Sex Scenes Must Serve the Story – Richard C. Hale

Let’s talk about sex. Not the gender kind, or the orientation kind, or even ‘the lack of’ kind, I’m talking about the sex that an author decides to put in their novel. I, for one, have tried and it, I have to say, I liked it. Does that mean I feel every one of my stories needs some soft porn or graphic gratuitous gratification? No. Is erotica a necessary way to keep the story going? I don’t think so. Does it have its place? Oh definitely. I’m just not sure what that place is yet.

In my first novel, I put a big sex scene in mainly because, well, I wanted to try it. After it was written I wondered if it fit the story, scene, plot, whatever, and since I felt I was too close to the story, I asked others if it should stay or go. Every single reader said let it stay, so it stayed. The problem I’m having now is when people I know read it, they feel a little uncomfortable.

Examples:

My sister emailed me and said, “I just read your ‘porn’ scene and I was embarrassed.” I didn’t know what to say except I warned her about it.

My aunt: “Your story was really good, but it was weird to read the sex scene.” I didn’t even acknowledge her. I just couldn’t.

My wife: “Why aren’t you like this at home? Where did you come up with this?” This came as a text to my cell phone at work. Uh oh.

My coworker: She didn’t say anything, just stared at me inappropriately. I was thinking, ‘Hey, my eyes are up here!’ Whatever.

If you’ve ever written a scene you were a little apprehensive about, then you’ve probably experienced some of this. Is this going to keep me from doing it in the future? No. But I will say this: I won’t put a sex scene in every story just to put it in there. If it fits the plot and scene, I’m going for it. If it’s about anything else, I’ll let it go.

When I decided to write the sex scene, I did a little research on the subject. I couldn’t find any porn movies about clowns or sex tutorials instructing me on fun with little people, so I did the next best thing: I read some romance novels. Specifically, paranormal romance, because there is nothing like vampires and werewolves to bring out the romantic(?) in all of us. I also ran across a few blogs about this very topic (and man were they interesting to say the least). A few tips I learned:

1. Don’t use the phrase ‘Full round buttocks.’ I hope I don’t have to explain why.

2. Avoid animals (except werewolves).

3. Any type of medical condition should also not come in to play for reasons that should be self explanatory. Not a turn on.

4. Speaking of turn-ons, if you don’t get all worked up writing it, more than likely no one will get worked up reading it. This is a fact.

5. Food is fun but has been done over and over again. If you must use them, stick with fruits and vegetables.

6. Don’t base your scene on any real or actual sexual experiences you may have had. This will bite you in the ass if the other participant(s) ever get wind of it. Ow!

7. Make sure there are no pizza delivery guys or Chinese food delivery guys, or hell, any delivery guys involved at all. Too much like porn.

8. If Amazon won’t publish it and Smashwords is the only one who will carry it, you may have gone too far. Just saying.

I like sex. I think most of us do. But if the scene pulls you right of the story or distracts to the point someone must take a break from the book to take a cold shower, it may not have been the best use of the author’s time and talent. Knowing it’s there to propel the story forward and not just take up space or fulfill some outright fantasy you just had to get off of your chest, is usually a good indicator it will work. You definitely do not want to get voted worst sex scene of the year.

Or maybe you do. Any publicity is better that none at all, I guess.

I’m curious about other authors’ opinions on this. Chime in. Just don’t pretend to be a delivery guy. Remember, the story is the story. Everything else is an English Professor’s paycheck.

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Richard C Hale is a thriller and paranormal writer. Author of NEAR DEATH and the upcoming release, FROZEN PAST, he has worn many hats over the years including Greens keeper, Bartender, Respiratory Therapist, Musician, and Veteran Air Traffic Controller. Find out more about Richard and his writing at his website.

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25 thoughts on “Sex Scenes Must Serve the Story – Richard C. Hale”

  1. Great post, Richard! I love a good sex scene if it unfolds organically from the characters and is appropriate for the work. Like anything else in fiction, sex can reveal character, advance the plot, build tension…and when authors write a book then shoehorn in the sex scenes, it ALWAYS shows!

    1. I love your term 'shoehorn!' Totally fits! Sexual tension is one of the best things you can create in a story and those that do it well really help the story. If only I were able…:) Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thanks Yvonne. A good character can be made or broken by a good or bad sex scene. The good ones are always characters I care about. Glad you stopped by and shared:)

  2. I just took a sex scene (fairly mild one) out of my WIP, deciding that it was either gratuitous or under-explained. If I'd left it in, I would have needed to develop a subplot/character thread around it, and I didn't think that would have helped the story.

    1. That's always tough trying to decide whether or not to cut a scene. As I said in the post, I struggled with leaving mine in or taking it out. All my readers said let it stay so it stayed. I was ready to cut it. Go figure:) Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I'm as uncomfortable writing sex scenes as a teenager is at a junior high dance … which is why I don't … and may also explain why my book sales are lower than my junior high GPA.

    1. Christopher I felt EXACTLY the same and decided I had better try it once to see what it was all about. It was fun to write and even though I was kind of shy about sharing it in the book, it seems to have worked out. As far as your sales, if they are like mine, we probably went to the same junior high:)

  4. I've been a "fade to black" kinda girl, though I admit to wanting to try my hands at it. I like to read a good paranormal romance, but agree with the above – if it's tacked on, it's not worth it.

  5. I've always wondered why it always seems okay to detail violence but not love or sexual attraction. It's such a natural part of life. I have love scenes (sex scenes) in almost all my novels whether fantasy or thrillers because it IS a part of life, a natural reaction between two people in love. It can be great fun, it draws the reader into relationship between the male and female leads and demonstrates the affection between them. It should always be natural and organic to the plot or story but it should never be gratuitous. It's been well-documented that when people survive a dangerous situation, they're reminded of how easily they could lose the person they love and I want to show that. It also creates an intensity of feeling that I think the reader shares.

    1. Well said, Valerie! Those intense feelings that are conveyed well only make me care about the characters even more and draw me into their world. There have been many times I've felt disappointed when the author teased me and then left me hanging. I felt a little disconect with the characters after that and if I had been allowed in, the relationship the author was trying to create would have been that much stronger. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Lol. You stole my next idea for a blog post. Player.

    If you're own writing doesn't turn you on why would it turn on anyone else? I agree. My sexy character was, I hope responsible for a lot of canoodling.

    The best comment I received was from a close friend. After reading my novel she said, "So what do you do after you write a sex scene? Smoke a cigarette?"

    1. You can still do a post. Just take it to the next level:) As far as smoking a cigarette, some would probably admit they immediately fell asleep…well, maybe only the guys. 🙂

  7. I hope you don't mind me butting in as a non-author, as a reader only….I love a sex scene in a novel and I don't mind good erotica at all. What I don't like is if the act is degraded by the use of the 'f' word and the 'c' word. I think they take away the sensuality and passion.

    I do have a question for you – if your/one's book is essentially of a non-romance genre, do you hint that there is sex in it in the synopsis/hook?

    1. Cathy I'm glad you commented. I always want to know how the readers feel. And I definitely agree with the use of those explitives. I never, ever, use the 'c' word. I just think it's a horrible word and the 'f' in a sex scene is just not me. As far as hinting to it in a blurb or synopsis, it might depend on what you're trying to achieve. Sexual tension can be a great way to propel any type of story but it may look weird so prominently suggested in a story that may not have any hint of romance. Just my opinion. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Since I write romance, I have yet to see a romance written that did not have a sex scene or two or four in it. I am working on a time travel historical romance, therefore, there will be a few sex scenes in it. In my serial killer book, the main character will have a lot of sex, because that is part of who that character is and why they kill, so I feel it has to be a part of that book.

    I'm with Valerie on this one, its all a natural part of life, but if your book or your characters don't call for it, don't put it in the book. Do have to say, the more you write them, the easier it gets. And definitely agree with L.A., if you don't get turned on by your own writing of them, how can we expect to turn our readers on?

    Totally agree with Cathy too, in that I have a hard time writing sex scenes using the "f" or "c" words. They definitely take away from the enjoyment of reading the book.

    1. Though I had a little fun with this post, a romance writer's perpective is great to see here. A lot of good points here and I like the fact you agree with Valerie, L.A. and Cathy, as do I. What about humor and sex? Do you think humor is fun in a sex scene too or does it detract from the intensity? Great thoughts Jacqueline and thanks for stopping by:)

        1. As Lois said, it can really depend on what you are laughing at. In my current romance, Wilderness Heart, I tried putting in a bit of light-hearted humor during their first sex scene in the hot springs to make it like in real life where your first sex with your BF or GF is kind of awkward. I wanted to take that awkwardness away, but some of my reviewers said my sex scenes were cheesy, lackluster and I had them talking to much. Oh well. Actually, I try to add humor in most of my sex scenes because, though sex can be serious, it should also be a lot of fun and I can honestly say there's been humor in 99% of my sex life, lol. Is that what you mean 😉

          1. Yes! I was worried a little about the 'cheese' factor. If it's the big first encounter scene, maybe not so much banter, but I like it when they know each other well and they goof around a little bit. But on the other hand, jokes about clowns or tacos is totally innapropriate 😉

  9. Hi Richard,

    Love your blog, I think you make some good points. I wrote a few sex scenes in my debut book but because my overall tone and style is funny, I wanted to include a bit of humour to the erotica as well. People say my writing is very candid, and I think having that sort of style is good for sex and humour.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. As far as the humor, I like a little playful banter and humor. Sone don't. If your style is to lean toward the funny, I say go for it. It will only enhance the tone of the overall story. Thanks for posting!

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