Today, we have a guest post from Colleen Halverson, who just released her first book: Through the Veil. Colleen and I were critique partners and one of the things that blew me away were her sex scenes. Really, they were SO HOT! So, as part of her blog tour, I asked her to write a post on how to write a good sex scene. If you’re trying your hand at writing the smexy scenes, read on. And if you want to enjoy some, go buy Colleen’s excellent debut novel.
The first sex scene I ever wrote felt a lot like losing my virginity all over again. It was awkward, sloppy, disappointing, and not especially romantic. Far beyond penning a Penthouse letter, writing good sex requires a great deal of craft, much more than I ever gave it credit for in the before-time of writing my own romance novels. Insert penis into vagina. How could writing something like that be so difficult? After many revisions, I’ve come to a much better understanding of the complex anatomy of a well-written sex scene.
Spoiler: it has actually very little to do with where people place their body parts. So what follows is my advice for the intrepid author about to dive into her first foray with writing the sexy times.
1) Don’t blow your wad too soon. Good sex, just like any other scene, requires tension. If sex feels too easy, it’s boring. I had a delicious crush on my boyfriend’s best friend for years and I never acted upon it even though I knew we shared an intense mutual attraction. Even the slightest touch was enough to set my body on fire, we couldn’t consummate our feelings even though both of us desperately wanted to. When we finally did do the deed, it was one of the most erotic experiences of my life, partly because the tension between us had been drawn out for-EV-er.
I recently read a book where the hero and heroine fell into bed without any modicum of tension, and I immediately lost interest. Even if the main characters screw their brains out during a one night stand, something has to be keeping them apart in order for their attraction to matter to readers. Think about Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy. Even though the series opened with them bumping uglies, the will-they-won’t-they throughout the first few years kept us tuning in every week, dying to know what would happen.
2) See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me. Good sex should be a full sensory experience, and this great piece of advice I credit to the goddess Herself, Diana Galbadon. By utilizing all the five sense in our writing, we’re appealing to readers’ sense memories and this brings extra depth to our scenes. What does your hero’s skin taste like? What does it feel like beneath her fingers? What does she see in the darkness? What does she hear? When your heroine breathes in her lover’s scent, what smell drives her wild?
It’s easy to go overboard on the sensory details in a first draft, but that’s what revision is for. When I write a first draft of a sex scene, they’re exploratory and excessive, with pages and pages of detail. For me, this is the only way I can pare down my words to uncover the rawness of the experience for my characters.
3) Characters need to enter a sex scene one way, and leave it another. Some people see sex as just an “interlude,” a break from the “real” action of the rest of the novel. But for me, sex is just like any other scene I’ll compose. Just like a fight scene or an emotional confrontation, sex has to matter. I’ve often talked about the magical trifecta of writing novels: goals, conflict, stakes. Sex scenes have to have these, as well.
Think about what your characters want before they enter the scene—and not just an orgasm! Because, hell, who doesn’t want that? But what do your characters want emotionally? Then ask yourself, what’s keeping them from getting that? Maybe it’s their own hang-ups or maybe it’s a very real obstacle. And then, finally, what’s at stake for them if they do have sex? If they don’t? If you can’t answer these questions, then your sex scenes will very likely fall flat.
Good sex scenes have desire, they have forces at work keeping the lovers apart, and they make the sex matter. Sex also has to be transformative because great sex always is. Take me to church! Bring us to the brink of some complete and utter revelation. If your heroine or hero isn’t walking away from a sexual encounter weak-kneed and singing hallelujah, then what are we doing? Sex has to matter to your characters in order for it to matter to us.
One thing I know for sure now, writing sex requires careful attention and mad editing skills. But it’s also incredibly fun and rewarding to create a scene that brings characters together in both physical and emotional ways. Far beyond inserting “Tab A” into “Slot B,” good sex, as we all know, goes far beyond simple biology.
So what are some of your favorite sex scenes from literature and film? What do you think makes them so compelling?
About The Author
As a child, Colleen Halverson used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshman. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children.