Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oh no, not another one of those scenes...

Awhile back, while struggling with a story, I wailed at my coauthor, “If I have to write another lesbian cunnilingus scene, I’m going to throw my laptop through the window!”

(The funny thing is, she remembers it differently: That she was wailing at me. But I know which story I was stuck on, and I’m happy to report that I unstuck myself, finished it, and sold it. Maybe we were wailing at each other…)

I wrote a lot of short stories last year, most of them erotica. I was privileged to have been asked to contribute to some invitation-only anthologies, and in this business it’s good form to produce when asked, so you’ll be asked again. Of course, the flip side is that I was occasionally writing stories about themes that didn’t necessarily spark for me. So I had to step back and figure out what did spark for me so that I could write a good story that fit the theme.

And I realized: It’s not about the sexual act by itself. It’s all about the characters.

It’s the first time they’ve had sex under this set of circumstances. They may have inserted Tab A into Slot B many times before, but not here, not now, not with whatever emotions they’re feeling and not with whatever situation they’re experiencing.

As I was mulling this about last week, writing snippets of this essay in my head, the page proofs arrived for my upcoming book A Little Night Music (written as Sarah Dale with my other coauthor, Sarah J. Husch). Re-reading the book for the first time since we turned it in last autumn, I was able to step back and analyze how the sex scenes in the book progressed, and what made them more than Tab A and Slot B encounters.

(If you’re an absolute purist about spoilers, then don’t read on. But I honestly don’t think anything I mention will ruin the book for readers.)

One of the major themes of the book is control: Having it, losing it, needing it, and needing to let it go. In the first sex scene, there’s a minor back-and-forth exchange of control. Hannah, the heroine, swore nine years previously, as a teenager, that she’d have a night of passion with her rock star crush, Nate. Now she’s working for him, and she plans to wait to have that night until after her job is done. Her plan goes awry when he makes it clear that he’s just as interested in her, and they agree to “get it out of their systems” so they can work together effectively. (Yeah, right, like anybody believes that will work!)

Buoyed by the heady knowledge that he wants her, she’s confident and flirty. She takes the lead, he takes it back—they’re equal, sharing the roles of seducer and seduced. But by the end of the scene, he’s reduced her to a puddle of lust—and it makes sense. He’s the rock god, she’s the adoring fan.

There’s a sharp contrast between that scene and one at about the midpoint of the book. Nate, a recovering addict, has successfully resisted an offer of drugs, but wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, hammered by nightmares. The only thought he can cling to is that he wants Hannah.

This scene is short and not as graphic as many others in the book. She’s half-asleep, he’s half-desperate. There’s little foreplay; it’s right into the action, the need. It’s less about the sex itself and more about how this scene reflects Nate’s emotional change. He can allow himself to lose control when he’s with her, because it’s a safe place for him. His craving for her outstrips his craving for drugs, and (as he later realizes) his love for her gives him the strength to resist temptation.

Throughout the book, Nate encourages Hannah to take control. There’s never any hardcore BDSM; he simply finds it erotic when she’s on top, and he also knows that although she’s sexy and self-assured, she’s still questions whether she can compete with the starlets and supermodels of his past. Taking control boosts her confidence.

The final scene I want to mention is one that happens soon after the first of a series of dark moments for the heroine. As in every romance, there’s a point where it looks as though the two can’t be together, and Hannah has decided that’s true. She hasn’t told Nate yet, though, and she wants them to have one more incredible night together before she leaves.

We chose, however, to write the scene from Nate’s point of view. Without his urging, Hannah takes control. She’s powerful, wicked, seductive. All he knows is what she wants him to know: an incredible night.

But the reader knows there’s more to it than that, that it’s the last bright moment before darkness. Writing it from Hannah’s point of view wouldn’t have worked, because it would have been too sad, too focused on the knowledge of what daylight will bring. Ideally the reader will be swept away in Nate’s point of view, enjoying the eroticism, but still knowing what Hannah’s trying herself to ignore: That it’s a goodbye.

I think by the time they get to Tab A and Slot B in that scene, nobody’s going to be thinking “Oh, it’s another Tab A and Slot B.” Certainly it doesn’t read that way to me—and I’m the one who sometimes wants to throw her laptop out the window on occasion.

So that, I think, it what it comes down to. Know your characters. Know the theme. Know what changes for them when their lips meet and their hands start to roam. Know how they’ll be different afterwards when they’re lying sated and sweaty.

Or just start writing, and watch all that develop.

(A Little Night Music by Sarah Dale will be an August 2007 Cheek release. An excerpt from the novel (where Nate’s in control, incidentally) appears in the Wicked Words anthology Sex and Music, currently available.)

Dayle Dermatis
(aka Andrea Dale, ½ of Sophie Mouette, and ½ of Sarah Dale)


Anonymous said...

Ha ha. I don't have these problems because I don't really write many sex scenes in my books and when I do I don't really write much slot and tab sex. It tends to be more listening to your boyfriend having phone sex with a gay dom or tying people to their wheelchairs.

In fact I just got a message from the editor who must be obeyed asking for a (rare) penetration scene to go on a bit longer. Hmm, yes, not really my forte.

Nikki Magennis said...

I'd love to write an erotic novel where nobody has sex at all. Just suck grapes suggestively and pulls each others hair. D'you think there's a market for it?

'Slot and tab' sounds like a great title, though.

There certainly are times when I'm irritated that the characters want to go and have sex, when I think they should be occupied with other parts of the plot. But I just read some very interesting thoughts on erotica by Morgan Hawke – she has this quote on her website -
'EROTICA is a story where the PLOT hinges on sexual events.'

Which is probably head-slappingly obvious, but I’ve only just realised it. Read the full article

- in fact, the whole site is full of great insights I wish I’d known earlier.

Anyway, I'm off to force more unwilling characters to fuck each other. (How d'you do the evil laugh, Tilly?)

Olivia Knight said...

I think I take more Dayle/Dale's approach with this one... To me, erotica is a story with the sex left in. In most of my mainstream fiction, I'm at pains to leave it out or at least tame it down a little, so being allowed to just go ahead and describe it in the same honest detail that one does other things is delightful. I go on the basis that everyone does have sex, so whoever the characters are the sex will just happen anyway. And even if they're not having sex, the average fantasy is so lurid and deliciously graphic that that works too.

If you think of the excitement you feel for someone new - the fact that Slot B has seen similar before is completely irrelevant. The specificity of _those_ eyes, those hands, that surprisingly unfamiliar body, and the delicious unfolding of personalities over all the impassioned talk - that's what makes one quiver, and lust, and fantasise. Well - "one" - me, I guess, but I'm hoping I'm not the only one!

So people, places, and plots is where I start, because for me, once those are in place, the sex is just like breathing - it happens. And the moods of the people, places and plots is what makes it different and erotic to me.

It seems woefully unadventorous, when I compare it to the fetishes and m/f/m and f/f/f and f/m/f and sub and dom and other acrynomonous talk - but sexiness unfolds, can only be appreciated from within a story. Other people's writing can seduce me into their fetishes; hopefully mine can seduce them into relishing characterful variations of Tab/Slot, and feel the way my characters do about it.

Alison Tyler said...

I may have told this one before... but a publisher I worked for once put out a book with the words INSERT SEX SCENE HERE (all in caps, just like that). The author had clearly felt another scene was needed, but did not feel up to writing it. The note slipped through editing and wound up in print.

Thank god it wasn't one of my books!

Truly, I see sex everywhere I go. And I tend to have a difficult time keeping my characters out of bed. Or off the floor. Away from the backseat of the car.

The most difficult writing passage I had recently was in Tiffany Twisted where the girl (in the guy's body) really wanted to punish a man with the ultimate in bend-over boyfriend sex. But I thought it was too much for the readership and faded to black. That's one scene I would have loved to write... I guess that's the opposite of what this post is about. Serves me right for commenting before the java kicks in....


Madeline said...

'Oh for another orifice at the end of the day,'said my sig oth, Felix Baron. He'd been working on a novel for Nexus, but now he was hovering around me and my computer.
I understood his dilemma. Like Felix, I make notes as I write my erotica, notes that look something like this: O - 3, A - 2, V - 2, M - 1... It's just a quick reference to keep me from overloading the novel with too much O and not enough V. A nice balance is always a good idea.
I absolutely agree that the only way to keep writing erotica, chapter after chapter, is to see it, not as 'another sex scene' but as 'THIS particular character having sex with THIS particular character, at THIS particular moment.' And it's really no surprise, is it? After all, there are only 7 plots in all the world, they say, erotica or no, and what makes it possible for there to be millions of works of fiction, all based on those 7 plots, is characterization and the 'voice' of the author.
This may be obvious, but one thing I do to ensure that the sex scenes are different, and true to character, is to give each character a 'style' of orgasm, and a particular metaphor to go with that style. In my novel WILD CARD, Penny's orgasm resembles an explosion (detonation, blasting into space, blown to a million pieces) Victoria's orgasm (she usually has one big one per session) are 'water-based' (crashing waves, ripples upon ripples, desire flowing...)
and the Hong Kong Bombshell,Lonnie, who only really enjoys sex if someone is watching, comes numerous times per session - stacatto bursts, snappy and quick.
But I can hit a wall, too, just like you, Dale.
When I'm plumb out of erotica writing juice there's just one thing to do!
'Come on Felix,my love' I purr, abandoning my computer as well. 'Let's go put Tab A into Slot B, for real!'
It's the very best way to remember that each sexual encounter is new and every orgasm, unique.

Anonymous said...

Ways to describe orgasm - that drives me bats.

Which maybe why, in were-book, hardly anyone gets to that point. Almost every sex scene ends instead with someone else rushing in with a gun.

Silver bullets, naturally.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Ah, the big O. My other half who edits for me left a note on my desktop one time on just that subject. He was observing that female orgasms always seem to involve elemental metaphors, while he reckons male ones are linked to technology/machinery.

Hence is proposed list of descriptives...(grin)

"Her orgasm hit like a blizzard, then gradually settled like snow"
"The intense, crackling energy ascended her spine like ball
"The sweet sensation as she came alighted on her clit like zephyr of

"He roared out his ecstasy like a combine harvester"
"His orgasm short-circuited through him like an electric heater
tossed into a bathtub"
"He came with the searing ecstasy of a faulty pressure

The last one completely cracked me up.


Alison Tyler said...

Help, Madeline! I'm lame... Crack your code for me:

O - 3, A - 2, V - 2, M - 1.


Madelynne Ellis said...

I'm guessing at Vaginal and Masturbation.


Nikki Magennis said...

Combine harvester orgasms. I love it.

And Alison! It's so obvious! V for Vertical and M for Missionary.

(Um, possibly Vaginal and Masturbation, on the other hand.)

Anonymous said...

Surely, V is for Vampire Sex.

Don't the Nexus books have little codes on their spines? They look like weeny road signs and they mean stuff like 'bondage' and 'femdom' and 'combine harverster fetish'. Have a look next time you're in a book shop. There is something very cutesy about them

Alison Tyler said...

Wow, is all I can say. Keeping a code is so much more organized than I could ever be. I posted a page of notes from one of my novels way back in July. I will now attempt to link to it.

At the end of my novels, I have pages and pages of notes like this. Wish I could be a more code conscious writer!!

Madeline said...

Yes, V for vaginal, M for masturbation. Then there's the two letter designations - BJ, TT, AP, CP, goes on and on.
Felix, a veritable Encyclopedia of word origins,recently answered a question i've had for a long time.
Why is a blow job called a blow job when there's little, if any, actual 'blowing' involved? He tells me it's a corruption of 'below'. Just thought you might like to know.

Alison Tyler said...

Nooooo. You've lost me again!
I know BJ, but TT? AP? CP?
Please... don't tease us...

I love the concept of all this, and now feel like writing a "Cracking the Code" type story. I know my "V" would be a "P" for Pussy or a "C" for cunt. "M" would probably be "JO" for Jerking Off -- now 'fess up to the others, please...

Nikki Magennis said...

Heh. I love these games.

TT - Titty Twister
AP - Anal Punishment
CP - Captain Pugwash

How'd I do?

Madeline said...

TT - Tit torture, but Titty Twister will do just fine.
AP - Age Play
CP - I suppose should be Corporal punishment, but i meant it as costume play, or, cosplay
Captain Pugwash sounds filthy, something that belongs in a Nexus book, with one of those little roadsign backgrounds so no readers are treated to Captain Pugwash when they were just looking for a little cosplay.
Gee, I sure wish I knew how to post my mysterious little photo by my name like all you other accomplished blogger/smutwriters.

Kate said...

Didn't Captain Pugwash have a character in it called Master Bates or is that urban myth?

I don't keep lists of what happens sexually in my books, stuff just happens-a lot. I never have a problem finding different ways to describe 2 people having sex because every character brings their own personality to each encounter and every character can be different in every situation.

Fascinating as ever, ladies.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Do I need to Google "Captain Pugwash"? (Because my other half is a humane officer, I'm imagining a dog groomer superhero, probably a very gay one.)

And said other half is cringing at "combine harvester fetish."

But seriously...I find it much easier to put sex in context in a novel, where there are a lot of things going on that might lead in to the next sex scene (besides simple horniness, that is). When it gets challenging for me is when I have 2000 words to set up something scintillating, titillating, and halfway intelligent with characters who have personalities as well as body parts. Especially when the theme is, oh, foot fetishes. (Okay, I cheated on that one and twisted it to BDSM with feet involved, because I like a good pair of boots as much as the next girl, but foot fetish? Not so much.)

Alison Tyler said...

Oh, you lie Teresa... Or maybe you're just too modest. Because the three flash-fiction pieces of yours that I took for "Got a Minute?" are all delicious, sexy, and under 1500 words...

kristina lloyd said...

And another urban myth (I think) about Captain Pugwash: wasn't there a character called Seaman Staines? And another called Roger the Cabin Boy?

Tilly, you talked a while ago on your blog about a contemp kids TV prog with a vaguely rude subtext - and a character called something like Pretty Little Cunt Lips. Except it wasn't quite that. What was it?

Anonymous said...

Was it Fifi and the Flowerots and Fifi's favourite faux-swear which is 'Fiddly Flower Petals'. How rude is that! That is ruder than real swearing.

Fifi and the Flowertots is a strange show in which all the women are roughly normal (the flowertots) but every male character is half-wasp or half-bee or half-slug or something. It is like a disturbing vision of a chromosome-malfunctioning post-apocalyptic future. But then, most kids TV is.

Kate said...

Captain Pugwash is a kids TV cartoon. He was a pirate who wasn't very clever.
The original aired back in the old days when I was young-there is, I believe a new smarmier version but it's not as amusing-or maybe I've grown up!

There was a cabin boy but I'm not sure what his name was-Seaman Stains-definitely urban myth

kristina lloyd said...

Fiddly Flower Petals! That was it!

I think I was quite close though.