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Writing about sex and intimacy…YUCK!

21st November 2015
Choosing romance as my genre has meant I had to deal with the sex and intimacy issue.  My characters use both to express so much unspoken emotion.  Then there is the simple fact that it is a part of life and I enjoy those scenes myself especially when well-written as do a great percentage of readers.  It’s a part of the escapism reading offers and done right it can be delicious.  So I had to consider what it was I liked and disliked and why, and could I use these things in a way that my readers would connect to and thus want to read more. As I always do when donning my thinking hat I go looking for something I have read to help me understand better. These days a lot of my reading is centered on Writing Queensland.  I find their articles easy to read and they choose some interesting people to present all manner of topics.
SEXUAL encounters and emotional intimacy are part of life” says Narrelle Harris. “Ipso facto, they are part of fiction. Whether you’re writing science fiction, thrillers, a zombie rom-com or a rural romance, chances are that you have two or more characters either in or developing a closer personal relationship. Chances are, too, that eventually you’ll need to write in more depth about that relationship.”
Intimacy and sexual encounters are tools to excite, fascinate and capture enough interest to keep reading not just that book but the others we hope to write.  The problem is the scenes are so hard to do well.  I worry about the road I have taken with Nico and Lia.  Is it too hot? Not hot enough? Can readers see it is driven by love as much as lust? Well, I became even more worried when this article informed me that there are awards for writers who get it wrong.  No, I am not telling you anything more.  Use the link if you really want to know.
I found this next section particularly interesting.  “Of course, context is everything, and sometimes even scenes full of awful euphemisms and terrible analogies are there for a legitimate reason: to be funny; to explore a state of mind; to make you realise that at the very least the characters have never had sex before.” What do you think? I know I seem to use rhetorical questions a great deal but sometimes I think it is more because I would love readers to answer and not for effect.  Actually I know I would love input; writers write for their readers. Okay so technically I am still unpublished but you can help me do better before I inflict on your poor innocent little reader persons.
I find some scenes actually make me cringe no matter the reason.  I know the context is really important but I think the language often makes a difference.  But then, I hate euphemisms with a passion and like Narrelle “avoid most euphemisms, particularly flowery ones, unless it’s in dialogue – you can use this to comedic effect sometimes. It can also convey a lot about a character and their attitude to either their sexual partner or sex in general.” Euphemisms as a writing tool in dialogue are great, using them to avoid saying the explicit I don’t deal well with.  I am a spade is a spade person. However I also believe everything we write is context driven, or should be.
You run the risk of offending if you are more outspoken.  I have to go with honest and real anyway and hope my readers will understand and appreciate this.  A proud manhood to me makes it about just the man whereas explicit language is about how the man feels about his partner. I know not everyone will agree.   Narrelle says that going “too far the other way can be a problem as well. Purely anatomical terms can be cold when usually you want such a scene to feel earthy and sexy. Use the everyday words you’d use yourself to get that authentic feeling, unless the technical language is meant to demonstrate something about the character: for example, prissiness, shyness or inexperience.” I am hoping I have used words that whilst honest also evoke the senses and with that the underlying romance and intimacy my characters want and need even if they try to deny it.
There is so much to consider that it makes me dizzy.  Sex can distinguish the difference between the building of a relationship and the impossibility of one.  Sex can say more of the character’s personality than words can.  It can’t just be thrown in for the sake of having the sex aspect at least not for me.  I think so much is made of it these days that the romance part, the feeling part is forgotten.  Emphasis is on performance.  For me I allow the performance to blossom into more when the intimacy of the relationship comes to fruition.  Intimacy, allowing it, is what separates sex in lust and sex in love.  I use both because that’s what real life does. Some of the authors I follow are so good at this.  In fact I am reading a book now by Karen Lynch (Rogue) that manages to make the scene sensual without anything other than the characters feelings. There is a real tension in a flutter. Yet the romance and intimacy flow beautifully.  It suits this couple, it suits this book.   It is all about the author intent and what the author wants us to understand of her characters. 
This article has been one of the best I have read about this topic.  One of the things I wanted in my books was for sex to say something about my characters but I worried it might not be possible as my experience as a writer is limited. Could I get it right? In my novels, I like my sex scenes to demonstrate something either about the plot, the individual characters or the relationships between those characters. If your scene tells you something about all three, so much the better. This goes for everything from young adult fiction to erotica.  We need to know what is the purpose of the scene and how does it add to the story you’re telling?   I still don’t know but reading this has helped put my thoughts into perspective.  I am hoping I capture moods and tell a story and that I balance explicit that is effective enough to maintain tension with fun, with sexy and sensual and that this allows a connection to form with my readers.  I guess I want it to be part of telling the story and hot.  Gosh I don’t want much, do I?
Seriously I really got a lot out of this and am providing a link below to follow as well as more details on Narrelle herself.  She discusses emotional intimacy without sex, sex to demonstrate the ending of a relationship, scenes of just caring in a relationship and the use of the five senses. Trust me she does this very simply and well.  In just one sentence her using words like lubricate creates a sharper perspective. It also brought home the next point, a point I would like to finish with as I believe it is something that may hold us back depending on what we write.  This is a quote found in the article.
“Like everything else in storytelling, you tap into yourself and your knowledge of human nature for your creations – but what you write isn’t necessarily you.”
It has taken me quite a while to stop being self-conscious about those scenes.  I could use a pseudonym I suppose but I don’t want to.  I am telling a story and it, the story, has nothing to do with me but with my characters.  I have been writing a post entitled Vampires, Sci-Fi, Fantasy and why I don’t write in these genres I think? Part 1.  In the second part like the first I talk about my life and how the experiences have led me to sitting at the computer.  Nothing I discuss has meant I have necessarily, personally done things I write about but I have been a witness to many things, and I have been told many things.  How can I not use this privilege to give a sense of realism to what I write?  Experience is as much what you have seen, heard, been told as it is what you personally have done.  I see it as fun that my readers won’t which of these it may be.  My youngest daughter asked me the following not so long ago.  Her exact words were, “Mum, this is your imagination and not anything else, isn’t it?”  Maybe, maybe not?  Some secrets can be kept to one self, don’t you agree?

For more on Narrelle check down the right hand side of my blog where both her website and blog are featured. 
For more on ‘Sex and Intimacy’ first published in the February 2014 issue of WQ Magazine click on Read more

Ciao for now,

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