Do your romantic scenes stop at the bedroom door? Part 1

Do your romantic scenes stop at the bedroom door? Do you cringe at the thought of going any further? Nearly all of us are built to the same body plan, and those bodies react in very similar ways. Maybe you’re worried that your family will be appalled at what you write. Ever heard of a pseudonym? I have to admit that it was my agent who suggested I have a go, as she’d been approached about providing stories for an erotic anthology – now long out of print. So, reluctantly, I wrote a literary story under my own name which had a sociological point to make. Then my agent said, “I think they’ll take another one, but write it under a different name.” But I’ve written my erotic story, I thought, what else is there to write? So I made a list of everything you could possibly include, and then decided on a setting – a lorry carrying sex aids that picks up a hitchhiker and then gets stuck in a snowstorm, forcing those in the cab to climb in the back to keep warm. To my astonishment it was eventually made into a half-hour TV programme – Ridley Scott Productions, no less, and the whole series became something of a cult with high production values.

I think the secret is to find something completely unconnected with sex, and to use that to frame the scene. It makes it original, and it can be funny (but be careful – there comes a point when humour has no place). I wrote a couple of books for Black Lace, which has a supposedly female readership, although sometimes I had my doubts as there was far too much emphasis on S & M, which isn’t my cup of tea at all. And as with all writing, characterisation is very important. If you don’t fancy your leading character, will anyone else? This is one of my favourite scenes from a book of mine called Intense Blue, which is the name of a watercolour pigment and therefore fits in rather nicely with my setting – a study centre doing week-long courses in creative writing, art, and natural history, thereby combining all my interests. You can write about what you know, even here. My main character, Nan, really fancies one of the tutors, Tad, who has hurt his arm. He uses this as an excuse to ask Nan to help him have a shower, and to combine it with an anatomy lesson at the same time.

He turned on the shower, and adjusted the temperature. He looked very dark against the white tiles. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘We’ll start with the head.’ She washed his face, and he named each muscle as she ran her hand across it. Then she untied his ponytail, and shampooed his hair. He bent and moved as she instructed, and she progressed to his neck, and then his shoulders. ‘The trapezius is an important one,’ he said. ‘All muscles are essentially convex, they fold under one another, a bit like a parabola. So if you draw the line from the neck to the tip of the shoulder as a concave curve it will look wrong.’ She moved down to his chest. She already knew he had a very nicely defined body – after all, she had drawn him; she really could feel the shapes, and see where each one overlapped. ‘The pectoralis major is a fan-shaped muscle, and the deltoid fits over it at the top of the arm. You’ve got breasts there, of course.’ He ran his left hand down her chest, and felt for the sternum with his thumb. ‘You need to be aware of the difference between representing soft tissue and muscle.’ His fingers moved sideways. She swallowed. ‘So this part… this part can be concave, before you reach the nipple.’ He took his hand away. She started on his stomach, and he named things as before. Even though she was trying not to look, she knew he had started to get an erection. He laughed and said, ‘Good grief Nan, don’t be such a prude. Surely you expected it, you’re going to have to wash it in a minute. I shall behave with all due decorum.’

Do you think you can avoid sex altogether, when you’re writing about a relationship? Or do you think that sometimes it’s an essential part of the plot?

2 Comments

  1. Barbara 23 May 2017 at 9:06 am

    Gobsmacked! Thanks for this really interesting and entertaining post, Liz!

    Reply
  2. Ros 28 May 2017 at 8:58 pm

    By far the best writing of sex scenes I’ve ever read is in the much-derided romance genre (distinct from the erotic fiction genre mentioned in the post). Those writers know how to write sex which is, well, sexy. But also sex which is tender or angry or revelatory or any one of a hundred other emotions. One of the very best writers I know who uses sex scenes to develop character and plot in a wide range of ways is Diana Gabaldon. But you should also try writers like Sarah Mayberry, Laura Florand, Cecilia Grant.

    At the other end of the spectrum, the least sexy sex scene I’ve ever read – though deliberately and powerfully so – is in Ian McEwan’s brilliant On Chesil Beach.

    Reply

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