Monday, July 29, 2013


It's ridiculous  that I haven't posted in so long! While I work up something new, here's a re-post from my languishing Tumblr. Still something I'm thinking about.


That got your attention, didn’t it? And that’s with good reason: humans are sexual beings. Sex is used to titillate and to condemn us, to judge our character and to sell us everything from soap to cars. We’re stupid on the stuff. America has a particularly schizoid relationship with sex, particularly in regards to women. The American ‘Angel/Whore’ complex is fascinating—women in the national spotlight are either Ann Romney-pure or Madonna-sexual, and the great masses of us that fall between these poles are mostly ignored. There seems to be a national understanding that nice women tend toward the latter… which is hilarious, given the predilection for sex in women’s fiction (not to mention the craze for that questionable bondage book and its successors).

As fun as it would be to jump into that debate (not), what I really want to talk about here is writing sex. You’d think that, given how much thought we give to sex each day and how completely it permeates our culture, that it would be a no-brainer to write. Not so. Writing a good sex scene is a challenge for the best authors, for a lot of reasons: there are physical realities that get in the way, the challenge of POV and where our minds go (or disappear to), and the overriding challenge of keeping it interesting. Be honest: haven’t you read a book/story where the sex gets so damn repetitive that you start picking it apart? It becomes a sex manual: “Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve tried/never tried that." When it gets to that point, where the reader is thinking outside the story, the sex is bad, no matter how often it’s happening.

We’re all grownups here, right? By a certain point of your adult life, you understand that Tab A fits into Slot B (or C for the more adventurous) the same for every one. Reading repetitive series of, “He put his *whistle* into her (or his) *horn*" is just… repetitive. (Obviously, I’m leaving out lesbian sex here. I don’t know much about it, frankly, but I suspect that penetration isn’t as big an issue as in hetero/male homosexual writing. I could be wrong. *shrugs*). What is different from person to person and experience to experience is what happens before the ‘big event’, what happens after, the thoughts (or lack thereof) during, and sensation. Those details are the things that make a unique and sensual event from an everyday (we wish) event.

Unless a writer is intending on writing porn, those are the details that enhance a story about emotional or sexual relationships, and it’s a balancing act to decide how much is too much, where the sexual aspect begins to dominate and perhaps hijack any story you’re trying to tell. A writer has to decide where that line is crossed and make the appropriate decision of where to stop.

In it’s initial form, Cocktails and Dreams had a lot more sexual content than it ended up having in the end. It was fitting, I thought: I’m not giving away anything when I say that sex and its place in the primary relationship of the novel is the core of the story. The sex flowed naturally in the course of the narrative. However, when it came to shaping the story to publishable form, I had a decision to make about what I saw as the core of the story: was this a book about sex, or people? Where was my focus?  It had to be the people (I write good sex, but bad porn—I tried that once, and couldn’t do it. Story kept creeping in and taking over my trash). I’m not crazy, you understand: this story starts in bed, for God’s sake. Still… people are paramount.

The next time you’re reading sex, note what gets your strongest reaction. Was it a stroke by stroke detailing of the act, or something more subtle? Here’s something to think about: the most erotic thing I’ve ever read had no penetration at all (thanks, Sin).

That, my friends, is talent.

What do you like or dislike in sex scenes? Are they necessary to your enjoyment of a book?

1 comment:

  1. yes, Yes, YES! I so agree that it's more about the relationship & reactions before and after that are what make the encounter---from a reading standpoint. I really have no patience for step-by-step sex scenes. I like leaving something up to my imagination and would rather know what the characters are thinking and feeling during the act.

    This one was definitely worth a repost!