Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Wednesday Wisdom - Writing Sex Scenes with Nicole Murphy

Writing sex scenes – when you should, and when you shouldn’t.

We all know that we romance writers are tarred with the brush of being all about the raunch. Our books are cover-to-cover sex, with those poor little housewives getting all hot and bothered.

And what the hell is wrong with a housewife – any woman, for that matter – enjoying something that she finds arousing?

But that isn’t the topic of today’s discussion. No, today’s is about the sex scene.

A big problem with the above statement is that sometimes they are absolutely right. Sometimes, romance books are full of sex scenes that just shouldn’t be there.

It seems that writers think that in order to be sexy, to show sexual arousal between a couple, that they have to write a sex scene. Not the case. One of my favourite sexy scenes is written by Keri Arthur in her book ‘The Darkest Kiss’. The moment Riley and Quinn see each other is electrifying, and the next couple of pages hot enough to make you fan yourself and yet they never even touch.

So if you don’t HAVE to write a sex scene to show passion, arousal, heat between a couple, when should you write it?

I have a theory and that is that a sex scene needs to follow the same rules of any other scene. In order to hold its place in the story, it needs to achieve at LEAST one of these three things:

  • Reveal character
  • Develop setting/world building
  • Move the plot along

If it’s not going to do at least one of those, I put it to you that it shouldn’t be in the book. A good scene does two. A truly great scene – for example the first sex scene in Jennifer Cruisie’s ‘Welcome to Temptation’ – does all three.

For me a great example of this was Patricia Briggs’ ‘River Marked’ (part of the Mercy Thompson series). In the books preceding, there had been some hot, hot sex. In ‘River Marked’ however, there was none – not detailed anyway. Sure, the characters were having HEAPS of sex but we saw none of it. And why? Because it would have done nothing for the story in terms of character, plot or setting. It just would have been superfluous.

Sure, it would have been GOOD – Patricia Briggs is very good at writing sex scenes. But the scenes in this book would have felt not as hot as in the previous books, because they didn’t belong here.

Knowing it worked for Patricia Briggs meant it would work for me, so in my latest release ‘Arranged to Love’ (Escape Publishing), my h/h have sex three times but I only wrote two sex scenes.

Interestingly, the one I skipped was the very first one. I thought about it, but then discarded it. It wasn’t necessary – the first time they make love is part of the a flashback that sets up the rest of the story and spending pages showing that passion wouldn’t have made the story any better and in fact would have delayed getting to the real action.

I did, however, put a lot of effort into ensuring the passion between them was obvious from the start and that the sex scenes I did write were smoking. So far, readers are happy.

Hope you will be too.

Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick. She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions. As Nicoel Murphy (speculative fiction) she’s had more than two dozen short stories published and her urban fantasy trilogy Dream of Asarlai is published by HarperVoyager.

As Elizabeth Dunk (contemporary romance), she’s had two short stories published and her debut contemporary romance ‘Arranged to Love’ is out now via Escape Publishing. She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW. Visit her website



Latesha said...

Thank you for your take on sex scenes. Makes a lot of sense and I wish more authors would follow these guidelines.

Nicole Murphy said...

Thanks Latesha - there's nothing worse than a superfluous sex scene that's taking up space, is there?

Normandie Alleman said...

You make some great points, Nicole. Gratuitous sex is a lot like gratuitous violence - it insults the reader's intelligence a bit. Sex scenes might be fun, but you're right. They need a purpose.

Nicole Murphy said...

Thanks Normandie :)