes the sensual and intimate nature of a character then all props to you. Though I tend to use meals like Tolkien to help with exposition and character dynamics.

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bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. February 17, 2013 - 9:57am

I just like writing about sex sometimes.  

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CuriousityAndTheCat from a town much further south than where I live now is reading everything I can get my hands on February 17, 2013 - 6:45pm

I think that sex scenes or the descriptive tension leading into them can also be great ways to see how a character is vulnerable. Presumably, the majority of the population likes to get it on....but its the one place everyone also seems to have a deep seated hang-up with. There is also a lot you can do with sexual scenes to denote power in its many forms.

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Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter February 17, 2013 - 11:17pm

I think that sex scenes or the descriptive tension leading into them can also be great ways to see how a character is vulnerable.

I can't agree with you more. Typically, it's the preceding tension to a sex scene that I find so much more appealing than the sex itself.

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Rachel Saunders from York, UK is reading Lots of factual stuff for ideas February 18, 2013 - 11:29am

I try not to use sex scenes as a writer to show vulnarablities because I like to use sex as affirmative, empowering, or an extension of a character's emotive side.