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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Friday, May 22, 2009

The difficulty of writing sex

This image was purchased, not stolen.

Back to our regularly scheduled program... Kind of.

I want to thank each and every one of you who posted below. I'm sorry I didn't answer individually. This week was another special edition, and my son's girlfriend came to visit, so between getting 100+ pages to press, I was running to the airport and sending off copyright infringement notices. Still, I read and appreciate all of your posts. It means the world to me that you understand and care. I adore you!!!

Thanks to those of you who took up the topic on your blogs, as well. At the very least, people who see those posts might think twice before giving in to the temptation of downloading.

Illegal downloading is the topic of this week's poll! Yes, there's a new poll. I can't see who answered or how — it's completely anonymous — so you can confess and be absolved. It's merely for curiosity's sake that I put it up, not to scold anyone. I think we've all done something at one point or another, perhaps not realizing what we were doing constituted a copyright violation.

Enough of that for now.

Foot update: I hate having a broken foot. I need to go back for more x-rays, but I haven't made the time yet. I've been going without the cast on occasion, which last Sunday night resulted in my waking up in abject agony. I believe I almost screamed in fact. I woke up shouting, "Oh, my God!" And it wasn't in the good, orgasmic sense, either.

Speaking of SEX...

Last weekend I wrote a different sort of sex scene. It's an act I've not included in my books before. Aha, you say! She's finally writing anal sex! Um... no. I'll let you guess what it was. (The excerpt is below.) The thing that was fun about it was that it was new for me and therefore an interesting challenge to write.

Despite what Cosmo tries to tell us, there really is nothing new under the sun when it comes to men and women getting it on. I see their covers with teases like: "The 10 newest sexual positions! Cosmo tells you how!" Well, those 10 positions are probably in the Kama Sutra, if nowhere else, and we all know how: Get into a funky position and then do what you always do — insert Tab A into Slot B and let the spirit move you.

This image was also purchased. With money. That I earned.

The point is that writing interesting, compelling sex isn't easy. I think it's the hardest component of a story. Any time I come to a sex scene, I know it's going to be a tough bit of writing and I'm going to want to pull my hair out. How many ways can you describe a tongue inside another person's mouth? How many ways are there to describe an orgasm? How many ways can you describe the sounds a person makes when they're sexually aroused or climaxing or sexually contented?

The more books I write, the harder it is. I keep meaning to create an Excel spreadsheet to use to organize the adjectives, verbs and other descriptive terms I use so that I don't repeat myself. We all know that some books get that way — it's the author's 15th novel and every love scene is starting to sound the same. I so desperately don't want that to happen to my books, though it probably already has!

Of course, the key is to have each sex scene develop from the characters' own unique personalities. So Nicholas and Bethie have their slow, healing progression from "don't touch me" to "No Man But Me." And Julian all but assaults Tessa on his bedroom floor, believing, until he faces his past, that he is the kind of man who could do that kind of thing. And Marc just wants everything he can get after years of deprivation (provided it's Sophie), especially a mouthful of the taste he's missed while in prison. And so on...

But even so, there are only so many ways to describe it. Most difficult of all, there are only so many words you can use to name the organs involved. I refuse to use things like "sheath" or "velvet center" in contemporaries (and even historicals). But if you use "p-ssy" or "c-nt," you're going to irk your readers. So what does that leave you with? "He thrust his cock into her wet heat." Been there, written that, probably have the T-shirt.

It's a conundrum.

So let's talk about this: repetitive love scenes and ridiculous language. Where do you draw the line with language, and how do you deal with sex scenes in an author's work when they start to feel canned? Those of you who are writers, please share with me your patented secrets for dealing with this conundrum.

And to all my American readers: Have a good Memorial Day. Prayers and thoughts for our veterans and those who've been injured or lost their lives fighting for their country.


Barbara said...

Okay, apparently I missed a post which I will have to check once I'm done here.

Well, honestly as long as the language "fits" the scene I'm fine. In other words, if a couple is having really hot sex and the author uses the C word for the woman's ah, woman part, then I'm cool with that.

However, if you have a couple making passionate all consuming emotional love and the author tosses in the C word--nah, it kills it for me.

Only acception is when I KNOW I'm reading an erotic romance. Than of course it's to be expected.

I'm sorry about your foot Pamela, I hope you're feeling better soon. Now I'm off to check out the drama that I have obviously missed.

Hi, Barbara! I like that: "... a woman's, ah, woman part." :-)

I've never used either the p-word or the c-word because I know they upset some readers, though they really don't bother me. I've been called both at work, so...

But you're right — the language should match the mood. Otherwise, it's a real buzz-kill. LOL!

Thanks for the happy foot wishes. I'm a one-woman klutz-o-rama. Last week, I put the cast next to the bed, then stripped over it when I got up in the morning, coming down on my broken foot. Yes!!!! I should win a prize for that one.

Um... That should say TRIPPED over it. I did not stand there and STRIP over it. GEEZ! LMAO!

Linda A. said...

Hi Pamel, it seems I'm usually the first post here...guess it's because the eastest of the bunch.

Writing sex scenes is the most difficult thing for me. I almost decided not to put any in my first book. I felt like a voyeur,and I've had writing friends tell me they felt that way too. When it comes down to it, our characters are part of us and we wouldn't want someone watching us have sex, right?

I found I had to lose myself in the emotions leading up to the sex scenes. Then I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I'm still trying to get better at it.

Re the yo-ho-ho stuff, I blogged about it yesterday. Maybe if enough of us do people will get the message.

And I ordered a copy of Ride the Fire this morning! New. Paid for.

Linda A. said...

Pamel...Duh! I have not had enough coffee yet. And I forgot to say, your poor foot! I hope it's better soon.

RitaSV said...

LOLOLOL!!! I am so relieved that you pay for your photos, Pam! You make me smile. :o) Although your poor foot episode did not make me made my eyes water instead. Ouch! Hope that you heal very soon.

squiresj said...

I personally do not like explicit sex scenes. I've been married 30 years. You are right it gets old reading how someone builds up to a sexual scene. I just like to read how the couple come to know each other and blossom into loving one another. Sex scenes in detail turn me off.
In response to your broken ankle. You need to take care of it. I broke mine 10 years ago in an automobile accident. It was put back together then. A year ago I had to have it fused or lose it as it was collapsing.
Did you have to have pins put in. I had 3 and now have 5.
My thoughts are with you as you recover.

Hi, Linda — Oh, I'm so excited to hear what you think of Ride the Fire! And thank you! I really appreciate the fact that you bought it. I know each dollar is dear these days, so I hope you get your money's worth and more from the story.

You're absolutely right about needing to lose yourself in the characters' emotions in order to write sex scenes. Otherwise, it's not much different than Penthouse Letters or something.

I must be a bit of a perv, because I truly don't mind watching my characters have sex. It's describing what I'm seeing that drives me batty. :-)

And thanks for your blog! I really appreciate it!

I'm wearing my cast all day today. I resolved to be a good girl. Also, it's the only way it doesn't hurt.

Hi, Rita — I'm glad I made you smile. It was a way of making a point, I guess. And thanks for the good wishes for my foot. I really need to get back to see the doctor.

Hi, SquiresJ — Thanks for popping by! I'm sorry to hear about your ankle! That sounds very painful. It must be especially frustrating to have it continue to bother you so many years later. I hope it stabilizes and stops bothering you.

In my case, it's just a couple bones in my foot, and there are no pins. But if it doesn't heal well, they might have to go in to remove a bone fragment. I'm hoping not. I really don't want to spent the summer dealing with it.

As for sex scenes, they have to be part of the overall love story in order for them to belong in a book. I think there's a lot of pressure on authors to include graphic sex -- the more the merrier -- whether it adds to the story or not. I enjoy reading explicit sex scenes if they're well written, but for me writing them is very, very difficult.

Debbie H said...

I feel the sex needs to fit the couple. Some are shy,some aren't.

Well, we know you won't be doing any ass kicking for a while. LOL Take care of yourself, klutzy.

Love Ya

Debbie H, you're right. No ass-kicking for me for a while. I need to get back to mastering the art of not tripping and hurting myself. LOL!

As an author I hear you!! I've written sensual romance since day one, including upping the stakes by writing erotic romance. Like you said, though, writing a compelling sex scene that is different, hot, and fits the character personalities is very, very difficult. I applaud you, though, for always getting it right. I'm not just saying that because I'm a fan girl (okay, I am a fan girl), but because I appreciate a well written love scene. Keep up the great work.

Denise A. Agnew

Hi, Denise — So good to see you again! I think it must take a great deal of effort to write good erotic sex scenes, so I cheer you on! Too many authors forget the emotional angle in erotic romance, but you don't. That's fantastic. And thanks for your sweet words. I don't know that I always get it right, but I really, really try. :-)

Have a great weekend!

Nicole Laurent said...

Another writer referred me to your blog regarding this post as this is a subject we've discussed ad nauseam. Of course I recognized your name ... your books happily reside on my shelf!

I had to laugh because I've said the same things in my writing group. I don't have major issues (yet!) with worrying about repetetive love scenes--I've just finished my first book. But 'The Kiss'? Argh! I love reading about the kiss! There are no extra accesories to bring into the mix. Tongue, lips ... that's it! The best way I could work around it was to describe the emotions around the kiss or the tone of the kiss. (Hesitancy, sensual, kissing for the sake of kissing... claiming...)

But yes, the sex is basically slot A, Tab B. No new positions have been invented since the dawn of time. I find that the creativity is in the foreplay and the foreplay is the bulk of the scene. And for me, there has to be something 'deeper' going on during the scene mentally. If there's not, it's just porn and it doesn't fit the story.

But I did get hung up on language. I agree that it has to fit the tone of the story and the tone of the scene. If a 'naughtier' word is used in a tender scene ... tires squeal in my head. But if it's an especially naughty scene, it fits.

And I prefer a book that leaves the bedroom door 'open'. In my opinion, to really know every aspect of what pulls the couple together (or keeps them apart), I feel it's disingenuous (in romance) to keep the reader in the dark about the most intimate act they can share.

But maybe I'm a perv, too! LOL!

Luci said...

So sorry about your foot Pamela, hope it heals real soon!!! I have this phobia about hurting my legs and feet. if someone mentions theirs hurting them mine start hurting in sympathy. Seriously, I am unable to walk for a few seconds until i remove the image from my mind.

Regarding sex :). well, I am one of those who has to have sex in a book for it to be complete. And I love it where one author diversifies positions and locations in different books. (Erin McCarthy is one eg that comes to my mind). I have found though that while I need sex scenes, lately certain books have had an excess of these scenes. So sex yes, but in the right dose. I would rather have a fantastic story with a few good sex scenes, then fantastic sex scenes with some story.

Ronlyn said...

Hello my fellow bar brawler. *G*
This post reminded me of that movie, "10 Things I Hate About You" where the counselor was trying to write a sex scene, "What's another word for engorged?!" (I don't recall the exact quote, just the moment) LOL.
Anyhoo....For me, the sex has to be compelling if it's going to be written about. I'd rather an author not write evey detail if there isn't a compelling *moment* to write about.
I try to go with the flow and not let any slang that I find distasteful kill the overall mood. Sometimes that works better than others, but I try to stick with the, "It's the mood more than the words" that make it work. Not that that helps you as the person trying to come up with the words to put on the page. ;-)

Sue Z said...

"Woman's mound" is one that makes me giggle, everytime that I read it. It reminds me of a pitcher's mound in a baseball game.

To me it doesn't matter if you use and re-use termonology. Just as long as the scene is well written and fits the characters. You have never dissapointed me with the sex scenes that you write. You manage to be respectful, true to characters and just plain HOT in all of them!!

My niece and nephew, who could probably show up the cast of SNL, would snatch up my mom's romance novel and start reading "the good parts" out loud with a lot of excess dramatization. It was tooo funny. So when you write these scenes imagine two smart-@#$ teenagers reading it out loud.

As for if too much detail is given...I say no. This can actually be quite educational. I should know. I've gotten quite a few ideas from the books I've read and my husband is always open to new ideas. hehehe

Nicole said...

Hi Pamela this is my first time checking out your blog although I read your books Ride the Fire, Surrender and Untamed awhile ago.

I love to read romance novels and
I just wanted to say your right that sex scenes are hard. Many people right the same and I have found that they all mush together because there is only so many ways you can say they did this. I agree with what Barbara said that it all depends on the type of sex they are having that should affect what words you use.

Also hope you feel better I have never broken a bone and pray I never will.

Hi, Nicole L — Welcome! You make some great observations. Absolutely for sex to mean something in a book it has to have a deeper purpose with regard to revealing character or plot. Otherwise... Ho-hum. Congrats on your first book. What sub-genre do you write?

Hi, Luci — Thanks for the good wishes. It is healing and is a lot less painful than it was a month ago. You must have a lot of "empathy" in your feet and legs! I'll be sure never to go into details about my climbing accident with you. :-)

As for sex in books, I agree: switch what you're doing, location, position, etc. That's part of the fun in real life, isn't it? So it's part of the fun in reading about it, too.

Hey, Ronlyn — "It's the mood more than the words." Good way of putting it. And, no, that doesn't make it easier, but it's a good thing to remember. I think sometimes writers get caught up in trying to do something original or shocking. Is anybody even capable of being shocked these days? Emotional richness is more important to me as a reader than the rest of it. I've read books where there's little sex but it's so well done that you're not disappointed.

Aw, thanks, SueZAY! I'm happy to hear that. "Woman's mound." "Velvet sheath." "Manhood." "Manroot." (WTF is that???) It's all pretty silly. I'd rather just use real words, but in historicals you can't always get away with that — at least not from the heroine's point of view.

Hi, Eugenia — LOL! I can only imagine how funny that is!!! I think these books are educational too. I let my teenage boys (when they were teenagers) read mine. I thought they might learn something that would make a woman happy down the road somewhere. Who knows? I'm glad your husband appreciates your romance reading. ;-)

Hi, Nicole — Welcome! Thanks for posting! And thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know what you mean about scenes "mushing" together. When that starts happening, then something's not right. I'm glad you've enjoyed some of my historicals. I hope you stop by again.

Thank you for the warm welcome! My sub genre ... Hmmm. Well, I THINK I wrote a women's fiction novel. Okay, in my mind, I know I wrote a women's fiction novel. But I've always felt that most women's fiction (that contains an underlying romance storyline) is sadly lacking in sex. So my novel is an attempt to inject sex into women's fiction.

This is why your blog hit so close to home for me. It seemed impossible for me to tell a story that addresses women's issues and female empowerment and leave out the couple's journey and their individual interpretation of their sexual relationship. So I didn't leave it out. Should it get published, my mother might be mortified ... but I'll tell her what pages to skip! But I'm early days--started submitting queries two weeks ago and have 1 full and two partials waiting in line to be read.

Thank you for your response to my post. I admire your ability to continually come up with creative topics to blog. Blogging topics are my achilles heel!

Hi, NIcole —

Interesting!!! I can completely understand why you'd feel you needed to put sex in the story. Women's empowerment and their relationships are so closely tied to sexuality. Leaving that out of a story that follows a woman's growth in a relationship with a man could be less than satisfying for readers.

Good luck in finding an agent and a publisher! I hope it goes well. And let us know here when it sells!

As for the blog... Sometimes I think it's boring! So thanks for saying that. But as someone who wrote a weekly column for 15 years, I'm pretty used to having to come up with a topic even if I don't have one. LOL!

And sorry for the delay in your comment appearing. I've put the blog on "moderated comments" for the time being.

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