I used to have a hard time writing sex scenes. My face would slowly get hotter and redder the longer I typed, and as a result, the first drafts of a lot of them were terrible. Sentence fragments, wandering body parts, not to mention trying to find creative ways to describe certain parts of the human body that I just could not bring myself to write about. Like nipples.
Thankfully for my beta readers, I managed to work through that little mental block, and while I will never use the word “turgid” in a book, nipple does put in an appearance.
I really shouldn’t say used to. I still have a difficult time writing them. My problems now stem from having to remember what I’ve done before and making sure I don’t repeat myself, because no one wants to read the same scene in every single book.
It’s a matter of comfort, what a romance or urban fantasy writer is willing to put on the page. With urban fantasy, you have the option of leaving it out entirely, and you’ll still have a rich and complex story. With romance…yeah, not so much. Romance, by definition, involves physical displays of affection, from a kiss on the cheek to full-0n, leather and chains menage. And when it comes to sex scenes, it’s closed door versus open door.
Lately I’ve been thinking it might be time to push past another boundary, and I’ve got all the erotic romance I’ve been reading to thank for it.
I’ve got a mental block when it comes to certain words in my books (and I’m going to let you guess what they are, because I guarantee if I put them in this post my spam queue will explode). That language made its way into the second draft of Shadowhunter and the first draft of Finders Keepers before it landed on the cutting room floor. I debated using it in Touch and ultimately decided against it. The second draft of Iron Jewel was much more explicit than what I ended up with. In every case, it was the same reason: I wasn’t comfortable with them yet.
I just finished reading Kit Rocha’s Beyond Shame, a dystopian erotic romance that, in a lot of ways, was one of the most creative and enjoyable books I’ve read in the entire romance genre. Outside the safe and sterile walled city of Eden lies the Sectors. Life in the Sectors is full of sin: sex, cage fights, liquor, and lots of leather. Whatever your pleasure, you can find it in the Sectors.
The main character, Noelle, was kicked out of Eden because of her attempts to find sex and alcohol within the confines of her world. She feels shame for all these things she wants to experience, and she has to learn that affectionate touch, even things someone else might consider debased and dirty, are good, if they’re what you want. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.
I think that’s part of it, at least for me. When I first started, I felt dirty and yes, ashamed, of what I was writing. Those scenes were difficult because I was ashamed of them. Nine completed manuscripts later, I’m not embarrassed by them anymore.
There’s an argument to be made for describing the sensations and emotions, because more explicit language can end up being an anatomy lesson the reader doesn’t need. And there are plenty of examples of scenes out there that utilize this method. It’s how I’ve written them in the past, and they present their own challenge, one I’ll come back to, again and again.
But I’m ready for a new challenge. I want to push outside my comfort zone and force those extra naughty words onto the page, because even with their addition, I’ll still have to rely on those emotions and sensations to draw the reader into the scene. That’s not to say I’ll be writing erotica any time soon, and frankly, if I choose to, it’s something I’d keep under wraps-I am writing under my given name, and the last thing I need is for some crazy ass motherfucker to show up on my doorstep because of some erotic romance story I penned under that name.
Sure, there are other ways to step outside your writing comfort zone, and I don’t doubt I’ll push those lines at some point in my career. Right now, though, this is the line I’m going to cross, because it’s time for me to stop being afraid of it. So for those of you waiting on What Didn’t Happen That Night, prepare for some uber-steamy scenes. I’m upping the smexy, and this time, I won’t be editing it out later.