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Distance to the finish line narrows…

Distance to the finish line narrows… published on 2 Comments on Distance to the finish line narrows…

Official NaNo counter say 47396, which means 2604 words to go.

I’m at a momentous point in my story. I’ve just finished writing a first draft of the most emotionally charged scene [climax?] in which Sarah and Milly have some sexual action, then break off when Milly makes her not-so-disastrous revelation.

The sexual scene between Sarah and Milly works out pretty well, if I do say so myself. Sexually charged scenes are always difficult for me to write, which means that I often shear off before the characters get too close physically. However, sex scenes can also reveal a lot about the characters because they are in a moment of great intimacy, so sexual actions can be extremely effective tools for character development. That said, the trick is to write sex convincingly.

A 10-year-old article in the Associated Writing Programs Chronicle (May/Summer 1996), entitled “A Sex Scene is Not a Sex Manual and Other Basic Principles,” by Elizabeth Benedict, forms my guide for writing good sex scenes. This is her list of general principles, quoted verbatim.

1. A sex scene is not a sex manual.

2. A good sex scene does not have to be about good sex.

3. It’s okay — really! — to be sexually aroused by your own writing.

4. Your fear is your best friend.

5. Sex is nice but character is destiny.

6. Only your characters know for sure (what to call it).

7. Take your cues from your characters.

8. Your characters must want and want intensely.

9. A good sex scene is always about sex and something else.

10. Hire a decorator.

Let’s go through these, shall we? 1. It’s a sex scene, not a manual! Instead of enumerating every action, position and technique, the author should selectively use details to create tone, mood, setting and appropriate insight into the characters.

2. Not necessarily about good sex. A good sex scene is, in another phrase, a scene that is good that is also about sex. It could be a rape scene of trauma, anger and bitterness for the victim and confused rage for the perps, but it could still be a good sex scene if written well.

3. Okay to be aroused. Okay, if the point of a good sex scene is to give the reader a sense of what the characters are feeling, and the characters are feeling turned on, your own arousal may be a good clue that your sex scene is effectively transmitting the characters’ feelings!

4. Fear = best friend. Go in the direction you’re afraid to. You will most likely discover something more powerful than you intended.

5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are basically all the same point: It’s not just a scene about sex in the abstract that you are writing. Instead, you are writing about characters, specific individuals, doing sexual things. Your idea of how sex should go, or what you want in sex, does not apply; the characters’ ideas should run the show (number 5). You should write using sexual terms consistent with the viewpoints of your characters (number 6). Your characters should be driven by intense desires, sexual and otherwise (number 7). Your characters usually have other things on their mind besides just sex, so their ulterior motives will affect how they express themselves sexually (number 9). Number 7 is just a summary.

As for 10, that just reminds you that your sex scene is occurring somewhere, in a particular setting. Even if it is outer space or a featureless plain, this setting must be specified because it affects and directs the characters’ sexual actions to a certain extent.

Looking back over the sex scene that I wrote, I’d say it’s not bad for a first draft. It’s not a detailed itemization of activities, but a more stylized attempt at prose poetry. It’s not necessarily about good sex; in fact, it’s just about aborted foreplay, but it’s still (hopefully) interesting and exciting, maybe even stimulating. I’m not really sure about my fear being my best friend…does that mean that Sarah should see Milly naked? As for 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, both Sarah and Milly clearly run on more than just sexual desire, and their personalities definitely direct the action and the terminology.

Things to improve on: Put in more about what’s going through Sarah’s mind, desire-wise? Think if I want to push the action further… Weave in more references to the setting, especially the mirrors and the hanging dolls….


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