Archive for the 'Summer Series' Category

What Stace had to say on Monday, July 21st, 2008
Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 5

***Insert generic disclaimer***

Mechanics: The Language of Sex

I’ve been debating exactly where the series should go next. On the one hand I think perhaps we should get right into heavy examples and illustrations of how to bring more heat, emotion, character, etc. into your sex scenes. On the other…you have to learn to walk first, right?

All of you write. I’m sure most of you are excellent writers. I know several of you reading this series are writers whose books I’ve read, and been completely blown away by them, which makes me feel a little silly even doing this at all.

But as I mentioned before, we’ll start heavy work next week (I think) so I decided this was as good a time as any.

Sex scenes have a rhythm and mood all their own, and as we all know, the way to create rhythm and mood is through word choices. The way to make your sex scene both fit into the rest of the book and stand out from it is through word choice.

Sexy scenes should use sexy words.

How sexy they are—how graphic they are—is entirely up to you, because you’re the one writing the book. But they must fit the rest of the story. There’s nothing more jarring than reading a book where the most offensive word used is “ass” and then coming to the sex scene to discover cunts and cocks flying everywhere. It doesn’t fit; it feels like the sex scene has been imported from an issue of Penthouse.

This doesn’t mean you have to go the other direction, though, and start in with the overwrought euphemisms. Nobody needs to read about purple-headed warriors and oleaginous tunnels of love. (Which, ew.) So here is a list, by level of graphic-ness (and there’s some overlap there, so I’m starting with the most and working down to the least; your opinion may vary by a few places one way or the other):

Female Body Parts:

Cunt clit tits slit pussy tunnel channel cleft sex nipples breasts peaks mounds mound (not breasty mounds; the Mounds of Venus) crevice secret place secret folds secret flesh loins entrance treasure “between her legs/thighs” “bundle of nerves” (for clitoris; I also use “her most sensitive spot” on occasion and feel just fine about it) (I deliberately left out “vulva” because I think it is one of the least sexy words ever.)

We also have some historical variations, like cunny, quim, slash, that sort of thing. And of course the more vulgar euphemisms like “hair pie” or “fish taco” or something, which, if you want to use phrases like those in your sex scenes you’re reading the wrong series.

Male Body Parts:

Prick balls dick shaft sac penis stalk column sex thickness erection hardness hard length manhood “himself” (as in “he worked himself” or “he shoved himself into her”) “between his legs/thighs” ”sword” (can be used in a historical, but only in dialogue, I think)

In a class of its own:


I’m sure there are more; leave whatever you’ve got in the comments. But these are the ones I use most often, the ones I’m most comfortable with and the ones I think most readers will be the same with.
There’s a reason why I put “cock” in a class of its own; once a no-no, it’s become commonplace enough, I think, that it can be used in almost any sex scene, from the brief and euphemistic to the intense, long, and graphic. Cock doesn’t surprise me anywhere I see it; much like a black v-necked top, cock seems to work anywhere. Cock is the new black.

But the thing is, all those Body Part Words, while fun (and while I knew if I didn’t list them y’all would be sorely disappointed in me) are only a small part of the scene, and only a very small part of the language choices you’ll make.

I call the words I tend to use in sex scenes “trigger” words. While obviously every word we use in writing is carefully chosen and designed to mean exactly what it must and add to mood and feeling etc. etc., in a sex scene you want visceral words. You want words that evoke…well, that evoke SEX.

Words like desperate. Aching. Need. Thrust. Caught. Throb. Trembling. Eased. Stroke. Forceful. Powerful. Burn. Fill. Radiated. Pooled. Grip. Bite. Rammed. Velvet. Iron. Tease. Taste. Slip. Flesh. Slid. Ruthless. Bathed. Wet. Slick. Exposed. Glistening. Enflamed. Delicate. Rough. Turgid. Swollen. Feast. Suck. Hard. Swirl. Curve. Round. Engulfed. Exploded. Hungry. Starved. Dancing. Shaking. Thundered. Raw. Pounding. Bruising. Gasping. Tumescent. Friction. Quivering. Penetrate.

Let’s make up an example (actually, you could look at my potato peeler or couch bits from Wednesday—did you see the evocative words? Flesh. Exposed. Ridged. Etc.) This is a deliberately bland and lame example, but we’re just illustrating one point with it:

Bob set Jane onto the bed and lay down on top of her. Without a word he put his cock into her.

Yuck, right? It sounds like…well, I don’t even know what’s that bad. But let’s take exactly the same lines, without changing anything more than a few words (we’re not adding the important emotional physical etc. stuff yet) and read it again:

Bob threw Jane onto the bed and lunged on top of her. Without a word he thrust his aching cock into her.

It’s still not great, of course, because it was awful to begin with. I’m particularly bothered by the way both sentences end with “her”. I itch to fix it, and to add some sense stuff so the action doesn’t exist in such a terrible vacuum. But you see here how the use of trigger words changes this from really bland and awful to something with at least a frisson of heat. Thanks to “threw” and “lunged” Bob doesn’t seem like some sort of drunken rutting asshole but instead is perhaps more of a desperate Alpha. He’s not “putting” his cock into her, like a peg into a board under the watchful eyes of a dozen clipboard-wielding scientists; he’s thrusting into her, thrusting with his aching, needy cock. (Yeah, I didn’t add needy before, because I think aching makes it obvious there, or would in the context of an entire scene.)

None of this is new to you, because you’re writers. So you’re familiar with the need for active verbs and forceful words. But where a regular scene might be able to get away with the occasional bland or basic sentence, every word in a sex scene must contribute to the eroticism of the scene. Use the sexiest words you can.

The thing is, in any other part of your book, embellishment is frowned on. You don’t need two or three adjectives to describe, say, somebody’s cell phone, or their hands or their eyes. You don’t need several adjectives to describe someone aiming their gun or pulling the trigger, or running. It would sound overwritten and a bit silly to string words upon words in a regular action scene.

But a sex scene isn’t just any action scene. Your words need to evoke a physical and emotional reaction in the reader; it’s less about what the characters are doing than about making your reader FEEL what they’re doing.

As this week goes on we’ll cover adverbs and keeping scenes in tone with the rest of the story, and a little about what to call the, ah, products of orgasm and arousal. Next week I think we’ll start adding emotion etc., including dialogue. The week after will be foreplay, and the last week of the month we’ll do the scene critiques. In there we’ll also have Emily’s post on submissive men and one or two other bits, here and there.

So your assignment now, should you choose to accept it, is to make a list of, or at least think about, your own trigger words. What words feel/sound sexy to you? What words do you like to use for body parts? What words evoke certain emotions or feelings appropriate for some sex scenes but not others, and what words work in regular action scenes but wouldn’t work in a sex scene (I can think of one off the top of my head: clipped)? Put them in the comments, or write them down at home, or whatever.

***Did you enjoy this series/find it helpful? You can now purchase it in print ($4.99 at Createspace) or ebook ($2.99 in numerous formats)! And if you feel moved to leave a review or something that’s great too, though of course not remotely necessary.***


What Stace had to say on Friday, July 18th, 2008
Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 4

***Insert generic adult content disclaimer***

When should you write a sex scene?

Q. When is the right time to put a sex scene into your ms?

A. When your characters need to have sex.

Notice I said “need”. Now, they can need to have sex for any number of reasons. In Blood Will Tell, Julian needed to seduce Cecelia so he could drink her blood and find out if she was a spy, and sex was the easiest way to do that. In Eighth Wand, Royd needed to seduce Prudence because she had the wand he’d been sent to earth to retrieve, and he’d struck up a bargain with her: a night of pleasure in exchange for the wand.

Conversely, Cecelia needed to have sex with Julian, Prudence needed to have sex with Royd, Santos and Yelina, and Greyson and Megan, and any number of other couples I’ve written over the years, needed to have sex with each other because they really, really wanted to. Because for whatever reason, and whatever their circumstances were, they wanted each other. Bad. (This is, incidentally, another problem I have with the “magic hoo-ha”; it gives the heroine an “excuse” to have sex with the hero, thus removing responsibility from her decision. If she can’t slip off her big-girl panties and say “Yeah, you know what, I really want to fuck this guy,” then I’m not that interested in her.)

Notice also I said “need” for other reasons. Perhaps you need your characters to have sex because they’re going to discover something about each other during the act that will have major implications on the story and/or plot. If, for example, Heroine has been searching for the man she thinks killed her father, and all she knows about him is that he has a birthmark in the shape of an elephant on his thigh, and our hero just happens to have a birthmark like that… Well, sure, she could catch him in his underwear, or wearing a pair of short shorts, or something, but let’s not lose focus on the rest of the work we’re doing when writing a story, which is ratcheting up tension. You tell me which is more likely to involve the reader emotionally: When the Heroine sees Dumbo grinning at her from the thigh of a guy she thinks is kind of hot, or when she sees Dumbo grinning at her from the thigh of the man sleeping next to her on well-used sheets, just when she thinks she may have gotten everything she ever wanted? Yeah. I thought so.

All of these are valid reasons for a sex scene. ANY reason can be a valid reason for a sex scene, as long as you’ve done your job and made me as a reader believe it. In Demon’s Triad, Aleeza is willing to have sex with a total stranger in the middle of the woods. Kind of crazy, right? But (hopefully) you believe it, because you’ve learned enough about the poor girl by then to know that she’s been under a celibacy curse since birth and is so sexually frustrated she’s risked her life—almost literally—just to have one orgasm.

But whatever the reason, and whatever the situation, your sex scene will not fly if your characters have no chemistry. If your readers aren’t at least half as desperate to see these characters have sex as the characters themselves are to have it, your scene will fall flat, no matter how well-written it is. (or rather, it might not fall flat, but it won’t be everything it could be.)

At this point you might want to go back and reread this post from my Heroes series, which outlines a few ways to create chemistry between your leads. It’s more hero-oriented, but it’s a good basis for what I’m about to elaborate on. (And no one has yet identified the source of the “Brock Landers” joke. Come on, people!)

So how do you make it clear—through SHOWING, not telling—that your characters are dying to hop into bed? How do you make the reader desperate to see it?

In the Heroes post I mention the importance of knowledge about each other. You want to show the reader, beneath the dialogue, beneath the clandestine looks and casual touches, that these people have a connection. Knowing something about the other person is a good way to do this—it’s one of my favorite “tricks” to use, because, honestly, it’s very important to me in real life and is something I firmly believe is the basis of a real, strong relationship.

The following are all suggestions, nothing more. You can use all of them, or some of them, or come up with your own, or whatever (and please, add any you have in comments!) I don’t mean to even come close to suggesting that there’s some sort of paint-by-numbers way to create chemistry, not at all. Just that these are ideas. They’re merely here to help you begin thinking about how your characters interact, and to help you begin, with the very first meeting of these characters, to build up your sex scene. You didn’t think a sex scene was just about that one scene, did you? Nooo.

A sex scene is the culmination of everything the hero/heroine have done, said, and been through together from the moment they meet (or the moment the reader meets them)

So here you go. Mix, match, or ignore as you will—but I bet you’ll find at least a few of these in every romance or romantic subplot you’ve ever read. They’re in no particular order; some are obvious, some less so. These moments can be as subtle or important as you like; it’s your book and your characters, after all. This is just to get you thinking. This series isn’t about how to write sex exactly the way I do, with the exact level of heat and graphic-ness. It’s about how to find the place where you’re comfortable, how to best serve your story and characters within the confines of your own voice and your own vision.

*H/h notice something special about each other, and comment on it, with uncomfortable or pleasing results depending on who they are/where in the relationship they are/etc.
*H/h touch casually. Maybe they feel sparks, or warmth, or comfort? Maybe the hand in theirs or the arm beside theirs is surprisingly strong? Maybe skin is rough or smooth or soft or hard?
*H/h notice how each other smell. Smell is extremely important in human sexual response, thanks to pheromones. This is quite literally chemistry. It’s one reason why we take an instant liking or disliking to some people; it’s why that handsome hunk doesn’t really turn you on but the slightly nerdy guy beside you does. Do NOT neglect smell. You don’t have to be obvious about it. You can slip it in anywhere. But letting the reader know these people like the way each other smells is, in my mind, a necessity.
*H/h find themselves in close quarters; one or both feels awkward. Or aroused. Or both.
*H/h open up to each other, sharing stories or secrets they don’t usually share. Maybe they don’t know why they’re telling each other this? Maybe it’s because they have to, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re afraid of how the secret will be received, and find it’s received with exactly the sort of reaction they were subconsciously/secretly/not-so-secretly hoping for.
*H/h think about sex with each other. Yeah, it’s pretty basic, and for that reason I dislike it intensely when this one is overused. The level of use that equals overuse varies with every story, of course, but there are so many more subtle ways to show attraction. While this one shouldn’t or needn’t be ignored, it’s not—absolutely NOT—a substitute for any other kinds of interaction.
*H/h think of each other in a non-sexual way; perhaps they do it without knowing why? Why would you wish for the company of someone you don’t trust, for example? Because there’s chemistry, that’s why.
*H/h flirt. Oh, yes. Flirt away. Let them joke and laugh together. Let them make subtle comments to each other, it doesn’t have to be obvious. It doesn’t have to be all the time. But this is another extremely important one.
*H/h are unaccountable nervous around each other. Or unaccountably calm.
*One of the two makes a move. How it’s received is up to you, but there’s nothing wrong with having one character make it clear they want the other (just be careful about sliding into stalkery or crude territory, which is one of the most common if not the most common beginner errors) or both characters make clear they want the other.
*They kiss. Yeah, it’s an obvious one. It’s also a great one. There’s a reason why they call those little bits of food they give you before the main meal “appetizers”; it’s because they get you wanting more.
*They find they have a similar hobby/interest/whatever.
*There’s jealousy when another person with some claim to the other shows up.
*They have dreams/fantasies about the other. This is an oldie, so old it now borders on lame and obvious. Be careful with it, but it is still possible to find a way to use it if it fits the story and/or characters.
*They have extreme—or what feels extreme to them—physical reactions to being around each other/touching each other.
*They make each other feel good. Doesn’t have to be all the time. Doesn’t have to be “weeping with joy” good. But they lighten each others’ moods. They make each other smile. They don’t have to understand it. They can be annoyed by it or scared by it or whatever. They don’t even have to realize why they feel so good. But it should be there.
*They care about each other. Again, this can be as subtle or as obvious as you like. And it depends on what sort of scene you’re writing and what the relationship between the characters is. But it’s one to think about.

Now that’s a long list. And it’s by no means exhaustive (feel free to make other suggestions in the comments!) But what it boils down to, what it all ultimately means, is this:

Your Hero/heroine should react to and interact with each other.

If they don’t do that, nobody’s going to be interested in seeing them have sex.

I think we’re all done with theory; next week we’ll start getting into practical application, on MONDAY. I’ll have to slip any personal blogging in around the edges; there’s too much to do.

***Did you enjoy this series/find it helpful? You can now purchase it in print ($4.99 at Createspace) or ebook ($2.99 in numerous formats)! And if you feel moved to leave a review or something that’s great too, though of course not remotely necessary.***


What Stace had to say on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 3

***Insert generic disclaimer here***

***Additional disclaimer: This post contains some minor discussion about, um, my own actual sex life. So if you are a member of my family—I know you guys read here once in a while—I think we’ll all feel better if you go ahead and skip this post***

Oh! I have some great news about the series. Since I tend to write dominant men, I’ve asked uberblogger and multi-published m/m and femdomme erotic writer Emily Veinglory to contribute a piece about submissive males. It’ll be later in the series and you won’t want to miss it! Emily is a fantastic girl and runs the EREC site and blog, an invaluable resource for erotic romance/erotica writers.

Writing sex without embarrassment

I wasn’t going to post this today. I planned to do more on what a sex scene is actually about, as part of the move into what lies behind a sex scene, after which we begin really working. BUT. It occurred to me I hadn’t really left a spot for this subject, and I think it’s an important one.

Because embarrassment seems to be one of the main reasons people are uncomfortable with writing sex, or dislike writing sex. Because if someone is comfortable writing sex embarrassment seems to be a reason why they aren’t comfortable taking their sex scenes beyond a certain point. And because I just think it’s a good one to discuss, and this is my series dammit.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with modesty or discomfort. Those of you who are regular readers know that I generally keep things on the blog at a certain level (I think of it as “one-cocktail adult”, actually—a little looser than normal but not throwing-panties-at-chandeliers), and that there are some things I simply won’t write about in my actual work because for one reason or another I find them overly crude or unappealing. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those who do, just that I have a certain line in my head that I don’t cross—or haven’t yet, anyway. (And later on I’ll be talking more about writing hot sex scenes without being graphic at all.)

But this is the biggest thing to remember, and it’s easy to remember it when you’re writing, say, a werewolf with cynophobia but seems much harder when it comes to sex, as sex is literally much closer to home; it’s writing what you know in the most intimate sense.

Your characters are not you.

I know, I know. Again, it seems very basic. But I have honestly stopped and reminded myself of this on several occasions, when a scene is moving in a direction I’m not particularly comfortable with.

For example, let’s take anal (Please! Ba-dum-bum). The vast majority of my heroines—the vast majority of heroines in erotic romance, really—take great pleasure in all things rear-end. If it’s not actual anal sex (which I’ve only written in three books, two of which were ménages), it’s various fingers and other implements. Because it can be arousing to read and because I know a lot of readers find it so. But in real life? Eh. I have on occasion in the past been with men who enjoyed doing such things to me and I have on occasion permitted them to do so. Most men who enjoy doing those things to me enjoy having those things done to them and I have obliged them (within reason; if you’re picturing strap-ons you’ve gone way too far in your head. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not me.) I can take it or leave it, to be honest, but I think if you read my work (particularly Eighth Wand, which has far more anal play than any of my other books) you might imagine me as some sort of anal goddess, complete with an array of toys. I’m not. Nor have I ever been in any sort of ménage. I have never been sexually involved with another woman. I’ve never had sex in the middle of the day in a public park; I’ve never, tame as it may sound, engaged in mutual masturbation with a partner. Sex in the shower makes me too hot and I have to go lie down in a cool room for half an hour to keep from passing out (I’m very sensitive to heat), so it’s not something I enjoy. But I’ve written all of those things and more (we’re going to look particularly at the mutual masturbation scene from Eighth Wand later in the series, as I’m quite proud of it), and found them arousing to write and arousing to read later (although reading my own work never has the same effect on me as reading others’s does, because I’m always trying to edit it).

It seems rather silly, doesn’t it? Nobody looks at me or reads one of my books and pictures me at home being bitten by vampires or having sex with resurrected Druids or tattooed Fae warriors. But for some reason they do think that I try and like everything I write. So I have to keep in mind at all times that the scene is not about me, it’s about my characters; and that to pull them back from where they want to go because of my own modesty or whatever is wrong. It doesn’t serve the story. It doesn’t serve the characters. And that’s not good.

So how do you get beyond that embarrassment? How do you get those words on the page even if you’re blushing, or picturing your mom (or worse, your dad) or great-uncle Edwin or your kid’s teachers reading it, and imagining you at home in a leather peek-a-boob corset watching porn and, I don’t know, smearing whipped cream all over your body?

Here’s some ideas (and please, if you have others add them in the comments!).

1. Remember, your characters are not you. Their fantasies are not necessarily yours; you aren’t entirely responsible for their kinks (or lack thereof. And yes, of course we’ll cover sex as expansion of characterization.)
2. Plan ahead. Before I’ve even started the book, before the chemistry between my characters starts simmering, I’m already beginning to see the sex scene in my head. And I think this really helps. We’re going to do more on chemistry on Friday, but if I’m picturing them having sex in my head from the very first moment they meet, I firmly believe it helps add that frisson of heat to every interaction. Plus, if you’re nervous, it gives you lots of time to work out the bugs, as it were.
3. Make everybody wait. Now in an erotic romance you don’t have as much time to do this, as you want to get to the sex much earlier. But in a straight romance or another genre with romantic elements… There’s a reason why most sex scenes take place about 2/3 of the way through the book, and it’s because you want everybody eagerly anticipating. Especially you.
4. Write a good kissing scene and interrupt it. Good sex doesn’t appear out of nowhere. You don’t have to use the scene, but you should write it. Write a few of them. Anything to get you and the characters amped up enough that none of you want to wait any longer.
5. Watch a sexy movie. Really. Give it a try.
6. Have a drink. See above. If you need a little loosening up, that’s fine. Remember, you can edit everything later. Funnily enough, while I think sex scenes are among the hardest to write I find them the easiest by far to edit. Sex scenes develop their own rhythm; it’s easy to remove stuff that misses the beat and easy to add things in where a beat is needed.
7. Play some music. I’ve never really done this; I have on occasion listened to my ipod while writing but I’ve never, say, put on some Barry White albums before writing sex. Some people swear by such things, though, and I do admit I have a few songs on my ipod that make me think of sex (Nine Inch Nails’s cover of “Get Down Make Love” is one; The Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is another, along with some Bill Withers. Hey, I think they’re very sexy.)
8. Think about sex. Think about good sex or bad sex or funny sex or sad sex or whatever, about sex you’ve had and sex your friends have told you about. What? It may sound odd, sure, but just the act of thinking about it—reminding yourself that just about every adult on the plenty either does it regularly or has in the past—might help to reassure you that you’re not about to embark on some bizarre and creepy dark journey of the soul. You’re writing about something you’ve experienced in more ways than one; you’re writing about something universal.
9. Write about something that isn’t sex. Make it as sexy as you possibly can. Again, yes, I’m serious. For example, let’s see what sort of sexy things I can say about my couch.

The tawny fabric makes my hand tingle when I rub it, letting the velvety fibers scrape the delicate skin of my palm. Tiny furrows hold cool air, release it like a whisper at my finger’s tender command. I rub a little faster, a little harder, the desperate friction between my hand and the glorious softness beneath it growing, until I can’t take anymore. I stop, my breast heaving with excitement, my heart pumping, arm and palm aching from the frantic movements.

Okay, it’s not a love poem. It’s not great; as you all know 1st person isn’t my thing and I literally wrote this in a minute. But you get the point, which is to look for sexy words and use them (yes, of course, we’ll be doing that too). To think of what each movement is and describe it by feeling as much as by actual act.

Trust me, once you’ve written a sexy paragraph about your potato peeler (oh! The shiny curved handle so hard and heavy in your hand, its swollen ridges digging into your soft palm, the sharp, cruel slicing blade—merciless in its assault, ruthless against the delicate skin of the potato, exposing the pale flesh beneath!), it’ll seem much easier to make actual sex sound sexy.

10. Read some sexy scenes. It will inspire you. Read lots of sexy scenes. Find a few you really like and read them before you write any sex scenes. You don’t want to copy them, no, but seeing how other people handle them might help relax you. You admire those writers, right? And they can do it, so you can too.

11. Have your characters discuss their feelings. Be as cheesy as you like, but no action. Just a dialogue. Now, take all those things they’ve just discussed and write the sex scene with those things in mind; instead of saying these things they’ll be expressing them physically. Instead of saying “I’m afraid you won’t be around in the morning,” your heroine is hesitant when she lets her fingers play up the hero’s chest. Instead of saying “I’m not sure I’m good enough for you,” the hero is reverent when he removes the heroine’s shirt, or when he dips his head to her breasts, or whatever. Your dialogue is just there to remind you what this scene is really about (and this will be covered extensively later.)

Remember, a sex scene is just a scene, only with naughtyparts. Think about what you want this scene to say about your characters and get it on the page.

You’re telling their story, after all. Not your own.

***Did you enjoy this series/find it helpful? You can now purchase it in print ($4.99 at Createspace) or ebook ($2.99 in numerous formats)! And if you feel moved to leave a review or something that’s great too, though of course not remotely necessary.***


What Stace had to say on Friday, July 11th, 2008
Be a sex-writing strumpet Pt 2

***Insert generic disclaimer: This is about SEX***

Do you need a sex scene?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of writing a sex scene that will arouse, educate, and (heh heh) inspire your readers, and will advance so many things in your book itself, we should contemplate whether or not we need a sex scene at all. Not in the “Should they have sex here” sense (that will be covered in part on Wednesday when we start talking about chemistry), but in the sense of “Do I actually need to write sex? Couldn’t I just fade out from a kiss?”

Well. My feelings on this are strong, and perhaps not popular in all circles. And I’m well aware that there are some subgenres in romantic fiction that frown on sex scenes—Inspirational, for example. Of course if you and/or your readers believe strongly that premarital sex is wrong, and your book ends before the wedding, you wouldn’t even contemplate writing a sex scene. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Mostly. (Really.) But if you’re writing Inspirationals, you’re probably not hanging around my potty-mouthed corner of the internet, right?

I don’t particularly care for those who get loud and nasty about it, and denigrate myself and other erotic writers as filthy smut-peddlers (I enjoy being called a filthy smut-peddler, but not in a mean way). I get irritated and angry when it’s time for the bi-yearly “Romance with sex in it isn’t REAL romance” debate, courtesy of some RWA letter or writer’s blog or whatever. (Because there is apparently nothing remotely romantic about the joining of two bodies into one, especially not in the most literal sense when the act creates another human being; when people call it “making love” they do so in the spirit of bitterest irony. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be romantic—I kind of like it best when it’s not, actually—but the idea that it never can be is ridiculous.)

And I admit, any variation of the sentiment or phrase “Writing sex is for people who can’t write WELL” or “Writing sex is a cop-out and takes no skill and is catering to the lowest common denominator” or “Writing sex is easy” or “If you have to resort to writing sex to sell your work then there’s a weakness in your writing skills” (yes, I’ve heard all of those, once to my face, even) absolutely infuriates me. I wouldn’t be doing this little series/workshop/whatever if sex was easy to write, guys. I wouldn’t have already heard from several well-published, very good, successful professional writers that they’re glad I’m doing this because they have difficulty writing sex scenes. Sex is NOT easy to write. I truly believe writing a good sex scene is a challenge, no matter how many you’ve written. It’s disrespectful beyond measure to dismiss the work of another writer in that fashion; it’s extremely rude and it’s just a nasty, mean thing to say.

Okay, rant over, sorry. Let’s move on. The question here is whether the sex scene is actually necessary, and whether you can do without it, and here’s my take on that:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings (or lack thereof; we’ll cover that later too), their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene.

But since the sex scene must do all of those things, and since in order to be effective the sex scene should be the only thing that does all of those things…well, we start to go in circles now, don’t we?

I am a firm believer in putting sex in books. I’m for it; there’s really no other way to put it. I love writing sex scenes. I like reading sex scenes. I wait for sex scenes. And yeah, I get rather unhappy when the door is closed in my face.

Because you can tell me the characters had sex all you want. You can show me how they smile at each other, or how they touch hands at breakfast, or whatever. But the fact is, if you haven’t given me the sex scene, it feels like telling. You’ve deliberately excluded me from something, something I as a reader feel entitled to. I’ve waited two hundred fifty pages or whatever for these characters to act on their feelings, and you’re going to show me a couple of kisses then fade to black? But…but what did they do? What did they say? How did they look at each other, what did they feel, how did they touch each other? How did their feelings change? How do you plan to show me all that stuff without the sex scene?

As writers we pick and choose what our readers see, of course. It’s boring otherwise; we don’t need to write every minute of their every day. I personally don’t care to read about or write about the toilet habits and experiences of characters—but you can bet your ass that if it was important to the story, I would, whether I liked it or not.

And far more than that, there’s an implication I really dislike when the bedroom door is closed. I’ve mentioned before my distaste for people who run around making films or writing books to “illuminate” the concept that sex is a profound human experience and that while having it we are vulnerable or we are our true selves or whatever. My distaste isn’t for that idea; it’s for the idea that in saying sex is a profound human experience blah-blah-blah we’re somehow saying something clever and original. Um, duh.

BUT. Sex is a profound human experience—or at least, it damn well should be, especially in romantic fiction. The mere act itself should change us, shake us, make us see ourselves and/or our partner differently. So I strongly, strongly resent the subtle (or not-so-subtle) implications of those sex-scene naysayers, which are: that sex isn’t about people and relationships but is merely a distasteful biological imperative; that it doesn’t involve hearts or minds or souls but only sticky engorged naughty parts; that sex really isn’t important; that every couple in the world has sex the exact same way; that it shows us nothing of importance about ourselves or each other and therefore does not need to be part of the story.

The dirty underside of that stick is a sort of contempt for readers, in the idea that they don’t deserve to see the characters’s private moments, that such times are either too good and special for the likes of them—as if our characters are real people who will look up from their bed of sin and shriek and pull the covers over themselves, and the reader is nothing but a nosy, interfering houseguest who doesn’t know when to leave the room—or worse, that the reader is a perverted busybody for daring to even be interested in such things, that wanting to know the characters and their relationship as thoroughly as possible is somehow wrong of us. We’re filthy voyeuristic beasts, you see, those of us who expect to be treated like adults instead of like Pittypat Hamilton or something. Good thing we have the author there to keep our dirty little minds out of the gutter, where presumably all manner of revolting deeds are occurring, too distasteful and gross for the writer to detail for us. Oh, they’ll let us know it happened, but the event itself is simply too icky to detail. And that’s crap. We should be seeing it, because it’s important to see it.

**Um, at least most of the time. There is a small exception, and that is when the characters in question are involved in a steady sexual relationship and this is not an erotic romance. I mentioned Friday how, although Greyson and Megan spend a good chunk of the time period covered by Demon Insidedoing delightful things in bed with each other, only two of those scenes are detailed. The first because it gives the reader a good look into where their relationship is at the start of the book, and the second because, IMO, it jumps both relationship and story forward by a huge bound (and is hopefully scorching hot too.) So I will give you a pass for later books in series or second, third, fourth, etc. encounters that don’t significantly expand or change the relationship or affect the story.

But dammit… If you can honestly tell me that your characters having sex isn’t an important enough moment for the reader to share, then your characters shouldn’t be having sex at all.

Wednesday we’re going to start looking at chemistry and building anticipation, and then we’ll begin with the real mechanics.

I still have room for a few more scenes, so don’t be shy! Oh, and if you’ve already submitted one and would like to increase your word limit to 1250 instead of 750, that’s fine–go ahead and resend it. I decided to do the crits as two posts per scene, so that gives us more space for length. Heh heh.

***Did you enjoy this series/find it helpful? You can now purchase it in print ($4.99 at Createspace) or ebook ($2.99 in numerous formats)! And if you feel moved to leave a review or something that’s great too, though of course not remotely necessary.***


What Stace had to say on Wednesday, July 9th, 2008
Be a sex-writing strumpet

Oooh, before we get started I have some fun news! Several years back I wrote an article for EREC, about the word “cunt”. I submitted it to Lady Jaided, Ellora’s Cave’s online magazine, and it’s been accepted. I’m quite tickled by this. So be on the lookout–Lady Jaided is free to read, and I’ll link to it when the article is posted.

Part One: What does a sex scene do?

***Insert generic warning about adult language. We’re talking about writing sex scenes here, guys. This is not for children. Despite my best efforts there is no way I can do this and not stray into adults-only territory.***


Before we begin…as always, the little disclaimer. This series is about how I write sex/love scenes. It is not about the best way or the only way; it’s about MY way. I assume if you’re reading it, it’s because you read my blog and therefore have at least a passing familiarity with me and/or my work (although that’s not necessary) but, more to the point, that you actually find my sex scenes enjoyable and arousing and are therefore here to get some insight on them and how I write them, and what I’ve learned from writing them. In other words, I assume we have some general basis for agreement about what is hot in a sex scene. If you don’t like my sex scenes, why are you here? Seriously.

We will also be touching upon a few of the things I wrote about in my Heroes series, specifically the bits on chemistry. I’ll link to those when we get to them.

So. Writing sex scenes. How about that, huh?

In my mind, a sex scene has four main purposes:

1. It shows us something about the character(s).
2. It shows us something about the relationship.
3. It advances the story.
(there is a subrule here. We’ll call it 3a, and it is It increases tension. Sounds kind of funny, because you’d think of it as a release of tension, but we’ll get into that later.)
4. It arouses the reader (Note: I am speaking specifically about sex scenes in romance/erotic romance/urban fantasy with romantic elements/erotica. I will later deal with sex scenes that don’t have this element, but for now, this is where our focus is so this is what the purpose of our sex scenes is. Okay?)

That seems like an awful lot for one sex scene to cover, doesn’t it? Especially the bit about advancing the story, because let’s face it. There are lots of critics out there who claim romance or erotic romance is just a tiny story with a bunch of sex thrown in to pad it out.

They’re wrong (at least they should be; we’ve all read books like those, but do you really want to write them?). And here’s why.

Because in a romance/erorom/romantic uf, part of the story, be it large or small, IS the relationship. How is it possible for two people to have sex and it changes absolutely nothing about their relationship? How is it possible for us as readers to “see” them together in the most intimate of situations and not know something more about them, not see their relationship change? How is it possible for us as writers to ignore the impact of that?

It’s not. No matter what, once your characters have had sex, their relationship changes. Irrevocably. Actually, their relationship should change with every conversation, every casual touch, every glance, every kiss, even if it’s not readily apparent. But it is impossible for your characters to have sex and not see each other differently afterward. And that is one of the “jobs” of the sex scene, to show that relationship actually changing (before the reader’s very eyes! Just like one of those magic sponges that swells in the tub. Something should certainly be swelling in a sex scene, anyway. Heh heh.)

So. We know what a sex scene needs to do. If it doesn’t do those four things, it doesn’t belong in the book. This is true even for the most sex-filled erotic romances. If the sex isn’t exploring, defining, and advancing plot, character, and relationship, it needs to go away. And in an erotic romance or a regular romance, you have a lot of room to maneuver in those strictures.

A brief example: When final edits on Blood Will Tell were complete, it went to the final readers, who gave the book a rating of “S” (EC recently changed their ratings, btw.) S books are fine, of course, but they don’t sell as well as E-rated or higher. I was given a choice. Sell it as S, or add more sex.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. But it was difficult figuring out where to add the scenes. I finally came up with two: the pool scene, and one of the hotel scenes (the one where Julian wakes up Cecelia.) Now, adding sex is all well and good, but I had to figure out how to do all four things with each scene. Where did those areas need to be expanded?

It took me several days to hit on it, but I did. The new pool scene shows several things: How Julian feels about a decision he’s made, which up to then the reader hasn’t understood was a serious and drastic decision to make. In showing that, it also shows how important Cecelia has become to him. It gives us an insight into her understanding of him, and his respect for her opinion (a big deal for someone used to being in charge and ignoring others’s opinions). It adds tension both by showing Julian lying yet again to hide his true nature and by showing their relationship grow increasingly close—and both of those things also advance the story. Finally, hopefully it was damn hot. I sure thought it was when I wrote it, and it remains one of my favorite scenes in the book.

The other addition, the hotel scene, works in a different way. It brings Julian’s guilt into clear focus and allows the reader to see what exactly is holding him back. It’s the first time he admits to himself what his true feelings are. In doing those things, of course, it jumps the story—remember, the story here is ABOUT their relationship, and everything else is secondary—forward. Is it arousing? Well, I think so, but it’s certainly not the hottest scene in the book by any stretch. It’s not particularly explicit. But if I did my job, it aroused the reader because of those emotions and feelings.

This isn’t to say, though, that an erotic romance has to be about sex. I’ve grown tired of the “magic vajayjay” conceit, whereby the heroine heals people or gains power through sex, and thus has sex with numerous partners, or one partner numerous times, purely as a sort of exercise of strength. That isn’t to say it can’t still work, but I think readers are becoming jaded by it; it’s regarded as lazy and silly now (and the “magic vajayjay” applies also to those stories where the base healing power of sex is overblown to the point where one good bed session heals all the hero/ine’s hang-ups and emotional problems. Be very careful about keeping change realistic.)

So. Next time we’ll start getting into mechanics. I have a LOT of material planned. I’m also inviting readers to submit sex scenes/snippets of sex scenes here, for suggestions and critique. I’m happy to do it, but I’m not going to do a ton of them—five or ten at the most. So if you’d like to be included send me an email with the following:

*Snippet/scene. No more than 750 words, please (yes, it’s a lot, but that’s why I’m not doing many). Include a line or two with the set-up.
*Statement saying it’s okay to post and critique on the blog
*Okay. You guys know I’m not going to rip your work apart or be cruel, and I’m not going to allow any commenters to do so either (not that they will.) I’m thinking I will probably moderate comments when we do these just to be sure. BUT. I plan to be blunt and detailed. So really, don’t submit if you’re not ready for that. Don’t submit if you’re then going to run around the internet talking about what a bitch I am and how I wouldn’t know good writing if it stabbed me in the windpipe with the twisted wire from a spiral notebook. (No, I know none of you would do that, but who knows who might submit?) I’m not claiming to be an expert, I’m just trying to pass on what I know and have some fun doing it. So dumb as this may sound, please just let me know you understand that the critique may be an actual critique, not a “Yeah! This is awesome and you deserve awards!” and that you agree to that.

All submissions will of course be kept anonymous. All character names will be changed; I’ll probably just sub Hero/Heroine or perhaps something generic like Jack and Jill.

Whee! I’m really excited about this!

I had planned to change my blogging schedule for the summer and do only Mondays and Thursdays. I may still switch to that, depending on how this goes, but as I said I have a ton of stuff to cover here. We’re going to spend a few days examining the purpose/timing/etc of sex scenes–the basic stuff–and then move into the mechanics of voice, language, rhythm, dialogue, setting, characterization, all that stuff. Along the way I think we’ll have a really good time.

So for now I’ll still be here Mon/Wed/Fri but we may switch in August. Mondays I will probably do “personal” blogging, with sex stuff Weds and Fri. And I’ll probably do the critiques every day at the end of August, so we can apply what we’ve learned in comments. I’d really like all snippets to me by the end of this week though. It’s no fun if you’ve already spent a month and a half studying and thus submit perfect scenes.

And if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover, comment or email me. We’ll do a FAQ before the crits, or maybe I’ll slip them in as we go along.

***Did you enjoy this series/find it helpful? You can now purchase it in print ($4.99 at Createspace) or ebook ($2.99 in numerous formats)! And if you feel moved to leave a review or something that’s great too, though of course not remotely necessary.***


What Stace had to say on Monday, July 7th, 2008
How much is too much?

***Warning! This post probably skirts that NSFW line. You know I endeavor to keep it clean even when talking dirty here on the blog (I am a lady, after all :-) ), but you might not want over-the-shoulder peepers here.***

So here’s what I was doing today. Which is actually Thursday, but I’ll be posting this Monday, as I’ve already committed to answering questions on Friday.

Or rather, here’s what I was NOT doing.

I certainly was NOT Googling myself to hunt for new reviews and mentions of Personal Demons online. But, in the course of not doing that, I did happen to find a small discussion of a book which may or may not have been mine, which discussed a sex scene I may or may not have written in that book. But I probably didn’t. This post has nothing to do with that.

And as long as I’m disclaimer-ing, here’s a real one: as always, readers have a right to whatever opinion they have. This is NOT an argument with a reader in any way shape or form. It’s just an interesting thought that those comments about the sex scene which may or may not have been the one I wrote in Personal Demons inspired. It’s not a rebuttal or anything of that sort; it’s not really about the comment, but about how I write scenes, and the comment made me think. That’s all.

So what was said was, that although the male half of this couple in this unnamed book may have performed an act of oral gratification on the female half of the couple, the idea of her reciprocating was not apparently even thought of.

And I found this so interesting, because it really strikes at the heart, I think, of where that scene went and was intended to go, and what the difference is, for me, between scenes in books like that and scenes in my erotic romances.

Of course I thought of having the act reciprocated–or, um, I would have, if it had been my scene and my book we’re discussing. But I decided not to. Because I felt (or I would have blah blah blah) that carrying the scene into that would have taken it too far. Would have extended the scene too much, would have felt a little paint-by-numbers for me.

It seems to me there’s a line that can be crossed, where a scene stretches too far and becomes sex for its own sake rather than sex to deepen or illustrate or consummate a relationship. And to put it bluntly, often blow jobs are that line.

It’s not my female characters won’t give head. They do, all the time. ***SPOILER! SPOILER! Highlight to read mild spoiler!*** .In fact, in the second book–although it’s not described, for one reason because if I went into detail every time Greyson and Megan have sex in that book it would be practically nothing else, they’re like bunnies, those two; for the other I’ll explain below–it is very clearly and definitely implied that such an event occurs. When Megan walks up to Greyson, fondles him, then opens his zipper and sinks to her knees on the floor in front of him I think it’s pretty clear not only what she’s about to do, but that she enjoys doing it and really wants to do it. And, as I say below, I really wanted to show her as the sexual aggressor, her as the one who is in control, which is especially important when you have an Alpha-type like Greyson. I didn’t want Megan to be always the passive recipient of sexual advances, which is one reason why I really like that scene. (The other is I just think it’s a really cute, sexy little scene. You’ll see.)***END SPOILER*** I mean, these are modern women. There’s no “I’m not putting that thing in my mouth, are you kidding? Eeew!” here.

But. First of all, blow jobs are difficult to describe. Well, okay, no, they’re not. But unless you’re in the male’s POV, they’re difficult to describe for any length of time without just starting to inch over the line between hot sex scene and graphic sex scene. They’re a great way to illustrate the power the heroine has over the hero, but again, I felt I’d already demonstrated that amply.

I’ve written countless blow job scenes. Almost every one of them was initiated by the woman, and was (I think) a hot scene. But in this book, in this scene, I thought it would be too much. I didn’t think it would actually show the reader anything about the characters and how they interact, to be honest. So we find out his hands are gentle in her hair or something? We already know that; he’s been gentle the whole time, why would he be different here? A sex scene shouldn’t be just about the sex. It should be about the relationship. In a relationship there’s really no need to do everything every time, because you know there’s time for that later. So why make sure you’ve fit everything into one scene?

Then there’s the pacing issue, and the paint-by-numbers one. Sex scenes can start to feel a little Tab-A-into-Slot-B if you’re going by a very particular set series of events. They kiss. Her clothes come off. His clothes come off. He goes down on her. She goes down on him. Etc. etc. etc. It starts to feel like little kids taking turns, which doesn’t appeal to me. I like to mix it up. Heh heh.

And really, doesn’t a blow job mean more when she initiates it on her own, not because she feels like she has to reciprocate? And vice versa? I like how having her initiate, out of the blue, shows the female as the sexual aggressor. I like how it shows she has confidence in the relationship, or confidence in her ability to please and be pleased in return, or whatever else I’m having it show. I want it to show something; I don’t want it to get lost in a “Well, he did it to her, so…” scenario.

We also have the “I have to HAVE you” element. I know men love blow jobs. DUH. But isn’t it really, really hot to think he’s so desperate to actually have sex that the thought of encouraging oral pleasures just isn’t there? Let’s be honest. This is a fantasy. It may be a very realistic fantasy, sure. But the hero in a romance, or the love interest in a non-romance, is not going to grab the heroine’s head and force it below his waist (well, okay, he might, because that can be hot as shit. I wrote a scene where the hero orders the heroine to her knees–in a low, sexy whisper, no less–and I thought that was pretty damn hot, and still do. But that’s a different type of scene, and the overall feeling and mood of a sex scene is important and shouldn’t be messed around with unless it’s for a specific purpose.) We’re not talking about that type of scene. We’re talking about the type of scene where the hero is essentially begging the heroine to let him into her pants, and a man in that position is, IMO, likely to want to move on to the main event.

Of course, it could be argued that if he was that desperate, why would he go down on her? Well, because I said so, that’s why. :-) No, really, in a way it is. It’s my scene and my characters. Some men may not do that, or might not do that in that situation, or whatever. But come on now, we’re all well aware that women do not climax as easily as men do from straight intercourse (geez, that sentence could have come from a freaking textbook, huh?) So while a blow job might be simply icing on the cake (was that a bad image to use?) for a man, oral sex could very well be the only way a woman gets to finish. What gentleman could allow her to go without, especially the first time? Even if he’s dead confident he can get her there a second time, it’s still only polite, isn’t it?

But really, what it comes down to for me, what it came down to, is that adding the blow job lengthens the scene and makes it more graphic than it needs to be. Those of you who’ve read both my December books and PD saw–and quite a few commented on–how different those scenes were in tone, language, and action. Because I felt that difference was necessary and important.

It’s not that I think the addition of a blow job automatically makes a scene porn, or too erotic, or whatever. I’m not saying that at all. It’s simply–and if I wasn’t so wordy I would have just said this and it could have been the whole post–that not every scene calls for every sexual act. Very few of my erotic books follow that he-does-so-she-does formula; to be honest, it bothers me a bit when they do. It feels frankly disruptive. It messes with the smooth flow of the action, IMO, or at least it would have in that scene and in quite a few of my December scenes too. There’s no need to prove some point by making sure everybody gets a little mouth action in every scene; sex shouldn’t need to be egalitarian.

I’m sure there will be some who disagree with me, and I’m really looking forward to that discussion. :-) But like I said, that comment really did make the think about why I didn’t put that in there, why I considered and discarded the idea. I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it at the time, although I do have a very clear memory of considering having her reciprocate at the moment and deciding not to, because she was laying down (or lying? I’m never sure) and he was looming over her and I thought it would be sort of clumsy and graceless to fit that in, and it just wasn’t where I wanted to go.

So…what do you guys think?

You know what? Maybe I’ll do my summer series on writing sex scenes. That sounds really fun, actually. Hmm.