Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 3)

[This is a continuation of previous posts Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 1) and Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 2)]

Each book I write has less sex in it than the last. In Light Bringer, my fourth novel, the characters didn’t have sex at all. But what can you expect from aliens? Still, it never occurred to me that I had left off any mention of sex until a reader pointed it out to me, because my characters connected in a way that served the story, as the following voyeuristic scene shows.

TLBeodora went still. The moment she’d been waiting for had finally arrived. Ninety-nine and a half percent of the subjects’ DNA tested as human, but the remaining half percent remained unidentified. Now, perhaps, she would see that unidentifiable half percent in action.

On the other side of the one-way window, the female cocked her head, and her face took on a rapt expression as if listening to a distant melody. When the male entered, her incandescent smile seemed to brighten the room.

The two subjects moved toward each other. The light became more radiant. They stopped an arm’s length apart. For a second Teodora thought she saw a rainbow between them, then they were in each other’s arms. An auroral glow drifted and whirled around them.

Something as delicate as a spray of perfume touched Teodora. Her skin drew tight, and she felt an immense thirst. She fixed the feelings in her mind so she could take them out and analyze them later, then she set them aside and concentrated all her attention on the subjects.

Hearing a faint thread of music, she held her breath. The music seemed to swell into a heart-breaking song of joy. The colors dancing around the subjects grew in intensity, colors she had never seen before. A distillation of rubies. A blue moon shimmering on restless waters. A green so pure it might have come out of the earth itself.

In the spaces where the colors overlapped, Teodora knew she was seeing the color of love, the color of total harmony and acceptance.

The colors echoed in Teodora’s emptiness, and she felt herself crying deep within her soul. This was something she wanted, but could not have. Maybe no human could.

 

Later, Teodora discusses the episode with her boss, the head of International Institute of Scientific Advancement.

“It was not like watching humans,” Teodora told Berhard Petri after reporting what she had learned about the subjects.

His eyebrows shot up, and she realized he’d caught the unusual touch of animation in her voice.

She modulated her tone. “It was like watching a higher form of life.”

“It hasn’t been established that they’re a higher form,” Petri said. “They could be a devolution.”

“You did not see. Theirs was an interaction on a higher plane, not about individual parts, but harmony of the whole. With humans, it is all about the body parts, the physical attributes. They do the act, but there is no resonance, no color, no song. It is as if humans have an ancestral memory of seeing the gods in love, and now they are trying to have what they had once seen, but only managing the visceral part. Like the ancient Egyptians trying to emulate the pyramid builders from an earlier age, they cannot get it right.”

 

Sex scenes don’t need to be deeply meaningful to be effective. Sex scenes can simply bring the couple together or show the intensity of a relationship. Sex scenes can create a change of pace, either as a diversionary tactic or as a quiet time between hectic scenes. A sex scene can be a fast-paced action sequence to get the reader’s blood roiling. A sex scene can even be playful or humorous. What it cannot be is a scene thrown in there just because you thought it was time for a sex scene. Such scenes need to be as germane and as necessary to the story as a plot twist or a revelation. If the scene can be removed from the book without leaving a hole, it should be removed or rewritten—unless of course you are writing erotica or another genre that demands lots of titillating sex. In which case, you are probably making a fortune and have no need for these tips.

***

This article is anthologized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

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.

Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 2)

[This is a continuation of a previous post: Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 1)]

The most explicit sex scenes I’ve written are in my first novel, More Deaths Than One. My character, Bob Stark, is stark in everything he does, but the more one learns about the character, the more extraordinary he seems. His first sex scene is with a stranger. Her manner seemed to be that of a person who had decided on a course of action and now wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible, but Bob turned out to be something of a pro at satisfying women. Since the skill seemed so out of character, I explained it with a flashback, though I do not advocate flashbacks during a sex scene. Of all scenes in a book, sex scenes are the most immediate, and should be done in the present, but in this case I followed an even more important rule: everything in service to the story.lovescene

He moved in her, slowly, steadily. He caught the scent of frangipani in her perfume. All at once sixteen years disappeared, and he was back in Thailand, the first time he’d gone to Madame Butterfly’s.

The sex scene that followed is graphic, too graphic to add here, but the point is the perfume. Smelling the frangipani catapulted him into a reverie, where the woman beneath him became unimportant, but later in the book when he makes love with a significant woman in his life, the scent has a completely different effect on Bob.

Twining her arms around his neck, she brought his mouth to hers. The kiss was hard and short, but immediately her lips sought his again.

He gathered her closer. Their kiss deepened.

All at once she pulled away and hopped out of bed. “Omigosh!”

“What?”

“I forgot. I have a present for you.” She flashed an impish smile and darted into the bathroom. She emerged a few minutes later wearing a dark rose cheongsam that accented the swell of her breasts and the taper of her waist. “I bought it in Chinatown. What do you think?”

He couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. She looked flushed, radiant, beautiful.

She jutted out a hip. The side slit parted, giving him a glimpse of shapely leg.

He felt a shock that started in his groin and radiated upward. From the glint in her eyes, he knew she was aware of the effect she had on him.

He slid off the bed and moved toward her, stepping slowly and carefully as if he were in danger of falling off a precipice. As he neared her, he smelled her new perfume—frangipani. From now on, he knew, whenever he caught a whiff of that scent, it would remind him of this moment, of her, of the teasing look in her eyes.

***

This article is anthologized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

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.

Creating Incredible but Credible Characters: Sex Scenes (Part 1)

Many new writers (and even some published authors) have a difficult time writing sex scenes. They worry about how their friends and family will deal with idea that their son/brother/daughter/mother knows about sex. They worry about when and where to insert a sex scene, and they worry about how graphic to get. One thing writers don’t seem to worry about is the purpose of their sex scene, and that is something they should worry about.

Some romance genres require a lot of hot sex, other genres, like science fiction, don’t put much emphasis on sex, so be sure to find out the expectations of your genre. Even when titillation is the goal, the scene should also fulfill a story need, should respond to the demands of the story.

An effective scene—sex or not—serves multiple objectives. Scenes advance the story, show us more about the characters, show us how the action changed the hero or show a change in the relationship between the participants. Scenes are always about change, about action and about reaction.

Once you know the objective, you can write a fitting action/reaction sequence (which is the basic building block of a scene). If comfort is the objective, you can show the couple 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 is 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’ emotiosex scenenal response to the success or failure of that objective. This reaction, in turn will help set up the next scene.

A good use of a sex scene would be 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, 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 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.

Scenes help show who the characters are, and where better to do this than when the characters are at their most vulnerable. One of my favorite scenes in A Spark of Heavenly Fire is when Jeremy King, a world famous actor, has sex with Pippi O’Brien, 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.

That scene might not be very graphic, but it did what I wanted it to—define the characters, Jeremy especially. Pippi called out his name, but he didn’t care enough about her to think of her by name. He cared only about himself and his performance. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that, during other times of vulnerability in the story, he also thought only of himself.

A sex scene is a good time to show a character confronting her essence, to play on her self-concept (the treasured idea the character has of herself). 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 much 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 would learn 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.

In the previously quoted scene from A Spark of Heavenly Fire, Pippi is obviously experiencing turmoil. She had been in the bar to meet her boyfriend, Greg Pullman, to accept his marriage proposal, and instead she ran off with Jeremy. She’d been dazzled by the actor’s star power and hadn’t given poor Greg a single thought, but in the night, after her passion diminished, she confronted her truth.

***

This article is anthologized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

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.

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 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.

“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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Sex in Books is Like Serial Killing

Thomas Harris’s book Red Dragon really blew me away when I read it years ago. It was the first book of its type, or at least the first of its type that I read. Since then, hundreds of books about serial killers have been published, each one more grotesque than the last in an effort to excite the interest of a jaded public. Thomas Harris’s Hannibal, written years after the Red Dragon, was so bizarre it was almost ridiculous.

Sex in books in like serial killing in books. In an effort to make what is essentially a reproductive act ever more interesting, authors keep coming up with different positions, different euphemisms, different ways to describe the act and the necessary anatomy. At times, the descriptions are more gruesome than titillating.

Maybe I’m jaded, too, but I find myself skipping over the sex scenes in books. And, since I have a strict rule not to write what I don’t read, each book I write has less sex in it than the last. In fact, in Light Bringer the characters didn’t have sex at all. But what can you expect from aliens? Still, it never occurred to me that I left off any mention of sex until it was pointed out to me. (I also left out the violence. Hmmm. No sex or violence. Is this a clue as to why I can’t find a publisher?)

Last night I had the hero of my work-in-progress, Chip, go out on a date and they ended up at his place. (His mother was finally gone, hallelujah! I was getting a bit bored with her. She really wasn’t nice.) Chip and the girl weren’t in love, though they knew each other; so without the love/romance angle all that was left was sex. And since I couldn’t think of a single thing new to say about it, I closed the door and left them alone.

Maybe when Chip does meet his life mate, I will let them be intimate, make love, copulate, possess each other, sleep together, but until then, poor Chip will need his strength. The world is about to come to an end.

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