by Suzanne Lahna
One of the things that Alexis and I come across when editing manuscripts is this weird sort of habit – I’m not sure if writers even realize they’re doing it – where the names of the characters almost never come up during a sex scene.
Pull up your MS, erotica writer, and take a look at that scene. Why is it that you say he and she throughout every single paragraph of the sex scene? This is something we’ve been encountering across the board, and it seems like it might be the symptom of a larger problem. When you’re writing a sex scene, are you just plugging in some generic “tab A into slot B” to boost book sales? Or are you actually taking into consideration how your unique characters, with their personalities, backgrounds, and storylines, would go about getting it on?
Rule the second: thou shalt STAY IN CHARACTER.
When sitting down to write your sex scene, before you begin to contemplate positions or type of sex, I want you to think about the backstory and personality of the people involved. If you’re writing for paranormal romance, your character may come from a tragic past or have been harmed in some way before, whether physically or emotionally. This can mean that certain positions are emotionally jarring; for example, ones that don’t allow them to look at their partner’s face throughout the scene.
Your character may also have certain physical triggers that they cannot handle in the bedroom, like being held down or even simply being on the bottom. Do they need to be in control? Or are they craving to hand the reigns over? Bringing conflict into a sex scene can make for excellent character development, and even help with your pacing! All conflict is good conflict, whether it’s a huge scary plot monster or a series of awkward moments in the bedroom. How character B negotiates character A’s bedroom don’ts can go a long way to showing the depth of their sincerity.
Another thing to consider is how your character feels about their body. Is there anything they’re self-conscious about? Even the most conventionally attractive people have hang-ups: that pudge around their waist, a scar, something a previous lover said they didn’t like. Be conscious of bringing this aspect of personality up in characters of any and every gender.
Another important aspect of staying in character is dialogue, both internal and external. Beware of words used to describe the human body during sex that do not fit the perspective of the character!
These are words that women do not ever use. Ever. Think about it. When was the last time you heard either one in polite conversation with a fellow babe? Never. No woman has ever used these words to describe their body. Why? Because it’s degrading as hell. So if your sex scene is coming from the perspective of a female character, just say “breast.” It will be fine, I promise you. (we will have a whole section devoted to “Words to Use and Words to Avoid Like the Plague” in Part 3!)
Back to your character: let’s talk about kinks! Kink negotiation should happen anytime your characters have sex for the first time. It doesn’t have to be a paragraph of pace-destroying dialogue before the main event; it can occur naturally during. When Character A removes their shirt, Character B may say they like to keep their shirt on, because maybe they’re trans and wearing a binder. Maybe Character B says they’ve had a vasectomy and don’t wear condoms, but gets tested every month and are clean, and will show you results if needed, while kissing character B’s collarbone. (You get the idea!)
Don’t avoid writing a kink that you think your character will be into simply because you’re not knowledgeable about it, just do some research! You wouldn’t write a detective series without researching police procedure and standard weapon carries – don’t write erotica without knowing what you’re writing about. Every erotica writer should know the differences between vanilla sex, rough sex, and BDSM. If Character A is really into anal, you should be looking into the best lubricant, learning how the anal cavity actually stretches wider than the vagina, and get comfy writing about plugs, vibrators, and dildos designed for people who like “a lot of gaping” (research gaping, decide if this is a thing your character likes or not). If for some reason you’re uncomfortable researching a kink that your character is into, close your writing program now, and walk away.
Erotica is for adults, written by adults – get a grip and be mature about it. There’s nothing wrong with writing PG-13 romance if the down and dirty makes you squirm! Knowing your strengths and playing to them is an important part of the writing process.
And on that note, I conclude part 2 of Let’s Talk About Sex. I suggest you sit down and have a chat with your characters. Discuss what their preferences are in the bedroom. Have that kink negotiation. And above all else: STAY. IN. CHARACTER. (and stay tuned for part 3 next week!)