Part 3 of our Sex In Women’s Fiction Series, Read part 2 HERE
It’s surprisingly easy to write bad sex. In fact, cringeworthy sex scenes are so ubiquitous that the UK magazine, Literary Review, hands out an annual award to distinguish the somewhat awful from the truly terrible. According to their website, the purpose of the Bad Sex in Fiction award is “to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory, or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.” Last year’s winner included the line: “My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach.”
To help you avoid ending up on the shortlist for this less-than-prestigious award, I spoke to several accomplished authors of women’s fiction who know how to write sex right. So, turn on some soft music, light a couple of candles, pour yourself a glass of wine, and cozy up with the following advice from the experts.
- Be honest. Nothing will take a reader out of the moment faster than a contrived sex scene. That’s why authors recommend that you stay honest – both to your story and to your writing. “Write true to your characters,” says Amy E. Reichert. “Don’t add sex to sensationalize.” Renée Carlino adds, “Write what turns you on, or moves you. It will likely have the same effect on the reader.”
- Be careful. Make sure you really need to write the details of a sexual encounter before you add it in. As Jessica Brockmole says, “Carefully consider if the scene is necessary both for the characters, their relationship, and the point in the story. Ask yourself what you gain by including the scene. Is the sex itself what’s important or the fact that it happened?”
- Make it relevant. As we’ve stated in previous installments of this series, it’s crucial for your sex scenes to make sense within the story, instead of merely existing for the sake of it. “The sex scenes need to do double duty,” says Tracey Garvis Graves. “The physical act should also move the story forward in some way, and what the characters say to each other during it is also very important.”
- Engage emotionally. Sex scenes aren’t (only) about body parts; they’re about feelings, too. So as Jennifer Robson says, you’ll want to “make sure the characters hearts and brains are engaged as much as their bodies.” A well-timed sex scene is also a great opportunity to reveal something about your characters’ emotional states. “Let your character’s strength and vulnerability shine through,” says Cassandra Dunn.
- Keep it simple. It might be tempting to go overboard with specifics, but according to Colleen Oakley, “Less is more.” Subtlety and innuendo can go a long way in creating a moving sex scene. “Like in a striptease,” says Renée Rosen, “what you don’t explicitly show is more interesting than what you just put right out there.”
- Trust yourself. As with most writing, a lot of what makes a good sex scene boils down to your instinct as a creator. “Go with your gut,” says Camille Pagán. “If you’re uncomfortable writing it, there’s a reason.” And, if you like what you’re writing? Anita Hughes says, “Don’t think too much about it. Just enjoy it.”
But perhaps my favorite piece of advice comes from an author who prefers to remain anonymous:
“Have good sex. Then write about it.”
Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker with an insatiable case of wanderlust. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she finally traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of software. Her debut novel, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World, was released from Hachette Book Group in June 2017. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, browsing the aisles of her neighborhood bookstores, and planning her next big vacation.
Fans of Sophie Kinsella and The Devil Wears Prada will love this smart, sexy debut novel of wanderlust.
Objectively, Sophie is a success: she’s got a coveted job at a top consulting firm, a Manhattan apartment, and a passport full of stamps. It isn’t quite what she dreamed of when she was a teenager dog-earing pages in exotic travel guides, but it’s secure. Then her best friend bails just hours after they arrive in Hong Kong for a girls’ trip, and Sophie meets Carson, a free-spirited, globetrotting American artist.
In the midst of their whirlwind vacation romance, Carson invites Sophie to join him on his haphazard journey around the world. While the brief international jaunts she sneaks in between business trips don’t feel like enough, Sophie is far too practical to throw away her five-year plan on a whim. Yet Carson’s offer forces her to question whether the reliable life she’s chosen is really what she wants–and she soon discovers that his feelings for her run deeper than she realized.
Category: How To and Tips