Sunday 19 February 2012

Love scenes - getting over the embarrassment

Hi everyone,

It's been a while as it's been half-term here so I've had both kiddies around, plus we've been away visiting one of my oldest chums who has just had twins - and yes, they are adorable and tiny and very cute! - so there's been very little writing going on. Even so, my writing has had to take a back seat to "research" and "revising" as it has become blindingly obvious that my writing is lacking in some areas. I want to produce the best work that I can and that means learning my craft and honing my skills.

Aside from my usual moments where I drop into narrative mode briefly, I freely admit that I find it really embarrassing to write love scenes... and I don't even mean S-E-X. My scenes aren't explicit or especially graphic as I'm writing romance, not erotic romance or erotica and definitely not P-O-R-N, but even soft fluffy romance involves kissing and cuddling and some more - ahem! - intimate moments.

When I read back my first attempt at a love scene, I realised it was akin to a running commentary. I found myself describing the action and forgot all about my characters - the dialogue dried up and I couldn't tell what my heroine was thinking anymore having dropped the introspection in my haste to get to the end of the scene. Oddly enough, when I switched perspective to the hero, it wasn't nearly as bad and I did at least know his thoughts. I can only assume it was easier to write because I was more detached when writing from the hero's point of view, seeing as it couldn't possibly be mistaken as an extension of me, what with me not being a man and all.

I guess it doesn't help my embarrassment when my husband cringes, his face paling at the mere thought of somebody he knows reading what I've written, especially his mum. Add that to a childhood of the TV being turned over at the slightest hint of a sexy scene and I appear to be left with a few hang-ups. Why does it have to make me feel "dirty"? I'm in my mid-thirties, happily married and mother of two children, but I bet I'd get all tongue-tied and blush like an idiot if you asked me if I'd ever had, um, you know, "it", er... s-e-x (and to those who know me in real life, please don't accept that as a challenge!)

Never mind, I will conquer this. Writing can be fairly therapeutic that way; I control the world in which my plot is set, even if I can't always control my characters - tsk! - and I have always found it easier to write about trickier stuff than talk about it. Writing lets me plan my responses and set the tone, it gives me time to engage brain before speaking etc and I am far less misunderstood when writing than when talking. Sometimes when I speak, the only difference between a scathing remark and a joke is my body language and stupid grin - if you don't happen to be looking at me at the time, I can sound like a cold hard bitch. Ugh! Anyway, I digress...

As long as I keep reminding myself that my work is not my auto-biography, that I am writing about pretend characters and not about my own life, I can do this. I WILL get over the embarrassment... eventually. So repeat: I AM NOT WRITING ABOUT ME! My characters and the things they like or do or fantasise about are not necessarily the same as me. If I was writing about a vampire or a werewolf or something else paranormal, I doubt it would be anywhere near as embarrassing. But I'm not. I'm trying to bring two fictional characters to life, two somewhat normal ordinary people, by getting inside their heads and telling their story.

What would be the point in writing romance if my characters didn't love each other or find a way to express their love? Or if I did it in such a way that the reader didn't give two hoots about them or whether they ever get together in the end, opting to toss the book aside and pick something else up instead?

Just in case you're also a writer, I can recommend these writing skills books by Liz Fielding and Stacia Kane as they are helping me, but be warned that Stacia Kane doesn't pull her punches ;o) (ETA I've just treated myself to Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide too 20/2/12)

So, if you are a writer, how do you go about writing "those" scenes? Does the embarrassment ever truly go away?


  1. Dear Aurelia,

    Interesting topic.
    I know where you are coming from... my family is Catholic, and they are conservative.
    My sex scenes, though, are not :) I don't write Erotica, but it's safe to say my sex scenes are steamy.

    I think what you have to do is let go of any embarrassment or preconceived notions... You have to think of a sex scene as any other scene. They belong to your characters, and they will guide you. Dive into the wonderful world of writing and shut everyone else out. Don't think of what your husband or mother-in-law will say as you write a scene, any scene.

    When your fabulous book hits the shelves, what will matter is the chemistry between your characters. If you make it organic and natural, that longer kiss or searing make out session might just convince anyone that it comes from the heart – even your hubby or in-laws. :)

    1. Thanks Carmen, fab advice.

      I'm also hoping it will get easier each time as my confidence grows.

  2. Hi Aurelia,

    Saw your post on FB and thought I'd pop by. I blush like a tomato when I write love scenes, yet my stories have plenty as M & B Riva (which I'm hoping to be published by one day) has steamy as a requirement.

    That said, I avoid the graphic details and tend to stay in my characters heads, somehow it makes the whole thing sexier (probably because I have to imagine it!). Kathleen O'Reilly (she writes for Blaze) popped into the Harlequin forums on the Book in three month challenge last year and pretty much said that's what she does; concentrate more on how the characters are feeling, use all five senses and let us know what they are thinking.

    I also read a similar book, I think it was called 'how to write good sex' on Amazon. It was really good for all heat levels and made me realise that each love scene should change your protagonists in some way.

    Plus, if you manage to find a CP to read those steamier scenes, rather than a loved one, you don't feel half as mortified :o) My CP's are gems. They have helped me learn the craft and come as far as to receive an R & R on my 2011 NV entry. If you log into Harlequin, there is a thread on the forums to help you find a CP.


    1. Thank you Aimee,

      I'm glad I'm not the only one that blushes writing these scenes - I shall look up that book straight away too.

      I do have a CP that looks over my MS with a fine toothcomb as well as BETA readers who are loving my WIP including the two 'romantic' scenes so far but I can see they're not right. Hopefully it won't take much to correct it though.

  3. i must admit the first sex scene I wrote ( and I do write erotica) i almost had to peek through my fingers as i did it, and I needed a jug of water to drink. Did I REALLY write that? Then i thought firmly, that a, this is not me, this is my characters, b, I don't have to want to do or do anything they do,
    I have a great beta reader who tells me if I'm on the right track. In fact DH only read first book after it was published.(on purpose I asked him to wait until it was. My daughter doesn't want to read them, (that's fine by me) my d-i-l and s -i-l both do and enjoy them. but they know they are escapism.
    I tell myself, I'm writing a love story, and everyone's love stories are different.but how you feel
    inside isn't, and I try to concentrate on those feelings.
    Strangely the hardest thing to me was to change from the correct names of body part to ones more 'slangy' iykwim?

    1. Thanks for replying Raven.

      A good friend of mine read my WIP including 'those' scenes and found the image of me typing it hilarious but at least she liked them anyway.

  4. Hi Aurelia

    I'm not sure that going for "pretend characters" is going to work here. I don't write hot sex scenes, but I do write sensual ones and I believe that you have to get right away from your own world and write the scene from an emotional viewpoint, to be the viewpoint character, to feel it.

    Forget what the body parts are doing, but write it from the senses, from that part of the hero or heroine who is fighting it - and losing - or believing that if he or she does not do this she will die.

    You can go back and choreograph it later and worry about naming of parts.

    If you're feeling embarrassed, you're thinking about yourself, your mother, the ladies in the church group and not about your hero and heroine, who are going through the most intense moments of their lives.

    You are a writer - your first duty is to them. :)

  5. Ah love scenes. I write Erotic romance/Erotica so there are lots in my books.


    I used to be terribly embarrassed, cringe etc, worry over what folks would think, and it showed. Those first few scenes I wrote lacked depths, emotion and steaminess. In fact one of my cps helped, yeah I was that bad.

    So, what changed, you might ask. Simply put, listening to my characters. I'm a complete panster and once I fully embraced that side of my writing, I truly connected with my characters and writing sex scenes became easy.

    They don't happen unless they fit into the story, every one adds to the plot, my characters connect on some deeper level and I have fun with them nowadays. :-)

    So my to pence worth is, get in the heads of your characters and let them tell you.

    Mine aren't shy at telling me exactly what's going to happen and I've long since stopped arguing with them, even if I do blush re-reading some scenes I've written!

    1. Thanks Doris, great advice.

      I'm really hoping it's a bit like taking my son to Nursery School for the first time - I sobbed for a good half hour as soon as I'd dropped him off but got it out of my system and was fine after that.

  6. Ah, the inevitable love scene. That kinda thing makes me squirm but I need to write my own soon enough. There originally was never going to be in mime but there will have to be now, seeing as the plot changed. But then again, I think I can get away with it for the first one. Oh, well....
    Still under revilement.

    1. Thanks for commenting Mel,

      I've written two so far; one from predominantly her POV and one from his POV but the big finale with full consummation comes at the very end so I'll need to work up to that one LOL.

      I was originally going to make it a door closed moment but with the detail in the two current scenes, I don't think it will work and I don't want the reader to feel cheated so it'll be more Desire than Cherish but that's only if the word count comes up to 50k as was targetting Entangled Ever After novella originally.

  7. Fascinating topic Aurelia, thanks for sharing your squeamishness! It's very personal, talking about our reactions to sex. When I first started writing romance, I had my older sister write the sex scene for me...that's how embarrassed I felt. In retrospect, I should have closed the door. If I can't bring myself to write it, then it shouldn't be there. Looking back now, that scene sticks out like a sore thumb. Then I wrote a few sweet stories, and after that, I was ready for my characters to express their emotions more intimately. I wrote sex scenes cautiously at first, but these days, I actually really enjoy it. Drawing as much emotion from the characters as possible. Making sex a sacrifice and a blessing simultaneously. Changing the way they feel about each other forever by connecting physically. That's a very special scene!

    I'd say the embarrassment definitely goes away. A good sex scene is something to be proud of :-)

    1. EEK! I can't even imagine asking my sister to write it!

      Thanks for commenting Madeline, I'm delighted to hear that it does get easier.

  8. I can write them now, but when I started out, the worry that my mom or my horrifyingly supportive, Extreme Church-Lady grandmothers/great-aunts/etc would read what I wrote and put my rosy-red keister(I have the world's lamest super-power: FULL BODY BLUSH) on the prayer chain... I could write nothing. Not even the non-steamy bits. NADA. Until I had a short talk with my lovely ladies that amounted to: I'm writing romance, and I'm sorry but you're never reading it, not even telling you the penname.... LOVE YOU! BYE! Then it all got better.

    If I ever actually get to print, all this might change, but for now it's just one of the (possible) lies I tell myself to continue being able to write. We all sometimes need the comfort of lies :)

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Amalie, good luck getting published.

  9. LOL, I'm obviously a complete tart because I have to admit I've never been embarrassed writing sex scenes. But seriously I think that's because for me it's all about the characters and love scenes are a great way to ramp up the emotional tension between them, especially that first sexual encounter (whether it's just a kiss or the full monty so to speak) and for that reason I relish writing them.

    One very smart romance writer (whose name escapes me at the moment) once said that you should view love scenes as 'action scenes' and that's the crux, these scenes must be driving the conflict forward, and physical intimacy is a great way to do that, because your characters are exposing themselves in the most basic way.. And if that's not happening in the scene, then their actions can feel gratuitous (or worse boring!) and that CAN be embarrassing to write (even for a tart like moi!).

    All of that said, when my mum read my first book, she was very complimentary about it but then added 'although I do think you've used the word Erection a bit too much'... Which had us both blushing. Bless her!

    1. Pah ha! Almost spat my diet coke over my laptop then LOL.

      Thanks for sharing Heidi.

    2. Best response yet! Made me laugh, but so true.

  10. Hi Aurelia, A great post and really interesting to read some of the responses! I haven't got anything new or original to add but I agree with Liz and Doris. I think first you have to be comfortable with the heat level, or it will be obvious that you're not immersed in the situation so the reader won't be, and so you need to 'work up to it' as Madeline suggested. At the end of the day though the drive has to come from the characters, why are they doing it? How far would they go? In other words let them show the way. (I think Doris said this far better than I just have!). I've been aiming at Presents/Modern which needs sizzle, but recently entered a comp for a contract with an erotic romance publisher - I had really naughty characters and was surprised how I got into the flow letting the characters lead the way, I didn't win but my full has been requested. Crossing my fingers for a contract, but even if I don't get it I have much more confidence now in writing the sexy bits! Good luck :-)

    1. Thanks Susie, and congrats on having your full MS requested.

      I'm actually okay writing them (I like reading Desire, Blaze & Modern as well as Cherish), I just blush like a fool throughout and then look back at what I've written and my jaw drops. The second scene was definitely easier than the first and they are essential to move the plot forward, goodness knows how red I'll go when they finally go the whole hog :oS

  11. I'm now trying to build a little book words... words that are evocative or sensual or good in the 'action' scenes so that I don't keep floundering or refering to the thesaurus to stop me from using the same few words or phrases.

  12. Hi Aurelia! Strolled on over here from Facebook and - oh, yes, I remember those days well! I used to come over all hot and bothered even writing the word pe... err... thingie, so I changed my approach. My sex scenes now are more oblique. I figured that everyone already knows what goes in what, so I didn't have to describe it, I operate more on a 'need to know' basis - if it's really, truly important to the characters, then of course they have to know, touch...thingie, but I tend to stay in the characters' heads. That way it's more the effect of the sex rather than the mechanics that the reader gets. I don't refer to his pe...errr... directly, but then neither do I resort to the 'throbbing manhood', I lean more towards the effect his thingie is having on the heroine. So I think you're on the right lines with your 'book words' - find as many adjectives that hint at what's going on without actually being...err... you know... And, please, no throbbing manhoods. That just needs antibiotics.

    1. Thanks Jane, that's brilliant! At least I didn't have a drink in my hands this time or the laptop may not have survived.

      I am definitely leaning more towards the hints and emotions rather than the mechanics, but not as far as a door closed approach, however I'll leave the explicit and graphic stuff to others who won't self-combust as they type LOL.

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