Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Proverbial Novel Destroyer: S-E-X


Oh yes, yes I absolutely did.  In the profound words of Salt N Pepa, "Let's talk about sex baby"

Where to begin. . .

This is a very hard subject to-- Oh dear, that doesn't sound right. Ahem.

Keeping abreast on all the-- Oh my! Let's try this again, shall we?

I do my best to stay on top-- Gasp.

Okay. Enough with the innuendos already. You’ve got it, right? The point I want to make, is that there is no way to casually broach the subject of sex. And for good reason. Sex, whether it be monogamous or meaningless, is never casual.  Sex impacts and affects us in the real world, so why would it be any different for our characters, who are no less real to us?

In the hundreds of books I’ve come across containing love scenes, I’ve found some that have pulled it off, some that have shamed themselves for all eternity, and very few who were able to enrapture me with the expertise and finesse of a blind, seven fingered basket weaver. And, as we all know, when it’s good, it’s gooood.

This is not easily achieved. If it was, there wouldn’t be so many people pulling their hair out over this issue. What’s maddening is that it starts out with so much promise and ease. Dangerous, alluring boy, meets previously broken-hearted girl, they “inadvertently” have a connection, they fall in love, and then, BAM! Serious roadblock. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Should they a little? Should they a lot? Should they go celebrate? Should I just start writing about dancing carrots and hope nobody notices? No, no. . . don’t do that. As they say, “Where there is a will, there is way!”

Picture it like this: You story is taking place on a heart-monitor. Beep beep. Beep beep. You with me? Okay, so along the way there are the moments when the beeping sears the silent room. The accidental graze of hands, the kiss below the jaw, his strong hand clasped around the back of her neck. Woah. I may need to skip ahead a few chapters tonight. Anyway. . . Those moments are what we, the reader, are hanging in there for. Yea, yea, we want to know how peculiar these people are, we want to relate to them, know about their most intimate fears and irrationalities, but let’s be honest, what we’re really waiting for, is to watch them fall in love. Well, it’s certainly what I’m waiting for, anyway. 

So, the moment arrives. It’s happening. There’s grabby hands, tousled hair, soft shudders. The beeping is in blaring, rapid monotone. BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! Your pulse is racing too. It’s finally here! The moment you’ve been waiting for. You are beaming with joy for these best friends of yours.You can hardly keep yourself from skipping lines to get to the good part. You are ready to be swept away. You are. . . clobbered with a deluge of slippery details, lumpy nouns, or dare I say it, excessive moaning, and . . . . . . silence. There is no more beeping. Why? Because you just killed your story.


The mood has been spoiled and there is no returning. There is no last call for alcohol. Elvis has left the building. Pack up, get out, go home.

An equally disappointing experience is when your characters don’t seem to quite get there. You finish the scene, shrug, and say, “Meh.”

Is there a lesser of two evils? Which one is worse? Honestly, I really don’t know. . . I’m never able to put my finger on it. What I do know, however, is that very clearly there is either a wildfire, or a smoking pyre.  Bolts of lightning or a succession of yawning.  

So we’ve deduced that this is a dilemma, no? There seems to be an unspoken and elusive balance of descriptions, details, and dialogue that happens to either make or break the story.

A friend of mine recently asked for my opinion on this issue. His characters, who I have fallen in love with, are to be married and he was battling with the whole, “How much is too much?” debacle. I am no expert, but below I have put a link to what I had to say to him. I hope this helps some of you. Please feel free to add your own advice on this precarious  topic in the forum if any of my suggestions have come across a little limp. >:) Hehe. I couldn’t resist one more.


janelle said...

hehe, i love all your sex puns! i'm going over to brain sparkle to read your advice! :)

Roxie said...

Hi, I'm a new reader. :)

Glad you wrote about this. I've been contemplating writing a sex scene between the two characters in my WIP, but I don't want it to sound cheesy or - worse yet - "inexperienced". Great advice on brain sparkle. :)

Cara R. Olsen said...

Lol. Thank you, Janelle! You know how much fun I had coming up with those.

Hi Roxie!

Thank you. So glad you found the post helpful! Feel free to post advice or ask any other struggles/questions/tips in the forum.
It's for everyone to use!

Kristin Yuki said...

Hahaha! Your picture made me laugh!
A) Soo sweet stick figures!

Back on topic, I totally agree with Roxie! I've never written a sex scene or have even tried to, but -- if I intended to-- it would probably be one of the last bits I did write. Not only is it intimidating, but I'd have to know the characters really, really well. They would make it work or not, make it meaningful or make it meaningless...ultimately, they would be the ones making the decision, not moi.

It depends a lot on context as well? "Like Water For Chocolate" has many a steamy & vivid page, but I feel it all fits so perfectly into the plot, setting, and theme that said scenes would be missed.

Cara R. Olsen said...

Lol. Kristin, you are too funny. I love how you compartmentalize. A), B) Ha! There IS a legal assistant in you!

Ooo... I haven't read "Like Water for Chocolate". I will have to check into that one :)

CloudyKim said...

Hahaha, I've written a scene like that. Ask me about how that happened later ;) Hahaha.

I think it is important to know your characters well, because timing seems to have a lot to do with it. I think that any time two characters become intimate - whether it's hand-holding, a hug, a kiss - you, as the writer, should take those small actions seriously. They do matter, and you may find that you're comfortable enough with those actions alone - and your readers are satisfied.

And as far as the actual sex scene goes, I'd rather see something than have the door slammed on my face. Since you used the heart monitor metaphor, I'll piggy back off of it and say with the door-slamming, it's like someone ripped the monitor right off of me, haha!

Ree Vera said...

Ha! Sex scenes in books are something I hate to see ruined. I love reading romance. I WRITE romance. So to read a bad one...ugh. Makes me want to pull my hair out. My biggest peeve? When authors 'prettify' it. If the book is YA or just soft romance..ok, fine. I get that. What I don't get is when the book is romance (perhaps not erotica but close enough) and then things like: "She grabbed his member.."
Um no. Just no. I say let's call it what it is. I wrote a blog post about this and basically I feel that if you're gonna write a sex scene...write the sex scene. Don't beat around the bush. (haha no pun intended) Sex is dirty. Hot. So let it be so! Great post! :D