Monday, October 4, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference: Another Steamy Workshop

Well it's been a year since I attended the Writing Sex Scenes workshop and I still haven't done it yet.  By "it" I mean, actually write a sex scene, in case you're wondering. 

C.C. ("Chris") Humphreys gave a return performance for the Sex and Sensuality workshop, while his co star and leading lady for this show was Megan Chance.

Together, they provided a balanced "he said/she said" viewpoint to a subject most writers find difficult to wrap their arms around. 

Figuratively speaking, of course.

Here are some of their notes and comments:

Sex and sensuality are not necessarily one in the same.  Just because you have one, doesn't necessarily mean you have the other.

Sex can be:  Funny, routine; or even vengeful and violent.

Sex can be described in many ways:  Sensually, graphically, gynecologically or metaphorically.

The key question to ask is:  What is the purpose of a sex scene?  The answer should be to develop an understanding of a character and to move the plot forward.  Another point is, the focus should be on the characters' emotions and not the mechanics of the act--or in some books--acts.  Although some genres, like romance, require sex, or at least sensual scenes.

Megan commented that as a society we're often more comfortable with violence than sex. 

Romance writers are often plagued by a "what-will-my-mom-think?" inhibition when they try to write a sex scene.  But it is an author's job to entertain and one must accept the fact that not everyone will like your scenes--or your book, for that matter. 

One of the best ways to overcome such inhibition is to focus on the characters.  The best kind of sexy and sensual scenes should originate from the characters involved.  That is, ask yourself:  What would these characters do in this situation?  How do they feel about what's happening?  As opposed to asking yourself what you would do and how would you feel.

If you want to satisfy most of your readers, then it's best to build the sexual tension slowly in a step-by-step process.  Create an illusion for the reader and establish interesting characters that behave differently in different circumstances and make them relatable to the reader.

Or as Chris said:  Set up interesting characters and readers will be willing to follow them into battle and the boudoir.

An authentic narrative is a key ingredient in keeping your reader interested in your story.  Scenes should be viewed the way the character sees it and describe it in the language he or she would use.  But avoid cliches.  For example, don't use the term "soft as a baby's behind" if the guy has never raised children. 

Now comes the tough question:  How far do you go?  How much detail is too much?

Once again, go back and answer the question:  What is the purpose of this scene?

If a scene feels too graphic, try to write it out in it's entirety.  This doesn't mean it has to be included in the final version of your book.  It will come down to your personal choice and the purpose of the scene.  Consider though, who's POV (point of view) the story is being told from, which should be from the person with the most at stake. 

It may also help if you write a scene obliquely or vaguely.  By doing so, the reader will often go as far as his or her imagination will take them.

(And as Han Solo said in Star Wars:  I can imagine a lot!).

Writing good sex scenes requires you to conduct research as you would with any other topic.

(At least the subject won't be dull).

This can be done by:

Reading novels of the period you're writing about.  Keep in mind, for historical fiction what's more important than the truth is what's perceived to be true.

Ask a person of the opposite gender what they like.  Men and women view sex differently.  For a woman, sex has a more emotional connection.  Her first sexual experience is a transformative event, which sadly, is not always a positive one.

So even after reading all these helpful hints and you're still stumped on how to write a sex scene, you can follow Megan's last bit of advice:  Read or watch pornography.

(Well okay then, she doesn't have to tell me twice). 

However, I can imagine the likely outcome of a writer's wife walking in on him watching porn.  Somehow I don't think saying, "But honey, Megan said..." would help diffuse the situation.

In fact, later during this conference, another author entertained her audience with a story about such an incident with her husband.  But that's  a subject for another blogpost.

In the meantime, I have some research, for next year's workshop.

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