Writing (Un)Awkward Romantic Scenes

 

by Sara Butler Zalesky

**Warning – adult situations and language and potential spoilers for the novel Wheeler, now available on Amazon Kindle.**

I’ve been hesitant to give Wheeler to friends and family or even tell my coworkers I wrote a novel. Why? Like the protagonist, Loren Mackenzie, I only let people see what I want them to see. I keep my cards close to the vest. I’m a Scorpio, it’s who I am.

But in very unScorpio fashion, I can’t write or talk about sex without blushing and I stumble over my words. I’m a visual thinker, meaning I can see what I want to describe in my mind clearly, like a photograph. While I don’t have an eidetic memory (I wish!), if I study something, I can see what something looks like or how a person moves and fairly accurately describe it. That includes sex.

Jennie Nash wrote a great article for the HuffPost blog called, 7 Rules for Writing Sex Scenes. She says, ‘Sex scenes are very difficult to write because everything else is stripped away and all you’ve got to work with are the characters and the emotions. There’s nowhere to hide. But that’s also what makes them so powerful.’

I couldn’t agree more, Jennie.

Set the Stage for Doing Good Work. There truly is nowhere to hide, in your head or in the place that you write. I write in my dining room/office, between 9 pm and 2 am most nights. It’s often the only time I am completely alone, other than my cats. My spouse and child are asleep and I can sit quietly and focus and listen to my Pandora station of down tempo music. Music can inspire.

Focus on Dialogue. Do other people talk during sex? Uh, well, I don’t, really. With Loren and Graham’s first time, I wrote in a little more nervous excitement for her. For Graham, he has a sensuality to him already, and perhaps I wrote him a little over-the-top romantic. But that’s okay because it works for the character’s type.  He’s not the typical leading man.

Which leads to Characters Stay in Character and Watch the Tone. Graham is an actor and actors emote. Some could say manipulate, but I digress. He has a love of Shakespeare and uses the bard’s words to woo the lovely Loren. Nobody would have guessed – least of all those closest to her (and possibly herself) – that she was such a romantic. Same with speaking French. Somehow it works for them and sets the tone for the characters throughout the story.

Consider the difference between the internal and external action. I’ll be honest and admit I thought about scenes I’ve seen in films or read in books (and some of my own experiences) and envisioned every single action and reaction. While I thought I had created some viable scenes, one of my Alpha readers, Debbie, said, “The build-up was great, loved that, but then you only come at me with a sentence and expect to finish it off? I’d be disappointed.” What am I supposed to say?

And so, I began anew with more blushing and ear burning as I rewrote every single sex scene in my novel. There aren’t many, mind you, but heaven forbid they do it the same way twice. I had to come up with different situations. Should they have oral? OMG Do I really have to write that? HOW do I write that? (Shudder)

Which leads to Remember, they’re just words. I’m new to this and I find it very hard to separate myself from the feels and step out of the scene. Outside of the sex, there are scenes that are deeply emotional. I get snappy when interrupted because I am left feeling raw and exposed. It sucks even more because I know I’m reacting that way but I can’t stop it.

There is a pivotal scene in Wheeler which in the draft had been called ‘Bad Felix’. Suffice it to say, this chapter was difficult, both the subject matter and that I had to experience the character’s reactions and feelings, from all sides, not just those initially involved.

Why, then, did I put it in there? Felix becomes unhinged by his obsession, but he is also a coward. In his mind, Loren was his possession and if he couldn’t have her, he was going to make sure no other man would want her. I didn’t see another way, other than for Loren to die and I wasn’t going to go that route.

I had a long discussion about this chapter and the one following it, with my writer friend, Dan. I ended up revising both chapters completely. I feel better about it, because Felix doesn’t ‘win’, but neither does Loren. The situation makes her life harder, as her resulting injuries have consequences nobody could have guessed.

My intention has always been to write true-to-life characters and situations as best I could. Real people laugh and cry, flirt and kiss, yell and argue, dance and sing. They love and they have sex.  There’s no way to get around it.

Which brings me to Jennie’s last comment: Prepare for the inevitable confrontation.

Meaning, at some point, someone will ask about what I wrote. Can I talk about it without wanting to run and hide?  Yes, but my cheeks will be bright pink and I might not be able to look the person in the eye ever again.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Sara Butler Zalesky. Sara is the author of the novel Wheeler, bringing the excitement of the women’s European cycling peloton together with women’s fiction, romance, and suspense. She is a paralegal at a boutique law firm in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, an avid road cyclist, and indoor cycling instructor. 

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17 thoughts on “Writing (Un)Awkward Romantic Scenes”

  1. I’ve only begun to read this, but gin forces this comment: going to HuffPost for a sex scene? You’ve got to be kidding: I wouldn’t trust those people to sit straight on a toilet! Perish them giving – and you listening to – writing advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, finished the rest, which was very good (hint: stop reading HuffPost).

    Until my soon to be released novel, Cursed Hearts, I’d written exactly one ‘sex scene,’ and it was both implied and “off screen.” (One of the reasons ‘Echoes of Family Lost’ is on the shelves at our local Catholic primary school)

    However, in CH, I wanted it all out there: if this were a movie, those two scenes would be triple X (and doesn’t that give away how old is am?).

    I’m an Orthodox Catholic with two teenage girls who publishes under my real name. The rest of the book, currently under outside editing, underwent three rewrites. The sex scenes? Five. And after my editor, a given six.

    Something very physical, usually wordless, and incredibly intimate is very difficult to bring to the page: you want your readers aroused, but don’t want to sound as if your Beavis or Butthead looking at a copy of Playboy.

    Tricky. And honestly, I don’t think I’m going to do it, again.

    In writing, that is.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I have to say, it hasn’t gotten easier to brave the blush with the follow-up of Wheeler (currently writing), but I’m willing to accept the challenge of writing sex scenes.

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  3. I used to fall into the trap of going overboard in romantic and erotic scenes, and I’ve come to tone them down. Not over-explaining. Also, I’ve enjoyed writing awkwardness into bedroom, because everyone screws up or says the wrong thing at times.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Haha, one of my most dreaded moments is the day my family want to read Tiger’s Eye. It’s a disturbing read, including abuse in all its forms, but it also has some really intimate and detailed sex.
    The thought of my mother, worse my father, or my auntie, reading that? *Shudder*. And the whole family are book-worms too. eek.

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