C. C. Cedras author, descriptions of physical intimacy, Diana Gabaldon, Jenny Hansen, K.R. Brorman author, Marcy Kennedy, Outlander, romance, S.A. Young author, Salt-n-Pepa, sex scenes, Starz Original Series, Writers In The Storm, Writing
Each Saturday, we take turns writing about our process, experiences or works-in-progress as we set about writing our Great American Novels first novels. We’ve told you that we describe our genre, or sub-sub-genre, to be contemporary romantic suspense. For the purposes of this post, the emphasis is on romantic. Or, more accurately, scenes of physical intimacy in novels.
Believe it or not, K. R. Brorman, S. A. Young and I have written – even published online – quite a number of sex scenes with varying degrees of romanticism, eroticism, even solecism…
noun: solecism; plural noun: solecisms
a breach of good manners; a piece of incorrect behavior.
On this blog, we’ve added a few, Random, Acts, of Fiction that imply intimacy*, but shied away from too much description. This blog is for all ages, genders – members of our churches read it, our mothers read it. Our mothers’ friends read it.
Actually, our mothers are some of our most enthusiastic fans, and they know we’ve had sex, have even read some of the scenes we’ve written, but still. You know what I mean.
We each have distinctive styles. I won’t tell you whose is which, but there’s the more oblique approach to description that surprises when another intimate scene becomes very direct, there’s the upfront approach with a touch of kink, sometimes verging on eroticism – whew! Is it getting hot in here?! – and there’s the straightforward one that occupies the middle ground. My co-authors might disagree with this assessment. One of the beauties of our collaboration is being able to see our individual writing through another writer’s eyes and mind.
Sex scenes are tricky. Hey, I hear your eyes rolling from over here. Of course they are. None of the three of us believes in euphemisms, particularly when describing body parts. Nor do we believe in a love scene that checks the boxes in the formulaic way that’s often used in romance novels: the male main character (MMC) starts at the top of the female main character (FMC) and works his way down, from side to side, until Tab A comes together with Slot B and the characters attain the perfect culmination. Okay, that’s possibly a bit of a euphemism. Don’t care. Mom’s reading.
Honestly, when I see that a scene in a book is heading down that path, I skim over it 9 times out of 10.
A good scene will allow the reader to see through the eyes, experience the sounds, the scents, the touch, to occupy the point of view of one of the characters involved.
As usual, we have some go-to “coaches” that we’re listening to. A personal favorite is Diana Gabaldon’s “How To Write Sex Scenes”. Honestly, few writers do it better and her evocative descriptions bring Jamie and Claire Fraser to life on the page, the screen and our minds. We almost feel voyeuristic. But not so much that we turn away or skip past those parts.
The flickering fire and candlelight, the snap of the burning wood, the scent of the wood smoke, beeswax and musk, the feather-light touch of her slim hand trailing across his manly chest, his attention riveted on every sensation…sigh.
Where was I?
So, coaches. Recently, I’ve been reading Marcy Kennedy’s** “A Busy Writer’s Guide: Description”. This was motivated by her blog post on the topic last week. One of the worst offenses she discusses, and one that could certainly be a pitfall in writing intimate scenes, is purple prose – writing that is “too ornate, overwritten, flowery, or melodramatic. It’s self-aware writing.” Or, what we here at Stilettos, Stoli and Scribbles call, “George-like”. We’ve mentioned George, Georges and Georgito before. They remind us when we’re running off into the weeds that we need to get back on the path of our stories and our characters.
Chapter 11 of Marcy’s book is about using touch, including non-physical touch (think sun, wind, cold) to pull in the reader. In the section on intimacy, she shares the “12 Stages of Physical Intimacy” described by Jenny Hansen*** at Writer’s In The Storm. An important point they both make is to use these descriptions to generate tension. Marcy and Jenny explain that skipping over any of the 12 stages creates conflict, to draw any of them out “amps up the tension as readers hold their breath to see when characters will reach the next milestone”.
In my mind, the most significant aspect is to describe how the character interprets touch. Marcy’s example:
A woman whose love language is physical affection will interpret a hug differently than will a woman who was sexually abused as a child. How will a germaphobe handle touch? … Like everything else, touch needs to be filtered through your character and given their unique spin.
Sex, as seen through the prism of our FMCs and MMCs will mean different things to each of them, and hopefully our readers – for some, physical intimacy is problematic, an obstacle that causes anxiety or resurrects feelings of grief. For others, it’s a natural expression of attraction. And for others, it comes from a place of denial.
Such scenes provide an opportunity to advance our stories and develop our characters. They will not be gratuitous, we hope, and we will respect the feelings of our people as well as the expectations of our readers. We hope you will be one.
How do you feel about sex scenes in books? Do you skim over them? Do you critique them for style and execution? If you agree that male authors and female authors handle such scenes differently, is there an approach you prefer? Or do you feel that they shouldn’t be there at all?
*This is just part one of four of K. R. Brorman’s short story, “Stay”. You’ll want to read the entire series as it comes over the next several weeks. Seriously.
**We’ve mentioned Marcy Kennedy before. She’s a science fiction and fantasy author, freelance editor, and writing instructor whose blog and books have been inspirational to us throughout this process, and she’s at the top of our list for editing these things when we get them written.
***Jenny Hansen is another source of writing advice we three admire. She blogs at Writer’s In The Storm and on her own blog, More Cowbell.