Yesterday in comments, I mentioned that the major sex scene in my first book runs for 30 pages – it does, but don’t be fooled into thinking that means 30 pages of sweat and lust and tedious repetition – because it’s certainly not that – Technically, I suppose, you could break the scene into two, even three segments, but for all of that, with all that happens – the mental gymnastics, the physical fun and games, the action, the fallout and the aftermath, from beginning to end it really does last that long.
It’s actually hard to separate all that out, but I can say that it doesn’t feel anywhere near that long when you’re reading it. Mind, I don’t think anyone notices the page count at that point… or the pages… or the book.
It was actually a hugely tricky scene to write, and not just because of the sex.
First up, I’ll say that not all sexual encounters have to be detailed, of course. Hints or foreplay and then the closed bedroom door or a jump to the next morning works fine for many writers and readers. But then, that’s why there’s a warning stuck at the top of my blog page and on my books at Amazon and Kindle. Mine gets graphic, not always, but when it does, it DOES.
Detailed sex is probably THE most difficult things to write convincingly and realistically – particularly when you want it to appeal to both sexes (it’s a wide band, but put very, very simply, most men get turned on by physical description and most women get turned on by emotional description).
Writers can get in their own way when it comes to writing sex. It’s very easy to become self-conscious, shy or awkward, or worse, turned on – seriously, it might sound funny, but you have to know what goes onto the page and what’s going on in your head. You are WRITING, it has to be ON THE PAGE. It does a writer no good at all to fade out into their imagination and then assume that their readers have followed.
Some sex scenes are easier to write than others. I’ve written sex scenes in a single pass and have not needed to edit. Others, though, take ages. The big scene I am talking about is in The Khekarian Threat. It is very detailed and while there’s a lot of tension (and attraction), there is also a whole heap more going on, which added to the difficulty of writing it.
The sex alone took a lot of time. From foreplay to release, the details were important to the characters and to the story. The details had impact. I wanted them to have impact with the readers, too. That meant every detail had to be out there, very clearly portrayed and presented.
Making things even more difficult, I had overlaid the action with issues and areas of thought that carried a real risk of unbalancing the whole thing. That’s what had me worried. I knew the sex part was working, it was the thinking and tension along with it that bothered me. I didn’t want one side of the coin to distract from the other.
As with any part of writing, after putting in that sort of effort working with the nuts and bolts of the thing, it’s very hard to stand back and see the finished result clearly. If you’re too close, you’re still seeing with your thinking/working processes engaged and not your fresh/reader new vision engaged.
Because such scenes are crucial to get right and to KNOW you’ve got them right, stepping away for a time is crucial, too.
The only way I could tell I had it right was to let it go completely, not think about any aspect of it, clear my head, work on something else and only come back to view it when it was completely fresh.
A writer has to know. You can’t write a sex scene, get embarrassed about it and never read it again – then publish, pretending that it’s really not in there and hope that all your readers will love it anyway. It’s just not going to happen like that. Readers will pick up on YOUR discomfort if it’s there. The scene won’t flow, it won’t gel and it won’t work.
Clearly, I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the scene I am discussing by giving away the backdrop and story of that scene. Let’s just say it was tough and I had to shelve it for a long time.
I shelved it by not reading it. Every reading of the manuscript, I jumped over that scene. I very deliberately did not read it. I left it for months. I had to see it freshly, as a reader would. Only then could I decide if it worked and if I was going to keep it, work on it or chop it out.
When I did see those pages again, I was staggered by how well it balanced out and worked. Nothing detracted, in fact the mental tension added tremendously to the action and the whole flowed beautifully.
None of this is a How-to. I cannot and would not try to tell another writer how to write. It has to work for you and be comfortable with how you think and with what you want. All I can do is share what worked for me, and chat about how and why I think that is so.
Anyway, I haven’t posted about sex in ages. It seemed time.
Cheers, everyone! Happy writing!