Tuesday, October 06, 2009

How to write great sex scenes

How to write great sex scenes may be a blog title that will get my site filtered out for adult content. But if your search engine has allowed you to reach this point, fear not. Nothing below should make you blush too deeply.

Here is the problem: A novel should take the characters through the full range of their emotions. That frequently means a journey to or from romantic love. The physical expression of romantic love is usually an act of sexual intimacy. Thus a good proportion of novelists will at some stage have to sit down and write a sex scene.

As a species we fixate on sex. But there are only a certain number of ways to do it and to describe it (however adventurous or flexible a writer you may be). Thus it is hard to be original when writing about sex. The writer risks becoming clich├ęd if he/she is not experimental enough and risks ridicule if he/she tries something a bit different.

Witness the annual ‘Bad Sex Awards’

The Bad Sex awards celebrate some of the most entertainingly ill-judged forays by authors into this well-trodden meadow. These are the authors who tried to put a fresh spin on an act as old as geological time. Read and be warned.

Unfortunately I have no great wisdom to share on describing the act itself. Any attempt would certainly get this blog blocked. My suggestion regards the build-up to the scene.

If you are writing a story about a terrorist planning to blow up a building, the explosion itself is just a moment. A couple of lines of description. It may be spectacular, but it lasts a couple of seconds of real time and contains little inherent tension. But the reader’s awareness of the bomb that may or may not go off – this has almost unlimited potential for drama.

Perhaps I am side-stepping the issue when I say that the part of the sex scene that writers should be most concerned about is the lead up to it or its aftermath.


Emma said...

Welcome back! Are the Virgin Media problems solved now or this is a temporary return to blogging inbetween outages?

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Emma. Each time we have been reconnected I have believed it was all over. I do think that is the case this time, but only time will tell.

Most of the outages have been engineering works that have touched large numbers of people. But this most recent event was us alone. The cables coming to our house were snipped.

Perhaps the engineer had been reading this blog. :-)

Paul Lamb said...

For a "come-back" post, this one will surely garner you even more visitors than you had before. Well done!

Dave M said...

I think you try to distinguish sex scenes from every other kind of scene, when in fact they are no different at all. The physical details either play a role in showing character development or move the plot, or they don't. If they don't, they shouldn't be there. If they do, then no amount of clever build up will be an adequate subsitute.

Rod Duncan said...


Thanks for the comment.

I agree that there is no absolute difference. But I do think there is a quantitative difference in that a comparitavely restricted range of activity occupies so many pages of so many novels.