I am writing sex scenes for the new book. I’m not a virgin at this (see Conjuring Raine), but this new book is asking for a heck of a lot more full frontal than I have previously gone in for. I admit, it makes me nervous. But I figure, if you’re going to do it, you have to go all the way. I hate goddamn fade-to-blacks, I hate when fascinating fucked up characters have generic (great!) sex because there is no way someone that fucked up would have generic (why always great?) sex. They would have interesting uniquely fucked up sex, yes?
I don’t mean every sex act between characters has to be described in detail for me, as a reader. But I don’t like cop outs.
But heavens, it’s one thing to feel this way as a reader and quite another to sit down to write a book that is turning out to be much more about sex than I realized when I started.
I’ve been easing in, dipping my toes in the waters as it were. I start out writing a pretend scene, place-holder sort of scene, like, “this won’t really be in the book, I’m just figuring out what happens between these two, so I can get the emotional tone right for afterward.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s not mine! Then I keep going back, fleshing it out, deepening it, realizing how it would go wrong, or right, or where they would laugh or get nervous or fall out of the bed and run screaming from the room. Whatever. Upshot: my writing hour goes by and I’ve spent the whole time thinking about sex. It’s kind of weird, then, to go back to Normal Yurt Life. It’s not unlike having a secret porn hobby.
Maybe it IS having a (not so secret) porn hobby.
But the big question for me is always, how far do I go? Is the scene hot, do I want it to be, does it reveal the characters in the way I need them to be revealed for the story at this point, should I not have put in that much detail, should I have put in more details? Do I describe the guys unique equipment, the rolling on of the condom, the sounds, the smells? Or do I gloss over that level of detail and stick with the character’s inner experiences? Which serves the story the most?
Oh, and hey, am I revealing too much of myself writing this stuff? Too much for what, my own comfort I guess? I’m just making things up, but…will readers think it is me I’m writing about? But it IS me, in some way, isn’t it? Am I okay with that?
And mostly: where have I cheated? Where have I used a short hand to stand in for something true?
I don’t worry like this with other kinds of scenes. I want them to be true, of course, but I seem to trust myself more. I wonder what all the fuss is about. My semi-Methodist upbringing? My private, introverted nature? My fear of looking stupid? Do I put a warning in the product description when (if?) I publish this? Mucho graphic, enjoy!
It’s not that I’m ashamed of writing them. I’m worried I won’t write them well. I don’t know, maybe I write these scenes and then cut them.
It’s interesting to sit on the membrane between typical life where, for the most part, sex is not spoken about, isn’t happening, you know, sanitized life—vs. the erotica world that plugs that puzzle piece back in…the fact that we’re all thinking about sex and having a sex, being sexual in some way, and its just a part of life, only…hidden. For example, read Harry Potter and there is no sex. There is some snogging later in the series, but sex? Do the character have a personal sexuality as they go through puberty and enter adult-hood? Pretty much, No. But we’re talking about teen-agers! In a boarding school! You know there’s tons of sex-stuff going on in a boarding school, conversations, hand-jobs in the bathrooms, trying to find a private place to masturbate or make-out, dirty magazines getting passed around, dirty jokes, all of it. After HP (and hey, I am NOT saying Harry Potter should have sex in it, okay? I adore Harry Potter exactly the way it is) after HP go read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, a terrific novel (except for the stupid ending, sorry Lev, I loved 90% of your book, but I really really hated the end) and it’s a boarding school of teen-aged wizards told in a more gritty, realistic style, with the character’s sexuality present in all its sordid glory. Then when you look back at HP, you are suddenly able to see the glaring absence of the character’s sexuality. Like they are Barbies and Kens with their privates smoothed over and gone. It’s suddenly weird that it wasn’t there in the first place!
That sensation of weirdness, of seeing what I didn’t see that I wasn’t seeing before, that’s interesting. Writing all this sex into my book is like that. It involves that kind of seeing: noticing and sitting on that filtering system, the what-ever-it-is in my head that does the private-bit-smoothing-over thing for assimilation into Normal (sexless) Society. I’m shocked, frankly, at how much of this I participate in, now that I’m noticing it more. Maybe it is living in the conservative South, but hushed whispers for anything to do with S-E-X is standard for around here.
Anyway, as a result of my current focus on all things erotic my social filters are getting out of whack. Word of advice, you probably don’t want to bring up blow jobs on the playground with the other moms. OR maybe, after you’ve made this faux pas and a goodly portion of the mom’s have scattered, their faces red, the moms left might be some cool potential friends?
As part of my research, I started reading Susie Bright’s How to Write a Dirty Story about the history of erotica, the reading and the writing of it, in America because I love her cuttingly smart take on things. She has curated a dozen Best Of erotica volumes over the years, as well as written a slew of other books, including a memoir, Big Sex, Little Death, that I really liked. I’ve also bopped around the internet, reading a few articles on writing sex scenes, looking for what is the state-of-the-art on the subject. At one point found myself reading two authors, 1) a guy saying be real, write from your own experience, describe the bodies doing what they do and 2) a woman saying it’s fantasy, sweep the reader away with something they’ve never felt before, be specific about the emotions! I couldn’t help but laugh as the two were giving almost diametrically opposed advice. Moral of that story: figure it our your own self.
I’ve also been looking for great examples, sex scenes that stand out as intense character moments. Bonus points if they’re hot. It’s interesting how a skillful writer can do so much with so little, and how more is often boring. But I can find examples of the opposite, as well. Tricky. Must do more research.
Do I dare to go as far as I want?
Anyway, that’s the state of the novel. More Sex! So, if you see me on the street looking…flushed, it probably means I was just writing. Or doing some reading.
I love my job.