Once upon a time, I wrote a novel about a mafia wife who was raped. Problem was, it was a comic novel, so the rape had to be, as my then-agent put it, “rape lite.” This proved to be an easier task than you might think, because there is nothing, ahem, harder, than writing about the sexual act in a serious way.
It’s easy to see why this is the case – with so much cliché out there. So much romance. So much . . . porn. If the sex scene isn’t integral to the plot, my advice is – cut it. If it is necessary, remember to focus on emotions and on physical details that don’t involve genitalia. And always be aware of the effect you’re trying to have on the reader. Are you showing that one person is in control? That one is angry? Be very, very conscious of the symbolic possibilities. Sex in a novel can be about many things other than sex– don’t waste an opportunity to use them.
Someone once told me that you avoid on the page what you avoid in real life – and for most people, that’s intimacy and confrontation. So when you start to write a sex scene, ask yourself: am I avoiding having these characters speak about what they’re feeling? Or showing closeness in a more interesting way?
And if your readership is women, don’t forget to invest a few words on foreplay. And maybe cuddling. Backrubs. Taking swing dancing lessons. You know, anything you might be avoiding in real life.
Kelly Simmons is the author of Standing Still (Simon & Schuster) and coming in February, The Bird House Learn more at www.bykellysimmons.com Kelly’s post is part of an ongoing series in which Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing.