Sexy Is As Sexy Does

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

hands up the back
Now that’s sexy

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.

whisper in my ear
Sexy and romantic

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.

babe I got this
Raw and intimate, vulnerability can be very sexy.

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.

Seriously sexy and emotional.

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.

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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Lookit you with the moving graphics n all. 🙂

    Sounds like you’re talking about writing ‘on genre’–that sweet spot, the crucial inner workings that make a romance what it is. I’m still not sure if I’ve mastered those crucial moments in a book. I think everyone finds her own axe over time. Lora Leigh sets up the tension over twenty pages until your guts are cranked by the time the sex scene starts. Other authors go faster, so that your grasping onto something hot and fleeting before it’s gone.

    ON THE OTHER HAND: perfectionism can eat you up and bog you down. I say that if you tend to perfectionism like me, it’s a tricky balance knowing how much to edit vs. getting the work out there. I think it was Auden who said work is never finished, only abandoned.

    It’s true the work can always be better. But that’s not always why you get a rejection either. The latest batch of friends I’ve made who have all self published their work did not even bother trying for an agent and editor. I read their work and think yeah, they’re right not to have bothered. They are writing books that could have easily been published by a big publisher, but they saved themselves an enormous hassle and the quality is definitely there. (I know it’s not the case not with all self-published books, but these ladies are solid.)

    My aim these days is to be more like Jennifer Armentrout — She stacked and racked up the books while she was sending out to agents and editors. She’d send a book off, and start writing the next one. Send that one off and start writing another.

    She published some ungodly number of books over the last two years–like 30 books? She subscribes to the theory that you get better with each book.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorHarliqueen

    Really great post. I don’t write sex scenes, but I have often read some that have been written so well, that I just can’t but be drawn into a scene and it often made me wonder about the energy that goes into writing it 🙂

    Reply to Harliqueen
  • Post authorBarbara Mikula

    I do write sex scenes, and sometimes they just flow and it’s easy, and other times I have a hard time getting started. In erotic romance the editors and publisher have certain requirements that I find irksome. While they will point out to you that you used the same word three times on a page, they will insist that “pussy” and “cock” be used over and over when you have tried to substitute another word like “center” or “staff” or something just to not be so repetitive. I know we want to avoid “purple prose” but really they are hung up on those two words. Putting the emotion into the scene is also sometimes difficult and I wonder if I’m overthinking. In any event, it’s fun and it’s what make the world go around! – Skye Michaels

    Reply to Barbara Mikula
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