Friday, December 16, 2011

Aspiring Advice: Birds, Bees, and Writing

Okay, people. Don't flip out. I'll keep this post as PG as possible, but you knew the topic of sex and sensuality would come out sometime during Dicey December. Or should I say, sex and sensuality as far as your writing is concerned. It's a part of life (a rather important part, I might add) and something worth discussing. If it's too taboo for you, shoo.

And stop swooning over that picture. Drool and keyboards don't mix.

As the saying goes, sex sells - implemented, implied, or anticipated. Don't believe me? Look at the Paranormal Romance section at your local book store. Overflowing! The question is, will sexual bits advance your story or not? Firstly, it depends on the genre. There are fictional works involving many saucy scenes in graphic detail. On the other extreme, you have coming-of-age characters with developing crushes, but are completely clueless about intimacy or how to land a first kiss.

Personally, I'm a "don't want to know what you do behind closed doors" kind of guy. This applies to what I read, watch, and write. And I'm especially wary of gratuitous scenes, especially if it's thrown in because the filmmaker wanted an "art" scene or an author wanted to throw in their own jollies. I can't remember the name of the book, but I do recall a scene within the first three chapters depicting three people - thankfully, with implied details. It came out of nowhere and it did absolutely nothing for the story. Obviously, since I forgot the name, that book is not memorable to me.

If there was a consequence, or a reason for portraying this fling, maybe I would have appreciated it more?

The Terminator, for example *spoilers ahead*, is about a war going on in the future between humans and robots. The machines send a cyborg to the past to knock off the mother of the leader of the human resistance (at the totally helpless age of twenty-something). The humans send her a protector. They fall in love and find a moment to consummate it. Yeah, okay. In short, the protector dies, the machine is smashed, and the girl is tramatized for the rest of her life.

And pregnant - with the future leader of the human resistance.


I will remember this story for the rest of my life.

And really, sexual tension and chemistry is all you need to make you read or watch on. Why did I read/watch these (aside from being totally awesome)?

I wanted to know if X would hook up with Y, even if it is painfully obvious that they're going to. And they didn't have to portray every single possible act of physical intimacy imaginable without actually "doing" it.

Ahem ...

And Breaking Dawn is more of a New Adult, right?

(For the record, Twilight did make up for it by the consequences portrayed in book 4, even if the consequences are ... interesting ...)

What separates Adult and YA from MG? Sexual tension, of one kind or another. For Adult, maybe more so. There is a place for it. And sometimes not. Just like my post on Swearing, sex and sensuality are excellent (if not controversial) storytelling tools. Use them decisively.

And that applies to any relationship you write, be it heterosexual, homosexual, or extraterrestrialsexual (hey - it worked in Mass Effect ... to an extent).

Don't want to get into details? You don't have to. Modest is kinda hot. It leaves room for interpretation.

Write an implied scene, where hints are given that something steamy's about to happen, or/then skip to an after scene, where they pillow talk after the fact.

I'm a sucker for cute little moments in stories. Hugs. Hand holding. Brushing the hair behind a girl's ear. That first kiss. These acts, coupled with character desires, makes for savory tension when slowly built upon.


One thing is for certain. If sex happens, something else has got to happen. A pregnancy. A rival lover. One (or both) dies. Something! Now that these characters have each other, and know it, their sexual tension is dead.
That is, of course, if you invent a brilliant twist!

Have I used a little spice like this in my writing? Well ... you'll just have to read my stuff to find out!

*commence evil laugh*

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Sex is a part of life. In my opinion, something beautiful and shouldn't be squandered or forced on others. Everyone goes through these feelings. So would your characters. How you go about it, whether your characters are obsessive or driven by a moral compass, is up to you.

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? What are your thoughts on writing the Birds and the Bees?

I'm David, and I think I need a long shower ...


  1. I'm with you - I want implied. My imagination can fill in the rest. (Besides, doing it is better than reading it!) And even though there's a relationship in my second book, I kept it really minimal. All I could think about was The Princess Bride and the boy saying, "Not more kissing!"

  2. The good thing about implying is that your work will be more attractive to a wider audience. Yes, you said sex sells, which is true, but there are many people out there who won't touch certain authors because they know that the content will be graphic. Those who love graphic content will have no problems picking up a book that 'implies'. It's also good for those YA readers wanting to progress to adult.

    I imply in my writing. I've tried writing graphic and have no problems reading it, but mine always comes across as awkward for some unknown reason. Implying is far easier...

  3. I agree too. I don't need to see anything, but love can be a huge motivator. And I hate when they throw in a scene just for shock value. HATE THAT! ;)

  4. I'm with you and Alex (and Alex's thought made me laugh). Too much detail makes me feel like a voyeur (peeping Tom). As you mentioned, I can handle a little more detail if it about the act itself (example--Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs). I'm into the feelings/emotions/significance of the act, not reading a how to book. I think there's a lot of titillation intent in many of those gratuitous scenes you mention, they want the reader (and frequently the reader wants) to get hot and bothered.

    Thanks, but I have a hubby for that.

  5. I like the implied - that's one of the best things about being a reader is the ability to fill in the blanks with as much or as little detail as I deem necessary.

    My biggest problem with lots of the sex scenes is the mass bombardment of adjectives for how to breathe, a heart beat, and hair. There are really only so many descriptions of body parts that I can take.

  6. Great post!

    I think I'm killing my CPs with the implied right now. They keep saying...'when will they get together??'

    Hate to disappoint them...but... mwahaha :)

  7. Sorry, also have to add 'how did you know I was swooning over that picture?' lol. Actually I was wondering to myself why their hair was blowing in opposite directions. The artist in me couldn't help but pick that up and

  8. Okay. So yes, I drooling over the picture...but at a respectable distance from my keyboard :-)

    And, I did a suspense erotica that did not have implied scenes...but that was under a pen name and adults only.

    For my YA, at least the ones I'm writing now, I have no desire to even include graphic sexual scenes. I mostly have sexual tension. If I had them go any further some time down the line in a sequel, it would be implied.

  9. I think it depends on the genre and age group. I write adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I could have it implied, but it would most likely disappoint readers' expectations. Nine times out of ten, especially in PR, it's hot and heavy. But, I do agree that it has to ADD to the story. If your characters are doing it just because, then there's no point.

  10. I for one, am open to just about anything. I love a good clean novel. But I also love a good dirty novel. Nothing seems to offend me. But it has to be well done. I don't like awkward metaphors used to describe parts of the anatomy if the author decides to go down that path. Keep it simple. If I lift my eyes off the page in a's just wrong and that is not the reaction that should be happening.

    So I guess, what I'm telling authors out there for me is, if you go down that path, please don't overdo it. Otherwise, just leave it out.

    And for the record...that's a great picture. It's good to find a guy (such as yourself) who is very comfortable with his own sexuality and self-esteem that he can post pics like that and not feel threatened, etc.

  11. Yes! I totally agree. I don't mind reading a sex scene as long as it makes sense to be there. I've written a few, but kept it out of my MG for obvious reasons.

    And Kelley is right. She's driving me crazy!!! I have to stop myself from scrolling ahead and finding the part when those characters finally kiss!

  12. The guy it that pic is GROSS. Sorry I totally don't get swoony over things like that. I am with you on the implied. I hate when a sex scene feels like its thrown in for shock value. And I think the little stuff can be so wonderful.

    Great post!!

  13. wow, way to just come out and talk about a very controversial issue. But I agree with you, it has to be part of the story, not just a moment where they get it on for the sake of getting it on. And I agree with Jenny, the guy in that pic is gross!

  14. Hahahahaha!

    Awesome post :)

    I suppose authors are also better at writing different kinds of scenes. I don't think I could write a truly romantic scene for a million dollars.

    On the other hand, dark/obsessive/weird relationships with quasi-sexual tension? Any day, any time :)

    What kind of scenes do you seem to write best, David?

  15. I agree that anything sexual should only be used to progress the story. A lot of emotions and secrets can come out in intimate moments. I write paranormal romance. Some books are much more erotic than others. It's just the characters. My latest WIP has only a few kisses. It's all it needs. I will never add sex just to have sex in a story.

  16. Thank you for your comments, friends. I'm glad to see so many of you on the same page with how I've often approached this topic. And I'm sorry for grossing some of you out with that pic. :)

    @Monkey - I'm still figuring that out. My Lady in Wanting short was the first time I put something with sexual tension out for all to see, albeit fairly mild. Other than that, it's been after scenes and one seduction in my early stuff. I'm in YA mode now, so I have a whole other realm of tension to tackle.

  17. I feel the same way about writing sex scenes. I'll avoid them at all costs and leave the reader to imagine the intimate details within the story. Of course, I usually let the characters take control, but I'd rather them keep what should be behind closed doors behind closed doors. If that makes any sense.

  18. I like the implied better too. I'm glad to see others feel the same way. Because as I venture into YA, I want to start with the implied. Great post.

  19. I completely agree with you on this. Sometimes the hottest stories are the ones that are working up to just a kiss! Two of my favourite books are classified as romance (ANNA and the FRENCH KISS & LOLA and the BOY NEXT DOOR) and nothing more risque than a kiss happens in them (between the MC and her love interest), and yet they are still pretty hot in their own way. I don't like to read the dirty detes and would prefer implied or fade to black, especially in YA.

  20. I'm with you on this. Your imagination is always a more powerful tool and can fill in details that don't have to be written. I find that some of the romance market today seems to think that the more sex there is, the better, and it's hard to find a sweet little romance. Jaime listed one of my favourites ("Anna and the French Kiss"). That kept me hooked in for the possibilities and romantic tension. It didn't need a sex scene and it didn't use one.

  21. Ugh. I know I have to add all of this romantic tension/attraction to my YA contemp...but it's sooo hard! lol. I just don't know how much and when...and...and...I'm just not good at it.

  22. I once took a mini-course on writing sex scenes. Lucky me right? Not that it's done me much good in my primary writing life of writing picture books...

    But I digress. I remember the instructor said sex scenes should never be gratuitous, must always advance the story. Furthermore, she said, what is NOT said (or done) is equally, if not more important than what is.

  23. Aloha,

    Currently I'm co-writing a memoir, so I'd blush if my MC told me too much, which he hasn't :)

    I'm with the majority here... there's a reason I keep watching BONES, HOUSE, CASTLE, UNFORGETTABLE... I don't want to see them "getting it on," but I love the build up:)... and when they do, it's like... oh...hmmm what now, so the implied love/sexual tension works so much better for me.

  24. I like implied and ones that written in a beautiful fashion, more emotion than the act itself. My favourite line from a sex scene is 'she played him like an instrument', from Nancy Springers the Sable Moon. At least I think so, could have been another book of hers. Probably 8 years since I read it.

    I usually fade out because when writing anything remotely sexsual I start to blush and giggle. Which usually gets progressively worse until I have to take a break.
    I think for that reason I often have something humorous happen that stops the scene from progressing.

  25. Hmm... thoughts. First two thoughts are 1) Ew - super musclely guys are gross and 2) Psych is one of my favorite shows! But neither of those are really related to the post, so... I also am a fan of building tension but only implying anything further. A big factor for me in reading a book is whether I can recommend it to my mom, little bros and sisters, etc. I love books that have a great romance where I don't have to white out certain sections.

  26. Drool and keyboards don't mix. ah ah! Good post. I don't see the benefits of being crude about it just because the author feels like it but i wouldn't mind it if it was very well written or approached in an original type of way. Honest or funny is refreshing.