…And some are naughtier than others…
Recently I was invited to do write a guest blog post for a writer I connected with on-line. She’s a lovely person, and I check in on her blog a couple times a week. And every time I do, I first have to get through the Blogger screen that warns me there might be adult content on the site.
Yes, I really am over eighteen years old. I can handle it.
Turns out, the point of my blog post was that I should have warned her about something. I’m rarely comfortable writing beyond the level of about PG-13. When it’s time to write a love scene, I warm up the laptop and flex my fingers and reach down deep to connect with my inner…Girl Scout. It’s not a problem with my imagination – you’ll just have to trust me on that – it’s more that I like to leave a little space for the reader’s own ingenuity.
So how do you write a good love scene? Seems to me that these days, the difference between what gets advertised as a romance novel and what qualifies as pornography can be a very small thing, which in its own way is powerful and freeing and cool, as long as the stories work. Because if some stories have to be told, they deserve to be told well.
When it comes to writing about sex, the first question I ask myself is whether the physical action I’m describing moves the story forward. It needs to create conflict or develop the characters or in some way add to the action of the piece. It should also be consistent with the characters. In one of my (so far) unpublished projects, the main character Molly is being shadowed by a pixy. About midway through the story, things are going badly for Molly and the pixy reveals that he has the magical ability to become man-sized. He gives Molly a hug to comfort her, and that hug turns into a near-kiss experience. The trick for me was to build in hints over the first several chapters that Molly thinks he would be attractive if he wasn’t the size of a Barbie doll. Otherwise it could be kind of icky.
The next thing to focus on is the language you use. If you read any romance at all, you’re likely familiar with the pearly buds and throbbing shafts and other euphemisms that get used for various parts of the human anatomy. I would like to respectfully suggest that less is more here. Consider the following lines from “How To Write A Sex Scene” by Steve Almond, published in the on-line Utne Reader.
As a rule, in fact, there is often no reason at all to name the genitals. Consider the following sentence:
“She wet her palm with her tongue and reached for my penis.”
Now consider this alternative:
“She wet her palm with her tongue and reached for me.”
Is there any real doubt as to where this particular horndoggle is reaching?
I’m with Steve here. To a certain extent, you need to include some anatomic direction, but generally I think you can get by with a couple of timely suggestions, trusting that the reader can figure things out on their own.
Finally, and most importantly, remember that the sexiest bits probably don’t involve sex at all. The anticipation is a lot more interesting than the act itself. Focus on creating fun and flirtatious dialogue that leaves the reader wondering ‘will they or won’t they’. Layer in all the senses so the reader really feels what’s happening. The day after their near-kiss experience, Molly keeps flashing back to the strength in the pixy’s arms and the roughness of his skin. This creates a new kind of conflict when she sees him sitting cross-legged on top of her microwave. The way they dance around what happened builds anticipation for their next big romantic moment. Which, because I’m the one writing it, will mostly happen behind a closed bedroom door.
As writers, we’re taught the importance of developing our own voice. This applies to sex as much as it does to any other facet of storytelling. Some of you are out there enthusiastically imagining hot Hot HOT entanglements for your characters, and you can translate that enthusiasm to the paper or to your laptop. Others of us are more restrained (Repressed? Inhibited?). Regardless of where you fall on the Spectrum of Naughtiness, your readers will follow you as long as you’re telling a good story and letting them to some of the work.
© 2012 by Liv Rancourt
Liv Rancourt is a writer of speculative fiction and romance. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. Writing stories that have happy endings is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her novella “A Vampire’s Deadly Delight” has a (surprising) heat level of three, and will be available from Black Opal Books on January 14, 2012. Liv can be found on-line at her website (www.livrancourt.com), her blog (www.liv-rancourt.blogspot.com) or on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt).