Cecilia Tan | Sex Has To Mean Something: Five Ways To Improve A Sex Scene
January 27, 2016
It's no secret I write a lot of sex scenes. My muse is erotic and I assume when
people buy one of my books they consider the sex scenes "the good bits." But
some comments from readers recently made me realize this isn't true of all books
or all readers. I was intrigued to hear some readers regularly skip sex scenes.
When I asked why, the answers varied, but often it seems the "good bits" are
nothing but--well--sex. It isn't that the sex depicted isn't good, but that it's
too often the equivalent of stock film footage, like a montage that you can just
fast forward over until the plot starts again. To me that's a waste of a scene.
Here are five things that sex scenes can do in a novel besides "be sexy."
- Sex is a catalyst
Stories are about change. If characters don't grow and change in the course of a
book, something's wrong. Sex is one of the events that can change a person's
inner landscape, one of the things that can start the avalanche of change that a
character might go through. In a romance that might be because it's sex with the
right person; in a coming of age novel it might be an important rite of passage.
When I write a book like TAKING THE LEAD, the first
sex scene between the main characters happens at the beginning of the book
because it's what blows away our heroine's misconceptions about sex, BDSM, and
our hero, all at once. If I faded to black on that scene, the reader would be
left wondering what the heck happened that shook her beliefs so strongly?
- Sex is plot
To me, if a scene is "skippable" in one of my books, I don't think it belongs
there. Every scene, even a sex scene, has to move the plot forward, and the best
sex is integrated with the plot. Sex shouldn't be an interlude between things
happening: it should be a part of the plot. After that initial scene, each time
our characters succumb to passion it's in a key scene.
- Sex is characterization
When we see our characters making love, we shouldn't just see a jumble of
generic body parts. How our characters love, the choices they make, their
preferences and likes--those are as important to getting to know them as they
are to getting to know a new boyfriend or girlfriend. Do we see a side of them
in the bedroom that's hidden at other times? Or does their everyday personality
come through in some unique way? A fade to black would hide those details.
- Sex is communication
My sex scenes often have a fair amount of dialogue in them. I don't know about
you, but when I have sex there isn't a "no talking" rule! Sometimes the things
we say are intense, sometimes funny, but they are an important part of the
interaction between two people, especially a romance or love story. Characters
will often say things during the vulnerable moments in sex that they would never
say in another scene. If you fade to black, you miss this crucial opportunity to
show what they might say and an important way the characters relate to each other.
- Sex is proof of the relationship
Ultimately in a romance there needs to be a consummation of the love
relationship. When I read a romance I need to feel it, to see it played out in a
sex scene instead of just "taking the word" of the characters that it's all
going to be fine later. A good sex scene is a literary form of validation for
the relationship, the "proof" in the pudding.
It's actually possible to accomplish just about any writing goal within a sex
scene--build suspense, inform us of backstory, set tone--just about anything you
might accomplish in a regular scene. Writers, make sure your sex scenes are
pulling their full weight. Readers, well, happy reading!
Cecilia Tan is "simply one of the most important writers, editors, and
innovators in contemporary American erotic literature," according to Susie
Bright. RT Magazine awarded her Career Achievement in Erotic Romance in 2015 and
their prestigious Pioneer Award. Tan's BDSM romance novel Slow Surrender
(Hachette/Forever, 2013) also won the RT Reviewers Choice Award in Erotic
Romance and the Maggie Award for Excellence from the Georgia Romance Writers
chapter of RWA. She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner corwin
and three cats.
When the rich and famous come out to play, nothing is
off-limits . . .
Everyone knows Ricki Hamilton as the icy heiress living in a billion-dollar
mansion, high up in the Hollywood Hills. But few realize that behind the gilded
gates, Ricki is the mistress of LA's most exclusive private club. A place where
no fantasy is forbidden and no one goes unsatisfied-except for Ricki. If she had
her way, she'd leave the business behind . . . until she meets the one man with
the power to change her mind.
The hottest rock star in the world, Axel Hawke, has the requisite sexy look and
bad-boy reputation. Yet even his biggest fans have no clue just how decadently
dangerous he can be. From the moment he meets Ricki, he knows there is no other
woman who will satisfy him. He can feel the heat hiding beneath her cool
demeanor and he's determined to stoke her flame.
Together Ricki and Axel indulge their every desire. The deeper they go, the more
she craves. Submitting to Axel opens her eyes, and for the first time Ricki
knows exactly what she wants. All she has to do is take it . . .
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