Learning to Write Smut – MuseTracks Guest – Juliana Ross

Historical erotic romance author Juliana Ross is our special guest today, and she’s going to give us a lesson in writing sex. Not just any sex, but GOOD sex.

Welcome, Juliana!

When I began work, early last year, on the novella that would eventually become Improper Relations, I was hoping to push myself. Throw out the rule book. Write a story that stretched—even demolished—the limits I’d been setting for myself as a writer.

I wrote in the first person, something I’d never tried before. I set the book a half-century earlier than anything I’d ever written. And I decided that the heat level had to be off the charts. Not just hot, but “turn on the fan, it’s boiling in here!” hot.

There’s a big difference, however, between planning to write a smoking-hot sex scene and actually doing so successfully. As I wrote, I learned—usually by watching my sister do exaggerated spit-takes while reading my latest draft—that writing about good sex is really difficult. In fact, it’s really, really hard. (No pun intended.)

By the time I’d finished the first draft of Improper Relations, I’d learned a lot about what works—and what doesn’t work. And I’m still learning!

Here are just a few examples:

Use anatomical terms that don’t awaken your inner 12-year-old boy. If you can’t read a word without smirking, it’s likely your readers will have the same reaction. Humor can be wonderful in sex scenes, but readers should be laughing with the characters, not at them. This can be a tall order when writing historicals, since common 18th– or 19th-century terms often sound silly to modern ears.

After much dithering, I settled on a synonym (I won’t repeat it here) that was commonly used in the Victorian period to describe the male sex organ, and is still widely used today. Then and now, it’s not fit for polite company, but the alternatives made me dissolve into giggles every time I typed them out.

Avoid descriptions that are excessively clinical. In an early draft of another novel, I referred to the “clever surgeon’s fingers” of my hero, a doctor, in the context of foreplay between him and the heroine. This set off alarm bells for one of my beta readers, a lawyer who has more than a passing familiarity with medical malpractice suits. “You have to take that out,” she told me. “It makes him seem like some pervy Dr. Feelgood. Yuck!”

When it comes to descriptions of sex, I learned, neither of the participants should come across like a doctor—even if one of them actually is a doctor. Remember that clinical is the opposite of dirty. And dirty, in this context, is good.

Descriptions of how things sound can be problematic: Most readers don’t simply picture a scene—they hear it in their head as well. So restrain yourself when offering cues for the soundtrack to a sex scene, and when it comes to moments that might squick people out, turn the volume waaaay down. This is particularly true for anything involving, ahem, bodily fluids. (I find “moistly” especially troublesome.)

As I said above, these are only a few examples – but I’d love to hear your take on the principles of writing Good Smut.

Those of you who are writers: did you encounter a steep learning curve when first writing sex scenes, or was it smooth sailing from the beginning? And what about the readers out there? Do you have any suggestions on what writers should avoid if we want to keep you reading?

I’ll be giving away three copies of Improper Relations to MuseTracks readers this week—just leave a comment below to be entered in the draw.

An editor by profession but an historian by inclination, Juliana Ross lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children. In her spare time she cooks for family and friends, makes slow inroads into her weed patch of a garden, and reads romance novels (the steamier the better) on her eReader.

You can find Juliana on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook and—her newest obsession—Pinterest.

You can buy Improper Relations through Carina, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and All Romance.

25 Responses to Learning to Write Smut – MuseTracks Guest – Juliana Ross

  1. tore923 says:

    I would love to read this book. It sounds very good. Please enter me in contest.

    Like

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Yay! Done! Consider yourself entered, Tore!

    Like

  3. Your book sounds hot. I’ve added it to my reading list. Thank you for all of the fantastic points.

    Like

  4. jbrayweber says:

    Improper Relations does sound hot, doesn’t it, Savannah? Juliana has made it on my TBR list, too. 😉

    Like

  5. Great blog. I recently decided to try a higher heat level and am working through it now, gathering all the tips I can.

    Like

  6. jbrayweber says:

    Juliana does make some fabulous points. I’m sure they will help, Melisse. I can already hear the pages sizzle. 🙂

    Like

  7. girldrinkdrunk says:

    Smut scenes are my Everest and I’m writing below sea level.

    Like

  8. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! You are too funny, Kristen. Is that like having your mind in the gutter?

    Like

  9. Tess says:

    I have a sex scene a book, but they’re not hot, usually I try to keep them light and short, so I appreciate anyone who can heat up the pages! Here’s to many sales, Juliana!

    Like

  10. jbrayweber says:

    Ah, Tess. Sometimes light and short are perfect love scenes. Never underestimate the power of the reader’s imagination, right?

    Like

  11. girldrinkdrunk says:

    Mine are all fade to black–I can’t re-read mine without cringing. Latent Catholic guilt I think. Or because my grandma’s my Beta reader. heheheh

    Like

  12. jbrayweber says:

    HAHA! If Gramma is your Beta reader, then I can only imagine the awkwardness. My dad has read mine. I tried to convince him to skip those pages. Surely his little baby girl didn’t write that smut. 😉

    Like

  13. I don’t have any trouble at all with the first draft. But I always seem to have to go back and add more emotion.

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  14. jbrayweber says:

    I have found that the love scenes come pretty easy for me, too, Ella. My biggest hurdle is the word usage of body parts. I cannot write some of the language used back in the 18th century without serious cringing and giggling.

    Like

  15. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Great post on writing sex scenes.

    Like

  16. Suzan Harden says:

    These are some great tips, Juliana! And having a forty-something guy as a first reader works too. If my DH is roaring with laughter, I KNOW I have to fix the passage.

    Like

  17. jbrayweber says:

    Does he waggle his eyebrows at you when you get it right, Suzan? LOL!

    Like

  18. Juliana Ross says:

    I should have mentioned my husband’s reactions to some of the sex scenes when I showed him an early draft. “Why are they talking so much? There shouldn’t be so much talking.” Sigh.

    Thanks to everyone for your lovely comments–I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Like

  19. jbrayweber says:

    HAHAHA! I think your hubby speaks for most men. 😉
    It was such a pleasure to host you, Juliana, and I hope to do it again.

    Like

  20. ebondreams says:

    This info really helped. Ty!
    Ebonysbbwnikki@yahoo.com

    Nikki

    Like

  21. jbrayweber says:

    Yay! I’m glad you thought so. Juliana’s tips are wonderful.

    Like

  22. dallasveronica says:

    My inner 12 year old was snickering at the thought of sounds too. Great advice. Love scenes are never easy!

    Like

  23. jbrayweber says:

    I’m willing to bet the snickering happens to a lot of us. 😉

    Like

  24. I’m glad you can say (we) write smut without feeling offended. I found not everyone can take that comment in stride. Hats off to you.
    I didn’t start out looking to write erotica, but my CPs came back to correct my description of Romantic Suspense. Personally, I got a big kick out of it. My mind spends a lot of time in the gutter, I’m comfy here. 🙂
    How can a person not be inspired to read a book with cover like yours! WOW! Adding it to my “Hot Covers” list.

    Like

  25. Juliana Ross says:

    Thank you — I hope you enjoy it!

    Like

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