By Eleanor Shelton
Originally posted July 2019
Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. You know you’re humming it now, right?
My paying job is to write for the military. I know, the antonym of fiction writing (or is it?). In the course of reading a Navy newsletter, I stumbled upon a story too good to be true.
Never in My Life Would I Put Together Navy and Sky Penis.
Maybe you heard about this story on NPR or it popped up in your news feed. I was reading a Navy newsletter when I came across this photo.
Yes, two bored Navy pilots had sky-written a penis over Whitby Island, Washington, causing a ruckus. I chuckled of course, as one does when you see something silly, juvenile, and utterly engaging. Everybody thinks about sex; young, old, clown, president, pilot. So, how about our fictional characters? If they are above the age of fourteen, I’d say they would too.
Pearl of wisdom: The greatest desires exists at the boundary.
What are your character’s boundaries?
In writing sex scenes, we undress our characters both literally and figuratively. When we’re naked, we are authentic, human, and vulnerable. Each one of us has things about our bodies we’d change or are embarrassed about, the same should be true of our characters. Sex in real life is never as it is in fantasy (in case my husband is reading this, it’s super close!) so how does it go in your story?
Recently I took a class about writing good sex scenes. It was graphic, slightly embarrassing, open, raw, and fun. First, the instructor read an excruciatingly awful, very explicit sex scene that was part ice breaker and part “how not to” example—basically a bodice ripper gone off the rails. Then he had us write our own awful sex scene.
Pearl of wisdom: adverbs often prop up weak verbs.
My pen hovered not wanting to commit to the assignment. Then I loosened up and had a marvelous time letting the outlandish story flow. I will spare you and your loved ones the details and keep this PG-13 (wouldn’t want NCW to get in trouble with the FCC). I will say it was different from any scene I had ever written before and way more entertaining. I allowed my main character to do and want things that had never occurred to me before, but why not?
Several students read their work out loud, and the instructor used our own work to illustrate good (and not so good) literary techniques. Many found it a cleansing technique for writers to express humiliation and vulnerability in our own characters through writing about sex and perhaps cathartic in unexpected ways.
Pearl of wisdom: Use sex scenes to take your characters to unexpected places, both physical and emotional.
Don’t name specific body parts i.e., genitals. By using slang or clinical names, the reader is taken out of the story. Use fantasy. Most sex happens in our heads, what do your characters think about when they let their minds wander toward the erotic or forbidden? Don’t be cliché. Let your characters take a surprising turn. If your main character is a bodybuilder, perhaps he likes to luxuriate in a long bubble bath? How about a woman who studies her body in a full-length mirror daily and cries over her breasts that never fed babies but she picks up men at a bar who she can suckle (OK, again I just made that up so don’t judge). What the instructor suggests is to use the topic of sex to let your characters surprise you.