Monday, April 06, 2015

Non-romance tangled sheets

What is your take on including sex scenes in non-Romance genres for adult category?
Most suggest: if it moves the story along and is inherent to the plot, include it.  Some say 50 Shades has opened the door to graphic sex in all genres. The genre I’m striving for is Suspense, not erotic Suspense.
In my current WIP, it is important that the two main characters are sexually involved but not being a Romance I’m not sure how to do this. Implied?  On the page? Half and half?
Writing sex scenes doesn’t bother me but reading them usually does, especially when graphic, I skip over. I find graphic sex boring. This woodland creature also fears a listing in the Bad Sex Scenes archives. Mine may be awful.  And I want to sell my m/s to the widest audience possible.
I’ve noticed agents are looking for steamy pages. What about in the Suspense genre? I’ve thought of writing two versions and querying different agents.
Is there a trend in the industry concerning sex on the page outside the Romance genre?

I'm with you. I skip over the graphic sex parts of novels. I'm not really interested in the five thousand ways one can describe Tab A into Slot B, repeat as needed.

And rather than worry about what agents think, this is the time when you MUST write to please yourself (harumph, get your mind out of the sheets there!)

If you don't want to read it, don't write it.

I'm absolutely not aware of the general taste in the reading public shifting to more steamy. Yes, 50 Shades of Grey did very well, but it doesn't mean there's going to be an outcry for Jack Reacher going graphic when he next arrives in Portland to have lunch with Samantha Kincaid.

And more generally, don't pay any attention to "what's hot" (so to speak.)  Write the novel you want to write. If everyone is telling you dinosaur porn  is the next big thing, don't just leap to make all your werewolves over into dinosaurs.

Write YOUR novel.  That's hard enough without trying to factor in what someone else is sure is the Next Big Thing. 


Anonymous said...

Dinosaur porn is in again?!

Great.. there goes my manuscript.

But in all seriousness, I couldn't agree more with this "write what you want" theme. A good friend of mine plays in a very successful nationally known band. He's been making a hefty sole income from music for 15 years now, and yet VSNKB guy still stands by one rule -

"Forget the trends - write what you want. Money is a terrible reward."

Because if your reward for writing is solely what's popular (and usually then financial) you'll end up being very disappointed.

That's my take! Write your thriller. Forget the trend. Unless of course you've got a really great dinosaur sex scene.. in which case rewrite the whole book to include dinosaurs. ;)

Welcome back Janet!

Kitty said...

Very few writers can do justice to sex scenes. Most of the ones I've read have been truly awful and boring, and, more importantly, they were not germane to the story. The only writer I can think of (off hand) who can write such scenes without turning me off is Janet Evanovich in her Stephanie Plum series. She didn't go into "Tab A into Slot B" detail, and she usually added a bit of humor.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

" the five thousand ways one can describe Tab A into Slot B, repeat as needed".

You mean there are 5000 ways. I stopped at 4999. I was under 30 at the time so that may explain my lack of sexual prowess.

Now, if I were to write a sex scene it would include: in bed at 8:30 and a good night's sleep. I would write about that but I'd probably fall asleep. I am very susceptible to writer's influence.

InkStainedWench said...

Two things about the sex scenes in the Jack Reacher novels: First, the woman is always the aggressor; Reacher is always a perfect gentleman.

Second, the woman is always fresh from the shower with SOAKING WET HAIR! No woman, outside maybe Tahiti, looks her best with wet hair.


Donnaeve said...

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaa, 2N's!!!

4,999 - that's it? What a prude you are.

My last WIP had sex scenes, but not the level of detail as 50 Shades, and not even the level of what would be called steamy. It was more about my Antagonist NOT being able to do the deed and a woman he knew who worked the pole at a club and "serviced" customers in the back, who was crazy about him. He needed her, so he used her, but never could get his TAB A to cooperate with her SLOT B. Instead, he had eyes for the protag, and she couldn't stand him. Unrequited love circle.

I was okay with putting it in there, and all/any scene I did include probably only comprised maybe 2% of the entire book. If that. I didn't do the math but it's definitely not the focus.

InkStained - too true.

Colin Smith said...

Let me just add to the resounding chorus I think you'll be hearing today on this topic, writer friend: be true to yourself. Don't write what's in, but write what's YOU. There are certain themes and types of scenes that I will not write, partly because I don't think I would write them well, but mainly because I don't want to write them. They are not the kinds of things I would like my name associated with. (Yes, you guessed, I'm talking about Dino Porn.).

Art has always been sensitive to the "sell out"--the person who claims artistic integrity but throws that aside for the opportunity to be "successful". Don't be the sell-out!

This whole notion of not being the beggar at the publishing banquet extends beyond dealings with agents and editors, I think. When it comes to what you write, you are not beholden to what the industry thinks will sell at the moment. If your novel needs a sex scene, and you can write it well, then okay. But I can't think of a single novel I've read that I can honestly say NEEDED a sex scene--especially not a graphic one. And there are a few that DID have one that seemed gratuitous to me. I don't think it was required by the story, and it seemed as if the author was putting it in there either to boost sales, or to live up to genre expectations, or, worse, to live up to what he perceived was the expectation of his readers.

OK, I think you get my point. Enough of me.

Welcome back, QOTKU! Hope you had a wonderful weekend. :)

Amanda Capper said...

It's the 'will they' or 'won't they' or 'why aren't they' that keeps me reading. Problem is, when you're writing a series, it has to happen some time.

I already know what goes where and how it gets there. What I like to read is the dance that eventually gets them behind the closed door.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

whew! So glad to hear this. I'm also a skipper of the steamy sex scenes. Boooor-ing.

Glad to have the Shark back. Hope you had a refreshing time off.

Eileen said...

When it comes to writing bad sex scenes, take a vow of abstinence. Even great writers fall short. The 2014 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award shortlist included luminaries like Richard Flanagan, Haruki Murakami, and Michael Cunningham. The award went to former Booker winner Ben Okri, for a love scene that described burning hands, sensations flooding the brain, and a stray rocket going off somewhere in the night. Though Okri declined comment, his editor summed it up nicely, “Winning the award is fun but a bit undignified, just like sex, assuming you do it properly.”
In other news, now changing my WIP from 50 Shades of Dracula to Dino Does Dallas.

bessie stewart said...

Yes, be true to yourself and your story. I think authentic writing is palpable and writing for trend the same no matter how good the writing is.
I don't have any problem with sex, reading it or otherwise. However, like all things in a book, imho, it has to serve the story arc. My ms is a Bildungsroman and the sex is an important plot point. But told from the youth's perspective it's not necessarily steamy and only graphic in the way he would be, which is Intellectual and exploratory rather than romantic or sexy. It's not meant to turn the reader on per se but be true to the life of the character/narrator in so much as the world I have created needs it to be.
And with that, I can say, i also think if a book has really set up the romantic attributes ie. Foreshadowed them happening, from the get go, it's certainly easier for me because I am expecting it. I don't want to be hit out of left field with gratuitous graphic sex.
50 shades lets you know what it's all about. You go in prepared. Well, I haven't read it. That's because it seems primarily about ridiculous plot surrounding ridiculous sex, that I haven't.

W.R. Gingell said...

Eh, if there are sex scenes I generally put the book down. I've only read a few that are actually well-written (and those were all written by blokes).

Also agreeing with InkStainedWench, no girl looks good with wet hair. It's definitely not sexy (mind you, I'm not a bloke, so what do I know about sexy in women?)

S.D.King said...

Just glad that I write Middle Grade.

As far as reading? I prefer the "implied". After all, I know what is happening (did I mention that I was a sex-ed teacher in my younger years?)
And in the cases where I don't know what's happening - I don't want to know.

Susan Bonifant said...

I think to Amanda's point, it depends on how and where you've been leading the reader.

I wouldn't necessarily skip ahead to read about an encounter that was in the making, but if it seemed inevitable and was then omitted,I think it would seem as unnatural as a sex scene that's gratuitously dropped in from out of nowhere. It would probably show in the writing, too.

And wow, maybe it's just the way I think, but getting around the double entendre potential in today's post and comments was exhausting.

MB Owen said...

I won't touch erotica but read any of the Outlander books + you'll see the difference between sex for sex value vs. the emotions behind it. While I think writing what you want is the absolute's hard not to consider what Agents want because they are so dogmatic about it--or what they DON'T. One visit to #MSWL will do it.

bessie stewart said...

Susan, me too, on the double entendres. I blame my two teenage sons for the current mind I have. There just aren't many things that can't be seen as guffaw material in their world at the moment and i wind up just laughing because what else can I do?

Colin Smith said...

Ah, "double entendre"--a French phrase used to describe British comedy. Benny Hill? Are You Being Served? Even Fawlty Towers made use of it to hilarious effect. Just watch "The Psychiatrist."

"We were talking about holidays...!"

OK, I feel a slight veer off topic happening. Course correction! Or is that coarse correction...? :)

french sojourn said...

In my first manuscript the two main characters actually took matters into their own hands...anyway, and once they got to the point of no return I just ended it by minding my own business and dimming the light on the way out.

I was a little surprised by the events, as she seemed fine without the entanglements and hassles of a romantic liaison.

Great post, welcome back. Colin took good care of his temporary reprieve from Carkoon and did some filing while you were gone.

Cheers Hank.

Colin Smith said...

MB: My opinion here, but #MSWL might be useful to know if you have written something that happens to be what an agent is looking for. But the danger of it is that writers will start tailoring their work to fit what agents say they want to see. Face it--and correct me if I'm wrong here, Janet--most agents can list off many, many novels they represented (and sold) that were not what they were looking for. In other words, most of the time, agents don't really know what they want until they read it. ;)

Susan Bonifant said...

Bessie, exactly. And Colin, nobody does double entendre better.

MB Owen said...

Colin, I wasn't implying we should tailor our work to anyone's whim or tastes, just that it's out there. But yes, MSWL can be used as a kind of matching game.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Interesting. I did a graphic sex scene in a spy novella called VIPER, and it was basically a hurdle I set for myself. I wasn't looking forward to it, the very idea gave me nip-ups, and it took me a couple of days to write what wound up being all of two pages in the finished story. The reason being that I'd boxed myself in, and the scene was utterly necessary - you not only had to know they'd done it, you had to see it in the flesh, so to speak. I think I managed not to embarrass myself, but if there's a next time, I'd sooner avoid it. Context is everything. And there's certainly no call to shoehorn sex into a story as a marketing decision. That way lies madness.

Karen McCoy said...

I'm not really interested in the five thousand ways one can describe Tab A into Slot B, repeat as needed.

That settles it. I'll never look at my filing cabinet the same way again.

Craig said...

Yippee kayo yeah. I have time for a short post before trading in the much worse traffic of Hawaii, compared to my home city that is number eleven on the congestion list, and China's even worse traffic. That does not even touch the surface of the other problems and hurdles inherent in being an American in China.

Hope you all are refreshed and hopeful. Wish I was.

Writing is the easiest part of the experience of being a writer. Finding a worthwhile concept that you can satisfyingly build into a manuscript is tougher. If a sex scene is necessary go for it. Keep it simple and make the after emotions the more important part.

Many types of writing have an almost inherent need for sex. YA and coming of age stories are near the top of that list. It is not really the sex that is the important part of those genres though. It it the emotional growth and deepening that can make a story stand out.

Colin: sex should be a holiday, not a chore.

Anonymous said...


This goes back to our conversation from earlier this week, but I don't think what makes #MSWL and PubMarketplace useful is the writers ability to tailor to it -- but the general knowledge of what's selling (or what agents think they want).

No one can physically write a (good) book fast enough to meet the changing tastes of an agent or the changing flows of a genre, but having tools to know what conversations are occuring is invaulable. Because unless agents/editors/authors are going to meet me in writer world (which is code for my living room and my local coffee shop), I'll always be two years behind what's happening in publishing.

After all, if it's on the shelves -- it was conceived 4+ years ago and sold 1-2 years ago. So without tools, I've got no idea what's happening behind closed doors.

But, consider this an open invitation to all agents/editors/writers. Please come have conversations in my living room so that I might learn new things in the comfort of my own home. Maybe with your help, we can convince my wife to turn down the thermostat...

Unlikely... :)

MB Owen said...


John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

In re Sex scenes – I have been writing middle school age adventures, so that's not an issue for me. But the discussion does remind me of when I directed plays in amateur theater and we had "romantic interludes." The actors had a tendency to say their line and throw their lips at each other. I convinced them, finally, that to the audience, what's sexy is NOT the kiss. It's the look before the kiss, and the longer you can hold the look before finally kissing, the sexier it is, and the more the audience will read into it.
For what it's worth.

Flowers McGrath said...

Oh John... I have been meaning to ask you if you have ever heard of the music genre "pirate metal"?
My son is into heavy metal and found it. It's very funny! And also, I believe the musicians are totally serious about it. Though that sounds impossible. If not, Google youtube and pirate's real! It exists! Inspiration, maybe? Or a good laugh, either way!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, I just remembered I wrote a sex scene once. It was in my first novel and it was about my MCs first time between the sheets. Actually there were no sheets, it was on a futon during a blizzard, when the power went out. It was winter in Iowa, I mean really you have to stay warm somehow in Iowa when it snows and you are without power.
Anyway, the scene and the book remain safely tucked away on my shelf of forgotten ‘fiction’ dreams.
At this stage in my life writing a steamy sex scene would be like steam cleaning and waxing my floors. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore because I kind of like my well-worn aged hardwood the way it is. Once in a while I might dust and buff, but the whole ball of wax...not up for it, let alone writing about it.

Jenny Chou said...

If you don't feel comfortable writing detailed sex scenes, then don't. You aren't writing a romance where such scenes are expected. You're writing suspense. Readers expect graphic descriptions of espionage and the like. Besides, it's the dance leading up to the moment that is interesting. The flirtation. The witty banter. As someone else said, "Will they or won't they"? Focus on that to keep the pages turning.

On a similar point, there are certain curse words I just don't feel comfortable writing. I know that real teens say these words, and other YA books use them, and I'm fine with reading those books, but I won't write them and I'm sticking to that.

Write what you're comfortable with, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Jenny: Like you, I'm not at all comfortable using curse words in my work. And while, yes, people use them, and the justification is usually to add realism, or show character, like with sex scenes, you don't have to be in-your-face to get have the same effect. In fact, I've been surprised after finishing some tough, suspenseful novels to realize that the sex and language content was actually relatively small--sometimes non-existent. And yet this didn't take away from the "sexiness" of some of the scenes, nor the "toughness" of some of the characters.

This is not to critique those that have sex and profanity in their novels. Just to say it's a choice, not a requirement. And I've read good novels that have both, and good novels that don't.

Matt Adams said...

I think the question goes to a larger issue that a lot of us who have finished a book and have not sold it yet run into. Janet's advice is great, but after getting rejection after rejection, you start to think of the process as less about you and more about saleability. I'm not saying that like it's a good thing. I'm starting a new idea, and I already find myself wondering whether my MC will be likable enough to sell the book, whether some of the characteristics I have in her will make it impossible for her to get published.

I know that the we all think that if book is good enough, someone will buy it, but after you've been through the process, you can easily start thinking about the end of it rather than the "art" or writing. Once you've been published you start trusting yourself more, but when you're getting rejected (either by agents or editors), even starting a new effort you can't help but wonder whether you'll be able to sell it, and tailoring what your story to make it so.

So I get the question -- you do those things that will help you reach the goal of being a published author. It's tempting to scale back a character, or throw in a steamy sex scene, or a werewolf or two if you think it will get you there. It's probably the wrong way to go about things, but I certainly see -- and have fallen victim to -- the temptation.

Karen McCoy said...

Thanks, MB Owen. :)

Really like the other comments, too. I have to be careful not to let the "saleability" eye get too invasive. One of my manuscripts is clearly dystopian (though I joke that it's a utopian dystopian) and though that's gluttoned in the market right now, the story will unfold in the way it's meant to.

Someday we'll figure out how to kill this nuisance called self-doubt. Chuck Wendig already has the right idea with a post entitled,
"Writers Must Kill Self-Doubt Before Self-Doubt Kills Them"

Colin Smith said...

Matt: I suspect that's why a number of people turn to self-publishing. Convinced there's a market for their novel when no agent seems to think so, they decide to go it alone. And they may well be correct. Just because a novel doesn't make it through the doors of the major players, that doesn't mean there isn't a market for it. Self-pubbing just means the author takes it into his/her own hands to find that audience. Sometimes they succeed. Other times, they don't. And if it's a choice between going it alone, or making changes to a novel to make it "marketable" that the author finds unacceptable, I can quite understand.

MB Owen said...

Karen, I love how Joan Didion phrased it: "The unwelcome presence of doubt.”

Somehow makes it better...or maybe, stylishly common.

Colin Smith said...

... and with regard to the use of sex scenes in novels, no-one illustrates this topic quite as well as Monty Python.


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Janet is the Golden (goose) Shark. Another precious bubble from the deep sums it up: “And rather than worry about what agents think, this is the time when you MUST write to please yourself (harumph, get your mind out of the sheets there!)

No writer-slut I’ll be. The story is my own. I guess I’ll let the characters lead me through.

As always great comments and advice

Bessie has a great point, depends on the arc.

Colin the “double entendre” makes good sense, let the reader entendre seems like the way to go.

Craig, if sex “should be” it’s already a chore.

John O “The drama, not the act.” Good point.

Even implied can be wretched, when synopsis start popping, I skip over.

Linda Howard and James Patterson often include them. Abbi Glines is YA erotica, the sex is graphic, her female characters are innocent Cinderellas, with a fatal attraction to the impossible guy. After a few books the premis is predictable. (I thought sex was taboo in YA). Sophie Hannah’s anthology, “The Poetry of Sex” is a good read. It seems that rhythm is the key. No doubt poetry is rhythm.

I just finished “You deserve Nothing” by Alexander Maksik. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that kept me awake until I finished it. Alice Sebold blurbed it. The sex isn’t intrusive.

Colin Smith said...

Angie: "I thought sex was taboo in YA"--actually, there's not much that's taboo in YA these days. If teens do it, YA writers will write about it. That's not a criticism, btw. It's an observation. The caveat, though, is that it's going to be different in YA than in other age genres. The actual act may be the same, but the way the characters deal with it, the emotions, etc will be distinctly YA. One of the common misconceptions about YA is that it's all about an age group and the kinds of things they do. But it goes a lot deeper than "teens doing teen things." It's a voice, an attitude, the way characters relate to one another, how they respond to situations, etc. And teens are not cookie-cutter, so a good YA writer (e.g., John Green) will have a very keen awareness of the range of voice and character within the genre.

Just FYI. :)

Anonymous said...

Aaarrgh! I just finished a short essay covering all the topics here - and Blogger told me 'someone else is editing this post at the same time'... and now it's all gone.

Okay, then. Let's try again...

1) Sex scenes: I don't care for them in novels. I don't find them sexy at all. I know it happens, like many things happen that I don't want to read about. Is your hero taking a shower? Then he'd better be thinking some heavy stuff to make being in his head worthwhile. I don't need to know about the bit of soap in his eye unless it causes an accident later.

2) Language: I don't mind mild expletives, but the heavy duty stuff should only be used in the situations where it is most important. Those words catch the eye of the reader, and can pull them out of your story just a tiny bit. Does everyone use those words? Well, many do, I know. That doesn't make it less jarring to see them in print.

3)#MSWL - I keep an eye on this hashtag, to see if there are some agents out there who might be interested in my novel. I'll mention the hashtag in my query, if it's close enough to the novel. Some agents will get an idea and want to see that idea in print form 'right now', but if you start writing it now, they'll be long over it by then.

As many have said, writing to trend or to what agents say they want is never a good idea. Most importantly: writing something (a genre, a sex scene, anything) that you don't really like will not be your best writing. And it will show.

4) British comedy - I love British comedy. Did you see the Royal Mail put out a set of stamps featuring British comedians, like Monty Python, the Two Ronnies, Billy Connolly, and Dudly Moore and Peter Cooke? I want those so badly.

5) Karen, thanks for the link to Chuck's post - he's a great writer who really understands what goes on in a writer's mind. He uses a lot of nasty words in his writing, but he does so humorously, and the words are expected.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr Wendig last October, and I can tell you that he is exactly as mean and unforgiving as Ms Reid. Exactly.

And now, let's see if this posts...

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and not all YA is about teens having sex. The first three novels of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series have no sex at all, and I don't recall any profanity either. On the other hand, many YA Contemporary titles will have at least sexual situations if not sex. I've not come across many graphic sex scenes in YA (though some get very close), but they're not averse to getting "steamy." Personally, I get uncomfortable with those, and they tend to get a bit cliched (hands under shirts and lips finding each other, etc.). But that's me. Others love them. :)

Colin Smith said...

bj: The Two Ronnies. Now there's a duo who built an entire career on the double entendre! ;)

french sojourn said...

"fork handles"

their best bit.

Barbara Etlin said...

Welcome back, Janet!

Angie, uh, there is often sex in YA. Which is one reason I'm sticking to MG.

I haven't written any dino porn, but my MG owl novel did have some owl romance and discreet, off-camera, procreating. :-)

Christina Seine said...

This has pretty much been covered, but I will add that I am also totally bored by sex in books. It almost always comes across as contrived to me. Actually, I'll even avoid a book that advertises itself as having graphic sex. If a romantic scene is required to move the story along, that's fine; I just don't need “tab A meets tab B” (great analogy!) details.

Regarding explicit language, I struggled with it a lot on my WIP. I generally go by the rule of not writing anything I wouldn't read out loud in public. However, my book is populated with cannery workers, cocktail waitresses, sailors and fisherman. I actually got stuck in my writing until I gave myself permission to write how they'd really speak, going back and cleaning up quite a bit of it afterward. I still go back and forth with it, though.

Karen McCoy said...

bj: no problem! I met Chuck too...he predicted my death--crushed by books (probably accurate).

And I love that Colin included the Monty Python link! And those stamps sound amazing.

Colin Smith said...

Christina: I've been around the profanity discussion a few times (see the comments on my review of Stephen King's THE SHINING for example), and it's almost as subjective as querying. Some people think profanity is necessary to convey character and realism, others don't. In my reading, too much profanity starts to sound contrived and becomes overkill. And I find a skilled writer can make me not notice profanity or the lack thereof.

I was thinking about this, and it seems to me a character who doesn't use profanity, who says "Gosh darnit," and "shoot" but is a nasty piece of work could be quite sinister. :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Colin, I mentioned my surprise of excplicit scenes in YA because I don't read much YA. I don't write it either. Your advice: It's a voice, an attitude, the way characters relate to one another... is excellent.

BJ Muntain, so true writing what you don't like may not be your best writing.

It's of interest, to me anyhow, to say that often I'll hate one of my paintings but it's the first to sell. Those are the paintings that I just have to finish because I started and have to stop at some point. The best ones are great from the beginning.

Colin, You deserve a medal for activating all those links last Thursday.

Colin Smith said...

Angie: That's nice of you to say, but doing the links and making the list was as much for my benefit as everyone elses', so it was my pleasure. BTW, the list is still available, and I don't intend to take it down unless told to. I don't know if Janet will want to put a link on the blog sidebar, or if we just all bookmark it and keep it for ourselves--either way, I'll find it useful. :)

Anonymous said...

Colin, I'm late with this, but thanks! I'm working my way through the list. You've made it possible for me to click and read. A real timesaver. I'm loving the blogs and websites. Thanks to everyone who posted theirs.

Sex, violence, profanity. I say bring it on, as long it's indigenous to plot and characterization. I won't lie. I like Nora Roberts. She writes sex. I like Lee Child. He writes violence. I like Chuck Wendig. He's profane.
I wouldn't try to imitate any of those writers on purpose, but if sex, violence or profanity work in my story, I'm going there. I have enough trouble silencing my internal editor without adding more rules to follow.

But. I wouldn't use anything just for effect. It has to be true to the story.

Christina Seine said...

Colin said, "I was thinking about this, and it seems to me a character who doesn't use profanity, who says "Gosh darnit," and "shoot" but is a nasty piece of work could be quite sinister."

Ain't that the truth! Sometimes the most evil people are the ones who come across like Sunday School teachers.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, okay then.
My third novel starts out with a VIC, (Very Important Character), using the F-word a lot. It's used as a stress reliever for a young woman and as a humor-break during a difficult situation. I think it's critical to the scene and really kind of funny.

Personally, because I am a woman of a certain age I love using the word as a shocker.

Mary R. said...

Sex scenes are a type of action scene used to advance plot and reveal character. Because they are also scenes of heightened emotion, they're useful as part of a character's emotional arc. A sex scene or the reflection immediately following can provide a moment of epiphany for a character.

Good sex scenes are not about tabs and slots.

Characters are physically and often emotionally vulnerable during sex. Such scenes lend themselves to certain story problems: trust/betrayal and connection/alienation are two. How do these two people interact when things go amiss and they are at their most vulnerable? Are they warm and generous? impatient? defensive? playful? Is their default response to ignore problems?

Sex scenes can provide an emotional subtext that reinforces or contradicts the characters' relationship in other scenes.

Is a sex scene useful for the story you want to tell? That's the real question.

Anonymous said...

YES. Mary R just said everything I was going to say and now I don't have to.

It's all about the emotion, what the characters feel. The person asking the question about writing characters who are sexually involved (but the story is not in the romance genre*) can do that effectively by focusing on their emotions rather than describing physical intimacy.

*I think it's worth mentioning that romance is not the only genre with sex scenes. I love reading books with sexual tension, and even explicit sex, especially if there's humour and clever banter involved. Good thing there's something for everyone. :-)

As for graphic scenes, I don't want to read gory blood-gushing details about "tab A bullets" penetrating "tab B sucking chest wound" or "tab A sword" slicing through "tab B sinew and bone" either. Usually, less is more.

JulieWeathers said...

To Janet, welcome back and thank you for your prayers. I hope you had a wonderful Easter.

To everyone else, I am still reading blogs. Never fear. I shall get to all of them, they are wonderful!

As someone mentioned, Gabaldon does emotional sex scenes very well, so it's much more than this little piggy went there.

When I was at the Surrey International Writers Conf. I was wearing a tee shirt that had a kitten sitting in a toilet and the wording on it was "Im in ur bathrum stalkin ur agent".

A lovely agent from a very well known agency sat down next to me and laughed at the tee shirt, it was an agent magnet. I plied her with drinks and we just visited about whatever she wanted to talk about. Eventually we got around to sex scenes in books. She admitted when she got to sex scenes, even in her clients' books, she skipped over them. She felt like she was intruding on a private moment and wanted to draw the drapes because they made her uncomfortable. She got someone else in the agency to read those scenes.

I have a sex scene in FAR RIDER. We've hashed this back and forth on B&W because several people think FAR RIDER should be YA. At 157,000 words, I think one sex scene is the least of my worries.

The one sex scene I had wasn't very graphic and knowing me, if I did many more they would probably be more a comedy of errors than anything erotic.

I actually have a short story involving a cowboy making passionate love to his city slicker lady love who looks up into the eyes of a snake in a hay bale and rolls away, only to fall off the hay loft.

That's about as sexy as I get.

Wendy Qualls said...

Yes, Mary R, absolutely!

Look, I'll be honest: I write a lot of sex scenes. As well as a lot of dialogue, action, humorous situations, kidnappings, and all the other stuff you find in books. And sex scenes are a totally different skill set than writing most other scenes are, the same way really good humor is different from mildly entertaining sitcom writing.

If you're wanting to include the sex purely from a plot perspective, you can allude to it and fade-out after a kiss and it's all good. Explicit sex scenes aren't about that, though - they're about furthering a character relationship and also evoking a response in the reader. On one level you have the characters interacting with each other in ways that will help or hinder their own progress in the story - the sex may solve the question of "does he like me?" or it may move things from "friends" to "uh-oh" way too fast or it may complicate things with a third character - whatever. Sex scenes should always advance the arcs of the characters involved.

Explicit sex scenes, though, are also about rhythm and cadence and finding ways to make your readers react. And that's something you only learn how to do by reading a lot of them, and writing a lot of them, and getting a lot of feedback, and you can't succeed if you say "eww sex is icky" or "oh this is boring" and give up. If you look down on sex in books as a whole, you probably shouldn't be writing it.

DLM said...

Y'all have covered useful and interesting responses to the question at hand so well I feel pointless, but how can I not come to Janet's comments upon her return--


--and say hello?

So I'll address the topic this way. I'm 47 years old and I've been married. This was not annulled due to non-consummation. I've "done it" as the kids used to say 30 years ago and more. I even liked it.

And the man I love lives 4000 miles away. Has for a decade.

So ... y'all can rest assured, I can write some extraordinarily good smut.

But it's *emotionally* graphic sex I find affecting. Tab A and Slot B are ... if you will permit the usage ... just building blocks. But the tremor in a hand, the moment of shock, the happy disbelief in a sudden look, the eager rapaciousness of an interlude shared? That is where "as scene" visits the realm of art - and means something for readers *and* characters.

The Ax and the Vase involving, as it does, literally the guy who gave Europe Christendom itself, and his queen, who became a Catholic Saint - I have not peeped too far under their covers. It would be unseemly, and very much beside the point - Clovis is not a kisser and a teller. Their sexual heat is clear, but unexplored in the specific.

The WIP is different. So far, the only writing I've done is strictly sketching, getting a feel (har), dipping my toes (har). But given the direction my research and my heart are taking at this early stage, I can see it becoming quakingly clear exactly what sex means to at least one (two ...) character(s). I shudder just thinking of it, and while that's not an author getting all randy and enthusiastic about Tabs and ... so on ... it IS definitely a stimulation of some kind.

Dr. Ruth said it for decades - the main sex organ is the brain.

If I do write sex. I want it to affect you there ... first. Anything else is just cake (or whipped cream). But if I write sex that can make someone's hand tremble, or their heart constrict and perhaps burst ... Yeah. I do want to write that. And for the WIP, I can see where I might have to.

Craig said...

I'm getting very apprehensive about this trip. I'm back in Hawaii. There are worse places to be stuck but...

I get even stranger when I'm stressed.

There is nothing wrong with sex but I'd rather have it then read about it. The best sex in a book happens between chapters. The lead up to it and the after is more important than the actual act.

The saying that sex sells is still big in advertising so there has to be something to it. I have a plan for my two top characters to get together but it is after they have been friends for around 180 years. Obviously that is after I step off into sci-fi. After the first three thrillers get done and out there.

AJ Blythe said...

I know I'm echoing everyone else, but stay true to what you want to write - it will show on your pages.

I read romance and skip the sex scenes. I keep an eye out for dialogue (in case something important to the story is said), but it's the emotional journey I like in a romance.

I guess that's why I write cozies (no sex on the page), because there's not debate on whether or not to include a sex scene.

I attended an intensive mentored writing retreat a few years back and my multi-published author mentor said I needed to write a sex scene to bring grittiness into my writing. Needless to say, all I managed to inject was humour - and not the good kind!

Colin Smith said...

Diane: Just no sentient wotsits...

(*someone* had to go there...) :)

DLM said...

Colin, you gave me a full-throated, extended, cackling LOL there. Hee (and then some)!

I'll be the skanky person here, though, and say that when I was a kid, I totally skipped TO the steamy bits. I learned on Victoria Holt and mom's other novels, they tend to be located at the ends of chapters, usually about 1/3 into the book or so - enough time for this "character development" thing I heard about years later, and *just* enough time to build UP the steam - and often there was only one steamy bit to be had. I read 'em. I was a good girl. But a very naughty reader. There's one scene I still remember, actually ... so I'm thinking, that was probably a pretty good one. Sex scenes are like any other scenes - if they're good, they stay with you.

Not the worst thing.

Now, I do find some people's sex scenes irritatingly bad, but sex scenes in and of themselves I have no problem with. Obviously.

That said, I don't believe I will ever. EVER. read 50 Shades.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Craig, "the best sex happens between chapters."
Brilliant !
Hey Colin, we all know what house Madam Diane is going to run on Carkoon.

DLM said...

My repute appears to be under the weather.

I may vomment. ;)

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Do we think Diane might be going into business with Naughty Nancy? :)

Colin Smith said...

Completely off-topic, indeed, so off-topic it would deserve banishment to the Pits of Despair if it wasn't worth mentioning:

Janet's blog--this very place--has, once again, earned a place on the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers. See the latest edition (May/June 2015)

Congratulations, Janet. Well deserved! :)

Christina Seine said...

Woot woot! Congratulations Janet!

I believe a party of Carkoonian proportions is imminent. I'll grab the Doritos and a couple 12-packs of ... Tab.

D. B. Bates said...

I would add to Mary R.'s excellent comment that the way a sex scene is portrayed/written can reveal character. Since I'm straining to think of an example in literature (like many commenters, even my pervy eyes glaze over and skip to the end of sex scenes in novels), I'll share one example from a movie that has stuck with me...

Sideways (2004) has a few sex scenes directed in very different ways. The sex scenes between Jack (Thomas Haden Church) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh) are directed in a very frank, matter-of-fact way; the lone sex scene between Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Maya (Virginia Madsen) is entirely implied with a pan away and a dissolve to the following morning.

These choices reflect the characters' attitudes toward sex: to Jack and Stephanie, these are encounters that mean nothing beyond the animal pleasure of the moment; to Maya and especially Miles, their moment of intimacy is incredibly important and incredibly private.

We don't even see a sweetly tender/awkward scene, because if either of those characters was telling us the story of Sideways, they would gloss over it in the same way the film pans away and dissolves to the aftermath. Contrast this with Jack, who talks almost nonstop about getting laid, or Stephanie, whose flirtations are not exactly subtle. Their telling of the story wouldn’t linger on the gory details like an erotica novel; they’d talk about it in the same frank, matter-of-fact way Alexander Payne directs those scenes.

So ends my nerd dissertation on how to direct sex scenes to reflect characters’ perspectives. I mention it because I apply the same basic technique if I find a sex scene necessary; even if it’s third-person omniscient, I ask how these specific characters would tell it to a stranger, and how might that inform how I portray the scene(s) for readers? What is their attitude toward sex in general, and this encounter in particular?

Personally, I’m always hoping they’re the type of characters who wouldn’t kiss and tell. It makes the job so much easier. (In more ways than one! High five?)

AJ Blythe said...

Definitely worth noticing. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Colin. I think your place in Carkoon is safe. The Pits of Despair will have to wait, drooling on the sidelines, for a chance to get hold of you.

Congratulations, Janet. A well-deserved acknowledgement of all you do for us woodland creatures. Here's a cake to celebrate.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Janet! You deserve all the accolades you get for all your help here, at Query Shark, and at the conferences you attend.

Thank you.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Mary R. and Wendy great insight,

Mary: "Such scenes lend themselves to certain story problems: trust/betrayal"

Wendy: Sex scenes should always advance the arcs of the characters involved.

When I said I find sex scenes boring, Janet's description Tab A Tab B is what I mean. It's the dino porn. Or it's the wretched synapsis snapping.

I've decided to keep a writer's notebook specifidally for sex scenes.

Here is a 50min talk Stephen King gave at UMass where he talks about Twilight, 50 Shades, Lovecraft & More

Stephen Parks said...

Is it odd that I really don’t know if my characters swear or not? Without opening the MS(s) and searching, I just don’t know.

They do have sex, although mostly off page. It’s more about accessing their pre- or post coital feelings and thoughts. It also allows me to use an unplanned pregnancy as a catalyst for change in one long-term relationship.

I haven’t really thought about this, but I guess I don’t have rules about what can or can’t be in a story. The story has it’s own life and needs, I try to fill them.


ps - Janet congratulations! Well deserved.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG, UCONN women going for the NCAA championship (again) tonight and Janet mentioned in WD (again), I can't stand it. Time to get drunk, set cars on fire and run around campus naked.
Oh wait, I'm not in college, the game hasn't been played yet and running around naked is about as pleasurable as a root canal without anesthesia. Although for Janet, I would do all those things.
And some say I don't do fiction.

Congrats Janet.
Not only are you saving us from ourselves you are saving the writing world, one scribble at a time.

Mia Siegert said...

I had to comment on this because it reminded me of some hilarious advice I once received.

When working on my MFA thesis, one of my advisors famously gave me the following advice: "Needs more gay sex."

Three years later, I still can't stop laughing about it.

Also, I'm chuckling at some of the people asking about excessive profanity in text. I don't think they've been to New Jersey. ;-)

Disclaimer: I live in NJ.