Writing: Sex (and other) scene tips

This is from tumblr… since I wrote so much I thought I should post it here. Also in case anyone finds this useful.

anonsextips

lol I have no idea… I didn’t realize those scenes were seen as well-written ones until we started getting feedback from readers that they thought they were really good. I guess for me, personally, I don’t differentiate between topics; to me, a sex scene is dealt with exactly the same way as any other scene in the way it’s approached. I’m not sure if that’s a common thought process but it seems sometimes when I read books that authors have some difference in their mind between them which I think affects the writing of it, and thus the reading of it.

I don’t know if it helps but I wrote (as always, a lot) about the sort of stuff I usually do/think about. I also included some excerpts from ICoS (DC Evenfall volumes I and II) at the end to try to illustrate a little better what I was talking about in comparison.

I suppose the tl;dr answer would be that I personally treat all scenes the same in terms of wanting it to be meaningful to the overall story, but I do write normal scenes differently than emotionally-charged scenes (including sex scenes) by trying to make the reader feel more like they’re actually there in emotionally-charged scenes, experiencing it too, so they understand why these scenes might affect the character so much.

Anyway, these are my thoughts/tips from my perspective as a writer (and also a reader) in no particular order:


**Does it need to be there? If it isn’t showing important details of the relationship, isn’t part of character development, or isn’t advancing the plot, then I won’t write it out. It will just clutter up the story. It could be referenced that they had sex but I don’t think the scene itself needs to be in there.

**Consider the position/setting:

—-> Development arc. So, to me the sex scenes should be part of their own character development arc as well, and that development should be related to the character development in the rest of the series in whatever fashion makes sense for those characters. Which might mean it’s concurrent–as the characters are becoming emotionally attached in normal circumstances maybe they’re becoming more intimate in sex scenes–or there may be even another layer of development by showing maybe they’re really emotionally stunted in normal interactions but in the sex scenes they are extremely intimate and desperate or wild or whatever.

Those scenarios tell a different story. The first one tells a story of people who are pretty balanced emotionally and accept themselves or the other and are ready to show this intimately too; the second shows some repression in normal interactions that perhaps is coming out in sex OR shows people who are more comfortable physically or intimately than they are emotionally. And there are, of course, endless other variations. It would depend entirely on the characters and context for what makes sense for the story, but I think that should definitely be considered when looking at sex scenes.

Regardless, I personally think there needs to be some sort of an arc involved in the sex scenes as a whole. What is in the beginning of the series should be different in some regard to what is at the end of the series; there should have felt, to the readers, like there was movement or development along the way– whether it’s emotionally, or showing characters overcoming something, etc.

For example, if you look at Boyd and Hsin’s first full sex scene, they’re very passionate and all over each other but emotionally Hsin is really uncertain and kind of suspicious, and physically Boyd is too scared to let Hsin see/feel under his shirt. They both have barriers up between them. Those barriers existed both in France and Monterrey, but of course the trauma was included in France which created a whole different scenario where those same basic concepts erupted much more dramatically in comparison to the lower burn of those feelings in the background in Monterrey.

Then skip to the last sex scene you see of them, and those barriers are gone. They’re completely comfortable around each other; Hsin is emotionally comfortable reaching out to Boyd and being intimate and directing how their experience will go without fear that Boyd thinks he’s a monster or will somehow use that vulnerability or desire against him, and Boyd is completely comfortable letting Hsin have that control and letting him see or touch any part of him without fear that Hsin will use the vulnerability of his position against him.

—->Is it repetitive? Try to not do the same sex position and setting in the book or series if at all possible. That will make it feel really boring really fast and also make it feel like the sex scenes are just thrown in there Because Sexytimes and not because they’re meaningful to the story.

If I’m going to read a sex scene, I want it to tell me something about the characters I couldn’t know in their other scenes or interactions; but also like normal scenes/interactions, it would be really boring if the entire book took place with people sitting in the exact same place, never moving, never changing their looks, always having the exact same conversation in slight variances of vocabulary. That’s how it feels to me if the same sex position and setting are used over and over, like for example always missionary style on a bed; instead of mixing up location or even placement in the same room and type of position.

It doesn’t mean they have to be going through the kama sutra; it just means even slight differences like facing and not, on the floor vs against the wall vs on the bed, make a bigger difference in the greater context of the whole book.

**Look at the wording

Sensory + emotional: This might not be helpful to others but this is my personal writing style: In intense scenes (sex, action, violence, psychological breakdowns, etc) I always try to include sensory and emotional cues. As a writer, I want the reader to really feel what it is the character is feeling.

I like to vary between senses– so touch is a really important one in sex scenes of course, but pairing that with emotional cues is really helpful (IF the character is emotional in intimate scenes; obviously in examples I gave earlier, having the character have a distinct lack of emotion could be very meaningful in its own way– I would consider that to be an emotional cue as well).

But other senses are important to reference too… how hot is it in the room? Are they even in a room? What’s the lighting like? Can anything be heard? Do they hear music from another room or apartment? Traffic outside? Are they somewhere where every tiny sound they make echoes? What does whatever surface the character is on feel like? Is it rough? Does it jar them during the scene? Is it soft and are they sinking into it? Does that create an interesting comparison between the softness beneath or behind them and the heaviness and hardness of the other body against them? Or do they not like that feeling so they flip positions? Do they want to change positions but feel like they can’t because of whatever reasons, and is that little detail significant in their overall character arc? Does it create a stronger emotion internally or does that trigger them to stifle their emotions because of their history? Do they feel intense waves of emotion in the middle of the scene? Like love? Or frustration? Or anything else?

To me, the point of the sex scene isn’t the sex. It’s what changes within or between characters during the course of it.

Variance of sentences: I mentioned before that I write intense scenes a bit differently than normal scenes, and that does include more emotional and sensory cues–but I also vary sentence type and length.

In a normal scene there’s a certain… tempo, I guess, that I would use for the narration of the character. Normal sentence lengths; try to avoid too many massive sentences. Use bigger words mixed with smaller words based on the character’s context. Normal-sized paragraphs based on whatever is happening, with single lines as their own paragraph primarily being dialogue. Emotions or sensory information is mentioned now and then when needed, mostly in context of describing the environment or characters’ actions.

In sex scenes and psychological breakdown scenes in particular, I start stretching and shortening the sentences in waves and start including a lot more sensory and emotional information until (if needed) the sentences are almost entirely emotional or sensory. I do run-on sentences that suddenly cut off mid-sentence with — and then might have several single lines on their own as their own paragraphs, all ending with — or … oftentimes with unfinished thoughts. The thoughts of the character heavily influence both the intensity of the sentences as well as the wording chosen within them.

I also start tying a lot of the physical descriptors to the emotional ones (like heart pounding, breath racing) and it’s also a good idea to change the verbs or descriptions to be more aggressive or strong-sounding as opposed to passive.

That’s how I, personally, differentiate for the reader between the character being fully in control of their faculties, and things getting so intense that their thoughts are becoming disjointed and they can’t quite track anything as well.

Interestingly, this is something I’ve always done on my own because it seems natural to me to write it this way. I never had any specific reason for it except it was what felt right to me so that’s what I do. That’s just sort of how I write in general, I guess.

What’s interesting is I found out really only in the last 3 or so months that writing it that way actually makes a lot of sense in neuroscience because in traumatic events the brain literally records memories differently. It becomes like snapshots that are extremely sensory- and emotionally-driven, and are not “logical” the way normal memories would be. So you can’t give a who/what/where/when chronological rundown of traumatic events, but you could very easily say “I smelled cigarette smoke. I saw the sun too bright on the floor. I was terrified.”

Obviously, sex scenes should (hopefully typically) not be representing a traumatic event for a character, but to me I just personally feel that the same intensity of emotion makes sense to put in there.

Maybe my reason for feeling that way is because it’s so perfect for Boyd, to whom sex isn’t traumatic but that intimacy does reference memories he had both good and bad of other times people hurt or used him physically or touched and comforted him lovingly.


Anyway, if you want to see an example of what I’ve been talking about I included three excerpts below from Director’s Cut Evenfall volumes I and II. Better excerpts would be from later in the series but I don’t want to do that in case of spoilers. I chose the ones below because they do an okay job of showing you the difference in approach between normal scene, traumatic + emotionally-charged scene, and non-traumatic + emotionally-charged scene. My hope is that this will show you a little better what all my above blahblah was trying to reference.

NORMAL NARRATION

“Surprisingly impressive,” Sin commented, starting the engine.
Boyd shut the door. He looked askance at Sin, trying to determine if that had been a veiled slight. Judging by Sin’s expression and tone, it had been a simple statement with no negative undertones. It was the first time Sin had said anything positive to him.
“Were you watching?”
Sin glanced in the rear view mirror. He went still as if he sensed something.
Although he did not accompany Boyd on the assignments, Sin was always diligent about ensuring they were not followed. As cynical he was about the trial partnership and his own future as an agent, Sin still protected the integrity of their covert nature. He shifted the car into drive and guided them off the street, still focused on the darkness that pressed in on them from the outside. Streetlights in this forgotten neighborhood had long since died out.
Once they returned to the highway with no signs of a tail, Boyd assumed his question had been ignored and stopped expecting an answer. He went about ensuring the safety was on his rifle before he twisted to stow it behind his seat. Boyd ignored the protests of his bruised torso, and was fastening his seatbelt when Sin spoke.
“I was observing.”
Boyd tightened the belt across his lap. “Why?”
“To observe you.”
“Obviously. You didn’t initially observe me, though. What changed?”
“I figured you’d be dead by now. It’s surprising and I’m very rarely surprised.”
Boyd tried to get a read on Sin and, as always, came up with so many conflicting signals that he may as well have drawn a blank. He didn’t think he would ever get used to the enigma that Sin represented. The only thing he had figured out so far was that everything in the first mission, from telling Boyd to get a gun to Dauphin Street, had been a test. One that he had failed.

EMOTIONALLY-CHARGED NARRATION + TRAUMA

But then something went wrong.
A hand sliding under Boyd’s shirt, inching up and too close… Too close.
Tension arced through Boyd like ice, cooling the heat that had just been burning so brightly. “W-wait!”
Boyd grabbed Sin’s wrist but Sin slammed Boyd’s arm down impatiently, pinning it to the foor while their bodies stayed crushed together. And just like that, the yawning darkness of fear took over.
“Sin, don’t!”
His shirt was lifting, cool air hitting the skin of Boyd’s abdomen, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t stop those questing fingers. He was trapped beneath a stronger body, being held down, they were holding him down—
Boyd panicked.
“No!”
The word wrenched out of him, terrified, and he began to struggle. He didn’t feel it when Sin’s grip changed or when the weight of his body started to pull away. Boyd was blind to everything around him. All he knew was that he was trapped, someone was exposing his chest, his stomach, everything was wrong. Boyd barely registered that he’d started to scream.
“No, no, don’t touch me!”
The next thing he knew he was sitting up, his knees clenched to his chest with shaking fingers, hair awry. Boyd’s heart pounded against his ribs in a painful rhythm that was too fast to sustain.

NON-TRAUMATIC SEX SCENE (as safe for work as I can get it but a little NSFW, fair warning)

Their limbs twined together in a sticky press, Sin’s torso sliding against Boyd’s sweat-damp shirt, and his movements became more urgent. Boyd watched his partner fall apart and lose control before one last violent thrust unraveled him. The sound that ripped from Sin’s mouth was loud enough to penetrate the walls, but he did nothing to muffle the helpless desperation of it, or the wrecked gasp of Boyd’s name when he came. Boyd was flooded with Sin’s come while those strong, powerful fingers trembled against his skin.
Sin crumpled on top of Boyd with his fingers and toes clenched up. He buried his face in Boyd’s neck and sucked in gasps of air; he was a complete shuddering mess. Boyd smoothed his hand up Sin’s sweaty back with a sluggish smile.
They stayed that way until the warmth of the studio and their tangled limbs turned Boyd languid. With Sin so close and his breath slowly steadying, all tension drained away, and Boyd fell into a contented silence.


tbh that last scene is really not a very good example of a sex scene’s variance of sentence structure and content, but all the ones I could find that fit that better were super NSFW explicit so I didn’t want to excerpt it.

Anyway, sorry if none of this was helpful… I can really only explain things the way I tend to do stuff, and my writing style may not work for everyone.

Incidentally, because I write this way I just can’t do PWP stories. For anyone who wants to do PWP they may ignore most of what I said since to me sex should be part of the character arc or plot or else it shouldn’t be written out.

To be clear, I’m not saying anything bad about people who write or read PWP. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I just don’t, as a reader or a writer, find sex to be interesting in and of itself so, for me to give a shit about it and to spend any time on it, it needs to be tied into something else to make it meaningful. Otherwise I might skim a few scenes but eventually I’ll just get bored and annoyed and DNF the story.

But lots and lots of other people like that kind of thing so just, idk. I guess, just remember you’re talking to an asexual about sex scenes, lol. My view is probably skewed in comparison to a sexual person’s view. Doesn’t mean either side is better or worse; it simply just means it probably informs my style and tendencies and therefore my response to this question.

Hopefully that doesn’t mean everything I said was useless. If so, I apologize for wasting your time and wish you the best of luck in asking someone who knows better what they’re talking about! 🙂

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