Justifying Our Sex Scenes

Lazarus Barnhill, a fellow author at Second Wind Publishing, is planning to rerelease his novels to include the sex scenes he removed for the sake of keeping the familial peace. I understand why he wants to include the scenes — he wishes to reclaim his literary perogative and publish the books the way he wrote them, which is as it should be. Besides, with the scenes included, the books will probably go viral.

Though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I like the books the way they are now, with the focus more on the mystery in The Medicine People and the romance in the Lacey Took a Holiday. The truth is, I’ve never been fond of sex scenes. I read for mental titillation — expanding my mind, letting my thoughts wander into the realms of what if — and sex scenes leave little scope for such meanderings.

Despite tMore Deaths Than Onehat, I did write one very graphic sex scene for my first book More Deaths Than One. The scene appalled my father (by then my mother was gone, so I never got to hear her words on the subject. Whew!), but that was an important scene in the book.

The story is about a man who is so ordinary he almost seems invisible. Everyone assumes they know him, seeing him as a reflection of themselves. And yet, he has hidden depths that only one woman, Kerry, managed to see. As Kerry told Bob, trying to explain why he interested her, “I’d like to say it’s because you have hidden depths, but your depths aren’t hidden, they’re obvious.” She chuckled. “Maybe you have hidden shallows.”

The graphic sex scene wasn’t with Kerry, though eventually they did make love. The scene was with Bob and another woman, a woman who taught him about prolonging the pleasure and satisfying a woman. If you didn’t know why Bob had such a talent, it would have been unbelievable when you discovered that such a seemingly weak man would have such discipline. The scene also set up the love scene with Kerry. The scent of frangipani had always reminded him of that first woman, and yet when he and Kerry finally got together, he realized that from now on, whenever he caught a whiff of that scent, it would remind him of Kerry, of the teasing look in her eyes, of the moment he fell in love with her. (But then, don’t we all justify our sex scenes as important to the book?)

Oddly, each of my novels had less sex in that the previous one, and the last one had none. It’s hard to write sex scenes that are consistently new and fresh, and I’d said it all in that first book.

Someone dared me once to write an erotic novel, and I even accepted the dare, at least verbally, but I doubt I will ever write the book. The only reason I can see for writing is to write what only I can write, and it’s hard to bring individuality to sex scenes. (Which is probably why bondage and masochism are so prevalent right now — they are different from what people are used to.) Still, I’m young in author terms. I’ve only written five books. Anything could linger in all those as unwritten books of mine!

As for Lazarus Barnhill’s books, I’m keeping the versions I have for now. When he gets rich and famous, those expurgated copies will be worth a fortune, and I will be set for life!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Writing About “Ahem”

Someone just sent me an email suggesting I look at a BBC article on writing about “ahem.” (His words.) Okay, it was my brother, so he’s forgiven for being a bit too discreet. The suggestion probably has to do with a remark I made once about writing erotica, and he and my sister-in-law dared me to do it. I told them I would. But after I finish my WIP, and after I finish my graphic novel, and after . . .

Oddly enough, I really am considering it — by now you know I like a challenge. The thing that’s weird about my considering it (okay, one of the weird things — there are many strangenesses, including the simple fact that I am considering it) is that each of my books has less sex in it than the last. For Light Bringer, which will be published in the late spring of 2010, I completely forgot to include a sex scene — or rather, the story didn’t demand it, so I didn’t include one. My first book, a poor deformed — unacknowledged – creature I have hidden away in the dark recesses of my closet, is so full of sex scenes that it wouldn’t take much to turn it into an erotic novel.

There seems to be two thoughts about writing erotica. One, that the story should hold together even if there wasn’t any sex; and two, that the sex must be such an integral part of the story that it will fall apart without the sex. I subscribe to the second theory because it holds true for any sex scene — it must be a scene rather than simply a depiction of sex. This means the scene must advance the story, tell us more about the characters, show us how having sex changed the hero, or show a change in the relationship between the participants. So many authors seem to have the attitude that they need to arbitrarily insert a sex scene into the story, but such scenes need to be written in response to the demands of the story, not just because “it’s time to insert a sex scene”. 

One comment appended to the BBC article was written by Alexander from Durham. He says: I never know what most sex scenes are trying to achieve in books (and in other media, come to that). It’s hard to tell if they’re going for an emotional response from the reader or just arousal. I think the problem is that the reader doesn’t know either and ends up reading the scene and trying to take the wrong thing from it. And he’s exactly right. The reason the reader doesn’t know what the sex scene is trying to achieve is that the author doesn’t know. 

The article about “ahem” asked: Is it Difficult to Write Well About Sex? I tend to think it isn’t, as long as the authors know what they are trying to accomplish with the sex scene. Once authors know their goal, they can write the scene with that goal in mind. On the other hand, maybe sex is difficult to write well. John Littel just won the “bad sex in fiction” prize. That there is such a literary award speaks for itself.

Sex SCENE not SEX Scene

One problem new writers have when they approach a sex scene is that they think of it as a SEX scene rather than a sex SCENE. Any effective scene — sex or not – serves multiple purposes. This is especially true of a sex scene, otherwise it will seem unconnected to the story, as if you just threw sex in the mix because you felt it was time to titillate your readers.

One good use of a sex scene is to show character. One of my favorite scenes in my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire is when Jeremy King, a world famous actor, sleeps with a woman he just met in a bar.

The sound of weeping woke Jeremy. He turned his head toward his companion and saw one trembling shoulder and a tangle of gleaming hair.

He stretched luxuriously. The red hair hadn’t lied. The girl had been all fire, kindling a passion in him he hadn’t felt in years. The memory of it made him hard.

He reached over and pulled the girl into his arms. He smoothed back her hair and kissed away her tears, murmuring, “Honey,” and “Sweetheart,” and “Dear.”

“I’m such a terrible person,” she said, sobbing.

“Shh. Shh,” he whispered between tiny kisses.

Her arms stole around his neck, and her lips sought his. In a surprisingly short time she bucked beneath him, calling out his name.

You’ve still got it, King, he thought exultantly. Then, after one final thrust, he tumbled into oblivion.

I always liked that scene. It’s not very graphic, but it did what I wanted it to — define the characters

Another good use of a scene is to show the ebb and flow of human connection. For example, you could have three scenes spread throughout the story. In the first scene, perhaps, the man climaxes, feeling connected to the woman. When he immediately goes to sleep, she feels disconnected. In the second scene, perhaps he can’t get it up, leaving him feeling disconnected, but since he tries to make it up to her by cuddling her, she feels connected. In the third scene, they climax together, perhaps cuddle afterward, so they both feel connected.

In addition to the sex, then, you show a pattern of connection and disconnection between the couple (in other words, conflict), you show a whole new perspective of the characters, and you show a change in their relationship. You also end up with a subplot that adds to the overall richness of the story. In other words, you end up with a series of sex SCENES, not just SEX scenes.

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Sex Scenes: Self-Concept and Sex Concept

I just finished reading a book about how to get anyone to do anything, and the basic premise is that you figure out what a person’s self-concept is, and you play up to that. For example, if the person thinks of himself as a good father, you appeal to his father image: “If you help me, it will make a better world for your children.” If you go against a person’s self-concept, he will resist you and may end up disliking you. For example, asking the father to work on a night when he promised to be at his kid’s little league game is a sure way to lose his good will.

Since I have sex scenes on the brain — my last few posts focused on sex scenes — it occurred to me that one way to make a sex scene an important scene rather than just throwing it in because you felt it was time to add a sex scene, is to play on a character’s self-concept. What if a character were making love to a person other than a spouse? Would this lovemaking enhance his or her self-concept, or would it go against it? If the scene enhanced the character’s self-concept, we would learn more about the character. Perhaps she sees herself as a great lover, in which case nothing mattered except the lovemaking– not her marriage vows, not her husband, not her children — and so we know what kind of character she is. If the scene went against the character’s self-concept, then we have a character with inner conflicts. Perhaps the character sees herself as a faithful, till-death-do-us-part wife. In which case, no matter how exciting or tender the scene, it leaves her in turmoil.

I wonder if a character could have a sex concept that is the opposite of his self-concept — a great lover and a faithful spouse? In this case there would be no conflict if the character had an affair. Or would there?

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say—as usual, I am using this blog as a way of concentrating my thoughts. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that a sex scene is a good time to show a character confronting his essence. Without, of course, destroying the mood.

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Sex With Sister Tips — Writing Tips, That Is

Who am I to sneer at a gift from the google gods? Ever since I posted an interview with my sister called “Was It Bizarre Reading a Sex Scene Written By Your Sister?” people have been coming to this blog wanted to find out how to have sex with their sister. If writing about sister sex will boost my blog ranking, then what the heck, I’ll write about sister sex. Or rather, write about writing sister sex.

We have such a strong taboo against incest that if you want to write about sibling sex in a mainstream novel, the incest must be motivated. In other words, there has to be a strong reason for it. Perhaps the children were shut away in an attic most of their lives and had only themselves to rely on. (If I remember correctly, this was the premise of V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic.) Perhaps two sisters were molested by their father, and the only tender love they knew was the love they offered each other. Perhaps the parents saw nothing wrong with sibling sex, perhaps even encouraged it by having a brother and sister share a bed. (Of course, this complicates matters in that you have to show the parents’ actions as being motivated. Why would they think this was an acceptable arrangement?)

The point is, if you want people to accept the incest, you have to give them more of a reason for siblings to have sex than simply because they wanted it. People want lots of things that are not acceptable, but that does not make the thing acceptable to lots of people. As always, with writing, you need to figure out what your motive is for writing the scene before you can figure out your characters’ motivations. Are you trying to prove that sibling love is acceptable? That it’s inevitable under certain circumstances? That love is love wherever you find it? That you have the hots for your sister or brother and want society’s okay? Whatever you want to prove, you then have to write the scene with this objective in mind.

Once you get past the motivation and emotion leading up to the sibling sex scene, writing a sex scene with a sister is the same as any other sex scene.  You show the two together, you show them connecting both emotionally and physically, and at the end you show how their interaction affected them.

The emotion does not have to be love on both sides. Nor does it have to be a single emotion. There could be love coupled with revulsion, love with fear, hate with sorrow. The emotion and how it affects the couple,  how it changed them or defined them is what makes the scene compelling, and the more contradictory the emotions, the better.

For more about writing sex scenes, see:
Writing Sex Scenes

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sex With Sister Tips. Um…Yeah

One of my favorite aspects of wordpress is the list of search engine terms people used to find my blog, and I often refer to the list to give me ideas for blog posts. The terms used to be pretty straightforward — short story tips, describe a scene, meaning of car color — but ever since I posted an interview with my sister called “Was It Bizarre Reading a Sex Scene Written By Your Sister?” I’ve been finding the strangest terms on the list. I had no idea so many people wanted to have sex with their sisters.

These are a few of the terms people Googled, Binged, Yahooed in the past two weeks to get to this blog:

  1. sex with sister tips
  2. my sister sex mi yes
  3. bizarre sister
  4. bizarre sex scenes
  5. sex with sister (at least one of these every day)
  6. bizarre sex (lots of these)
  7. how to have sex with your sister (lots of these)
  8. images of sex with your sister
  9. give me your sex sister
  10. first time sister sex
  11. sex sister (several of these)
  12. sex questions sister
  13. sex with your sister
  14. sex didn’t know it was sister
  15. sex had with your sister
  16. sex with sister scenes

Perhaps some of these refer to song lyrics? I wouldn’t know. I don’t listen to much music except the song of silence.

Besides these terms, there were many focused on how to write sex scenes. Hmmm. I’m not sure I want to give tips on having sex with your sister, but I might be able to come up with some tips on how to write a sex scene. I’ll do some research on erotica and get back to you.

Feel free to leave a comment with your tips on writing sex scenes. But please . . . omit any reference to your sister.

See also: Sex With Sister Tips — Writing Tips, That Is

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

“Was It Bizarre Reading a Sex Scene Written By Your Sister?”

Exactly two years, 351 days, and 12 hours ago, my sister asked if I was ever going to let her read my manuscripts. I told her no, that I wanted her to have the joy of reading the books when they were published. (There is a vast difference between a manuscript and a book.) Back then, off course, it was still wishful thinking; no one had the slightest interest in publishing my books. Well, hell froze over or something equally cataclysmic, and now she owns two of my published books — books, not manuscripts. Here is a transcript of our spate of emails.

SISTER: The weekend was unexpectedly glorious, so I spent most of it outdoors, lots of yard work, digging in the dirt, reworking some landscaping, plus a wonderfully relaxing picnic at a bayside park. Ahhh. I didn’t spend nearly as much time reading More Deaths Than One as I thought I would, but . . . when I left Bob and Kerry on Sunday night, they were on a plane heading to Thailand, and I’m certainly looking forward to hearing all about what they find. I had a fabulous time traipsing around Denver with them — all those familiar sights and sounds. What a kick. What a gift. Thank you.

I’m curious about so many things, and I’m not sure if it’s tacky or tactless to voice these to the author, but . . . Did you ever see tin-hat folks on Colfax Ave?

ME: No, it’s not tacky to ask. Yes, I did see a foil-helmet guy on Colfax once.

SISTER: Bob’s childhood home was on 22nd, not 23rd?

ME: I don’t remember why 22nd Avenue instead of 23rd (where we grew up).

SISTER: Is it OK if I believe I found myself in your book as a two-liner behind-the-scenes character? Because, gosh, a BMW sure would be a nice upgrade for me.

ME: (After checking the manuscript to see what she was talking about) How funny, the BMW character does sound like you. What was I thinking??!!! Maybe . . . thinking of you? To be honest, I don’t have any idea. It’s like the book isn’t a part of me anymore. I don’t know where even a fraction of it came from. I do remember piecing it all together, though, and I remember all the rewrites. It was the first book I wrote, the third, the fifth, so it wasn’t inspired. It was perspired, but still, I don’t remember.

SISTER: Wow — that “Ballad of Reading Gaol” definitely merits closer study, whew. Best critique I read of that Wilde work is: “. . . startling contrasts between light and shade, drawn together with a keen eye and a sense of the beauty in sadness itself.” Lots there. I’m curious how you found the link between your novel and your title . . .?

ME: Originally the book was entitled The Law of the Jungle. Then I decided that title was trite, so I re-titled it The Nature of the Beast. Then I came across that stanza from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, and had to have More Deaths Than One. Too perfect.

SISTER: Do you realize this novel would make an awesome movie??

ME: Yes, I do know the book would make an awesome movie. There are some scenes that would be powerful visuals.

SISTER: And I have to say — the first time “hidden shallows” appeared on the page, I heard your voice loud and clear. What a quintessential uniquely clever Pat phrase!

This has been great fun so far. Looking forward to more, that’s for sure.

ME: I take it that you’re not disappointed in me/my writing, or feeling guilty for telling your friends about the book.

SISTER: That would be a resounding enthusiastic “damn straight, Sista!”

ME: Just out of curiosity — was it bizarre reading a sex scene written by your sister?

SISTER: Um, YES. But I was proud at the same time — that was hot, quite frankly, and I learned something new. ;D

ME: Maybe I should interview you for my blog!!! Could be interesting. Though I have purposely left my private life off of it.

SISTER: How about this: you could write out a list of questions for your little sister, I’ll pen my answers — and if you like how it sounds, you can post it on your blog . . . if you think “not”, you don’t.

ME: List of questions? That was my question! A one-question interview.

SISTER: Well then, I’m done for the day! You have my permission to post the “interview” as it actually happened. :)

ME: I took liberties and posted our whole exchange. It was too good to pass up. So, welcome to my blog!

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Writing Sex Scenes

In its essence, a sex scene in a novel is no different from any other scene, and the key to writing it is to figure out its objective. If you’re just putting it in there because you think it’s time for some titillation, it will not have the resonance of a motivated scene. (Though in some novels, category romance especially, titillation alone is an acceptable objective.)

There are many other objectives for a sex scene besides titillation: to bring the couple closer together; to show that they want each other even though they can’t tolerate each other; to bring them comfort; to show the maturation of one character (perhaps he couldn’t commit, and now he can); to show the intensity of the relationship; to slow the pace of the book or speed it up; to bring a bit of humor or playfulness to a somber work.

Once you know the objective, you can write a fitting action/reaction sequence. If comfort is the objective, you can show them together at the beginning, close the door during the action, and show them cuddling afterward. If tenderness is the objective, you can show a bit of the action in addition to the before and after. And of course, if their desperation for each other is the objective, you will need to leave the door open during the scene. As with all resonating scenes, when it is over there must be some reaction, some change to the character or the direction of the story. And the objective dictates that reaction. If the scene was about bringing comfort to the characters, we need to know whether they found comfort or failed to find it, and we need to know the characters’ emotional response to the success or failure of that objective. This reaction, in turn will help set up the next scene.

Scenes also help show who the characters are, and where better to do this than when they are at their most vulnerable. The sex scene I wrote that I like best is one where the woman calls out her partner’s name, and he exults to himself, “I’ve still got it!” That defined them and their relationship.

The problem I have with sex scenes is that, in the end, there are only so many different ways of writing them and after a while they begin to seem ho-hum. Finding the objective helps make the scene unique, as does sense description not related to the act. Can they smell the garbage outside the motel window? Is the traffic only a faint hum from her penthouse? How does the office desk feel beneath her back? Each of these bits gives the scene a depth it might not otherwise have.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a sex scene in my current work. After devolving (or evolving depending on your point of view) from graphic sex in my first novel to none at all in my fourth, I thought I’d run the gamut. But then I realized I have never done a humorous sex scene, so that’s what I’m going to aim for. Not a bad objective.

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