I have to admit I was pretty excited to be asked to host a stopover on Sacchi Green’s Wild Rides Blog Tour. After all, Sacchi is famous for writing and curating incredibly intense, hot, fiery, edge-of-your-seat erotica. And I’m famous for—Well, closing the doors and giving my characters a little privacy. Still, I think hot lesbian erotica is an important part of the lesfic world and I will always celebrate those who do it well.
You can enter to win a free ebook or some other cool stuff at our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.
Without further ado, please welcome the inimitable Sacchi Green.
I’ve been kindly invited to blog here on the occasion of the Dirt Road Books publication of Wild Rides and other Lesbian Erotic Adventures, a collection of my own stories. I’ve edited about fifteen anthologies consisting mostly of work by other writers, but I’ve also been writing for other folks’ anthologies, and the chance to have some of my own grouped all together in one book is a huge treat for me.
But I’m not going to talk much today about the book itself. In my years of writing and editing I’ve been dedicated to making a case for erotica as a potentially worthwhile sub-genre. I’ve done panels at various conventions on how to write sex scenes, and pontificated on the subject in online groups, so in spite of the fact that you wouldn’t be reading this at all if you weren’t already at least tolerant of erotica, I’ll share part of a chapter I wrote for a friend’s now out-of-print book.
Sex Scenes Without Fear
What is it about sex scenes? No other section of a book other than, possibly, the ending, inspires so much flipping through the pages. Some readers will be avid to find the “good parts” and devour them first, while others will want to make sure they know which pages to avoid. It’s equally true that some writers can’t wait to get working on the erotic bits, while others, pressured to include them by editors or by their own assessments of the market, avoid writing them until everything else has been done and they can’t procrastinate any longer.
I won’t try to tell you, as a writer, that whatever method you use is wrong. If you can make it work, that’s great. But I will tell you what kind of reader you should write for: one who opens herself to your characters, gets drawn into their lives and emotions, and follows wherever the story leads because it’s so compelling that she can’t bear to miss a word. Not even words she might usually avoid.
Your first responsibility is to give this reader what she needs. Being true to your characters is just as essential, but you’ve seduced the reader into some degree of identification with your POV character, so it amounts to the same thing. And what she needs, besides an emotional bond that intensifies into a physical one, is a scene that flows naturally from what comes before and advances the characterization and story arc at least as much as any other element of the work.
Sex scenes serve many purposes beyond satisfying an editor who believes that they sell books. Erotic interchanges can be as revelatory of character as any other basic human activity, and more so than most, since they deal with heightened emotions and senses and, in some cases, heavily weighted baggage from past experience. If you’ve already developed your characters fully, aspects of their personalities and histories can be emphasized in sex scenes, but you may also find that these scenes provide ways to slip in details not revealed in calmer moments. Shyness or confidence, impulsiveness or self-control, tenderness, vulnerability, repression, unapologetic sensuality; these are only a few of the traits that can be surface in the heat of a sexual encounter. The characters may even surprise themselves with their own reactions.
The sex scene can also serve less complex purposes. Sometimes your characters (and the reader) just need to have a really good time, whether as a counterpoint to the stresses of whatever else is happening in your story or as a pacing device to vary the mood from scene to scene. And eventually you have to deliver the implicitly promised payoff to all the emotional and erotic tension you’ve been building.
You have been building erotic tension, haven’t you? It’s a huge mistake to think of a sex scene as a single obligatory lump of action inserted into your story with no relevance to the rest, sticking out like a sore thumb. (Yes, that’s an unforgivable cliché. Yes, I could think of several metaphors more in keeping with our topic, but I’ll leave those as an exercise for the reader.)
When it comes to building toward sex scenes, foreshadowing is like foreplay. It’s not going to be convincing for your characters to leap suddenly into a passionate clinch without ever having given hints, in thought or deed, of a growing sexual attraction. Even if your plot involves repression or denial, you need to find subtle ways of showing that something is simmering under the surface. The reader, as well as the characters, has to be ready for an eruption. In a novel that isn’t specifically erotica you don’t want to overdo the sensual foreshadowing to the point of distraction from the other essential elements, but it does need to be part of the blend.
So now your characters, setting, and emotional connection with your reader have been established. You’ve drawn on all or most of the senses, using sight, hearing, scent, touch, and taste wherever they might be appropriate. Erotic tension has mounted, and you’ve reached the point when a sex scene is the natural next step in the progression of their relationship (and your story). Many writers, as well as readers, would prefer to leave the rest to the imagination, but if you’re reading this we’ll assume that for one reason or another—editorial pressure, personal inclination, recognition of the importance to the story as a whole—you intend to create a fully developed and explicit sexual encounter.
Just how explicit is explicit enough? I used to say, when asked, that a story crosses the line into erotica when the writer has to make decisions about what terms to use for parts of the body. It was a stupid answer. It’s quite possible (and an intriguing challenge) to write intensely arousing and satisfying scenes without naming body parts at all. Anyone reading your work is likely to be familiar with the anatomical territory, and will understand what’s going on from the context and the reactions and dialogue of the characters (assuming that “Yes, there, please, right there,” counts as dialogue).
Nevertheless, the language you use to describe sex can have nearly as much impact on the reader as the actions you’re describing. For better or for worse, sex has accumulated so much baggage in our culture that “dirty” words carry an erotic jolt of their own, positive for some people, negative for others. All you can do is be familiar enough with your characters to know whether they’d say “pussy” or “vulva”; “clit” or “clitoris”; “labia” or “lips”, or…well, you get the picture. Even the choice between “breasts” or “tits” or “boobs” says something about the character’s personality, background, and mood. “Tits” is a perfectly good colloquial version of “teats”, a term currently more in use in animal husbandry, but these days “tits” has a certain edge to it that might or might not be what you’re looking for. “Boobs” feels to me like a more casual, flippant usage, which can have its place as well. Just be glad that in lesbian fiction we don’t have to deal with labels for male genitalia, unless in a metaphorical sense, but really, let’s not go there.
My advice, from the perspective of just one reader/writer/editor, is to get as much mileage as you can out of non-controversial terms, and then use the others, but sparingly. Hands, fingers, tongues, thighs; few descriptions are more erotic than getting any of the first three moving between a pair of the fourth. When the focus inevitably becomes so narrowed that you do need more specific (or “explicit”) language, keep it short and non-clinical.
The one time above all others when you don’t want to throw the reader out of the scene (or have the book thrown against the wall) is in the full heat of a sexual encounter. Or a good fuck, if you prefer blunt to stilted. If you’re going to try your hand at new ways to describe, say, hardened nipples, you might come up with something creative and right to the point, but you’d better run it by an unbiased beta reader or two. (Acorns and berries and snails and pencil erasers have already been used, just so you know.) I’m not saying that you should never be creative, but you need to be aware of the hazards. All of the other advice you’ve seen about keeping adverbs and adjectives to a minimum applies here, as well, and ellipses, especially tempting in erotica since so much reaction is non-verbal, need just as firm a hand.
Another word-choice issue, one inherent in same-sex erotica, is the problem of pronouns. Which “she” is touching which “her” with whose hand? A first person point of view takes care of the problem with “I” and “She, but deciding what kind of POV works best for a story should be based on other factors.
So what can you do? Ideally the context, the individualized personalities of the characters, and their relative positions at a given time (if one is standing and the other is sitting, we know who’s reaching down and who’s looking up), will make some of the interactions clear. When these aren’t enough, don’t be afraid to use their names, even if it seems repetitive. Don’t give in to the urge to use too many adjectives, at least not in the form of “the darker woman” or “the whimpering girl”; these distance the reader from the action at just the worst time. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get away with some physical descriptions to indicate who’s doing what—“dark hair brushed her skin”, “her large hand moved faster”—but don’t rely on them too often. When you need to use a name for clarity, do it. If you’re handling the rest of the scene well enough, the reader will be too involved to notice.
This brings us to writing the scene itself. “Focus” is the key word. Focus on what your characters are feeling. People read for the sensations it arouses. The stimulation might be intellectual, or something along the lines of sense-of-wonder, but far more often they’re looking for an emotional and sensual charge, something that stirs the body as well as the mind. A romantic scene can do this as well as an erotic one for many readers. There’s a physical reaction; the heart seems to swell, the pulse quickens, the face may flush, there may even be a hint of tears. It’s no accident that something with emotional appeal is often termed “touching”. Taking it to the next, erotic, level should build on this physical response, extend it to more areas of the body, and intensify it.
There’s no single required structure for a sex scene. For one thing, the scene doesn’t stand alone, unless it constitutes the entirety of a short story. You may have got your characters (and the reader) so worked up that they go right at it the moment they’ve made it to a private corner, or the tone may not even be overtly erotic at the beginning, until some catalyst triggers a reaction that becomes an irresistible force. You’ve been leading up to this, building erotic tension at various strategic points, sometimes subtly, sometimes with more emphasis. You may have established a pattern this way that echoes the overall structure of the plot, but by the time you reach the “real” sex scene the flow should be almost entirely forward. There can be exceptions; your plan for character development might call for one or another of the lovers to show hesitation, or experience painful flashbacks, or something along those lines; but your ultimate goal is an uninterrupted stretch of accelerating heat that comes to a satisfying conclusion. You don’t necessarily want to reach that point too fast, though–getting there is a whole lot of the fun.
Don’t feel that you have to include acts that you actually find distasteful. If, for instance, the thought of using teeth on tender parts makes you cringe (and assuming that cringing is not something you enjoy on any level), or feather-stroking strikes you as merely annoying, don’t use them. There are plenty of other options. A scene where everyone remains fully clothed and the major friction comes from thighs pressing into crotches can be as erotic as naked slippery bodies performing complex contortions. You just have to do a good enough job of showing how intensely the participants are enjoying it to convince the reader and take her along for the ride. Focus on the feelings.
But what do editors look for? Don’t they require a certain amount of explicit language and hotter-than-life sex? Probably most do, but they value the story component too. I’ve edited over a dozen erotica anthologies, and I’ve never consciously established any kind of quota for sexual content. Well, if it’s an erotica anthology, there should be sexual tension, and someone, at some point, should reach orgasm, although even that isn’t always necessary. Sex has to be a significant part of the story, but it needs to have a good story around it, and I especially like it when even the sex is about more than sex.
That’s really all I can tell you in general terms about writing sex scenes. Create characters, setting, plot, and sensory details that will draw the reader into the story, and when a sex scene is the natural next step, focus on feelings. Develop it just as you would in any other part of the story, but even more so, because there really is something special about sex scenes.
Have I followed my own advice in the stories in Wild Rides? I really don’t know, so feel free to let me know where I’ve gone wrong.
Upcoming stops on the Sacchi Green blog tour:
3/25 — R.G. Emmanuelle
Sacchi Green is a Lambda Award-winning writer and editor of erotica and other stimulating genres. She lives in western Massachusetts, with an alternate retreat in the mountains of New Hampshire and occasional forays into such real world spots as NYC for readings. Her work has appeared in scores of publications, including multiple volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best Transgender Erotica, and Best Fantasy Erotica, and she’s also edited seventeen anthologies over the last fourteen years, most of them lesbian erotica. Nine have been finalists for Lambda Literary Awards, and two of those have been Lambda winners, while four have won Golden Crown Literary Society awards. All these awards, of course, are actually due to the fine writers who trust her with their work.
Sacchi has most recently edited Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year 20th Anniversary Edition, Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year Volume 2 and Volume 3, and, possibly the most fun of all, Witches, Princesses and Women at Arms: Erotic Lesbian Fairy Tales. Her very first novel is Shadow Hand, a superheroine book that puts a new twist on the genre, and her newest publication is a collection of her own short stories, Wild Rides and Other Lesbian Erotic Adventures, from Dirt Road Books. You can find her online at: https://www.facebook.com/sacchi.green and http://sacchi-green.blogspot.com, and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.