Friday, April 9, 2010

Hot Stuff

Image found here: Sex in the American College

Disclaimer: if you don't want to read about the craft of writing erotic scenes, come back next week. These posts will not themselves be pornographic.

This is the second post inspired by my Wednesday night Grub Street class, "Go Deeper, Baby: Writing Meaningful Erotica" with instructor Sue Williams. Please note that I really plan to respond to yesterday's comments IN the comments thread, but my computer yesterday wouldn't let me. Le sigh.

So! Yesterday you got some quotes from the experts, today let's talk specifically about craft.

Sue says that you need three elements for a scene to be especially resonant: feeling (emotions), thought (intellect), and sensation (the five physical senses). If the reader learns what a character is thinking, feeling, and sensing in a given situation, well then, the reader is right there with the character, and that's what good writing is all about, isn't it? This should of course also apply to writing about erotic encounters: if you shy away from the "good stuff," if stay on the surface because it's hard to write about or because it's embarrassing, then neither you nor the reader will really connect with the characters (no matter what they're doing). Get in there. Bring out the feelings, thoughts, and sensations of the moment. And maybe you don't have to use all five senses in the scene, but I think you should at least consider all five. (People don't write about smell often enough.)

Consider your meter and line-length. (Line length, you horndogs.) A longer sentence can build momentum and longing. Short sentences can reflect faster action. How are your characters breathing in a given scene? Could they say the lines you've written, in that moment? Is she holding her breath with anticipation, thereby able to let a long line play out smoothly? Is he hyperventilating, only able to let out short phrases?

Don't be afraid to be direct in your language. There's nothing worse than a bad euphemism. (Well, unless you're trying to be funny. Sex can be funny, just make sure you're only writing it that way on purpose.) Also, don't feel any obligation to be graphic. If you write your scene well, and then write, She reached for him, well, we all are going to know which part of him she reached for, aren't we?

The last craft suggestion is one I'm going to quote directly from Sue because she says it so much better than I ever could: "An orgasm can be hard to show-not-tell because it's a charged, internalized experience, which is not easy to communicate. One helpful technique can be to show the sensation through other objects. Put the power of the climax onto the way a desk bumps against a wall, the way floorboards squeak or the way fingers clutch at blankets... this communicates the inner pleasure more powerfully."

Finally, here are the writing prompts I promised yesterday. My favorite part about these? They don't have to be remotely sexual if you don't want them to be. They're just particularly interesting if there is a sexual component.
  1. Write a scene/story in which one of your characters tries something s/he's never experienced but always secretly longed to do.

  2. Write a scene/story in which one of your characters decides to break social rules for the sake of a powerful experience or encounter.
As Sue would say in her lovely British accent... have a go.

And once again, please enter my contest and spread the word! The winner gets my amazing fudge recipe AND a lovely SIGNED chapbook of flash fiction and essays on writing, and you get extra entries in the competition if someone comes by and says you sent them...


  1. Thanks for posting this! It helps to remember that I am writing so others can feel what I am trying to relay to them.

  2. LOL. Horndog. I havent heard that word in years. Thanks for making me giggle, and for an informative post. :)

  3. Nice post! I'm not sure I've ever pulled off a successful sex scene in my writing. One problem is that readers all have different expectations for sex in literature. I was surprised by how many of your commenters in your previous sex-in-literature posts said they didn't want to read sex scenes; they'd rather have the sex hinted at or alluded to. So maybe there is the fear, as a writer, that you're giving too much information or somehow being crass by even attempting a sex scene.

    I'm going to start paying more attention to the sex scenes in books. You know, purely from a craft perspective. Ha.