Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sex as an excuse to forget -- good writing

Sex week has yielded an interesting discussion so far -- one I'm not sure I have much to add to. One of the disadvantages to being later in the week, at least when we accidentally fall into one of these theme weeks, is that by Wednesday I've got nothing to say. :) But you know me, I rarely have nothing to say. So here goes...

I've been thinking about the "great sex scenes have to be about the characters' emotions" assertion... And while I don't disagree, I wonder if it's that simple.

I think the key to a great sex scene boils down to what makes any scene great. Clear goals, strong motivations, and lots of conflict and tension.

In a "make them wait" kind of romance I agree it is emotions that make those later in the book sex scenes so wonderful. We're already so invested in the relationship that we're right there with them, and it's easy to feel what the physical intimacy is changing for the couple as they consummate their developing love.

But I do think that an early-in-the book sex scene can work, too. Even if we aren't very invested in the romance at that point of the story. Those scenes don't always work... and if they don't work they can feel horribly contrived, but they can work. And maybe the key to making scenes like that work lies in the same principles that make any scene work -- having a purpose, having conflict, having something happen other than "THEY HAD SEX".

Most experienced writers would never write a scene in which the hero and heroine sweep the floor, or play cards, or even go sky diving, if all that happens in that scene is floor sweeping or card playing or sky diving. Something else has to be going on. Something else has to be revealed. Something needs to change. And "they've had sex now" isn't enough of a change in most cases.

Any scene needs to move the story forward, it needs to have conflict, it needs to have at least one of the major characters wanting something they aren't getting, or getting something they don't want... and if it's pivotal, it needs to have an unexpected outcome, or some kind of a reversal or a turning point.

Most writers know this about scene and story structure (even if it's instinctively). So why do many writers drop these principles when it comes to a sex scene?

What happens during a sex scene needs to matter... it needs to reveal plot points the reader doesn't already know and/or change things... It can't be just about the sex. Those are the skippable sex scenes. If they're skippable -- if you can pick up the story without reading the sex scene and still have the story make sense-- then that sex scene shouldn't be there. Just like any scene that could be skipped shouldn't be there.

Not sure I'm saying anything today that hasn't already been said. And I'm certainly not implying that I always do a good job with this myself... But I did use the word SEX a lot, so maybe we'll get lots of new visitors through google. :)

5 comments:

Kimber Chin said...

Yep, I agree. The sex scene is like any other scene in a novel. If you can remove it and it changes nothing, then cut it (or make it mean something).

Eileen said...

Good point, Maureen, and surprisingly easy to forget. Early in the book sex scenes can work. There was one Roxanne St. Claire that I read where the hero and heroine are in bed by, I think, like page 12, but it was totally necessary. The scene was both sexy and fun because both of them had very different objectives.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ha! YOur analysis made me think of those early in the book scenes as well and I think that when it's done right, early in the book and for every reason you've talked about - it's amazing. When a sex scene reveals character - it's very cool. And hard to do.

Made me think of that scene in Thirst...

Maureen McGowan said...

I was thinking of the early sex scene in Dark Lover... And I remember hearing about one in a Jenny Crusie book where it's simply really bad sex.

I think we (collective for all writers) sometimes forget the GMC stuff in sex scenes because they're already so complicated to write...

Sinead M said...

Sex scenes are the hardest to write. To figure out how to slip tab a into tab b, without making it clinical and then add tension and goals and conflict..

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...