Thursday, May 26, 2011

You wrote WHAT? (I.e. Writing Sex Scenes)

If you're a subscriber to my personal blog, you'll recognize this post. No, you're not seeing double. I love this post so much that I am posting it on both blogs this week!

Apparently, I have the reputation of writing steamy scenes in my novels. I have no idea how I got that reputation. *Innocent face*.

Well, it's probably because it's true. I love to write steamy romance. But there's more to writing a steamy romance than just the sex scenes. I think that the best scenes work when there is building sexual tension, when the tension has gotten so intense, that it must culminate. And depending on the age group/genre you're going for, the act itself should be written to fit the audience.

A sex scene in a young adult (YA) novel? Gasp! Yes. There are YA novels with sex scenes. My YA novels *might* have sex in them. But it's not the same type of sex scene you'd read in my adult work. In YA, more important than the physical stuff and the sensations, are the emotions that are involved. The emotions are more intense, and they are experiencing things for the first time, and it should feel that way.

There has long been a debate about wether or not to include sex scenes in YA books, and I am of the mindset that teens are not as niave as parents would like to think. They are surrounded by sex. TV, movies, music, music videos, books. It's everywhere. They are thinking about it. They're talking about it. Some are already doing it. When I was 14 I was devouring my mom's romance novels. So, I write my scenes with that knowledge. I feel I owe it to my readers to be true to the characters. To follow the scene through. Not just fade to black, like some writers do. Keep in mind my love scenes in my YA are very different than my adult work, but the act is still there. I also feel it's my responsibility to show it in a responsible way. The purpose of the scene isn't to titilate the reader, but to show the growing and changing love between the two characters.

I also know that not all readers are comfortable reading the sex scenes. That is fine. There are tons of books out there that gloss over the details, or might not even have sex in them. I'm sure not all of my books will have sex scenes in them. I only have a sex scene if it is relevant to the plot. But I will always have hot heroes & steamy romance. That's just how I roll. :)

Now, would I let a 12 year old read my work? Probably not, at least not without their parents reading it first and THEM making that decision together. Who knows. Maybe reading my work will open up the dialog between a parent and their kid about practicing safe and responsible sex. That would be awesome.

When my work comes out I'll be posting 'heat level' guides on my website to give readers a chance to make their own decisions about how hot they can handle.

Regardless of the genre/age group that I'm writing for, here are my tips on writing great love scenes:
  1. Build up to the scene. Don't just throw two people into a room and have them start groping. Build the sexual tension to the boiling point.
  2. When you get to the scene, close your eyes, take a deep breath and forget about everything else. Pretend that no one will ever, ever read the scene but you.
  3. Write. Don't stop. Don't think. Don't let your mind tell you what is proper/isn't. Just write the damn scene.
  4. Once it's written, don't look at it. Move on. Write something else.
  5. After you've given it some time to cool off, go back and re-read. Revise. Take out anything that makes you cringe. Blushing is okay, cringing is probably a sign that you should take it out.
  6. Look at the scenes before and after the sex scene. Does it fit? Did you just throw it in for shock value? Does it add something to the plot? If you said no to the first or third, or yes to the second, cut it and put it in another file. That means it shouldn't be there in the first place.
  7. If you've decided it fits, and contributes to the plot, go through it again. Does it read like a bad porn script? If so, you've got some work to do. Don't just focus on the actions/body parts. Focus on the sensations, the feelings, the emotions. Infuse that into the scene.
  8. Have multiple beta readers. Sex scenes are notorious for getting different reactions from different readers. Especially with YA. Consier their opinions, but do what feels right for the story.
  9. Trust your agent/editor. Don't be afraid to tone it down, or heat it up. Trust their guidance.
Okay - that's all I've got. Ultimately, whether or not you include a sex scene in your book is completely up to you and your comfort level. Remember, in the end, ideally, thousands of people will be reading your work. If you are not 100% comfortable with having strangers read it, then consider cutting it. Just because there isn't a sex scene in your book doesn't mean it won't sell. Amazing books sell, regardless of their sexual content.

Here's some extra reading on writing sex scenes: (Caution - graphic language might be used - reader discression is advised.)

An agent's take on writing sex scenes
A hilarious post about writing sex scenes.
Yet another hilarious post on writing sex scenes.
Karen Wiesner's 20 steps on writing great love scenes

What about you? How do you feel about reading/writing love scenes?


Shelley Watters writes romance for young adults and adults. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two kids and two dogs. She loves listening to music, reading good books and letting her imagination go wild as she creates new worlds and torments her characters in delicious ways. She is an active member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is represented by Mark McVeigh of the McVeigh Agency.


  1. Interesting viewpoint, Shelley! I'm not a sex scene kind of girl, I'll leave that up to you ;o)

    Love the pics!

  2. As you know, I'm not good at sex scenes, I'm always blushing and trying to look away. But I do like to read yours, and when I do, I'm like a boy hiding in the bathroom checking out his dad's porn or something. I'm getting better now, since you guys are breaking me in, and Kari and Erica have me using curse words now. So, I do have a point, when you find yourself uncomfortable, go for it because out of unease comes growth. Great post! :D

  3. I think Stacia Kane's How to be a Sex-Writing Strumpet gives really, really good in-depth advice on how to write a love scene- and she says it's about the emotional reactions of the characters, not the physical act. You can write a good love scene in YA that way. The parents who read it and go "No!" are probably against the physical descriptions.

    Great blog, BTW!

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