Friday, February 11, 2011

16 Tips For Writing Sexy Scenes

It's easy for carnal scenes to get cliche. Girlfriends give their best tips for writing sex scenes.

Twelve Pages of Passion

Do I ever write love scenes? Have you not read BEAUTIFUL DISASTER? It wasn’t my intention to write a novel where love scenes were an integral part of the story. But it didn’t take long to find myself in the middle of one. I’ve accepted, if not embraced, the idea that love scenes may be my niche. However, let me qualify that by stressing that there are a million other components to every manuscript. Keeping a love scene from succumbing to the clichés of throbbing body parts and stereotypical panting can be a challenge. I find that dialogue is a great remedy for this, moving the scene and plot forward—nothing is more boring than reading about people kissing.

The trick, I think, is to keep it real so it fits seamlessly into the story. And the cliché isn’t always a bad thing, particularly if your protagonist is allowed to use it humorously. For example, at the end of a twelve page encounter (12 pages? OMG, yes! I just counted) Flynn says to Mia: “Let’s see. The earth did in fact move, I’ve now touched the face of God, my world did indeed rock, and if you’d like I’ll cap it off with a cigarette in bed. Now, do you follow?” She does, and so we go from there.

Laura Spinella

Only So Many Positions

I think we all worry that our love scenes are cliched. After all, there are only so many positions, and so many parts. What I try to remember is that sex is two people at their most vulnerable--literally naked. If I'm not using that to further the story, to deepen their characterization, then it's gratuitous. Love scenes are action scenes written emotionally. If they're good, removing them should hurt your story. If you could write "and then they had sex" instead, you probably don't need the love scene anyway.

Megan Crane/Caitlin Crews

More Love, Please

I wish I had an actual technique for my love scenes, but when they happen, they're often as much as surprise to me as to anyone else. I'm usually working in a part of my brain that's unconscious, a sort of trance, if you will. I don't know if they're trite or not, but they seem fluid (pardon the pun) to me at the time. I have had complaints from readers that 1) my characters are too chaste "I loved your book but I wanted more love," a handsome guy in his late twenties said, and the way he said love, I knew he meant sex. Then in the next book, when my protagonist and her love interest have sex, it's graphic enough that the Amazon reviewer (whose forte was children's books and muffin tins) called it pornographic and then complained that the next sex scene (which wasn't between people in love) was glossed over. Go figure.

Sheila Curran

Much More Than Just Sex

Since I write romance, I do write my fair number of love scenes. Love scenes, regardless of how explicit they might be, need to be about more than sex, otherwise the scene becomes one of those parts people skip. As with every other part of a story, a love scene needs to work on multiple levels, it needs to change the characters, change the story, put something at stake and propel the plot forward.

Romances often have multiple plot lines, one of which is always the development and resolution of the romance. Other story lines might include a mystery, a paranormal story, or, well, just about anything. Love scenes should always drive the romance forward, but even better if that sexual encounter also affects more than just the romance. Those two characters must continue to interact afterward, but now in a changed emotional landscape. There's some conflict!

A love scene isn't just about two bodies. It's about the incredible intimacy that results when two people who are falling in love-- or on the verge of doing so --give each other access to their bodies and, by doing so, put their emotions at risk. The withholding of parts of that intimacy (physical or emotional) is also a complication to consider. Having sex can make a couple's relationship even shakier, doubts can actually increase. What happens to a character who discovers he's only ever been having sex before, because now he's just made love for the first time?

In every single love scene I write, I do my best to make sure my story would fail if that scene were not there. It absolutely has to matter that they have an intimate encounter and that during and afterward, their worlds are changed. The characters needn't recognize what's going on. It's quite fun if they have no idea yet, but readers should be able to tell that something significant has happened for the two characters.I find that when I write with that in mind, scenes are less likely to be cliche because they aren't about sex, they're about the two people I'm writing about.

Carolyn Jewel

Emotions, Sensations and Fresh Language

Writing love scenes without reverting to heaving bosoms and throbbing male parts is one of the hardest things to do, which is just one of the reasons I have such enormous respect for romance writers.

The way I avoid cliches is to try to focus on the authenticity of emotions and sensations, and dig deep for fresh language. If I decide to let my characters have sex, I usually find a way to put them in various positions without direct reference to body parts, because the metaphors make me cringe and the clinical terms are even worse, as they're so antithetical to love.
In any case, I like to focus on what happens BEFORE the sex, because that's where the heat is.

Ellen Meister

Not for Me

God. I avoid writing them LOL. Did you ever read the bad sex scene in my novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver? that's my way of avoiding sex scenes hehehe)

Jenny Gardiner

Sex Scenes Are Like Snowflakes

I'm big on not just writing sex, but writing how these two characters in particular would have sex. For example an actor will make love differently than an accountant and so forth. Also there are characters who talk during sex and characters who get right down to business. There are women who take the lead and women who like to be led. There are women who are comfortable with their sexuality and women who aren't. And in every single case, there are ways to make it hot. In other words, like relationships themselves, there are infinite ways to write sex. I treat my sex scenes like they're snowflakes. I don't want any two of them to ever look alike, especially if they involve two different couples.

Ernessa T. Carter

Art Imitates Life

Here's my advice for writing believable but juicy sex scenes:

As with all good fiction writing...write what you know and then let your imagination run wild. That's how I wrote my first love scene in Substitute Me. I began with a situation that happened with me and my husband, then invented a much more thrilling ending. And what's really nice, art imitates life and then you can imitate your art. Ha!

Lori L. Tharps

Taking the Poetic Route

I think it's important to stay authentic to the character and love scenes can enhance the growth of the character whether it's a new love or long-time lover. I prefer the poetic route, tantalizing but letting the reader paint the rest of the picture. I also like unusual places: Ramona and da Vinci in the cramped studio, the pool scene with my characters in Fixer Upper and even a clothed shower scene in my YA.
Malena Lott

Anywhere But the Bedroom

Sensuality and emotion are the keys to keeping a love scene from falling into cliché. If the emotion is palpable, even the most over-used phrase can seem vibrant. Connection between the characters is essential, the reader has to feel the heat between them, the whisper of breath over skin, the brush of hair against the chest or thighs. And keep it out of the bedroom. Setting a love scene in a car makes it illicit. In the kitchen, it's fast and dirty because of the chance of getting caught. In the office after hours, there's enough pent-up frustration to power a city.

Stephanie Julian

A Sense of Humor Helps

I remember an essay in the NYTBR a few years back, penned by Barbara Kingsolver, in which she postulated that the reason most writers have trouble writing sex scenes is the fear that their mothers will realize they've had sex. Well, I'm pretty sure my mother already knows - in fact, I'm positive she's had it at least twice herself! - so that liberates me to write whatever the individual book requires. To keep from being cliché: 1) put in things that you won't necessarily find in every other book out there, e.g., in one of my adult novels, the heroine removes a man's belt with her teeth; and/or 2) focus more on the emotions and the dialogue - what makes this experience unique to these two people - than on the specific mechanics.

Finally, I think having a sense of humor helps. It's hard to get a wide range of people to agree on what's sexy, as opposed to laughable, but if your characters have a sense of humor about what they're doing, your audience will be more forgiving about all sorts of things like, oh, I don't know, one character removing another character's belt with her teeth.

Lauren Baraz-Logsted

A Masturbating Octopus?

Answer to question: I loathe writing love scenes! I use all the cliches and then my critique partners take pity on me and help me rewrite it into something better. I actually wrote, in my early, early days, something about their bodies and limbs intertwined like a masturbating octopus. I'm an idiot with love scenes.

Leslie Langtry

Keep it Brief

I've written love scenes in both my novels. One technique I use for avoiding cliche has been to call on my more humorous memories. In Orange Mint and Honey, Shay's younger lover jumps up and down on the bed and sings after a night with her...which actually happened to me with a guy when we were in college. *Blushing* And, as with any other part of writing, to use details that are specific to the characters. So in Children of the Waters I had a wife who had been separated from her husband rejoice in the love handles he had grown without her healthy cooking. That seems truer to me than bulging pecs or six-pack abs...unless your male character is a football player.

Finally, keep love scenes brief. Unless you're writing romance or erotica, to me, brief is better. It's when they go on for pages and pages that you get those breasts-heaving, penis-throbbing cliches.

Carleen Brice

Focus On the Characters

Nearly all my books have love scenes in them. The way to make a love scene fresh and unique is to write not about the sex but about the characters. The scene is not two anonymous people going at it; it's a hero and my heroine making a profound discovery about themselves and each other. I focus on their thoughts and emotions. What do they feel? What do they fear? How does this event change them and their relationship? If your characters are cliches, their sexual activity will come across generic. But if your characters are well developed individuals, their love scenes will be not about what they're doing but about who they are and what their lovemaking means to them.

Judith Arnold

Rated PG-13

I write love scenes, but they're not terribly graphic. I think of them as sort of the movie version of a PG-13 rating... the scene fades away before things get too revealing. I think to avoid cliches, staying away from the words "They gazed deeply into one another's eyes" as you start the scene is a good start!

Sarah Pekkanen

Not Now, Honey

I have to be in the mood for writing sex. If I'm not, I'll just write "I have a headache" in the manuscript and get back to it. When I'm in the mood, I'll get a little wine, a little soft music (Barry White works well) and some comfy clothes.

Seriously, I've only written one sex scene and I don't think was very good in bed so I'm glad to read all thes helpful tips.

Karin Gillespie

Girlfriend News

Carleen Bric is blogging at the new industry site The Gatekeeper's Post. Her first blog post offers tips for authors doing online chats.
Congrats to Sarah Pekkanen. Her second novel, Skipping a Beat, just sold in Australia.


  1. Great post. I have issues here too...I'm gonna be checking out these authors who posted--to see their love "techniques" for inspiration. One of my first readers complained that I "opened the door and took her in, then abandoned her" in the love scene. I think I wasn't ready to explore that scene yet...but I need to...research. lol...yeah...that's it. Research. LOL

  2. Great tips, especially on Valentine's Day ;)

    And I think a masturbating octopus is one of new favorite mental images.

  3. Yes, I can't shake images of the masturbating octopus either. Wonder what that says about me. Off to write a love scene now, full of fresh ideas and, no, it won't feature an octopus, masturbating or otherwise.

  4. "Flynn says to Mia" is about the corniest bit of after sex monologue I've yet read. But then I am guy in a girls book club, so never mind that I think guys don't talk like that. Certainly not after 12 pages of earth moving, God's face touched, world rocking sex! :)

  5. Masturbating octopus... That imagery is never going to leave me alone. It's going to haunt me before I even get started as a writer. LOL!

    Honestly, from the perspective of an open-minded reader, I prefer not to have the door to a love/sex scene opened & then be left standing at the threshold wondering about the decadent details. Yes, I have an imagination, but sometimes the point of reading a romance novel or even *gasp* erotica is, in my opinion, a bit of literary voyeurism--venturing into the imagination of someone else for a change of pace. To be quite frank, I think it's healthy to read such things from time to time as it helps to rekindle flames that may have been becoming cozy little smoldering embers at the ol' homestead. ;-)

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