NSFW: Pass The Gravy

In which I talk about sex, or to be more accurate, writing sex.

This is inspired by my reading an actual romance, one that came highly recommended and intrigued me because it was about a woman composer in the late Georgian period. In her afterword the author mentioned that she was inspired by the life and works of Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix’s smarter older sister. The best bits of the book were about music–what it feels like to listen, or to play or create.

The luurve business and the Hessian bumping business, not so much. One was a lazy fall back to some truly awful cliches such as her womanly core and the juncture of her thighs and I’ve spent so long complaining about the use of such dreadful terminology I’m beginning to bore myself as well as the rest of us. Truly, those terms are like iffy extended family members who slurp gravy and get mashed potatoes stuck in their knitting. We know what they are but somehow we can’t get rid of them and keep inviting them for Thanksgiving anyway.

But one thing this writer did get right was that h/h talked to each other–about what they wanted to do, what they were doing now, and could they … uh, have a bit more breast meat. And pass the gravy.

Which brings me to the other writing sex inspiration–a presentation for my local RWA chapter by a former dominatrix who is now a counselor for the LGBT community. She was extremely funny and brought the tools of the trade with her, a collection of whips and other items. But never mind that. And guess what she said–the problem with most fictional depictions of BDSM or polyamorous relationships is that participants don’t talk enough. That’s talking before you do anything. In fact, with threesomes etc. it’s a wonder people don’t wear themselves out with preliminary discussions and collapse in chaste and total exhaustion.

And unless not talking is part of the game–you could, for instance, have a drumstick (or something) wedged in your mouth–chances are these verbal folks would keep right on talking. Because the communication doesn’t stop once the action starts, although in romance it’s far too often all this teeth-gritted, grimacing, straining stuff which reads like a bad case of constipation, even if minutes before h/h have been chatting away.

So, my conclusion with writing sex scenes is nothing new–it’s all about communication. Or possibly the lack of it. Or a yearning to communicate, meld, belong, love as a physical expression. What do you think? And what makes a sex scene work for you?

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4 Responses to NSFW: Pass The Gravy

  1. HJ says:

    Excellent post! For me, the number one requirement of a sex scene is that it advances the relationship or the action of the novel. (The mere fact that it happens isn’t sufficient to meet that criterion.) In the best case, we learn something about the character of the point of view person and his/her counterpart from what they say and from the way they go about things: tenderly and carefully or brusquely and urgently or whatever. Both parties should feel that they know more about each other and how they feel about each other — and therefore so should we. This is why those scenes which feel cut and pasted from one book to the next do not work for me, the ones which are more about mechanics and technique and less about the person.

    The other requirement is that the scene must be feasible. It must come (!) at exactly the right time in the couple’s relationship, and it must affect and alter their relationship thereafter. I’ve read some books when soon afterwards the heroine is thinking about what it would be like to kiss the hero and if he cares for her at all, or when the next sex scene arrives and they’re behaving as though its their first time together, and you know that the author shoehorned the earlier sex scene into the finished book either of her own volition or because she was told to.

    Finally, I find it annoying if a sheltered virginal Regency girl plunges straight into sex with no trace of shyness, embarrassment or surprise. Remember she wouldn’t have had our opportunities to learn what was going to happen and how it might feel. To go from being careful about showing her ankles to immediately being completely unabashed about being naked and being touched in very private places, let alone revelling in touching etc. her hero, is not really credible. Of course it depends a little on the actual character of her heroine — Lydia Bennet’s first time was probably a bit different from Jane Bennet’s, and not just because Wickham and Bingley were quite different — which again makes the point that the author must be writing about those individuals having sex together, and not writing a generic sex scene.

  2. Isobel Carr says:

    For me, there’s a find line between the “dreadful terminology ” and “OTT TMI eew eew eew” (or the even more dreadful “Tab A, insert slot B” descriptions that read like pap smear directions).

    And I’m totally with HJ on wanting the sex to be necessary to the plot and to feel distinct to the characters involved.

  3. diane says:

    I think HJ has stated it perfectly!

    When my characters talk or think about the sex act, I usually try to imagine the terms they might use, without succumbing to what we think would be vulgar nowadays. I doubt my heroines would talk about “vaginas” and “penises”

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