Song of the Day: Counting Stars by OneRepublic
This past weekend I was a featured author at a local county library book festival. I had a great time connecting, reconnecting and meeting authors, organizers, and readers. Fun was had by all. I sat on a panel discussing steamy reads. No surprise there, right. The wonderful thing about panels is that people get varying responses to the same questions, be it highlighting authors’ processes, experiences, or craft. At the same time, there is often unifying advice for aspiring authors on perseverance, encouragement, and inspiration.
One attendee this weekend asked a series of questions that probably most authors struggle with at one time or another. The query started out with, and I will paraphrase, writing sex scenes. How do you write intimate scenes, especially steamy ones, knowing your parents, co-workers, and friends in the community will read them? I had a lot to say about this. My advice: cut out the noise, the whispers, the judging that is going on in your head. Don’t worry about what others will say or think. That’s crippling and taints the storytelling. Write for you. And then ask yourself who is your target market. I’d be willing to bet it’s not your parents, co-workers, and community friends.
This led to the next question. How do you write sex scenes? Much is determined by certain dynamic factors – genre, POV, situation, level of heat, and target market. The biggie is to rely on your senses. Use as many as you can. Be your characters. Are what they doing appropriate for them? (Not you!) Don’t just tell or explain what’s happening. Show it. Show it by utilizing action words and details. If there is dialogue, please, please say the words out loud to yourself. Are they appropriate? Is the exchange real? Sex is a real, natural human response to the base carnal needs as well as the deep emotional impact of love. This should be conveyed in storytelling, too.
What if you don’t feel comfortable writing the intimate scenes? If you squirm and feel awkward about it when you write intimate scenes, your readers will pick up on that. Your writing will be stilted and unreal. Write what you are comfortable writing. That said, don’t be afraid to push your boundaries. Remember your target market – what do they require from you, the characters, and the story. Don’t shock and awe if your characters/story/genre doesn’t call for it. Conversely, don’t fall short of expectations, either.
This led to a final question asked of me after the panel was over. What about writing controversial scenes or subject matter – something that could be offensive and/or sensitive? My answer is two-fold. Consider the characters. Don’t alter or censor them. Write the story or scene how it is supposed to happen if they, themselves, were writing it. No holds barred. Then write the scene differently – in another POV, behind the scenes, or in muted bits of key information. Just be sure not to lose the effect or purpose. Which way works best for you? Unsure which direction to take? Enlist in critique partners and beta readers to help. Honest opinions will go a long way. I wrote about a rape in BLOOD AND TREASURE. Clearly a horrific subject. Instead of recounting the disturbing act in detail, I took “screenshots” of the incident through the character’s mental state and awareness. I still achieved the emotional impact, but sans the graphic nature.
Bottom line to all these questions:
- Write for yourself and your target audience.
- Be comfortable with your product.
- Use your senses.
- Consider your characters. What would they do?
- Don’t censor your writing!
This, of course, is just my candid advice. How do you handle these sticky situations?