I wrote my first romance novel when I was sixteen and had hardly even been kissed—I’d got all my education on the subject from Barbara Cartland and Joan Collins. I wrote it at camp as a series of installments I read aloud each night to my giggling cabinmates. Called The Pirate’s Treasure (or some such) it featured many of the following words, which should be avoided in any ACTUALLY hot sex scenes:
Rosebuds (of either the upper or lower kind)
While I’m not a romance writer per se, I find writing a good sex scene is indispensable in any writer’s arsenal, and will usually come up (ha!) at least once in every novel worth its salt. (Right now I’m “doing” a romantic suspense, and it’s come up more than usual.) As important and commonplace a writing sex is, it’s actually not that easy. (The innuendos are everywhere today!)
Over the years I’ve come to believe in a state called “reader’s brain”—a semi-hypnotized trance in which the reader seamlessly enters the writer’s world, and voluntarily—as in a good movie—suspends disbelief and embarks upon a journey filled with sounds, smells and experiences they will probably never come across in their own messy, annoying, boring real lives.
This is the joy of reading sex. And since we’re being honest, the joy of writing it too.
And those words, those mood-killing words, are the sand in the vagina of the reader at a critical moment.
The best sex scenes are anchored in details that bring the reader into the bedroom with the characters—but are never tacky or clichéd.
The tender spiral of an ear.
“Please. Have mercy.” A husky voice, vibrating with need like prayer.
The slow, meticulous act of removing a high heeled shoe. And–leaving the other one on.
The sucking of a finger, drawing patterns on a naked body. (What are the patterns, wonders the reader—and where will they end?)
I find that careful details, combined with a glossing-over of the mechanics of the actual act—combine to make scenes that fairly leap off the page.
What are some of your “pet peeve” mood-killer words? What do you think makes a great sex scene?
Ha! Well, your title caught my attention. *ahem*
I think I rewrote the initial love scene in my last novel about four or five times. I started out with just the mechanics/action and realized it wasn’t working (god, it was awkward). I was never really happy with the scene until I figured out that it was my MC’s emotions that mattered most — the reason I was writing the scene in the first place. After that, the way the couple touched had a lot more impact and it didn’t feel so gratuitous. Tough, tough scenes for me to write.
In my current WIP I have to write a scene where it’s the girl’s first time. Ack! I have a feeling this love scene is going to be even more awkward than the last, but I’m hoping that will work in my favor. 🙂
Thanks for popping in and commenting. First time–ack! I like what Noelle said, it’s sweet/awkward or the guy is Very Good.
For the record, “veined” is not a word I would strike, though the others, certainly. *grin*
Words and word-families to avoid: anything related to “moist.” The word “moist” is reserved for chocolate cake with pudding in it. Period.
With first times, it’s always a toss up whether to make it realistic or make the guy Very Good.
Honestly, my biggest issue is making them all seem different, rather than different character repeating the same things. Or worse, readers thinking I copied and pasted sex scenes from book to book. Speaking of…I have a new one for you to read. *wink*
Yay can’t wait! And yes, MOIST is to be avoided.
I think anything that’s out of character knocks me right out of the moment. I used to recoil from words like cock and pussy but now I don’t have much shame about sex scenes anymore. I see a lot of people railing against this word or that, or this style of prose or that, but I think it’s all about character. If someone involved has an overwrought way of speaking, well, maybe he’d refer to his dick as an ivory love pole without any irony.
That said it’s more awful analogies that ick me out the most. One of my rules for writing sex is if you begin something with “his/her/ze’s –body part/love style/etc–was like a —- be very, very careful.
(comparing dicks to candy, pussies to honey pots, once I read a sex scene that compared an orgasm to popping a zit NOT KIDDING, the word suckled)
Yeah, often it’s like you’re going and along suddenly the sex scene is a whole other language. Nice to see you Tiger!
I happen to like throbbing, slippery, rosebuds, and pulsating. I’ve seen to many sex scenes be too euphemistic and too implied. Sex should be sex and not some metaphorical garbage.
Okay, I think throbbing could work. Carefully. And I agree about metaphorical.
The most important thing in the ‘love scene’ is the emotion. Now you can slow it down, you can speed it up–but it’s not the act that you need to be talking about.
And I think we’ve got to ask ourselves about how we write love or sex scenes? Because for the most part, as far as I can tell, we basically have stories which have the bloke going to his car, getting in it, driving away…Now, do we say that “his hand lingered tenderly on the silver handle as it grew warm in his palm, then he turned it gently and it rotated tightly”? Well, I hope not. Do we say, “he slid into the plush leather seat and felt its curves caress his backside and he ran a smoothing hand over the leatherbound steering wheel”? Well, not unless we’re talking about Top Gear we don’t, and even then, we’re taking the piss, right? So why do we put every love scene into super-slo-mo action and then have our characters pop brightly up out of bed or the laundry basket or wherever they’ve been and go back to regular speed.
I’ve written a couple of blogs about this myself…but my final conclusion is if you’re going to write a love scene, great. Write a love scene. If you’re about to write a biology lesson, don’t.
Well said, as always. I’m not in favor of slowing everything down, per se–one of the scenes I just did was rough, crazy sex and it was still, I believe, super hot because you saw glimpses of details– of what made it hot, and what drove the characters to act that (crazy) way. Those tiny mico-moments within an overall experience.
And your description of the car was HOT btw. I was there.
no moist? no veined… say what? clearly I have been reading the wrong romance novels. lol! great post.
In M/M romance, though, the most powerful thing in a love scene is NOT the emotion but the rawness of the action. Some women who write M/M romance for other women go the euphemistic/emotional route and gay and bisexual men who read is sometimes laugh at how out of touch the supposedly gay characters are with the tastes of real gay men.
You know there are definitely layers to this… and the discussion it always leads into, what is the difference between “romance”, erotica, and pornographic writing? Becuase one person’s one genre can be another person’s something else.
And I don’t write hard core stuff, not even romance really (I’m a mystery/crime writer) so I’m sure I don’t know much. Just trying to find what works for my unique niche and happened on some ideas to share.
Not to mention what constitutes a ‘real’ man, or a ‘real’ gay man for that matter? That’s some dangerous gender ground there, my friend. I, for example, am sick of seeing gay male characters who have to be grunting alpha stereotypes all the time. Yes, men and women do tend to be socialized differently and that can make their challenges a bit different. For example, gay men sometimes have trouble with intimacy in their relationships because of the pressure on Western men to present a certain stoicism and distance. Lesbians can have trouble with differentiating themselves from one another, because the socialization women receive often carries self destructive emotional expectations and encourage a kind of complete giving that is often unhealthy. People aren’t stereotypes, though. Even in my personal life I am surrounded daily by cisgender men who cry at movies, men who say I love you, men with big, open hearts. They deserve to be in books, too.
Well, yes. It’s all about the emotion, isn’t it? Otherwise, I’m told, it’s porn. I don’t mind a bit of fun in sex, as well. Or awkwardness, or ‘oh bugger, did I just mess that up?’ Having just encountered one of my latest offerings, young Toby, you’ll be able to tell me if I got it right. I don’t ‘think’ I did throbbing or veined. Might have used ‘slippery’. Well, that’s right, innit? Slippery is good. No pulsating rod of love, though. Should I have?
Yep it was slippery. But not a bad thing, considering their situation–on the run and camping. You want it to be slippery when camping becuase…well. It’s usually sort of Eskimo-style when camping, no offense to any Eskimo readers. Though I did raise my eyebrows at that word- I noticed it.
I think it’s care in usage that makes things work or not.
Yuk yuk yuk…turgid pole! 🙂
I think the best sex scenes are more sensual than graphic: descriptions of sensations and feelings more so than how turgid the pole was. One with a hot foreplay scene with lots of kissing and slow stripping is good, too!
It all depends on the POV character, doesn’t it? What he/she is like, the words he/she would use, how the whole thing would come across to him/her based on that person’s personality and experiences? There’s no such thing as a standard sex scene. Or love scene. (See, already there’s a different perspective.) IMHO, of course. 🙂
As for words and expressions, I’m with Jennifer Crusie: the words “velvet manhood” should never be used. The lint, you know? I once read a book that referred to “nuggets of desire,” and we still laugh about that one. Then there was her “pillowy C-cups” and his “granite slab of a chest.” The “purple python of love” is also legendary. Truly, there are SO many ways to kill a good love scene!
Great comment about the POV character! Purple python of love, oh god! *HAHAHAHA!*
Pretty much anything this novel uses. I’ve yet to figure out if it’s a satire, but if it is it’s a freaking brilliant one.
I try to avoid most euphemisms. I find they can occasionally be effective if the euphemism fits the story or the world (Jacqueline Carey uses “phallus” for dick and “Naamah’s pearl” for clit, but it totally fits the tone of the world), most of the time they just make me snort. Then again, really clinical words (“penis,” “anus,” “vagina,” etc. never belong in a sex scene, ever) or really tasteless words (I once knew of an author who loved the phrase “man hole,” hrr drr) don’t do it for me either.
A great sex scene is hot because of the characters involved, not necessarily the activity or the parts involved. I think the most difficult thing is to get over our puritanical social views of sex and just express sexuality in a way that feels natural. If the author finds it hot, chances are it’s going to translate to the reader.
Uh, you’ll have to excuse that broken closing link tag.
Well said on every level. I love your closing statement, and doesn’t that just sum it up?
I think so! I look at sex scenes like I do anything else story related. If I don’t care about it, I can’t expect my reader to care. It’s so easy to spot when the writer is either phoning it in or flinching away.
No kidding avoid those words! At all costs! These words, and others like them, immediately throw me out of a story and make me gag.
Yep. And they grow, like crabgrass, through much of romance writing.
HAHAHHA! How could I forget the ubiquitous “seed!” argh.