WARNING: This article discusses writing sex scenes but doesn’t apply to erotica and similar.
It’s time to talk about sex. More specifically sex scenes, such an affliction are they to the writing world that there’s even a Bad Sex Award. If ever an explicit sex scene appears in my Weekly Serial or something else I write I’m going for that award, 100% deliberately. Why? Perhaps I have a lack of maturity, or perhaps it’s too much maturity, but I find sex scenes in novels hilarious. I think more people should admit that fictitious sex, in its inherent artificiality is, funny.
I’ll admit in this article I’m not going to be able to give you an in-depth description of how to write a convincing sex scene, largely because I don’t think they exist. Now, maybe that’s just me but I have read a few hilarious ones, from scenes where things did deliberately go wrong to one book that, despite not being an erotica novel, had a sex scene that went on for two chapters. At that point it seems like it’s either padding or perhaps the author would’ve saved paper if they’d simply provided diagrams. In such cases when the hilarity wears off I think they’re just plain boring.
Not being an expert sex scene writer, only a reader, I think one of my rules for writing a sex scene would have to be to keep it short. As with anything in fiction there is such a thing as over playing your hand, it’s the same principle as trying to write long drawn out conversations that exactly mimic speech.
My second rule would be that it somehow advances the plot or teaches something about the characters other than how many times they can orgasm. Fiction shouldn’t be filler. As with any part of writing it shouldn’t be there simply to extend you story.
Rule three would be not to take it too seriously. I think one of the things that unintentionally cracks me up in fiction is when the writer makes their sex scenes too much about the heaven and earth moving, perhaps because I find it unrealistic. I’m pretty sure people aren’t constantly having brain melting sex, good sex but not sex-god sex, and quite often this seems misplaced in the story. Reading a crime story where it’s suddenly about the main characters awe inspiring antics in the bedroom? Or a vampire book that digresses from the narrative drive to reveal all the tricks the vampire involved has learned in the bedroom? I thought it was supposed to be fun, not a competition.
Finally I would say that there are things far more intimate in fiction than sex that reveal the character’s relationship without digressing for pages of boredom, which badly written sex often is once the hilarity wears off. There are numerous things that happen in real life that denote the intimacy of two people that have nothing to do with sex. The way they hold hands, touches, looks, conversation, even the way they sit or stand when they talk. Or simply talking while lying in bed, as any couple does. Such things can advance plot and teach us about the characters without needing pages devoted to them, sometimes a single sentence is enough.
Obviously, I’m not trying to suggest that writers should obliterate sex completely from fiction, I think fiction is richer for it, there’s something a little disconcerting about the complete lack of mention of sex in fiction that in itself can become artificial. Anyone who’s read my Weekly Serial can see plenty of sex dancing in the background, often mentioned though, not yet seen. What I mean is that there is a point where a book can bore the reader with unnecessary sex when they want the story to move on. If over used it becomes conspicuous and breaks a story up as much as over description, excess dialogue or too much backstory.
Make the sex integral to your story or cut it down where it isn’t and readers will thank you for it.
For more writing advice see my archive page.