I don’t know about you, but I find scenes of intimacy (read: sex) pretty hard to write. In life, I don’t have much problem talking about sex, sexual issues, sexuality, etc. My kids know I’m a safe person to talk to about such things, and I’ve been known to make (age-appropriate) comments during films or even conversations that lead to serious discussions, and sometimes giggles and eye-rolls.
But for me, writing about physical intimacy doesn’t come any more naturally than writing dialogue that sounds natural. No one wants to read a physical catalogue of the act. Neither should a scene be so swathed in innuendo that it has to be read twice for the reader to understand what’s going on. And such scenes can’t just be dropped, cold, into the middle of a book, a result of a, “Oh, readers will probably expect them to have sex, now,” decision. Like well-described action of any sort, it’s way more art than science.
I bet you’re expecting some sage writing advice about now. That’s what folks come here for, yes? Here’s a secret: even though there are plenty of steamy (and sometimes rough) sex scenes in my novels, the truth is that I’m on a quest to make the next ones I write better, more authentic, and—when appropriate–sexier.
I’ve picked up a couple of books on the subject because that’s one of the primary ways I learn new things. (Though I confess I don’t advertise the fact that I’m reading these books to my seventeen-year-old son. Having me as a parent means he’s already embarrassed plenty.)
The book I definitely don’t read at the doctor’s office or in the carpool line is the plainly titled How to Write a Dirty Story: Reading, Writing, and Publishing Erotica, by Susie Bright. While I’m not looking to write erotica specifically, she spends the first third of the book talking about the history of writing sex in America, as well as the subject of literary intimacy in general. It came out in 2002—definitely pre-Fifty Shades of Gray days.
I’ve just had Diana Gabaldon’s recent Kindle Single, “I Give You My Body…”: How I Write Sex Scenes, recommended to me. Diana Gabaldon is renowned for her intense, frank, and occasionally humorous sex scenes (seriously, I blush!), and I’m very curious about her willingness to, ahem, go there.
The third book is by literary writer and educator, Elizabeth Benedict. The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers has the most academic approach of the three, with excerpts from the likes of John Updike, Russell Banks, and Dorothy Allison.
But now I’d like to hear from you.
Who are some examples of writers who write terrific sex scenes?
How do you approach writing an intimate scene? Do you dive right in, or does it take you a while?
Bonus question: What was the first book you ever read that had a sex scene in it?