How to Write a Sizzling Sex Scene

From my new book, now available for the Kindle, the Nook, and other electronic readers.

I decided to write this small book right after I got yet another call from a writer’s conference director asking me if I would come give my sex talk at her conference.

My sex talk.

For years, I’ve been teaching weekend workshops on writing erotica for women (and one memorable one for men—more on that later) and giving short conference-sized workshops on how to write well-crafted sex scenes. Sex scenes are crucial to good fiction; they’re excellent opportunities to reveal character, and there’s a simple structure to it. These classes are wildly popular, and they have made me an “in demand” instructor at writer’s conferences and conventions all over the world.

sex scene book cover

In fact, occasionally I will walk down the hall at a writer’s conference and hear furtive whispers: “There goes the sex writer.”

Sex writer! As if I were a pornographer. I could be insulted, but I’m not; I’m amused.

The classroom is packed with expectant faces. What is she going to do? (What do they think? Unbutton my blouse?) What is she going to say? (What do they think? Run down a list of dirty words?)

I talk about writing. I talk about the sexual nature of their fictional characters. I talk about the three-act structure of a scene, and the three-act structure of a sex scene. I talk about practicing writing. I talk about vocabulary and what to call body parts. I talk about the difference between pornography and erotica. I talk about revealing character to the reader, and revealing character at a most vulnerable moment.

Those in the audience, they hear me—they’re taking notes—but I know they’re not thinking of their fictional characters. They’re thinking of themselves. This is what makes these classes so popular. I don’t use any dirty words. I don’t name any body parts. I talk about writing, but they’re all thinking of themselves. They think of themselves as fictional characters and they look at their sexuality. My class gives them permission to do that. And it’s fun, because they can ask thinly veiled questions: “My character has this problem…” And we pretend she’s talking about her character. I make light of it, and I can do that without insulting her, because we’re not talking about her, we’re talking about a character in her novel. She can laugh and learn and everybody else laughs and learns.

Sex is, after all, pretty funny.

Occasionally, it gets a little heavy, a little dicey, and I am always the first to hold up my hand and claim that I am not a therapist; I am a writer. This class (or seminar) is not about pain or healing your sexual issues. We’re talking about fiction here. And even that gets a laugh.

Then I give them an assignment and ten minutes to practice what they’ve learned in the past hour. After ten minutes, I open the microphone and they line up to read the portion of a sex scene they’ve written.

It’s hilarious. It’s moving. It’s astonishing. They have no problem saying those words, naming those body parts.

And we all go home thinking of ourselves and our sexual nature in a little different way. Certainly none of us ever looks at our fictional characters in the same way again; most of us look at our spousal units in a very good way later that evening.

I think that’s the real reason these classes are so popular. Even though I don’t talk dirty, I don’t tell smutty jokes, I don’t demonstrate anything vulgar on stage, everybody in the audience employs their largest sexual organ—their brain—for the hour and a half (or weekend) we’re together, and they learn a little bit about human nature. Their nature. Which is what writing is all about: Fearless, relentless introspection.

Of course the writer in me is always worried that I’ll drop dead some day soon and be remembered for giving the sex talk instead of the short stories, essays and novels that I so agonize over.

But in the meantime, I’ll go to another writer’s conference and give my “sex talk” and laugh and have fun, learn a little, teach a little, and best of all, spend time with other writers.

And now there’s a book.

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