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Sex and Your Characters, Part 3782

February 14, 2013

Welcome to the Florida Writers Blog of looooooooooooooooove. It is, after all, a very important day*. It’s a day we’ve celebrated since the icky classmate of the opposite sex stuck that single sheet card stock valentine in the paper bag on our desks. Those were the days when Valentine’s Day meant being nice to girl (or boys) we didn’t particularly like, but couldn’t really stop thinking about.

Now, Valentine’s Day is a day to cue the Barry White, get some wine and chocolate, and hope the kids could stay at the grandparents.

Or you could just write about it. We’ve covered before that the key to writing about a sex scene is to make it just like any other scene in all the important ways. It’s hard because sex is very personal, loaded with interpersonal and societal meaning, and because when you have sex, the goal is…uhh…you know, a little less conversation, a little more action, please. But when your characters have sex, the goals are completely different. You characters should only do the horizontal slide for three reasons:

  • The plot demands it.
  • The sex is true to what the characters would do.
  • The sex advances the plot and reveals something about the characters.

The sex could be outstanding. It could be the worst, most awkward sex ever. Or it might not even happen. What happens between the sheets, or in the hot tub, or in the study with a lead pipe, if your characters are so inclined, must move what happens on the pages.

The amount of detail must be driven by your characters, the demand of your plot, and the rules of your genre. As much as I like to make fun of how Robert B. Parker’s characters Spenser and Susan always had spectacular sex, the way Parker wrote about it was instructive. Spenser and Susan enjoyed each other–they had fun. But there was a certain respect shown in Parker’s writing for Susan. Even Hawk, who could scare a nail right into a 2-by-4 by staring at it a certain way, wouldn’t talk about Susan in less than extremely respectful tones. What Parker didn’t write told you about Spenser’s view of Susan as much as what he wrote.

At various times throughout his eight thousand books, Spenser would look at women and mentally note various portions of their physical appearance without any depth behind it. With Susan, Spenser always noted how she made him feel, even after years. For him to comment on her breasts or other body parts during sex would peel away the wall of modesty based on respect.

In a similar way, how you write about your characters’ sex lives could subtly paint pictures about them and how they view each other. If a female character’s internal dialog during sex is about love and rapture and a picket fence, garage, and 2.3 children, and her partner’s inner dialog is about how her breasts seem like Jennifer Anniston’s, you know there’s a problem coming up. And you know something about the characters, too.

Now, since you’ve read about writing, feel free to…you know…go to bed early.

* — The important day is, of course, pitchers and catchers reporting.

  1. Suzanna Crean permalink
    February 14, 2013 9:16 am

    Who are Susan, Spenser, and Parker?

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    February 14, 2013 12:22 pm

    Sorry. Robert B. Parker had a character named Spenser. He and his lady love Susan Silverman always had ample amounts of the best sex humanity has ever known.

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