Episode #7: We discuss writing about sex from a fiction craft perspective.
Carrie: Lady Sings The Blues by Billie Holiday & William Dufty; Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life & Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon
Christa: Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli; The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
CORE BELIEFS ON WRITING SEX <———–*cue angelic music*
1) There is no trick and there are no rules. Writing sex doesn’t involve a kind of how-to recipe & moral authority holding a giant book of rules. The only rules that matter are the ones that govern the story you want to tell and the people you are depicting.
2) If you aren’t comfortable writing about sex, then don’t do it. YA doesn’t require sex in it. If you don’t want to write about that aspect of adolescence, that is okay. But if you write about romance, realize that there has been an historic imbalance in YA of swoon versus physicality, which is sort of disingenuous in lots of ways.
3) Sex scenes are some of the most closely-read prose ever produced. Kids who like to read and who are curious about sex will PORE over your sex scenes. They matter.
4) Good sex writing comes directly from good character development. You must be solid in the latter for success in the former. When asking, ‘what can I do in my YA book?’ you need to kick back the question to the character: “what does this character do?”
5) Writing sex scenes for teenagers is much different than writing them for adults. Adults have completely different motivations, constraints & expectations for their sexual lives than adolescents. A lot of adolescents don’t even know what they want or need or like.
6) Whether or not teens are having sex should not dictate if books should include it or not. Emerging sexuality is part of adolescent development and lopping it off for political reasons is like removing religion (or lack of religion) from a character’s personality. Which is to say that understanding a teen character’s feelings about their own sexuality makes for more richly developed characters.
7) The biggest problem I’ve seen with sex scenes in YA books is the absolute unevenness of them with respect to other elements of the book. Authors will spend ten pages describing the inside of a castle but won’t spend ten words on what it feels like to have someone’s fingers inside them. In the romance world, you often see the opposite problem. There’s wall to wall sex details but so little plot or other dressing that it can feel like full-on porn.
References & Books
Carrie’s list of Romance Novel Words
Andrew Karre’s blog post on What Teen Readers Want To See Regarding Sex
What Is Graphic? – a post on using ‘graphic language’
Breathless by Jessica Warman
The Vagina Monologues script by Eve Ensler
Some Interesting Links on Writing Sex by Steve Almond:
“How To Write Sex Scenes – A 12-Step Program” The Rumpus
“On the Enchantments & Uses of Bad Writing” in The Writer’s Chronicle
“What I Learned from Teaching a Sex-Writing Class” in Salon