Writing Erotic Scenes in Fiction- Why Less is More


A lot of writers seem to have difficulty writing erotic or sexual scenes. Make it too detailed and it can come across as too strong or graphic, too romantic and it can seem less realistic to some readers. So how do you balance writing erotic scenes in fiction?

1. Consider the tone/mood

When you are writing an erotic scene, the scene has a purpose and that purpose has an impact on what tone you are going to use. If it’s one or both partiea having an affair, there may be a guilty rushed tone whereas if it’s two people in love there may be a slower, more romantic tone. If it’s a comedy you might want the scene to reflect that.You want your writing to try to express the tone of the event and to reflect your characters experience.

For example, if you wanted a scene between two people quite frustrated with each other but also very attracted to each other, it might have two different tones. A tone of frustration and anger but a tone of attraction too. The writing needs to try and convey both those emotions. 

Consider as well the tone of the whole piece of writing. Most novels have an overall tone and mood to them. If your scene doesn’t fit the whole novel the scene could be jarring to the reader (although you may want to do that that deliberately if you are writing a more experimental novel). In general though, try to avoid shifting too dramatically. If you are writing a serious dramatic novel and suddenly write a comedic erotic scene in the middle of it, the reader might find it a bit confusing. 

2. Metaphors

Many of the less effective erotic scenes I have ever come across usually have two common problems:

Word choices and strange metaphors. Metaphors instantly conjure an image to mind. If you choose a strange or bizarre metaphor in erotic scenes it can have quite a negative effect. Again, this is because the metaphor ofteb doesn’t fit the tone. If you want a scene to portray intimacy stay away from comparisons to things that are non-human and inanimate. For example metaphors that are mechanical seem cold and distant, whereas metaphots using fruit sound comedic and take away any seriousness. Writing an erotic scene as mechanical could work in particular genres such as in a dystopian sci-fi. In general though, using unusual metaphors in erotic scenes can often be very uncomfortable for readers as it not something they might expect and often taken away from intimacy the writer is trying to portray. 

This leads me to the other common problem in many erotic scenes:

3. Word Choices

In erotic scenes, you have to ask yourself how far do you want to go in your word choices. If you do want to be really graphic, remembee that many people may be put off from reading it, depending on their level of comfort with the language you may use. This also ties into genre and personal style but if you aren’t sure about writing erotic scenes you might not want to go too far. Writing the mood of the scene is actually more powerful than describing every action in detail. Be aware also of what individual words you choose in these scenes as the wrong word choice can turn a scene you intend to be romantic into something uncomfortable to read and even humorous or silly Sometimes it’s better to avoid labelling the physical aspects of the scene at all and just to focus on creating an overall feeling or experience.

4. Less is More

If you remember nothing else written here today remember this piece of advice: You do not need to write every detail of the act! A scene often does describe physical actions but most people’s imaginations actually need very little prompting to understand what is happening. Using minimal amounts of description in an erotic scene is often much more effective than writing a line-by-line account detailing each action. It’s really far more about portraying the mood. The reader will usually fill in the details you don’t give by themselves. Think of those old Hollywood scenes where two people are kissing and the next scene is one of them waking up to find the other person gone and a note on their pillow. It’s clichèd but the viewer understands what’s happened even though the camera didn’t show the whole act. Minimalize the details and let the mood propel the scene forward. This is particularly important if you want to create a strong sense of seriousness or emotion in the scene. When erotic scenes turn into graphic scenes(which there’s nothing inherently wrong with), it draws away from the dramatic nature of the scene and turns into something else. This won’t upset everyone but remember that everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to writing graphic scenes just consider if that’s the sort of story you actually want to write or if it’s important to your novel or story.

In the end,  there are no fixed rules for erotic scenes but one other piece of advice I can give is just to avoid the unusual and the extreme (unless your novel is like that the whole way through) and to keep it more about your character’s emotional experiences than physical. The scenes will always be dependent on your genre, tone, characters and your personal style. If you don’t want to write them, then don’t. If you just want to hint at an erotic act just use the Hollywood effect of not actually showing the event but hinting at it. If you want to show the whole event then do. It’s your choice as a writer. But it’s also your reader’s choice to find it uncomfortable if it is not for them. If you are not sure trust your instincts. I feel that people are often afraid to write erotic scenes for fear of them being silly but they are just another type of scene that takes practise. Stick to your own writing style and give it a go when you feel it’s a scene you want to write.

Afternote:

I’ve kept this post pretty tame despite it’s topic but if you want to read some actual examples of erotic scenes that aren’t considered very effective, click the link below. I tried to find some links to examples of good scenes but few links seemed to separate the notion of erotic scenes and sex scenes so you can imagine the results I got! It’s the same reason the is no picture attached to the post either. Personally I feel that erotic scenes and sex scenes are two slightly different things. Hope you enjoyed the post.

https://nothingintherulebook.com/2016/11/17/bad-sex-in-fiction-extracts-from-the-2016-shortlist/

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5 thoughts on “Writing Erotic Scenes in Fiction- Why Less is More

  1. This was an interesting read. I read mostly non-fiction. Of course, most of fiction that I’ve read is classical or modern spy action thrillers which have no erotic scenes. When I was growing up, a lot of women in my family read only erotic fiction. You know, Cowboys with flat tummies and no body hair getting up to no good in barns. It was my instinct is to rebel.

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