At the beginning of my career, I was a total wimp when it came to sex scenes. Sure, I had a steady reading diet of steamy novels on my Kindle, but I was scared of writing about the actual act. I can attribute this to my insecurities over being a romance writer in a religious family, but with every book and manuscript that I’ve written, I got over my squeamishness and started easing myself into writing the steamy stuff.
Unfortunately, everything that I’d learned about writing steamy scenes came from ripping off other authors (you can read about that process here
), which meant that most of my sex scenes were static at best and derivative at worst. Rarely have I read actual scenes that I’ve written and thought, “Well, that’s not too bad,” because I always cringe at the dirty talk and forced chemistry.
So, to make things easier for me, I’ve decided that I was going to streamline the revision process for my steamier manuscripts. This method gives me the chance to be as brutal as I can by detaching myself from the writing process so I can critique the manuscript with different eyes. Note that this is the method that works for me, so feel free to change things up to meet your needs.
You Will Need: A printer (with enough paper and ink for several pages), a stapler or binder clip, a red pen, other colored pens (depending on how organized you are), blank sheets of paper (I prefer writing at the back of my printouts, but a notebook or legal pad should be fine), your writing drink of choice. If you have a peg for your leading man, it might help to have a hot picture of him somewhere so your mind doesn’t wander too far.
Before you begin: Since we’re talking about sex scenes, it would help to get yourself into the right mood to revise your manuscript. Look at your research notes first: some authors admit to watching porn (or erotic GIFs on Tumblr) to figure out the live-action mechanics of sex. I also find that having a dedicated playlist for my book on Spotify helps, just to help me remember what I loved about the story in the first place. You can also do the things that make you feel sexy–comfortable clothes, scented candles, perfume–but I find that all of this isn’t necessary in the revision phase.
– Print out the whole chapter. Make sure that the document is double-spaced and the font is readable; I use Times New Roman 12pt because that’s the default setting for manuscripts on Scrivener, but any other default font will work. The double-spacing helps with writing comments and correcting mistakes on the manuscript. Staple the printouts once you’re finished; if the resulting printout is thicker than 18 pages, use a binder clip.
– Read the scene out loud.
Try to imagine your peg reading it aloud (unless he has a crappy speaking voice, in which case feel free to imagine Jef and Rachel
instead). Don’t be afraid of your own sexual content! Pay attention to unwieldy sentences and weak word choices–cheesy talk and misplaced uses of bathos
can easily ruin the mood, both for the writer and the reader.
– Take a break. You will know if a certain love scene is effective when you find yourself getting turned on by what you write. If this happens, put the manuscript down and have a drink to center yourself. Make sure that the drink is strong enough to rein in your feels, though, so you won’t turn into a pile of mush that can’t revise your own work.
– Mark it up. This is where your red pen will come in handy. If by any chance you find any glaring mistakes that need to be corrected, feel free to cross out passages and write comments on the margins. This is the place where you should be brutal; cleaning up your manuscript should feel cathartic, since you’re basically casting out the demons that have made your scene uncomfortable to read. Pay especially close attention to problematic content such as consent issues and discriminatory language. Don’t forget to be careful when you mark up your story, since you will need the extra space for later.
– Ask the tough questions. Once you’ve marked up your story, you may want to ask yourself why this scene didn’t work for you. Why is this scene important for the story? How important is this scene to the plot at large? Is it sex for the sake of sex? How is the scene choreographed? Be honest with yourself; not only will it help you on the story level, but it will give you insight on your own motivations for writing steamy. If you want, you can write all of this down on a piece of paper with a different colored pen, just to save on red ink.
– Assess your characters.
Yes, you still need to look at your characters’ goals and motivations for engaging in hot, sweaty sex. It’s not enough for them to want each other–you also want to know what they’re getting out of the act. Is this their way of expressing their love for each other? How does their relationship change as a result of the sex? There is no way of escaping conflict in an intimate scene, so make sure that the elements are in place. Again, you may also want to use a different colored pen to write all of this down.
– Take another break. Running your manuscript through diagnostics can be very tiring. Have another drink and take some time to recover first.
– Write more notes. Once you’ve assessed all the elements, it’s time to go back to your manuscript and write more notes. What I did with my most recent manuscript was that I wrote each character’s goals and motivations on the first page before marking my text again with my desired improvements. Sometimes I’ll change a character’s dialogue, or add more narrative to flesh out their thoughts. In this case, I will write out my changes on the spaces between lines (this is why double-spacing is important!) and save my own comments for the margins. I use a red pen for this, too, but any other colored pen would suffice.
– And…rewrite! You’ve done it–you’ve run the diagnostics and fixed what needed to be fixed. Go back to your laptop and make the changes that you want on your manuscript; with your new notes, you can reshape the scenes as you see fit.
– Have another drink.
You earned it! Enjoy the moment…until you revise the next scene 😉