This post is by request, and I’m so glad it was asked, because I confess—I’d never thought to tackle this topic on the blog! The request was for … *waggles eyebrows* — tips for writing steamy scenes.
Now, a confession, and one I’m not proud of. My first thought when the question came through was:
Pour a stiff drink.
Because, by God, that’s what I did the first time I ever had to write one! I could not turn off my brain from thinking, “Oh my God, what if [insert conservative relative, former boss, former teacher] ever reads this?!”
Finally I had to pour myself a bourbon and get on with it. I do not necessarily recommend that approach (though I’ll be honest, it did get me through the hump (PUN!) of that first sex scene). But I bring it up to reassure you that you are so not alone if you’re dreading writing them, or don’t have a clue how to get started.
They’re still not easy for me to write, but here are a few things I’ve learned:
#1 – Put on your headphones, and play music.
Don’t roll your eyes at me young lady, it helps! I almost never listen to music when I write other scenes, but sex scenes I almost always do. Writing a good sex scene is all about mood and emotion, and music is really good for that.
If you have Spotify, search for “sexy playlist” or “bedroom jams” or any other keywords that you can think of. You’ll get thousands of results, and eventually you’ll find a song that is “right,” for the scene. One of my go to’s is “Ride” by Chase Rice, which is technically country, but oh my. Not the kind of country I’m used to. And pardon me for taking a cheesy trip back to the 80s, but Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” Top Gun style is a classic.
#2 – Tell yourself that nobody will read it.
I’ve come a long way since I wrote my first sex scene in 2011, but now, I still sometimes myself getting hung up on the thought of people I know in real life reading my steamier scenes.
To mitigate this, I’ll tell myself as I’m writing it that nobody will see it.
Even if you don’t have the same “omg, Mom will read it!” hang-ups as me, this is still a useful exercise. By telling yourself it’ll never leave your computer, you free yourself up from any pressure to make it good.
And for what it’s worth, I’ve never actually discarded a sex scene. But telling myself I can allows me to write without judgment, and evaluate it later.
#3 – Use short sentences.
I’ve found that lonnnnng sentences in steamy scenes make it harder to maintain the sexiness. It tends becomes to start reading like: “he did this, then this, and she responded like this…and this …” Awkward.
Think of some super hot scenes in TV/movies. Even the slow ones tend to be a bit breathless, right? Nobody’s reciting poetry or monologues in the throes of passion! Short sentences help convey this breathlessness on the page.
#4 – Feel free to skip some details.
I mean, give the good detail if you’re comfortable. But I used to (still sometimes do) obsess about things like, “Wait—how is he going to get her out of her jeans when I never had her take her shoes off?!” Which would me down the rabbit hole of, “Should he take her shoes off? Wait, what about his shoes? What about socks?! … Do I have to describe his boxers?!”
If you find the details feel natural and help create a picture, include them! But know that it’s also okay to skim some of that stuff. Think of how you read other authors’ sex scenes—are you wondering if the hero’s still wearing his socks? I doubt it. Readers’ imagination and subconscious will fill in the blanks.
Again, imagine a sexy movie scene. Ever notice how they cut straight to the good stuff, and omit stuff like getting from the kitchen to the bedroom, and um, socks?
and for anyone who needs to hear it…
Your comfort zone is valid.
If you’re not that comfortable getting super explicit with your scenes, don’t feel that you have to! Plenty of romance authors are full-time, bill-paying, uber successful writers of closed door or “tame” love scenes.
Similarly, if you want to bring the extreme heat, don’t let anyone make you feel that you should pull back.
Don’t let anyone (not readers, not partners, not family) shame you into writing more steam or less steam than you want to.
Write what you want to write, the way you want to write it.