What I’ve learned about writing erotic scenes

I write about people,  so once in a while, my characters will have sex. Oddly enough, it’s these rare scenes that take the longest to write, because I find it so easy to make a complete sow’s ear of it (which explains why the latest book is taking so long to write: it’s my first attempt at erotic fiction).
Fortunately, I’ve found that writing erotica is a bit like good punctuation: there’s room for flexibility, but certain rules should never be broken. So, using the latest , still un-named, work as a template, here’s what I’ve learned about writing erotica (so far):

1) Throw yourself into it.
Now is not the time to be self-conscious, especially if you’re at the initial drafting stage. I think a lot of writers hit an erotic scene and think, ‘My God, what if my readers think I spend my weekends doing this?’ And this comes across in a scene that’s reserved, detached and with the author’s embarrassment oozing through.

Get over it.
Really.
Just let yourself go.

No one’s going to judge you for it, and no one is going to think it’s you (unless your readership also believes you butcher people at weekends because your main protagonist does).
And what you write may be ridiculous, but that’s okay; once you’ve got the raw down on paper, you can always come back and fix it after a cigarette and a cold shower. But when you start to write, abandon reason, always.

2) Get someone to read it . . .
You should be doing this with the book anyway, but it’s sometimes worth having someone read the scene in isolation. Watch for sniggers and guffaws and comments like, ‘Well, that was certainly . . . different.’
Once you’re happy with the scene then you’re ready to see how it fits in with the wider piece. Now this is very important because some folk have a tendency to switch styles when they’re writing an erotic scene; why, I have no idea. If you’re writing a gritty detective drama, then don’t drop into a dreamy DH Lawrence style of prose as soon as your ex-Navy SeAL street cop jumps into bed with his  favourite informant/hooker; it looks weird.
Likewise, if you’re writing a period piece set in a country house, then think carefully about how the scene sits within the rest of the book. Before the master of the house is chanced upon in the privacy of his study, stop! Remember, you’re writing a period piece of literary, poetic genius; chickens should not be choked; bishops should not be beaten and carrots, most definitely, can not be whacked.

3) . . . other than family
Again, this is a general rule; it doesn’t just apply to erotica. Your family will say everything you write is fabulous and brilliant; they love you and it’s their job to encourage you, but that won’t help you as a writer.

4) Establish some ground rules.
I wrote a scene once which had atmosphere, flow, tension, and then it ran into a brick wall when ‘He entered her.’ I got the piece back from my editor, and she’d scribbled a note (capitalised and in red ink) after the offending phrase:

He entered her.

. . . threw his coat on the hook,  himself into an armchair, found the remote and started skipping through the TV channels.

There’s nothing wrong with the folk being ‘entered’, but it’s been used so much that it’s got no strength behind it, and when a phrase loses its strength then, in writing, it becomes a cliché.

She’s a person, Dom; not a three-bedroom maisonette in Cricklewood.

Okay, I get it; fair enough.

I’m also building a list of words and phrases that I will steadfastly avoid during an erotic scene. Top of the list: engorged, with gasp(ed) and thrust running equal second.

2 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about writing erotic scenes”

    1. Yes, I should have mentioned that: practice. And you’re absolutely right; often the suggestion is more powerful than the statement. I think I might try something…

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