After hundreds of pages of plot build up (okay, maybe more like eight or nine), we’ve finally arrived at that crucial moment. Things are hot and heavy, these characters can’t keep their hands off of each other, and you could cut that sexual tension with a knife.
Today, we’ll delve deep into the heart of any romance and explore the more intimate details of what can turn a good sex scene into a great one.
The first subject that will make or break your scene: Language
When it boils down to it, there are only so many ways we can describe a specific action. There are only so many words that we can use to name different body parts. Depending on the writing style, some strive for a poetic take while others use basic terms. Balancing the line between them is difficult. For example, let’s look at Amos Oz’s Rhyming Life and Death:
She holds him tight and squeezes her body to his, sending delightful sailing boats tacking to and fro across the ocean of his back. With her fingertips she sends foam-flecked waves scurrying over his skin.
Imagery is a fantastic tool to use when writing. However, if a reader has to stop and wonder if there are actually sail boats tacking across his back, consider changing the word choice.
On the other side of the spectrum, Starcrossed by A. A. Gill seems to drop any kind of intimacy in favor of description:
I pull my dress off and I’m naked. He reaches down and roughly grabs me between the legs. I can feel his long, bony finger slip inside me. His thumb slides into the crack of my bottom and lifts me like… A bowling ball? A six-pack? Like I was light as a feather.
This scene misses the mark on “sexy” and slides into “creepy.” Fast. Descriptors like long, bony finger and comparing herself to a bowling ball or a six pack take away any semblance of intimacy here.
If you’re just starting out, stick with what you know. The language that you’re most comfortable writing. The two best ways to improve our vocabulary and descriptors are to read more in the genre we’re writing, and practice, practice, practice.
Now that we’ve chosen what’s happening and how, the next step to adding heat to any scene is: Emotion
In Writing Complex Characters we explored letting our characters feel and experience pain and pleasure. In sex and intimacy, it’s no different.
Building as much tension as possible only serves to make the scene that much more satisfying. How are our characters feeling about the other person (or people)? How do they react to these sensations? Are they new? Are they exciting? Are they boring? Even if we’ve written the same scene ten times, it’s possible to create a fresh take on it because the characters are different. We all see, feel, hear, and taste things differently from one another.
In my Little Treasures series, I tackled the lore of a succubus. For the uninitiated, a succubus lives and feeds off of the sexual desires of men. Many erotic stories contain themes based around these beautiful creatures, but I wanted to do something different.
I paired Lilith, a centuries old creature, with a teenager. Tristan’s emotions and experiences during their intimate moments are what create a unique journey for readers to venture through. As they read on, they watch Tristan change a little bit with every encounter, bringing us to our final destination:
Pacing and Dialogue
The pacing of a narrative is important. Pacing in a narrative during a sex scene is critical. This is when we need to be the hardest on ourselves in terms of editing. If the sentence didn’t add depth of character or advance the action, delete it. If a character’s lines seem too long for the situation–go with your gut–either cut them down or delete it. Think to yourself: “If I were in this situation, would I monologue?” (I hope the answer is no).
For example, when I first wrote Whisper in 2014, during the first scene with Adrien and Josselyn, I had this:
“You’re already dripping,” he murmured against my skin, his tongue moving from breast to navel. I shuddered as his breath traveled in a gradual line down my stomach.
As a Whisper, I’d had to learn to control myself. Every touch, caress and bite was amplified ten times and brought me to the edge. The first time Jeremi and Victoria had so much as touched me, I’d climaxed. They’d laughed, but out of respect for Victoria, I was always hesitant to orgasm before her again.
“Adrien–” His name entwined itself into my breathing.
That entire middle section has nothing to do with this scene, how either of them is feeling, and it doesn’t advance the actions. It’s shoe-horned backstory, and we know how I feel about shoe-horning in backstory. It sort-of gives the reader a little insight into Whispers, but that they can easily glean that on their own with Josselyn’s actions. That’s a pretty sizeable chunk to cut out, but it reads so much better without it.
“You’re already dripping,” he murmured against my skin, his tongue moving from breast to navel. I shuddered as his searing hot breath traveled gradually down my stomach.
Every touch, caress, and bite was amplified ten times and brought me to the edge.
“Adrien” His name entwined itself into my breathing.
Swapping that section in favor of a much shorter sentence causes it to read faster, it helps keep the reader in the moment, and it destroys any disconnect in the scene.
To make the most out of both dialogue and descriptions, short, poignant sentences work wonders in intimate moments. Interwoven between longer, vivid narration, shorter sentences will act as the heartbeat of the scene. Even though seemingly chaotic, these small ideas (or emotions!) add to the heat that makes our readers crave more.
In closing, I cannot emphasize this enough: these scenes take practice. I guarantee the first few will feel awkward, clunky, and weird. That means you’re on the right track! Read authors who inspire you, take notes on their style, and try adding it to your writing.
So readers, what are your favorite intimate scenes? What breaks the mold for you?
Until next time, Tere L’etai