Sexy Is As Sexy Does
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I’ve been reading through my manuscript in preparation for a new set of requested submissions. A couple of recent rejections have had me spinning with doubt, which happens but it’s still a smack up the head. It’s been a few months since I’ve read through the book and, as usual, fresh eyes have caught typos and bad phrasing that make me cringe. But time away from the novel has also given me a fresh perspective on scenes that aren’t quite gelling, namely an important sex scene.
A good sex scene is an action scene and not just in the sense that the characters are getting some action. It needs to advance the story, either that of the plot or the characters. Even in erotic romance, there’s more to it than just insert slot A into tab B, although admittedly, there are more slots and tabs to be had there. My romantic suspense novels have to incorporate the suspense plot in some manner even when the romance, a la, the sex, is in the forefront.
In a good sex scene, emotional stakes have to be high for each of the lovers. Jumping into bed (or on a table, or over a table for that matter) has to involve emotional risk. The characters may not even be able to recognize the risks they’re taking by being intimate, but the reader has to see it, even if only as subtext.
It’s no easy thing to find those emotional moments of vulnerability amidst the bow chicka bow wow that truly make the scene vibrate with tension especially when, in print as in life, many find it easier to hop into bed with someone than to allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable. Sometimes it takes a revision or two to make those scenes really pop. Or ten. All right, fine, or twenty. Yeesh. Tough crowd.
Sex scenes are different for every writer and every reader too because everyone has a different idea of just what makes something sexy. Graphic or sweet, naughty or tender, sexy is as sexy does and what turns one reader on may not be what cranks up another.
Writers also have different ideas of what makes a scene sexy and that’s one of the many reasons why there’s such diversity in the romance genre: there’s something good for everyone under that hood.
Ultimately, writing a good sex scene is a lot like having good sex in real life—at some point, you just have to enthusiastically go for it. Turns of phrase, shifts of bodies, changes in intentions, angles of meaning, and a finish that resonates in the heart (along with other regions) will all get the reader going into the next part of the book’s journey.
Follow Lady Smut. There’s all kinds of good things under our hood.