Advice from the Woods

The Ins and Outs (and Ins! and Outs!) of Writing Sex Scenes

A long time ago, a friend sent me a love scene to critique.  In all honesty, I didn’t handle it as well as I could have.  I critiqued it with an editorial eye, and pointed out where the scene was lacking, and was completely mystified by the sense of hurt I was greeted with.

But I found out a lot about my friend – perhaps more than they wanted me to know – by reading this scene, and I learned that there are a lot of things that can trip you up along the way to becoming a good erotic romance writer.

I’ve broken this down into five good, useful rules, not all of which involve the actual writing of the scene – but I hope some of them will resonate with you, and possibly be helpful to you on your path.

1.  Write what you know.

I’m not saying that you have to go out and find two vampires and a were-bear and sleep with them before you can write your hot paranormal menage series.  But you do need to know how the human body works, and how all the parts work and fit together.  There’s only room on the bed for so many sets of knees, no matter how fit or how supernatural your heroes and/or heroines are.

Modern visual erotica isn’t nearly as much of a good help as it might seem.  You might be able to learn to play piano by spending hours watching a concert pianist play Chopin, but you’re far better off starting with the basics.  If you forgot everything you learned in seventh-grade biology, now’s the time for a refresher course.

2.  Use natural language.

“Captain Thorn gazed at the tender flower of her womanhood, his mighty lance flourishing in response.”

Okay.  A lot of us started out reading the sort of romance that featured this type of language.  It had its day, and it was a long and glorious day.

But it’s pretty much over.

Your publisher will let you know whether you must employ euphemisms or whether you can use the common words that once got your mouth washed out with soap.  But euphemisms can be natural and sound completely right in the conversation.

“Jane’s heart was beating as he held her tight. She could feel the evidence of his desire, hot and urgent, pressing against her.”

And, when you research the market and find out that your target publisher allows four-letter words, you can easily swap out “the evidence of his desire” with “his ****” and you’re good to go.

3.  Use all of your senses.

Making love is definitely about touching and feeling!  But it’s also about the other senses as well…  you can hear your partner’s breath catch in their throat; you can lick the bead of sweat off of their shoulder.  Don’t get caught up in the positions and the thrusting, and forget that all the other senses exist as well.

“As Rob’s mouth nuzzled Jack’s muscled shoulder, he could smell dusty sweet hay, faint traces of leather, and fresh male sweat, a combination that overpowered Rob’s senses.”

4.  Understand your character’s motivations.

“The narrative’s getting a little threadbare; put a sex scene here.”  -Ed.

It’s way more important for your characters to have sex when they are motivated to, rather than making sure there’s a sex scene exactly every 25 pages.

Sure, if there’s a murderer creeping about in the night, and the two or three of them are holed up together somewhere safe, it’s a great time to get it on!  But not so much if they’re out under the stars on a blanket.  Your reader’s going to be yelling “Run!” as if your characters were teenagers in a summer-camp horror movie.

Sex scenes are great, and the more the better, but they should naturally flow out of the characters’ motivations, in tune with the development of their relationship.

And finally, we come to the last suggestion, which has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with sending your cherished manuscript in to be published.

5.  Read, understand, and follow directions.

When you’re submitting to a publisher, it’s super easy for your manuscript to end up in a spam file if you don’t follow their directions to the letter.  You’ve put so much love and hard work into your manuscript – don’t ruin your chances now by forgetting to use the right file naming protocol or cheating on the double-spacing.

Sure, I’m no expert, and there are doubtless throngs of writers out there who can and will contradict all of these suggestions – but this is what works for me.  I hope that some of it will work for you as well.

Violette Woods

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