On Writing My First Sex Scene

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@ivandrei-pretorius-457987

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@ivandrei-pretorius-457987

Recently, I wrote my first sex scene.

Oh, sure, in the novel I wrote as a kid, my characters had intimate relations. Yet as I had no idea what sex involved (the books I’d read didn’t help much), my characters kissed and hugged and bliss resulted. I can’t call what I penned actual “sex scenes.”

So I feel I can rightfully say that this most recent scene made for my first in the category. I had to recommence multiple times. I couldn’t puzzle through where to start. I had to rewrite the draft completely. From scratch.

The entire time, my face blazed.

You see, to get a reader of fiction into the moment, to guide him through the action and emotion involved, a writer needs to describe the scene as vividly as possible, with words and sentence structure that align with the feeling she needs to evoke.

Writers will say, “show, don’t tell.”

Don’t say “he felt sad.” Describe what this particular character—a person of your crafting—does when sadness strikes. Does he rend his clothes? Lie on the floor staring out the window at the sky? Cry? Scream? Mow the lawn?

If his sadness manifests in frantic activity, use quick, short sentences. Few-syllable, clipped words. If sadness turns him into a lump of inert flesh, drag your sentences through dense, murky water and infuse them with long, soft, dull language.

To show and not tell, the writer needs to inhabit each character’s skin, see through his eyes, take on his history and personality. From within the character, she must shake out her elbows and feel the air. She needs to smell the kitchen, hear the trees in the wind outside, stir her emotions to match those of her characters. Even though she may not have experienced what she describes (though, as I’ve written, we can never fully separate fiction and autobiography), she needs to draw on past emotion and experience to craft it.

Though you may write at home, by yourself, in your pajamas or in a coffee shop, surrounded by others but alone, the process wrenches you through a series of intense interactions. Though you may sit relatively still for hours at a time, typing, you come away having run from danger, fought both sides of an intense argument, and experienced emotional or physical trauma.

And this sex scene I wrote? Bad sex. Really, exceedingly bad, awkward, mutually embarrassing sex. The kind that tells the protagonist she has no intention of seeing the guy again.

I love the way fiction gives me the chance to live other lives. Sometimes.

Do you have to “feel” your art for it to succeed?