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Nuts and Bolts

Today and tomorrow, I thought we could talk about the nuts and bolts--the craft--of writing about sex.

Tomorrow, we'll look at a few specific examples.

First, I want to pull out something Tanya wrote yesterday in a response to Marianna:

...if a sex scene is honestly and carefully done, it should turn out fine in the end. Avoiding gratuity is extremely important. This is not the venue for bodice-ripping or random titillation, if you ask me. It needs to be done with sensitivity, putting yourself a bit in the shoes of a much younger person; seeing it through the eyes of someone without much experience. No shock factor. Only what the story and the characters need.

How do we do that?

How do we take a moment of extreme vulnerability, a moment that can hurt and change a person for the rest of his or her life, and make it NOT TRENDY, but universal????  

We have to be honest.  We have to write about sex the way we write any scene.  With honesty, authenticity, appropriate language.  With INTENTION.

Let's look at a few of our tools.  (Big apology for using my own work as an example....)

POINT OF VIEW:  Do I ever get tired of talking about Point of View????  Probably not.  It really changes how we approach a scene.  So of course, it changes how we approach a scene with sex.

Think FIRST PERSON:  You are in the character's head.  Actually, now you are in the bed!  During a sex scene, what is your character thinking/seeing/feeling?  Not all people think about SEX when they are having SEX.  Think Penelope in Ulysses.  Yes, yes, yes, yes.  

I remember reading an article once about how women think about dinner during sex.  And that some men actually think about taking out the garbage!

For the sex scene in Head Case, I focused on what Frank, the protagonist, would see, think, feel as he was losing his virginity.  For me, since this was a memory--a flashback--I could pick and choose details.  (We'll talk more about tense in a minute.)  I focused on his excitement and his emotional state, while he was remembering sex to fuel the scene.  I focuses on his senses.  And how he saw THE GIRL.

What about THIRD PERSON?  Those pervy worries that many of us have may be because we are feeling like voyeurs.  Is the camera just too far away?   When we close in, we get to the more emotional level of sex.

LANGUAGE:  There are definitely at least two schools of thought.  Some writers strive to use anatomically correct terms for sex and body parts.  Others use slang.  Some make up slang.  Whatever you use, it must sound authentic.  You really can't worry who is going to be offended....no matter what term you use, the reader will know what you're saying.  The important part: they have to believe your character would say that.  For me, this was an easy decision.  In working with men with spinal cord injuries, they almost all used the word, dick.  NO penises.  No cute slang.  The F word was power.  In rehab, when control is an issue, language is powerful.

TENSE and TRANSITIONS:   This is something that interests me a lot.  I wonder if a lot of readers (adult, maybe, more than young adult) have an easier time accepting books with sex IF the sex exists in the past tense.  

The past tense offers the reader just enough PSYCHIC DISTANCE from the moment to make the scene less volatile and maybe, more palatable. (?)  

Interesting confession:  I have to admit, I have been surprised by the "no response" to sex in my novel.  Not one book club that has interviewed me has mentioned the sex in the book.  They have asked me about language, but not about my decision to include a scene with sex.

Does that have to do with tense, or the fact that the character is paralyzed??? 

Now if you are writing a truly volatile life changing scene with sex, this may be just the reason that the PRESENT TENSE is so useful.  

We can also use time this way:  in some books, our characters talk about the sex they have had, but we don't actually see them doing it.  This reminds me of watching soap operas when I was young.  The characters would get into bed and kiss, then the show would cut to commercial.  This "fade to black" method can be effective for the writer who would rather not get into bed.  If the reaction to having had sex is more important to the story than seeing the characters have sex, this type of transition also works. 

And with that thought, stay tuned until tomorrow!