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Favourite posts: Writing Sex Scenes

December 12, 2010

For the month of December, Write Anything is hosting a retrospective of the posts that have appeared over the past four five years. We hope you enjoy revisiting these posts, as we take stock of where we have come from, and look forward to where we will be heading in the future!

This post first appeared on Apr 27, 2009 and was written by Jodi Cleghorn

kissing-coupleAs a teenager I was equally fascinated and disturbed by the sex scenes I sought out in my mother’s books.  Most famously I remember trolling the pages of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues getting more than I bargained for. One thing I realised, even as innocent and inexperienced girl of 14 was not all sex scenes are equal.

An evocative sex scene is tough to create and it can go from bad to worse very quickly. Writers fall into the use of uninteresting and overused clichés or inappropriate and mismatched names for body parts that verge either on the ridiculous or the offensive.  A memorial writing circle last year had the three of us critiquing a sex scene and debating the best term for the appendage of the male character.

Clare Langley-Hawthorne, author of Consciousness of Sin, writes:

I still find that one of the most annoying things about many otherwise great books is the sex scenes…or as I like to call them the ‘unsexy scenes’.

According to Langley-Hawthorne the top five mistakes authors make in writing sex scenes are:

  1. sex happens in the most unlikely of moments
  2. euphemisms are taken to a whole new level leaving the reader giggling or cringing
  3. there is never boring, mundane or unsatisfying sex
  4. ‘no’ is meant to ‘mean no’, not I will eventually give in and have earth shattering sex
  5. men and woman are never just ordinary people, but Adonises and Aphrodites.

Some writers daunted by the task of writing sex leave well alone and completely avoid sex at all which can be more frustrating (no pun intended!) than a badly written sex scene. A recent trip to Kill Zone turned up numerous authors all admitting to refraining from writing, or editing out sex scenes in subsequent drafts. I admit to stringing together numerous expletives when I realised Stephenie Meyer had built the sexual tension across three and a bit books only to completely side step the “sexual congress” of her lead characters. Not everyone will agree believing some things are best left to the imagination but personally I felt it was a cop out.

Brian Kiteley author of The 3am Epiphany: uncommon writing exercises that transform your fiction agrees that sex is a subject which persistently trips up writers. Food Fight is an exercise which allows writers to explore writing sex scenes from a unique angle.  It is an exercise Kiteley picked in one of Harry Matthews’  workshops.

Kiteley writes:

This exercise should … show you how much of the syntax of a sex scene remains after you’ve eliminated the words that seem to point to the act … it might also be a step in the direction of honest reporting of an act basic to human behaviour.

So who is game?

Food Fight is written in three parts across three days.

Day One
Spend time compiling a list of 100 – 150 food and kitchen items both nouns and verbs.

Tips:    The longer the list the better.
Think to how food is also prepared!

Day Two
Write a short uncensored scene about a sexual encounter between two people who know each other well.

Tips:     Write to avoid the use of cliques.
No one is going to read this so no self censure!

Day three
Write a second draft of the sex scene substituting every noun and verb with a word from the list of food.

Tip:       The final piece should be no more than 500 words.

Come back Wednesday and post a link to your day three piece and your experiences while doing this exercise. I’ll be back to share mine as well.   Until then – here’s one I prepared earlier, written around this time last year, when I finally gave in to months of badgering by two characters to let them get it on.

For more information on writing sex scenes check out Annie Evett’s tips here at Write Anything.

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2 Comments
  1. December 14, 2010 11:53 am

    It’s an interesting exercise, and one I might have to try out. One note…when you say cliques, do you mean clichés, perhaps? ;-)

  2. December 22, 2010 3:20 pm

    Oh holy carp your example was funny. I wrote a post myself about writing sex scenes (here it is if you want to see it: http://aelizabethwest.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/a-little-naughty/) Personally I think they are more difficult to write than action scenes.

    I HAVE to try this exercise. It’s like dirty Mad Libs!

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