Left Behind & Loving It Workshop – The Anatomy of Sex Scenes Part One

I’ll be doing a workshop all this week on sex scenes. How to write them, hopefully how to write them well.

Paperback Writer has organized a massive mini conference here online for those not attending the RWA convention. Go here to check out all the people participating and giving workshops this week. It’s truly going to be a great array of presentations, so you don’t want to miss them.



How to Write Really Great Sex

Note: I put together this workshop along with author Shayla Black/Shelley Bradley for an RWA conference two years ago. Because so much of what we did together for this workshop was integrated in my notes, I don’t know which part is mine and which is hers and I’m too lazy to try and separate it out, so half the credit for this workshop goes to this rockin’ awesome author. You want to know how to write great sex scenes, check out Shelley Bradley and Shalya Black’s books.


They were finally alone. Elena had waited a lifetime for this moment. They undressed, kissed, then fell onto the bed, Jack’s body covering hers. Passion rose as they rolled together around the bed. Jack grasped Elena’s breast, then his fingers moved down her stomach. He touched her. She gasped.

She reached down and touched him, guiding him to her center. When they joined, it was heaven. She arched against him as she reached the moment, then fell, clasping onto him as he found his own completion. She panted, feeling utterly complete, basking in the love she felt for him.

I wrote that as a really bad example of what NOT to do. That was an incredibly boring love scene. It was short, anatomical and completely lacking in emotion. I pictured store mannequins in the act. It didn’t convey anything about the characters. It was telling about passion, about love, not showing. There was no depth to it. You have no idea what’s going on in the character’s heads, what’s going on around them in the scene. You can’t FEEL that love scene.

So when you are writing your love scenes, how can you avoid the standard sex scene clichés? Boring narrative anatomy lessons that drone on and on and on with nothing but tangled body parts and purple prose? He put his thing here and she touched him there and then they did this and then they did that and ooh and ahh until the big climax. Total snore fest and won’t get your book noticed.

Sex scenes are very difficult to write. Not just because for some they’re uncomfortable to think about writing, about conveying the most intimate act to the written word, but because you’re trying to impart everything emotional and sexual about your characters to the page. I’ve written hundreds of them. And I still angst every time I approach the love scene. To me, they’re the most difficult part of the book. Frankly, I’d rather blow things up than write a sex scene. Love scenes are damned difficult to put together. Why? Because they lay open the characters, physically and emotionally. It’s like an autopsy. This is where your characters are at their most vulnerable, where they give their hearts to the one person who can hurt them the most. This is the scene the reader is counting on…the one they’ve anticipated over however many hundreds of pages you’ve led them on. Fail at this, let them down, and they’ll never forgive you. Pressure? Yeah, a little. It’s a huge undertaking for a writer and they just aren’t easy.

Ever skim over a love scene when you’re reading? Or worse, yawn your way through it or roll your eyes? Chances are, when you have, the author didn’t see love scenes as an integral part of the book, but a "necessary evil" or they put one in for shock value. Love scenes can be as sexy, emotional, funny or angst-ridden as you want. With a little thought, planning, a deep breath and determination, you’ll be writing great love scenes–and having fun!

In my opinion, love scenes are an extension of the hero/heroine relationship. Just as the reader wants the details of their arguments and the resolution, so too do they want the details of their lovemaking. This is one of the most intimate, honest exchanges the reader will see between them. Keep that in mind when you’re wishing you could cut it short or fade to black or aren’t sure what to say other than, “And then they made love.” And you can certainly do that, but that’s not what the focus of this workshop is about. It’s about those writers who want to put actual, show-em-the-details love scenes in their books.

So, let’s begin


How can they have sex if you–the writer–don’t know who your characters are? And more importantly, if the reader doesn’t know who they are?

The most important thing about sex in your books is the characters. No matter whether sex occurs in chapter one or chapter ten, fifteen or twenty, if the reader is invested in the characters, if they care what’s happening to them, then they’ll be more in tune with the sex scene. If you have characters they don’t know, aren’t intrigued about, don’t care about, it doesn’t matter how good your sex scene is because the reader simply isn’t going to care.

And this is where your skills as a writer come into play. How much do you reveal of your characters and their history before the first sex scene? Is there history between your hero and heroine? Have you set the scene for tension between them? Oh so important, that tension, which we’ll get into later.

Lay the character groundwork first. Make your readers care about the characters before your characters start having sex with each other. Emotional ties are important, especially between reader and characters!

So how do you do that? You lay the ground work. Subtly, gradually, with every bit of narrative and dialogue, the reader gains insight into these characters. Who they are, what their relationship to each other is. What is their background and history, their sexual history, too. Do you have an inexperienced heroine and a worldly experienced hero? Or vice versa? Or have they only known each other? All of these make a huge difference in a character’s sexual experience and what you bring to the table in your sex scenes.

More on characters tomorrow!