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The Dreaded Sex Scene

Amy Leibowitz Blog tips writing advice

This picture of LEGO stormtroopers holding hands amused me.

This may come as a complete shock (or possibly not), but I dislike writing sex scenes. Surprising, maybe, because a fair number (okay, all) of my novels have at least a few.

My method of writing them looks like opening Scrivener, adding a blank scene, and squinting at it for an eternity before closing it and deciding to try again another day. Take two is usually a few vague sentences about who puts what parts where. By version three, I’ve added enough detail to qualify for badly written fan fiction erotica. And the fourth try is when I cut the garbage and leave what resembles something halfway decent. I don’t bother with a fifth one until after beta readers give their input.

In any case, I don’t like doing it. For a long time, I felt obligated, especially as an author of queer lit. It seems like it’s almost expected by readers, even when a book isn’t erotic romance (or technically romance at all).

Over time, though, I’ve come to prefer focusing on who the particular people are. Glossed-over sensuality sometimes reads better than graphic descriptions of sex acts. Not that there’s anything wrong with something more vivid, but it’s not always needed for the kinds of things I write.

I’m not the only one who has felt the pressure to include descriptive sex in a novel about relationships (romance or not; and the pressure to write a romance into a story is also heavy within the reader community). What ends up happening is novel after novel that all look like the authors went to the same school of How to Write Sex Scenes.

Since I’m also an editor and have spent time as a book reviewer, I can honestly say I’ve read it all at this point. So my advice? Don’t try to get “creative” with the sex itself. Focus on what’s unique about these two (or three or four or more) people and how that draws together in this singular moment. Choose fade-to-black sometimes. Pare it down to a few sentences. There’s no rule that says it has to be in there at all if it feels unnatural to the story.

Maybe you truly believe you’re already doing all that. But chances are high that it’s not coming across as intended. If you’re bored or uncertain, readers will be too. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, emotionally speaking. And don’t be afraid to write crummy fan fiction sex first, as long as you turn it into something better (or skip it altogether).

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