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By Tina Morgan
At least that's what Marketing 101 teaches. And let's face it, it got your attention, didn't it? The question is, do you 'need' it in your story?
More to the point, is it really necessary to provide the reader with a detailed narrative about the physical act of procreation itself? Of course, it's expected, and even required in erotica. Other genres are considerably more generalized, often to the point of including no explanation at all, and leaving the details to the imagination of the reader.
But is it important to include a sex scene at all? Often a steamy scene focusing on the act of seduction will have a more memorable effect. Remember, also, that seduction stems from a person's mind, not in their genitalia.
The actual physical act of sex is not necessarily what a reader wants to see. Describing someone standing beside the bed taking off their boots, then their socks, then their shirt, then their trousers and their boxers . Loses momentum, doesn't it?
Worse still, describing the physical act of copulation will have three major negative effects (and possibly quite a few others!):
- 1) there are only so many ways to describe rubbing the reproductive mucus membranes together
- 2) Not everyone is stimulated by the same things. We all have very different tastes and needs. What you might consider to be a sexy, raunchy scene could outrage or offend others.
- 3) the thrill of the 'chase' is over. Readers don't WANT to see the aftermath. They want the build up of the sexual tension, the anticipation of wondering if the hero and heroine are EVER going to get it together. Getting them in the sack destroys all the delicious expectation and turns your steamy seduction scene into just another description of two people bonking.
There is only one GOOD reason to include a sex scene in a work of general fiction: to advance the plot.
If the inclusion of a chapter involving two characters "getting it on" is only there to gratify the author, then it becomes pointless. If, however, your heroine is a spy and needs to seduce the antagonist in order to get close to his operations, then what you need is a seduction scene, not a sex scene.
Your goal as an author is to determine which style best suits the story you're trying to tell. If there is no logical reason to include a scene that could potentially shock and offend a large portion of your audience, then you should consider leaving it out. Simply adding sex to your fiction will not guarantee sales any more than it can guarantee to stimulate the person reading it.
Again, unless your chosen genre is erotica, there is no logical reason to include a long descriptive passage involving the physical mechanics of two adults "bumping uglies". A carefully planned seduction scene, in which much of the physical action is implied, and most of the emotional content is detailed, will have a far greater impact, on both your plot and your reader.
Still want to include some good old-fashioned sex in your story?
Okay, so you've decided your plot and your characters need a little bit of adrenaline, and decided that a little sex between the leading characters would be appropriate. The next decision is how much, how soon and how detailed?
One of the best ways to help you decide is to read extensively in the genre you're writing. Examine what works and what doesn't. Look at the bestsellers in your genre. This will give you an indication of what your target market expects. You'll find a wide range of sexual content in most genres leaving you free to write what the story needs, but take careful note of how much is implied, or simply left to the reader's imagination.
While you can test the limits of almost any given genre, you also have to understand the consequences. If you alienate your target audience, you're not going to sell books. If your goal is to pursue your artistic vision and books sales aren't important, then toss the rules out the window and write what your heart desires. (It is possible to chuck the rules and still sell books; sometimes a lot of books, but the odds are against it).
How much sex you include is determined by your story's focus. Working on the assumption that you're not writing erotica, the focus should be the plot or the characters or the resolution of a difficult problem, and not how many times they have intercourse.
The average general fiction novel will have anywhere from 0 to 4sex scenes. This includes "fade to black" scenes, or the "implied" sex scene happening behind closed doors, with little to no detail. The exact number in your novel will depend on how your characters are interacting. Do you have a romance that should be reaching sexual intimacy?
Forcing two characters together just to include a sex scene is the worst thing you can include in any story. The narrative will feel contrived, the characters will no longer hold the reader's empathy and the momentum of your story will slide.
Limit the sex scenes to what the tension in the story will support. Gratuitous sex only works in erotica and porn (and look at how seriously it's taken by the audience then!).
When should you introduce a sex scene into your work?
I've heard the question asked: 'Should I start my novel with a sex scene?' Not unless you're writing erotica. You might get by with a fade to black scene but anything more will give your reader the wrong impression. If the reader doesn't care for detailed scenes, they're going to put your novel down and probably not pick up another. If they're looking for a more erotic novel and they don't find sex throughout the book, again, they're probably going to put it down and not come back.
While many writer's workshops and how-to books stress that a book must grab the reader in the first few pages, throwing the reader directly into a raunchy scene is not the way to do it. Why should the reader care if these two characters are having sex?
Most people remember a book for the characters they remember. Over the span of 400 pages, the character has become endearing to them, they agonize through their predicaments with the heroine and cheer for her when she's about to get her guy back.
But if you introduce your heroine in the midst of the horizontal bop, all a-flurry between the sheets, there has been no opportunity to develop any kind of rapport with your characters at all.
Building up the tension between the characters and engrossing your reader with the situations you throw them into is vital to the success of any scene you write. If no tension has been created yet, an out of place sex scene will feel gratuitous and contrived.
The amount of detail in your scenes depends a lot on the genre and your personal comfort level. Obviously, detailed sex is not appropriate in a young adult or children's novel. Many young adult novels deal with subjects like sex, rape, abuse, divorce, teen pregnancy etc, but the average bookstore is not going to stock YA books with erotic sex scenes.
Romantic novels require an element of romance, and the level of intimacy is often predicted by the sub-genre. For example, a reader is going to expect a fair amount of sex in a racy Jackie Collins novel, but even then, much of the 'action' is still heavily implied. That same reader will be horrified to find the same level of intimacy in a gentle Mills & Boon romance, where the steamy bits usually involve little more than a long, tender kiss. And including a detailed tentacle-rubbing, slime-swapping scene between two aliens is NOT going to stimulate science fiction readers.
Most novels do not require detailed scenes to be enjoyed by the average reader. Personal comfort level in writing sex has nothing to do with personal experience. Some writers simply cannot write detail without becoming embarrassed. If you force the scene for the sake of shocking/attracting readers, you will end up with a stilted, uncomfortable scene.
Keep scenes simple and UN-focused, where possible. Rely heavily on the standards set by similar books in your chosen genre. Stimulate your audience to use their imaginations. You are a word-smith, after all, and you are inviting the reader to step into your fictional world. When it comes to the mechanics of sex, leave as much to your readers' imaginations as you can, but there is nothing stopping you from including a strong description of the build-up that will lead them to draw a logical conclusion!
I've already written this, but it bears repeating: seduction stems from a person's mind, not in their genitalia.
© Copyright 2002 Tina Morgan.
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