The Art of Writing Steamy Scenes?

"They stand at the foot of the bed and look into each others eyes, their breathing already labored. Will removes his sweater, then his shirt. His heart is pounding in his chest as he steps forward and unbuttons her pants, then his own, his hands roaming her body as he tugs at her jeans, pulling them over her hips, down to the floor, quickly shedding his own." --Scene from 'What if I Fly?'

Let me put it right out there. There is no art to writing a sex scene. When I began writing the first love scene for my first book, I had no clue what I was doing, much like the first time I had sex (I won't go there!). So I did what people do these days, I 'googled' it. How to write a love scene. And there's a plethora of articles out there with varied suggestions. Dim the lights, play mood music, light a candle, and drink a glass of wine. None of those would hurt I suppose, but every other scene I had written evolved from my vivid imagination. I figured I'd give it a go without the props.

I'm (clearly) not a prude, however I'm not a fan of gratuitous sex scenes. If there's a steamy scene in a book, it'd better have a purpose. Whether it's creating intimacy between two characters, developing their relationship in some way, driving the plot forward somehow. Purpose, not sex for the sake of sex.

When I write a sex scene (any scene for that matter), I put myself in the mindset of the character. I'm more interested in what they're thinking in the middle of the action than discussing body parts (though a mention of those are a necessary part of the narrative). The hardest part for me was developing a 'proper' vocabulary. Writing these scenes without sounding completely cheesy is not as easy as I thought it'd be.

One of the compliments I've received about my first novel was that the intimate scenes, while certainly on the steamier side, were not dirty, they were 'filled with love and/or purpose.' Thank goodness! Mission accomplished. Those two characters were deeply in love and I wanted to convey that message whether they were between the sheets (or the back of a barn) or hanging out on the dock. Passion. Love. Electricity. Desire. Connection.

The second novel has it's fair share of steamy scenes and I didn't find it nearly as challenging as I did the first time around. This is a much different story, with more complex characters (in my opinion). The nature of the sex scenes are different as well, but they all have a purpose. I'm not only trying to capture what's going on inside the character's head, but what they're feeling, tasting, touching, smelling, seeing. Using all the senses to draw the reader into the experience.  

Yesterday I reread What if I Fly?, wanting to make sure the pacing of my second novel was as engaging as the first. I want it to flow smoothly, carrying the reader from one chapter to the next, the action consistently moving the story forward. I call it the "I couldn't put it down" effect. That's my goal and I think I've succeeded. It still needs work, but it'll come.

I alternated between laughing and wincing every time I reached a steamy section (Will and Julia, you minxes!). I've read and reread those passages dozens (hundreds) of times during the editing process and never had that reaction in the past. In the end I had to skip over each section, throwing the book down in horror multiple times. I was mortified!

Why now?

Because those words are so personal and intimate, 'experiences' I created in my head. And now? They're out there for all the world to see. It's not my experience anymore, it's everyone's. And it makes me giggle and blush like a schoolgirl. Not only has my mother read those words, but my high school math teacher, aunts, friends, cousins, former colleagues, acquaintances, my old boss...I don't even want to think about it!!!

Thankfully, no one has set eyes on the latest book. I can do my editing without turning purple with embarrassment. And as I conclude this post, I realize the real art of writing a steamy scene lies in not thinking about who may read these words somewhere down the road.  That is the key. To just wrap myself inside the heads of the characters I've created and bring their experiences to life.

I can giggle and cringe later.