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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Can You Write a Hot Sex Scene?

How about a violent murder? How about a character cursing like a sailor? Believe it or not, many writers are too embarrassed to really go there in a scene. Before you shove back from your keyboard indignantly, swig from your beer and say $%&# this @#$%@, of course I can write that @#$%! - bear with me. Many writers hold back, men and women alike.

Now, ask any reader and you'll hear horrific and sometimes side-splittingly funny stories about screenwriters who do the opposite. Suddenly, in the middle of a script, an adeptly written porn scene appears. I mean - wow - if you can make a reader blush, you're in the zone, baby. Because we read it ALL. But in my experience, one of the hallmarks of novice writers is holding back because someone you know is going to read this and they don't know the things your imagination can muster about sex, violence or otherwise difficult topics.

The Wave-inatrix will cop to it - I've written a short story that got published, called Grace's Beauty. A story I'm very proud of. But it refers and flashes back to a very ugly and difficult experience for my main character. And I honestly don't ever want my mom to read it. And she hasn't. Because I don't want to hear - Honey, did that happen to you?! Because then, only one of two answers would be the case - yes - which would beget OH MY GOD YOU DIDN'T TELL ME. Or no. Which would beget - then WHY did you write THAT?

Writers channel humanity when they write. We do talk about difficult things. And intimate things. And scary, joyful and embarrassing things. But you cannot ever be a truly great writer if you are worried about what anyone else will make of what you wrote. A writer is an articulate funnel for the human experience. You may or may not have had the experience you're writing about but it doesn't matter. Because you can imagine having that experience. That's why we writers are essentially crazy. We can feel and imagine anything. And we do.

I have never put a shotgun in a deputy's chest and blown him off my porch and into the yard, then dragged his body through a cornfield and dumped it. But along with my partner, I wrote it and it's a pretty horrifying scene. I can imagine being on either side of that gun. I did my research - my partner and I knew which kind of shotgun is needed to blow someone back several feet. If I had to shop for a weapon, after all we've written, I imagine I'd be pretty informed.

Write what you know. And write what you can know, whether that fear, joy, erotic fantasy or sheer rage comes through the collective unconscious or, if you don't subscribe to that, out of the depths of your imagination. Because at the end of the day, there are only so many situations we humans can wind up in. And if you can't imagine RAGE, if you can't become that on the page, then you have no business being a writer.

And remember, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to shock a reader. If what you've written is organic to the story and not gratuitous or clumsy, we won't mind. If the scene works in context with the story and is tonally consistent, then go for it. Check in with yourself. Is this scene par for the course relative to the rest of the script? Does this character curse this intensely for a backstory/emotionally rooted reason? Would this sex be sexiest implied, or, like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, does this sex scene need to be explicit? Serve the material before you worry about your pride, image or mom's opinion. Nobody said being a writer was easy.

But how do I know if I've gone too far?

But my script really does need a hot sex scene!

ShowHype: hype it up!

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Geena said...

With all the skin in the media, isn't it more a matter of the sex being manipulative of reader-viewer? The HISTORY OF VIOLENCE scene implied sexual assault
( that's what I saw), pushing us to reconsider this man who earlier was pouring coffee in a diner.

LITTLE CHILDREN had sex scenes that made us question the parenting priorities of two characters, they chose sex over child safety, manipulating us into questioning the town's own judgement of the pervert.

Then the script manipulated us again, when the pervert was in the car with his date ( I consider that a sex scene ) taking our sympathy for the overly prosected pervert and asking us to make a moral assesment as to which characters were a threat to the town's kids.

Romance needs risk.

JPS said...

Great topic. I've had to deal with this issue recently in a novel I'm just now revising. In the past I've written sex scenes which tend--it's in their nature--to resemble a recipe ("add two cups of love, a pinch of lust, stir gently...," etc.), and, frankly, it's not that much fun to write. Which is why in Britain they have an annual Bad Sex Contest. Read the shortlist--most by very well-known writers--and you wonder what got into these people. Or you wonder: do they really get up to this between the sheets?

In my novel, which is set in 1944, I opted for romance instead of sex. No graphic blow-by-blow descriptions (please forgive these puns, but, hell, it's in the nature of things), and in the end the romance works perfectly, because it's right for the setting and time of the action itself. Graphic sex would have stopped the action, killed the mood of the scenes and drawn attention to itself.

So context, really, is everything.

Julie Gray said...

Great comments, Geena! (as always) You bring up some interesting questions. My post is primarily focused on writers shrugging off self-conscious writing in order to be able to write great stuff.

JPS said...

I disagree with you, Geena, on "The History of Violence". Though the sex was, to say the least, athletic, it was clearly and always a matter between two consenting adults. At no point did I or my wife, for that matter, sense that Viggo's wife was in any way being assaulted or being coerced into sex with her husband.

Geena said...

It was consenting, I'm not making a direct analogy to sexual assault, date rape. But I did see the sex scene as violent ( I only use the word becuase of the movie title)
and it gave the audience a glimpse into what this man was capable of as his past creeped its way to the surface.
I can't recall the exact sequence of events, but wasn't the wife already doubting her husband's claim of a spotless past, and even begining to fear him. So he demonstrated he loved her and was also capable of violence.

JPS said...

Ah, but if you watch those scenes again, I think you'll see that instead of being at any time passive she was an active participant. They had a real lust for one another, as well as love.