It’s All About the Sex — Part 2 (Encore)

Last time we scratched the surface of writing sex scenes. The essential takeaway was that a sex scene should be two-fold, at least. In other words, make sure there’s more to the scene than just sex. Pick an extra element that’s most likely to advance your story, complicate the lives of the characters, and/or draw out their innermost secrets, desires, or motivations. If your reader doesn’t learn anything new as a result of your sex scene, then you’ve failed in your job as a writer. You’ve wasted that reader’s time, and most likely her patience, too.

In the previous visit to this topic, we focused on scenes where some sex actually occurred, and you’re likely wondering how one might write a sex scene that didn’t involve sex. In part, it’s about the chase, but there can be other aspects, as well.

Sex figures into all my novels in one way or another and serves as an important element in one or more subplots. Sometimes it impacts a primary player, sometimes not. Could I have left those scenes out? Probably. But not without weakening the motivations and/or consequences of the characters involved. The breakdown works out this way: too much, too little, too late, and too bad. Forgive me if I use examples from those books to illustrate. I’m a lot more familiar with them than anyone else’s. And for those who haven’t read them yet, I promise not to spoil anything terribly important.

A pair of very young, and very small, native Americans fall in love at the start of A Little More Primitive. Their host is a young woman forced into a life of solitude in rural Wyoming. She has no problem with folks having an active love life; she dreams of having one of her own. But instead, she’s forced to observe these two youngsters who have just discovered sex, and they’re obsessed with it — day and night, here, there, everywhere.

It’s all about the chase in Under Saint Owain’s Rock as an American adman and a civic-minded lass from a tiny village in Wales slowly realize they’ve fallen in love. After numerous unclaimed opportunities for the most intimate personal explorations and experimentation, their grand finale occurs after the final page.

In Resurrection Blues we find a woman on the wrong side of forty whose husband has abandoned her in favor of strip clubs. In response, she connects with a sinister male who lavishes on her the attention she craves. Despite repeated setbacks, she keeps angling him toward a randy rendezvous, but when their lustful moment finally arrives, so does a distraction that’s too great to ignore.

Treason, Treason! features two unusual, sex-centered scenarios. In the first, one of the participants fades away to nothing — at precisely the wrong moment. In the second, another couple is heavily engaged in the most ancient of joint exercises when… Well, suffice it to say, things go wrong. Expected outcomes, readers learn, can never be relied upon. There’s always an alternative; there’s always a surprise.

The 12,000-Year-Old Whisper plays host to a Stone Age couple busy spooning, among other things. They’re new at it, after all. For them, having sex while somebody watches, cooks, skins an animal, or sweeps out the cave is pretty much the norm. In this case, however, it’s the observer who feels uncomfortable, and in a very humorous way.

So, in at least half my novels, the sex scenes don’t mirror the established norm. (Nor, by the way, do they in any of my other books.) I don’t care to employ the stereotypical, often diagrammatical approach to sensuality. And for a very simple reason: it’s just not as much fun.

It occurs to me that I may be shifting my own innate discomfort with writing sex scenes onto my characters. But then, why should they get off easy? (Once again, no pun intended.) Sex is a profoundly important part of living. It follows that the problems and complications arising from it are fair game and should provide plenty of fictional kindling. If we ignore it, we’ll never get those emotional fires burning as hot as we need them to.

In short, the trick is to make sex a by-product rather than an end-product, at least in terms of plot and story arc. I welcome your comments, observations, and feedback.


PS: Pardon the delay in posting; my bride and I were traveling, which by the way, can be a tremendous source of story material. If you haven’t tried it lately, think about it!

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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