There are a limited number of adjectives in the language that can be applied to sexual acts. There are even fewer that can be applied without eliciting guffaws of laughter. And I was recently in an email exchange where an experienced romance writer announced that after reading some descriptions of a certain portion of the male anatomy her reaction was a desire to run screaming for the hills.
So, what do you do? A Romance novel, or a novel with romance in it, has got to have some level of physical heat, whether it’s a sweet kiss, or a no-holds-barred bedroom event. You’ve got to be able to describe the act, and sometimes you’ve got to be able to describe the same act, multiple times, within the same story. At some point, you’ve got to dip heavy into the adjective jar.
Except, you actually don’t. If you don’t keep a tight focus on the act itself.
A sex scene, like an action scene, is a chance to show the character at an extreme — not just a physical extreme, but an emotional one. How they respond to what they see and what they do is a chance for the writer to dig deep into the character. If the act is not isolated from the rest of the story, if it’s integrated with the development not just of the relationship, but of the character and the plot, it becomes meaningful. This does not just mean the journey of a virgin style of sexual maturity. Each aspect of a relationship is a discovery, and exploration of emotion, past and present. What the character chooses to do in a moment, how far they choose to go, or not go, what they want to do vs. what they actually DO do, these are all valid moments to explore in the context of a sex scene.
It also means the act is different, each and every time, because the characters are different, each and every time. They’ve changed, feelings and circumstances have changed. What’s going on in their brains — that all important sexual organ — has changed, maybe radically, since the last time. What the characters see and do, how they see it, how they feel about it, how they express themselves in their actions toward their partner(s) is going to change their partner’s attitudes and reactions. To paraphrase an old saying about a river, you can never kiss the same kiss twice, if you keep in mind what that kiss is about. It’s about emotion and it’s about intention.
Using emotion to balance out the focus on sensation has the added the advantages of creating suspense and furthering the plot. It also gives you a wider range of adjectives and subjects to include in the scene. Is there laughter? Talk? Mishaps on the way to the bed, sofa, table, etc.? Is the character determined, taciturn, uncertain, disbelieving? Do these things change during the course of the act and action? All of this can be made to tie tightly into the rest of the story, keeping the scene and the story itself interesting to the reader, no matter how early or how often the sex scenes are included.
Which brings us round to ongoing discussion about the validity of having the characters go all the way, as it were, early in a story. Some people are very against this. What is interesting to them is the chase. Once the chase is over, the story is over.
I see the point here. But it can lead to stories feeling too coy. The need for the chase becomes a device, not something that arises naturally from the characters and their relationship. Too many contrived interruptions keep the characters from the sex scene and start to frustrate the reader as well as the characters, and not in that funny needs a cold shower kind of way, but more in the put this book down and go find a different author kind of way.
Particularly in a contemporary story, the sex can legitimately be just the beginning for the participants, especially if the scene is carefully constructed to make it clear that while this was a good time, there’s more going on here with these people. So, they’ve gotten together this once, what will keep them together? What drove them so quickly to this point and what do they feel about it now that they’re there? These are the kinds of questions that a solid romantic plot can be built around and that can turn a consumation from an end point to a beginning.
At the same time, it has been observed in geunine pornography, as opposed to erotica or erotic romance, kisses are rarely described. Everything else, yeah sure and at length and indetail, but not kissing. What happens in a relationship story when the kiss is the last thing; the simple, tender, ultimately loving action that has been a part of the previous scenes, but not considered or appreciated on its own. Why have the characters not focused on that? Not appreciated or sought it? What would it mean that they are finally taking this moment to share this particular intimacy?
These are the considerations that make for really good sex.
Next Week — Pt. 3. Why?
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