I have several rules when it comes to writing.  Rule 2 is When you think you're about to go over the cliff - go.


But when it comes to sex scenes I've had some issues with scenes that were either too bland or way over the cliff.  How do you handle these scenes.

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Well, I don't know about thrillers.  I write crime novels (mysteries). Since my protagonist has a life, he also has sex.  Initially, I was careful.  You can certainly write a horrible and unintentionally funny scene if you're not watching out.  My suggestion would be to see how some of your favorite authors handle it.
In sex scenes I redouble my efforts to limit the use of adverbs and go sparingly even on adjectives. That seems to help me avoid cliches and gauzy writing.
As naturally as possible. Don't be too coy, but don't go all Debbie Does Dallas either - unless, of course, you want to create a comic effect. Have you read Bret Easton Ellis's 'American Psycho'? The sex scenes are hilariously OTT. Now there's a writer who really knows how to go all the way over the cliff. 
Depends on the scene. Is it the hero and the girl? Is it the two unlikely characters thrown together by happenstance? Is the sex consensual? Many sex scenes in thrillers do not have to be overly explicit-a la erotica-to be understood, so it depends on the amount of heat you want to generate. Don't let the sex detract from the thrill.

I think sex in thrillers works the same way as sex in any other type of fiction (except erotica/porn, obviously). If it's important to the story to go into detail--if it illuminates the characters in a worthwhile way, or forwards the plot, or, ideally, both--then it needs to be there, in as much detail as necessary. If it doesn't do those things, then there's nothing to be lost by glossing over it and moving on to the scenes that do accomplish those things.

I've written some fairly explicit sex scenes in thrillers, where they were necessary. But I've also written plenty of books without 'em.

I've only had two short stories published, but I tend to pull away from the rude bits (as do many crime novelists I like).

My wife, on the other hand, writes for Mills & Boon and her stories have a lot of sex in them. That's what readers for her line expect – so, perhaps, the answer is to work out what your readers might want.



Brian, I have a feelin' you're diggin' deep with this topic.  My first novel was a romantic suspense, so I had to pretty much follow tip sheets for the sex with a capital "S."  I had trouble writing those scenes to be frank about it. 

Some of my reservations about writing sex scenes occurred because I didn't want that vanilla-cream sex that readers would ignore and read past to the next page (I'd sure read enough of that).  Part of it was, however, because of a deep-rooted self conciousness that I might "reveal" myself if I were to be too graphic or . . . not graphic enough, and then--even those issues are governed by genre: I would, for example, feel freer about the language and type of sex I used if I were writing hard-boiled as opposed to mainstream mystery. 


Then--there was the problem of how to make my my sex scenes stand out from all the millions of others I had read.  I mean, how many ways can our characters have sex--even OTT sex (whatever that is)--unless they're zombie detectives and antagonists with extra body parts that do really bizarre things?


I like Jeffrey Mariotte's response, though.  What I've learned about writing those challenging sex scenes myself is:

  • They are good when they conform to genre requirements, which conform to reader norms and values
  • They are good when they are well-integrated with plot or when they illuminate character, as Jeffrey points out
  • They are good when I get done reading them and think, yeah, I want to try that

I read some good advice about sex scenes once; I wish I could remember where.

Basically, the author said less is more, and to leave as much as possible to the reader's imagination. The problem wasn't with graphic descriptions or worries about offending a reader. The problem is that a sex scene, with rare exceptions--erotic thrillers, for example--stops the action. The story does not advance while the characters have sex. Depending on your expected reader, this can be a problem. 

Unless the scene tells us something important about the characters involved, less is definitely more.

Dana, thank you!  I had not once ever thought about a sex scene stopping the action, but they sure as heck do.  To me, that's major food for thought.  Racing for my keyboard so I can revise (and compress) those sex scenes.  Heh. 
Joe Konrath is on this topic also. I'm convinced that men and women write sex differently.  Keeping an eye on writers' sex scenes can be amusing.  And yes, they can be revealing.

I.J., I can't resist.  Would "Sex on the Beach" be a good title for a Konrath novel?  Since he names them all after drinks? 


Sigh, we digress (or at least I do).   

Not familiar with either the drink or his books, alas.  :)


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