“But my mother is going to read this!” my husband said, worried after he’d read a pivotal sex scene in my new novel.
“Yes, she will,” I countered. “But don’t forget she had you … and sorry to break the news, but it wasn’t the stork that made it happen.”
Truth be told, writing a good sex scene for many writers is a lot harder than penning a gory murder scene. Why?
Because it just feels too personal. And yet, why shy away from what is natural? I always tell my readers that writing an intimate moment is the fun part. But in order for it to really work on a page one must shelve inhibitions, perhaps drink a glass of wine, and let go.
Good sex in a book is not like a good sex scene in the movies. Let me state upfront: No one enjoys reading about a woman penetrated while standing up against the wall – but throw that image in a movie and this exact position is a Hollywood staple. Descriptive euphemisms trip up writers as well – how do I describe vagina and penis without saying vagina and penis? How would my character describe private parts in the throes of passion and not sound clinical but a little naughty?
So you want to write a good sex scene … here are Eight Tips guaranteed to turn up the heat on the page:
Write in first gear and then build speed
Foreplay is key. Describe each character as they strip down—their thoughts, perceptions, feelings about their own bodies, their partners, and carnal thoughts BEFORE even hitting the bed/floor/shower. Set it up. Once there, the passion kicks in. Remember: Sex, even if you are writing in First Person, is a two-way street (unless there are more participants involved). Give the perspective from both partners.
Use all five senses
Yes, turn on the sensuality. The reader wants to see what’s happening, but they also want to feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and know what’s going on in that room aside from the obvious. Is there music going? Is the dishwasher on in the background? Is there a fire crackling? What does her skin smell like? What does he taste like? What does her touch feel like?
Don’t just write the scene, give us an experience.
Close your eyes and feel your character
It’s not how you would perform, it’s how he or she would. This is not YOU performing in bed. You’re not being graded. This is your character’s sex drive. You know them better than anyone. How would they perform intercourse? How would he/she touch someone? How would he/she respond to being touched. It’s them, not you. You’re just orchestrating, they are playing the music.
Elements of Surprise
Say your protagonist is a power-hungry Gordon Gekko type … show another side of him in bed, perhaps sensitive, caring, a giver—the opposite of who he is in the office. Sex is an opportunity to convey depth, to present an entirely different side of your character. It makes the sex part less important than who this person really is, once stripped naked.
Build to the climax
Write with detail. There’s no rush to get this over. Forgo the get in-get out policy. Personally, I enjoy a good, strong sex scene as opposed to a teaser (“And then he gazed deeply into her eyes and slowly shut the door …”) No. Let me in.
The reader wants to observe what’s really going on behind closed doors.
Infuse conversation/deep thought
It gives more insight into the character: In my new novel, THE UNBREAKABLES, my protagonist has been sexual with only one man – her husband. Just imagine what it feels like for her to have a very erotic unexpected experience with lovers who know exactly what they are doing. Well, you don’t have to imagine because I show you …
Use sex to propel your story
Say a man is cheating on his wife. There is lust, passion, inhibition–but then as he leaves his lover, the guilt sets in, the pending consequence for his action is waiting for him beyond the bedroom. How does he feel, what’s he going to do? Sex sells the story, but the character’s responses move it along.
From G-Rated to X … just let go
Dig deep, and yes, think porn, tap into fantasy and perhaps, inhibitions and taboos. Don’t skimp.
What was really behind the massive success of Fifty Shades of Grey? Readers of all ages (we’re talking Grandmas too) were glued and magnetized by the forbidden world of S & M, that I for one knew nothing about. It was a learning process. By the end of the novel, along with the protagonist, I, too, had a clear understanding of what goes on in a Red Room. We ALL did.
A good sex scene can be magnetic. It provides both your reader and your characters a deeper experience, a close, meaningful connection on the most intimate level of all.
Lisa Barr is the award-winning author of THE UNBREAKABLES and the historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS, a suspenseful tale of stolen art,love, lust, deception, and revenge on the eve of World War II. The novel won the Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) gold medal for “Best Literary Fiction 2014” and first prize at the Hollywood Film Festival (Opus Magnum Discovery Award). In addition, Lisa has served as an editor for The Jerusalem Post, managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, managing editor of Moment magazine, and an editor/reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Among the highlights of her career, Lisa covered the famous handshake between the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and President Bill Clinton at the White House. Lisa is also the creator and editor of the popular parenting blog, GIRLilla Warfare . She has been featured on Good Morning America, Today, Fox & Friends, and the Australia morning news show Sunrise for her work as an author, journalist, and blogger. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and three daughters (aka Drama Central).