The Care and Feeding of the Sex Scene

I needed several days to nourish and shape the narrative. During which I had in-body experiences.

The debate with myself—over whether to write the scene full-blown or not—didn’t take long. I wouldn’t even call it a debate, to tell you the truth. The story needed a candid encounter, and so did my characters, and—dare I say?—so does the reader. I anticipated the sexy landing a few chapters back, so I started leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.

Once the scene finally arrived—in chapter fifty-one—if I hadn’t given it the detail it craved—and deserved—the ensuing unravel of the novel’s climax (pardon the pun) would’ve seemed too far off. How I calculate this, I couldn’t exactly tell you. It’s one of those beyond-logic things that happens—as implied by coyotescribe’s blog logline. 

For a while I’d been worried, because the story kept pushing farther out, on a high-hanging limb. However, any drag on forward motion was not boring. At least not to me. This novel has grabbed me by the orbs and taken me on a magic carpet ride—with the notable exceptions of periodic freak-outs, plummets into sinkholes, and hard-hitting bouts of self-doubt… and worst of all, my erroneous thinking that I know better how to write the story than my characters.

View from Greeley Square Park, New York City

I’ve experienced a lot of background noise, especially after exceeding 110,000 words. While hammering away and racking up a bodacious word count, I thought if I wrote faster, I’d have less words to contend with. The opposite is actually true. But—finally—the sex scene was on the page, and the turning of the story opened a straight shot to The End—with maybe only four more chapters to write, and maybe two to three more mystical bombs going off.

Note here: I just started writing Chapter Fifty-Four, and maybe I was a bit premature in thinking the tail-end narrative would aim itself like an arrow. The past three chapters were straighter, but also took on a couple of detours. On this Christmas day—2021—The End is near.

It wasn’t sexual tension that turned a detailed erotic encounter into a necessity—well, maybe in part—but more correctly, it was resistance-to-love tension. My main character is a wounded Vietnam Veteran. The first chapter begins ten years after his return from the war. It would take him time to trust love. What also needed to play out in the narrative was the his-and-her backstory: 1962 – when John and Cindy knew each other for seven days, at 12 and 9 years old.

Their childhood adventure is dispersed throughout the current story timeline—a map that unfolds their past friendship, and details the abrupt departure from it. Sixteen years later, they need to acclimate, not only to the circumstances by which they find themselves together again—a mystical materialization of Cindy’s old photos from her long lost camera, returned on a light beam through the ether into their world—but to come to terms with each other as adults. As sexual beings. All of that takes time and a few chapters. It’s one of the many things which make this story a swirling roadmap, only partially tethered to space-time.

The sex scene takes place in the middle of night—not for the writer—but for her characters. The writer sits at her computer sipping a cup of white tea with honey and goat milk, midmorning, her usual writing-start-time.

Tysa at the computer writing.

The writer sees everything and has to decide which details are enough, or too much. I had to do it in a way that felt like I wasn’t invading my characters’ privacy. But I also couldn’t just stay on other side of a closed door. Of course, I had to know everything, and be as involved in the intimacy as they were.

After I did a final edit of the chapter, I searched online for some advice about writing sex scenes, and stumbled onto a good article posted on the NY Book Editors site, entitled, “Make It Sexy: How to Write Sex Scenes.”

It seems I’d inadvertently checked all but one box in their list of dos & don’ts, plus one they didn’t mention, which to me underscores the main reason why or why not: Does the sex scene provide an important component in character development? Here is my checklist:

  • Having sex is a move my characters would actually make, they needed to make. And I did not force the issue.
  • The scene definitely catapults the story forward.
  • My motivation was not to disappoint the reader—by not including (or including) the scene. Though, I do think about giving the reader the best ingredients to bake their cake and eat it too.
  • My characters are in their thoughts many times throughout the novel, but during the sex scene—written in my main character’s POV—he’s not thinking much.
  • Yes, I think this scene is beautiful and soulful. A memory begins it, and a poem is read by its author, just as he’d written it to her—in her diary—in 1962 when he was a boy. When he finishes reading it out loud, the scene begins: The air hung still as John closed the diary, resting it between his palms—the echo of his words swallowed in silence.
  • I was gutsy, not cutesy, with my word choices. Certain words are best left to the dime romances, like bulge or member.
  • This was a suggestion, but I didn’t study other sex scenes—either in R-rated movies or novels—other than what was in my memory. This scene was the experience of my two main characters. So, my imagination bridged whatever gap I might’ve widened without research.
  • No-No-No—I did not write the scene in public. The only thing I do as a writer in public is listen, and on occasion get an idea that will be developed—yes, that’s right—in the solitude of my writing space.
  • Editing furiously is like my middle name, and it wasn’t any different during the writing of my sex scene.

When I impose my will on my characters, it doesn’t go well in my writing. When I let them impose their will on me, it’s one revelation after another.

2 Responses to “The Care and Feeding of the Sex Scene”

  1. RDEAL5@roadrunner.com Says:

    When do we get to read about the sex scene? 😜

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