My creative writing class ventured into the bedroom (and the living room, and other assorted locations) over the last couple of weeks (on the page, of course), and boy has it been interesting. Overall, I’m impressed. The writing has been quite good, as it has been throughout the semester, and there’s something really brave about writing such scenes for a class. This group is bolder than nearly all of the students in the graduate-level workshops I’ve taken.
It reminded me, though, how very difficult it is to write sex scenes well. One of the key problems is that here, you really can only write what you know. Not necessarily what you’ve done, mind you, but what you can conceive of: what you know is possible. And sex is a subject that people are highly reluctant to discuss, especially in terms of technique. Without discussion, there is less learning, less understanding.
One of the results is that a lot of people are missing out on a lot of fun—but that’s a subject for a different kind of blog. Or, well, mostly. Because learning how to write better sex scenes basically involves learning how to have better sex. And, as a bonus, learning how to talk about it better. So, what you need to do is find resources (books, websites, instructional videos) that talk about how to perform various kinds of sex better. (Note that porn is not a good source for this exercise!) Read, study, think.
Now, if you have someone with whom you can do some additional research, good for you! Get to it. Ask him/her how things feel, what would be better, what else he/she would like to try. Be adventurous. Remember: it’s research. Take your time. Take all day if you need to. And send me a note later to say thank you. 😉
If you don’t have a research partner handy, well, there’s still the Internet. (And friends, of course, if your friends are honest and open and prepared to help you out.) There are a million places to find the answers you seek. Also look for good erotica and see what they’re doing right. What makes your heart beat faster when you read it?
And, just as importantly, what do you dislike? A bad sex scene is not only not sexy (and I don’t mean scenes that are intentionally not sexy—where bad sex is used to make a point about character, say), it can yank you out of the novel to an extent that you may not be willing to venture back in. Some are so atrocious that the Literary Review created the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Here’s one example, from 2010 award winner The Shape of Her, which includes the line, “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.” Yikes!
And then, of course, you will need to practice writing about these wonderful experiences. Add detail, but not too much. Don’t be too clinical. Don’t use ridiculous romance-novel terms. Don’t be crude unless the characters and situation call for it. Focus more on feel than on parts. And understand that it will take time (and probably more research) to get those scenes just right.
Now: go do some research, and write something sexy!