Love scenes as the royal league of writing …
… or: Writers should dare to include it all! How to write sex with style, Part 6:
I loved that Delilah S. Dawson over at Chuck Wendig’s brilliant blog (terribleminds.com) hinted that writing violence is almost as hard as writing a realistic sex scene: “But writing those fights so that they’re realistic, accurate, and exciting? Takes a lot of work. Almost as much work as writing sex scenes.”
There you go. Whatever my genre pigeonhole is, writing good erotic scenes is one of the hardest exercises I can imagine. Apart from writing violence, maybe, but that is due to me thinking hands should do magic instead of break bones. Though with my Viking characters it’s hard to avoid violence, and it feels increasingly natural to me to have my men (and even women) spatter some blood on their way to the tête-à-tête.
As Delilah says, there are real similarities to orchestrating a good fight and a good intercourse (no. 3 and 4 in her blog post): “Because we are talking about flesh pounding against flesh, growing hot and slippery. With blood. But there’s a dance to it, the partners taking turns, hunting for openings, and slamming into each other again and again. And, just like with sex scenes, you have to respect that a fight changes things, moves the plot and characters forward, and leaves everyone exhausted and panting. Gratuitous violence is as useless as gratuitous sex.” That’s just what I stressed (here, and here) in my previous posts about the orchestration of love scenes. They are not only important and should be included, but they change stories! I’m glad someone of Delilah’s standing supports my cause 😉
And then: I have rarely seen a fight scene being cut short or skipped in the same way a love scene often is. Writers and audience seem to find fights central and worth of a detailed display. The big battles are equally difficult to write and just as important to the plot and characters as relationship-changing love scenes.
Why are love and fight scenes treated so differently?
I’m wondering why in most films (Hollywood and even TV-productions) the actual climax is left out and they draw a curtain over the sex or cut it short — no, wait, it’s not curtains, but ALWAYS white sheets pulled up to at least her chin, even though she just had sex with the man lying beside her in those ridiculously crisp and clean sheets, and he’s probably not only seen but touched and tasted her every inch of her, but as soon as they smile deliriously at each other, she gets all timid and covers herself again …? Yawn! But that’s me being annoyed by unrealistic display of love-making! How I hate the camera fading out once the couple’s kisses deepen!
So is this avoidance of actual sexual scenes in movies (and also books, I suddenly remember!) ONLY due to avoiding age-restrictions for viewers? When I’m reading or watching a love story, I HATE it that the most touching, moving, upsetting and uplifting experience between the partners is just ignored and swept under the rug! It is this, the undressing of body and soul and satisfaction of the love dance, the getting-to-know and quenching of desires that is the purpose of a sex scene. It’s the most intimate and moving thing to happen between characters (apart from, as I said, violence maybe …)
You could say, yes, it’s due to age-rating, and the love-making is left to the imagination, which is so much better than actually seeing it all played out … and I tell you: 50 Shades of Grey and Outlander (see my comparison of those two here) and all these other sexy films are successful because we can SEE the couple and indulge in their hot encounters! We all get excited and even properly aroused by watching a beautiful couple please each other, don’t we? And when done well, the most important factor is the emotional satisfaction and relationship-building, and moving forward of the plot, the characters and their lives. Sex changes stories. It can’t just be left out!
So this is what I attempt in my erotic love stories. Change two people’s lives and feelings. We as writers don’t have to leave it all to the imagination, I’d say we better practise and write the love-making if it is to affect the story. And it takes A LOT of practice to become good at this, it’s almost like the cream of the crop of scenes to master, the royal league of writing, along with fighting scenes, just like Delilah says.
So here is my suspicion: sex scenes are avoided and sheets pulled up to chins, because writing sex well is so damn difficult to master! Also, or even more so, for cinema and TV. This is the real reason why often sex scenes are just hinted at and skipped.
I’d say you can judge a good writer by many things, but also and foremost by how well (s)he orchestrates and executes exciting fighting/battle scenes AND sex scenes!
And I’m wondering whether we as writers even have an advantage over screenwriters in that our protagonists only live in the readers’ heads. Their exact looks should be flexible to some extent (so that nobody can be put off because “he’s not my type!”), and their movements, though accurately described, should come alive in readers’ imaginations, executed by their brains, felt by their hearts and guts as if they were present and involved, and all this is directed by our sentences. We can be as direct or indirect as we want. We only guide the reader’s images.
So words ARE leaving a lot to readers’ imaginations still, even when executing a whole intercourse with foreplay and aftermath, but: WORDS, much more than visuals, give us writers (be it audio or book) the opportunity to paint pictures in different art styles, we don’t have to use the photographic, interpretation-free one-dimension of film/TV! There are several options to write a love scene, and we can choose which style fits for every story and scene! We can paint the scenes realistically, describing all the details of what is happening, we can use raw language (porn vocabulary almost) or delicate descriptions (all metaphors and hints), we can paint in rough, earthy strokes or in tiny, detailed ones. We can put the reader on a short leash and make him see exactly what we had in mind when we thought the scene through, OR we can let the reader off the leash to sniff out and find his own images, just assisted by the trail our words lay.
And all that, because … WORDS! Words create worlds, and worlds are changed by relationships, so love scenes deserve to be written and imagined as something GREAT and central to every story that has human desire in it! So writers: be brave, and dare to include it all!
If you’d like to see a love scene that includes “sex without detailing the sex”, go read my short story The Shapes of Fire here on the site! Enjoy, and:
I’d be curious to know your thoughts on love scenes and how they are executed in different mediums, how they affect you and how you want them in your books, be it those you read or those you write yourself! Please comment below or in an email to me.