Down and Dirty Doing the Deed

So far we’ve brought you four tips for writing sex scenes.  These are as much for those among us practiced and sitting on our clouds of awesome lemons as for beginners, because at the very least I hope you’re nodding your heads saying “yes, yes…”

But hey, in case you’re just joining us, here are the tips so far!

#1 Love is a Battlefield
#2 Have a Point Besides the Prick
#3 Practice Makes Perfect
#4 A Sex Scene is Still a Scene


#5 For Pete’s Sake, Quit Being Embarrassed!

My mother reads this blog.  My grandmother reads this blog.  Awkward?  Eh.

Here is the story of how I shed the embarrassment and was able to say “Yeah, there’s sex, it’s cool.”

Every year for Christmas since 2007 or so I have done a cursory edit of my Nanowrimo, printed it out, taken it to kinkos and had it bound, and then given it to my mother for Christmas.  (I started Nanoing in 2004, but the first one was terrible, and I knew 2005 wasn’t quite up to snuff.  2006 was a two-part novel, so it was after 2007 that she received it.)

In 2010, I wrote a book called Rise of the Titans.  It features some extremely steamy scenes, which follow all the rules of before: there’s a hell of a good reason they’re in there, and it certainly wasn’t the only part of the book.  Mom knew that Sleight of Spirit was in editing and that’s why she hadn’t gotten it, but when she asked me (over MSN, cause somehow I got the mom with the internet smarts) why I hadn’t given it to her, I admitted that I wasn’t comfortable with the whole ‘there’s a lot of sex in this book and my mom is reading it’.

And in my mother’s classic fashion (I swear to god, I practically saw the look she gave the screen, guys.  Seriously.) she said:

“Kate, do you really think I’ve never read, or experienced, an explicit sex scene?”

Pictured: my face.

oh shit on a stick, I thought to myself, staring at the screen and trying my best not to slam my face onto the desk.  I am a complete and total idiot.  How the hell do I think I was born, anyway!?  

“Uh.  Ok.” I said, lamely as hell, and sent her the book.  Which she read without any especial comment (which means it passes the first draft muster).

And that’s the story of how my mother murdered shame in 14 words.

Just like that. Except Mom isn't fluffy.

Guys, I know it’s hard to think about.  I know it’s difficult to understand because as a society we’re remarkably mum about what goes on in our bedrooms (ahem, livingrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, staircases, public parks, etc…) but really.  We’re all grown ups.  Secretly, we all have those conversations, we all can talk about it frankly, we make dirty jokes, we consider what impact sex has on relationships and on ourselves.  This is a part of our lives.  This is a part of our narrative as individuals and as a culture.  Why the hell shouldn’t it be a part of our writing?

Now, obviously if you’re writing to a YA audience, this is handled differently – but even then, you don’t have to cut it out or put it into cutesy kissy-face terms.  Look at Tamora Pierce.  In The Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna is seen multiple times talking to her lovers while still in bed together.  No, nothing explicit takes place on screen, but there is no question of what’s going on there.

As well, there’s the cultural difference between the USA and many other countries to consider.  It’s no secret that we’re weirdly puritanical.  Sex is rated NC-17 and massacres are just an R.  A punch to the face will get you a PG-13, but flash a boob and you’re an R.  As my German teacher in 10th grade put it, this is just plain bizarre.  Why?  “Because you’re way more likely to have sex in your life than you are to chop off a guy’s head.”  There are days at work when I question this, but in general, she was completely right.

So quit being worried, shamed, and concerned.  Write the nasty and be proud of it.

Wow that point took up a lot of room.  We’ll return next time with a few more nitty-gritty, this and that ones.

(I’d also like to add that there’s one more day for the twitter campaign.  So follow now folks to be counted – we’re donating 1$ to Nanowrimo for each new twitter follower until 1/10.)

About Kaitlin

Kaitlin and Michael are co-authors of The Athele Series. They met in summer of 2006 and married in fall of 2009. They both teach English in South Korea. In his free time, Michael writes, plays video games, plays DnD, and idly contemplates world domination. In her free time, Kaitlin writes, runs, dances, and feeds her 'oo-shiny!' complex.

13 thoughts on “Down and Dirty Doing the Deed

  1. [...] #2 Have a Point Besides the Prick #3 Practice Makes Perfect #4 A Sex Scene is Still a Scene #5 For Pete’s Sake, Quit Being Embarrassed! #6 Tell me more, tell me more! #7 Be Real. (Unless You Aren’t Being Real for a [...]

  2. [...] #1 Love is a Battlefield #2 Have a Point Besides the Prick #3 Practice Makes Perfect #4 A Sex Scene is Still a Scene #5 For Pete’s Sake, Quit Being Embarrassed!  [...]

  3. I enjoyed your comments because I have had the same struggle with relatives reading the sex scenes (there weren’t many in the first novel, which is what they’ve read, but one relative who is fairly religious and very anti-gay completely missed that there is a gay couple in the book, which completely cracked me up). I didn’t think it was _that_ subtle. So I’m working on making it less so in the next ones. Not that I’m trying to be ‘in your face’ about it–my point in the first one was that they were completely accepted, which I guess they were. It’s hard to turn off your inner censor.

    I think your point about Tamora Pierce is really a good one.

    Thanks! Love the shark pictures and mom-deflating comment kitten.

  4. Megg says:

    Comically, I don’t think my sex scenes are anything my mother has ever experienced. I’m pretty sure she’s never been a gay man. Also, since I’m adopted, I can allow myself to believe my parents (the ones who raised me – I don’t know or care to know my bio-parents) never had sex. *smug smile* To be honest, the sex scenes in my novel are the reason my parents don’t even know I’ve written a novel (or 2). I figure I’ll break it to them if… no… WHEN I get published!

    I do struggle with sex scenes. Even as a Catholic turned Atheist, nothing brings that old Catholic guilt to the surface like writing gay sex. However, I’ve always given it my best shot, and I’ve never done it just to do it. I did actually have 1 sex scene that I wasn’t originally sure of its purpose – Oddly enough, its purpose became completely apparent to me shortly after it was written.

    More than anything, I fear that my sex scenes are rubbish. I don’t know if they are or not. Almost every sex scene I’ve ever read in a book is awful enough to make me cringe. Mine don’t make me cringe. That was my goal… cringe-less smut. The tips are great though. There’s always room for improvement. :)

    • Kaitlin says:

      Oh wow, lol. Adoption has it’s perks I suppose?

      Mm, catholic guilt. Glad I was spared that :D Oh, I always have that fear; but, well, just have to grab a beta and go for it, right?

  5. With all due respect, most sex scenes are badly written. Even sex in otherwise well-written books comes off as forced and unnatural. Anais Nin had a real knack for writing the sex act and all of its variations on a theme, but for the most part, writers fail at this. Though I know your tips are well-meaning (there should be a joke in that somewhere) they won’t solve these issues. Sometimes it’s useful to remember that just as you suggest landscapes, appearance, relationships, movement– that the sex can be suggested to. It certainly does not have to be written out like something from the Kinsey Report. I’ve said my bit, carry on.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Often, I find they’re badly written because either A) they’re simply there for the lulz, there’s no actual character change B) the author is trying but simply hasn’t had the practice, or C) the author is just trying to be too idealized. Any one of these three can jilt and completely derail the sex scene for a reader because it’s easy to tell. A reader can smell your fear. I can only offer tips to assist in the issues, it’s the author themselves that has to get over it and know for certain that there’s a point beyond the prick (which is the issue that I most often see in sex scenes: all right, great, they’re having sex, does it change anything?).

      You’re absolutely right about sex being able to be suggested, and more often than not that’s what happens: a suggestion and a fade to black. It’s sometimes the best way to handle these things. However, these tips are for when you’ve decided you want to write the nasty already, so I wasn’t going to include it. Maybe another post on how to imply without writing?

      • Kaitlin, when I wrote “most sex scenes are badly written,” I was actually referring to successful, published, well-known contemporary writers.

        The trick, I think, is to read. Find examples of sexual description that (you) think works and dissect it. Take it apart, put it back together again. Try to sort out why some passages make you feel happy (for wont of a better word) and others just make you say “yuck.”

        I’ve struggled with this myself– and failed. Since I mostly write non-fiction, it hasn’t posed an enormous problem. But if you want to have a giggle over it, perhaps you could have a look at the piece I wrote a few weeks ago on this very topic.

        • Kaitlin says:

          Right, exactly, and half the time those famous authors are putting in the sex for the sheer reason of having there be sex. (I’m not counting Harlequin esque romance or erotica in this, because as Nin said, in erotica, you’re *trying* to be over the top).

          I’m still tittering over ‘throbbing member’. There’s worse, but good lord that has to be the most common one. I think that rule is in the next post.

  6. I happen to love the steamy scenes in YA novels. They’re steamy but very well written. Tamora Pierce does a great job of this as well as stepping away from typical relationship paradigms too.

    Great tip and a great reminder. My parent’s killed the shame in me long ago, but I still need to be reminded every so often that it’s just sex!

  7. epbeaumont says:

    Oh wow, funny and enlightening both, and the pictures (love the shark-faces and the assassin-kitten) too. Yes. Absolutely. It’s a ridiculously effed-up culture, isn’t it?

    Off to read the rest of your advice on the writing of Naughty Bits…

    • Kaitlin says:

      Thanks! Korea happens to be very similar to the US in some ways, with the super sexy k-pop singers and the expectation to still be good. I haven’t studied as much the effect on sexuality as the effect on body image here, which is HUGE.

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