In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling a subject that many beginning novelists find challenging: sex scenes. Sex scenes require finesse and attention to craft, but they don’t have to be difficult to write. Just keep in mind the purpose that they serve.
Like any other scene, sex scenes must do the following:
- advance the plot
- develop the characters
- create a mood
- leave the reader wondering what will happen next
Sex scenes do not require detailed description of the action. One of the cardinal rules of writing fiction is that you should never tell readers something they already know. Readers already know that characters have certain body parts, and that during sex, those body parts will interact in certain ways. Unless you want to stress something that’s unusual about the body parts or the interaction, you can avoid mentioning them altogether. Implication is sufficient. The readers’ imagination will fill in the rest.
What does interest readers is how the characters feel about the action. Are they blissful, bored, insecure, or confident? Is the protagonist hoping that this is the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with, or is she mentally composing a grocery list?
As in any other scene, sensory detail is important. Again, you don’t have to tell readers what sex feels like; assuming that you’re writing for adults, most of them already know. Instead, choose details that are specific to the character. Does the protagonist notice that her lover’s sheets are cheap and rough, whereas she’s used to 300-thread-count cotton? Does that make him less attractive to her? Or does she think he just needs a good woman to teach him about the finer things in life? If the latter, do you, as the author, want this to be a warning sign to readers that the protagonist is blind to how incompatible the couple is? Or do you want to show that they complement each other—that they’re both open to growth? Focus on how the action of the scene ties into the larger action of the novel.
Sex scenes can be emotionally intense. They often show characters at their most vulnerable. They can be turning points in a relationship or a novel. Remember that sex scenes are about character, not about sex, and approach them without fear.