Some of you may know that I have a saucy alter-ego who dips her toe into the erotic. She writes the occasional tale, with a penchant for fairy tales. Her name is “Tysche Dwai” named after a Halfling D & D character whose name translates to “Lucky Dark.”
Writing erotica isn’t instinctive to me. It’s something that I really have to think about. So, several years ago, I asked fellow authors for their tips on the genre. The article below was first published in 2013. It contains graphic examples, so continue reading at your own risk. 😉
“Go, get thee to thy love, as was decreed,
Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her:
But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
For then thou canst not pass to Mantua;
Where thou shalt live, till we can find a time
To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
Beg pardon of the prince, and call thee back
With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
Than thou went’st forth in lamentation.”
—Act III, scene iii
Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare could get away with reducing a wedding night to the lines above and a morning kiss goodbye, but in a world where Shaggy’s song about “banging on the bathroom floor” was one of the most requested songs in the country, it takes a bit more to satisfy a modern audience looking for “steamy scenes.”
So how do you get beyond what one writer calls the “blush factor” and create passion on the page without resorting to pornography? Being of rather high blush-ability myself, I asked a group of bourgeoning romance writers for input. Their feedback includes some great tips to bear in mind.
First of all, writer Janet Franklin pointed out how important sensuality is to the creation of mood for these scenes:
Writing steamy scenes is a very intense experience. I find that putting on a romantic CD really helps get things rolling. Then I might light a few scented candles and close my eyes to focus on my characters. I let them talk to me about what they want to happen, what their deepest wishes are, what their fantasies are. I then think about how they would go about fulfilling and getting those wishes fulfilled. I also focus on their previous relationship and experiences together. For me, steamy scenes need to be gradually approached as the characters woo each other. (Unless, of course, you’re going for the instant “lust in the dust” aspect, which has merits of its own.)
As a romance reader, I look for all my senses to be involved. I look for the romance of the act, not the physical blow-by-blow (no pun intended) of what goes where. Steamy scenes are an important part of romantic fiction; I think an author owes it to her readers to go beyond lights out, fade to black. But it takes a poet to bring those scenes to life, to heart, to soul. And that’s the true mark of a romance author–to bring her readers into the intimacy of the scene in such a way that they don’t feel distanced but feel involved.
Jennifer Turner offered some good concrete advice as well:
When I got to the hot scenes in my book, I read books that I knew offered such scenes. From them I picked the parts I liked best, reworded them, and using the ‘personalities’ of my Characters, blended it into my own scene. Also, I read somewhere that most editors hate the word MOAN in a sex scene. They say it makes them think the person moaning is in pain, not ecstasy. Plus, I think one of the key things to remember, is making all action believable, like say, it wouldn’t be believable to have the Hero carrying the Heroine through the woods while kissing her and trying to get a hand down her shirt. He’d probably run into a tree and drop her on her butt. Another thing, there should be dialogue during the encounter, at one point or another anyway. People in real life don’t just foreplay, but they speak to each other, murmuring endearments, especially in those first dozen or so encounters.
The above advice is important to remember, but realize that it is subjective. While some editors may hate moaning characters, there is still a lot of moaning going on in published literature—therefore it is not a universal thing. Check the guidelines for a particular venue before submitting, just like you do for any other genre.
Writing sex is not an easy thing. The days of bodice-ripping and heaving bosoms are now passé for most readers. Although I personally see nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned romance, the reading populace, in general, are often more progressive in their tastes. It is not enough to fade to black at first contact. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “fade to black” was originally a cinema term for a scene where the director literally did just that—had his cameraman iris in to a black screen. The physical aspects of the scene were left strictly to the imagination. Traditionally, romance writers treated sex the same way. But as tastes have changed, more explicit detail is expected.
However, full out graphics must be handled with sensitivity. The lead-in is almost as important as the final consummation. Wynelda Deaver offers the following advice about creating atmosphere, with a sample of just how important foreplay can be:
In order to get to the point where I can actually write a steamy scene, I do a couple of things first. One of them is to write a dance scene, whether I use it or not. For me, dancing is so sensual, so primal that all my inhibitions dissolve with the song. I have “soundtracks” to my writing, and pick the songs that I write certain scenes to very carefully. The following scene was written to Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” from Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. I love that song…can sink into the beauty and romance of it:
“Well, their singer has agreed to stay on for a couple of weeks. Until they can find a replacement, at least.” Cole sat down next to Lacey, draping his arm over her shoulder.
The contact felt right, if not exactly easy. Lacey could feel the warmth of his arm through her tee-shirt, and it sent a thrill through her.
“They’ll be practicing in a couple. Want to stay and listen?” Cole played with a strand of her blonde hair absently.
Lacey turned to look in his eyes. They were pensive, lost in thought. “Sure.”
The band was good. Lacey found herself bouncing along with the songs. When they started a rendition of “Satisfaction,” Lacey started humming along with them.
Cole smiled. The song summed up his feelings at the moment. “Shall we dance?”
“But there’s no one else,” Lacey said.
“Exactly. We’ll have much more elbow room this way.”
Grinning, Lacey allowed him to pull her up from her chair and followed him onto the dance floor. It felt silly, to be dancing in a club without the camouflage of other couples. More exposed.
Soon, the eyes that might be watching no longer mattered. Cole spun her around, brought her back in close to him. His hands were firm on her waist, bringing her in as close as he could. Branding her. Lacey snaked her arms around his neck. A slow, secret smile teased her lips. It was deliciously wicked to be in his arms, his body moving against hers. She could feel his breath, wanted to make it her own.
The band went smoothly into another song. Cole tightened his grip on her hips as she arched her back and leaned into the song. He wanted to feel the expanse of bare midriff that she revealed, but was afraid to get in too deep. Her dancing was a slow seduction, bringing him to the edge of control.
He slid a hand up her back, guiding her back up to him. She was humming in his ear.
Cole dipped his head, caught her lip gently in his teeth. He breathed in her gasp, slid his tongue gently against her lips. “Lacey?” His voice was quiet, shook with need.
“If you apologize again,” Lacey whispered, “I’ll have to hurt you.” She reached up and brought his head down to hers. Took him in a kiss that branded him as hers.
“Sing for me,” he breathed against her lips.
Lacey looked deep into his eyes. Trusted the warmth, the heat she found in them. The band was playing an old song, one of her favorites. Still, she remained undecided.
His hips moved against hers. “Princess, please.”
Softly, she sang for him. Only for him. Their bodies moved as one, she could feel his heartbeat against her chest. She knew instinctively that he would demand more from her. More than she had ever given before. Possibly more than she was willing to give.
She barely knew him.
She knew him all too well.
Her voice gained strength. With a growl of satisfaction, Cole slid his hands up her back, bringing her even closer. He wanted to shout for joy when she framed his face in her hands, her voice strong and true.
She hadn’t noticed that the singer on stage was now silent. That Lacey was the song, and the music followed her.
Neither of them noticed Tag walk into the club. He watched with narrowed eyes his baby sister making love on the dance floor with a man that he didn’t know. Saw her utter captivation.
Heard her sing. Truly sing. He hadn’t heard Lacey sing in…forever. Her voice was powerful, full of hurt and hunger and vulnerability and power. Perfect.
The bartender who had taken her in back the night before came up to Tag. “Can I help you, Sir?”
Tag shook his head. “I’ve already found what I was looking for.” He turned and left his sister in Cole Haggerty’s arms.
Lacey smiled shyly at Cole as the music ended. “Perfect,” he whispered. Then bent his head to claim her lips.
Scattered clapping from the stage brought Lacey out of his arms quickly. She could feel herself blushing bone-deep.
Cole swore softly. He needed another cold shower, damn it.
—- From Princess, By Wynelda Ann Shelton
The only other trick I have up my sleeve for writing steamy scenes is really odd. Sometimes the only way I can get over the blush factor is to write the scene on brightly colored construction paper. It seems to free my mind from its hang-ups.
So, we have covered setting the mood, and foreplay. How do you get down to the nitty-gritty? The brass tacks. The graphics. First of all, by not resorting to out-dated euphemisms or coy symbolism. There is still no need to get crude, but there is less tolerance for the “straining manhood” and “womanly nest” of the past. Unless you are recapturing a period mood or style. Today’s audience can handle more graphic wording, and expect it if it is tastefully done. For example, in the following:
As soon as Peter had shut the bathroom door, Beth stepped to the bed and sat on the edge of it. It was hard, yet yielding. She closed her eyes as she ran her hands along the spread and imagined lying back on that surface, and looking up as Peter knelt over her. She bit her lip. What was she doing here? She chuckled throatily to herself…just taking a little advice and “going for it” She opened her eyes and saw his jacket on the bed beside her. She swept it up and cradled it to her breasts, taking a deep whiff of the scent of him. She hugged it tightly. And smiled wickedly as a thought came to her. She laid the jacket back on the bed, and slowly reached for the next button on her blouse. Should she…?
Coming to a quick decision, she slipped the last two buttons undone and dropped the blouse on the bed, and then she reached behind her and unzipped the velvet skirt, dropping it to the floor. She took a deep breath. No turning back now. “Just do it!” she whispered, biting her lip again.
Stepping to the bathroom door, she put a hand on the knob, and all of a sudden had a heart-stopping thought. What if it was locked? God…let it turn….
The knob twisted beneath her hand, and she pushed the door open a crack. A wave of steam billowed out at her. It caressed her bare skin like a lover’s kiss, and she shivered. Then she slipped inside the bathroom and closed the door softly. The water roared in the shower, and she felt her nipples tighten in anticipation. Silently, she stepped forward and pulled back the rear of the shower curtain.
Beth felt her heart pounding so fiercely in her breast that the world went a little gray around the edges. She saw his stare drift down, and freeze at her crotch. She grinned a little, catching her lip between her teeth, and then let the grin widen impishly as she slid her hand down her own thigh.
Peter was staring at her with an obvious interest that was centering in the long, hard length of him. She panted, stepping toward him and feeling the hot beads of the shower caress her every pore.
“Welcome to Texas, Peter,” she whispered huskily, her voice so thick with desire she could hardly force it from her throat. “And welcome to me….”
Peter held out his arms, and she stepped into the circle of them, tilting her head up to meet his lowering kiss. She could feel the iron tension of his cock pressing into her belly, and she rolled her hips lightly against it. He chuckled, the sound deepening into a growl as he laid claim to her lips. His mouth moved hungrily on hers, his tongue demanding entrance into her throat. She opened her lips willingly, greedily feeding upon his tongue as it explored her mouth, and then, tightening her arms about his neck, pulling his head still closer and probing back with her own tongue.
His arms tightened about her waist, and then she felt herself being lifted from the bottom of the tub. He placed his hands beneath her buttocks, and she arched upward. Peter used his sensual fingers to reach underneath her and part the lips of her slit. She pulled her head back long enough to whimper. “Oh, yes, baby. Please. Please….” And then attacked his lips with increased fervor.
He raised her a little further, and then eased her down onto the hot, throbbing tip of his rigid penis. She sighed, arching backward to better the angle as it slid slowly into the core of her. Deeper…and deeper…until she wanted to scream with the intensity of it. He was deliberately teasing her, drawing out the penetration for as long as he possibly could, but when at last she felt the ridge of her pelvis meet his, she could feel the tip of him resting deep inside her. Her body tightened around him automatically, and he groaned. She locked her feet behind his waist and slowly rotated her pelvis, feeling the shaft within her respond like a well-oiled gearshift. The water continued to pour down around them, blissfully warm, and it danced upon her breasts, teasing the taut nipples. Carefully, she began to work herself up and down on the length of him. He filled her like the cork of a wine bottle, plugging her as if he were made for the task. The friction was heavenly torture, and she arched her back as he leaned back slightly to counterbalance her movements. She could feel a building tension. It had been so long since she had been truly satisfied….
Suddenly, she could feel the crescendo building to a head, and she whimpered again low in her throat.
“Go ahead and scream if you want to…no one will hear you,” Peter urged, and thrust forward an extra fraction.
It was her undoing and scream she did. Long, incoherent babbling praises. She bucked against him, and he laughed.
“Careful, love, you’ll spill us to the floor!”
But she didn’t care…her mind was locked in red-hot flames. She pulled herself down as tightly as she could on the miracle of him, and ground her hips into his pelvis one more time. She bit the side of his throat lightly with her teeth, suckling the salty flesh that still bore traces of sweat despite the prolonged shower, and she felt him stiffen beneath her. “Your turn,” she growled in his ear, nipping at the lobe as she redoubled her assault on his cock.
She felt him gulp, and then begin to thrust within her. She rode his thrusts, feeling the energy building again. After so long a starvation, she was not sated yet. As his strokes became faster and more urgent, she panted encouragement. “C’mon, baby. C’mon. Do it for me, come on…come on!”
Her panting grew louder and louder, as the scream gathered once more in her throat, but this time, she was not alone. He cried out with her. She felt him give one final jerk and thrust forward, and then she felt the hot spurting jets of his seed filling her like molten lead. She leaned forward and crushed his mouth beneath her own, forcing her tongue into his mouth once more, and kissing him hard. There were tears mixed with the hot water now…water that was beginning finally to cool as if realizing that its purpose had been served. He crushed her to him, returning her kiss with an equal passion.
At last, she pulled her head back enough that she could see his eyes, and murmured in a sated growl. “Now THAT is how we say welcome in Texas.”
Let’s recap—the most important thing to remember about writing a steamy scene is to be honest with the material. The way I judge whether a scene is working is by how it makes me feel. Does it cause a reaction in me as a reader? If it does, then it is probably working. Set the mood for yourself, and it will be easier to create it for your reader. If you don’t have a lot of experience in this area of writing, model yourself on what has sold in the past. You can tone down easier than you can heat up. But, as always—research your market before you submit a piece. Most markets looking for steamy content have very specific limits on how graphic their writers should be. Don’t send a publisher more detail than they are willing to accept. Tasteful love scenes can really add fire to a story, and punch to character relationships.
One of the most successful romance writers on the market today, Julie Garwood, is often cited by her readers for her well-written sexual encounters. For a good example of how to integrate the love scene into your action, I strongly recommend her work. Several of Anne Rice’s non-vampiric novels also contain erotic scenes. Besides the extremely graphic fairy tales comprising The Sleeping Beauty trilogy, “Exit to Eden” and “Belinda” also contain some fairly explicit examples for the would-be writer of steamy scenes.
Do write for the senses. Don’t forget that you have five, and in a good encounter, all are engaged. Set your mood for the reader; paint the room around your lovers before throwing them in bed together. Is there a scent of apples in her hair from the shampoo she used that morning? Does his beard stubble scrape against her cheek? Can they taste the wine on each other’s tongues? Give your readers details to bring them into the world you are creating.
Don’t overwrite the scene. If you are targeting a specific market, make sure that you stay within its prescribed guidelines. Check here for Harlequin guidelines. Here are some other markets to check into. Be sure to make sure that the market is still publishing before submitting to it.
One final word of advice when you are deciding how far to leave the bedroom door open for the reader—keep in mind the age group you are targeting as well. Most of the readership for the mainstream romance lines are adults. They can handle more graphic sex. However, there are more young adult lines all the time. In these books, it is irresponsible to promote underage sex without presenting the consequences as well. It is even more vital to check for guidelines when working with this age group.
In summation: 1) Be sensual; let your readers experience all five senses. 2) Be specific; follow the guidelines for the market you are targeting. 3) Be responsible; don’t advocate casual sex merely for the sake of a salacious scene. Remember, all of the markets mentioned above look for the encounters to be within a committed relationship. 4) Have fun! Remember, this is your chance to indulge all your erotic fantasies….
And if you would like to check out some of Tysche’s work, here are the links:
The Cunning Thief — an Irish inspired fairy tale
The River God’s Bride — a Chinese inspired fairy tale
Western Ways — story “Starr for the Teacher”
Some of the others listed on this page are currently out-of-print, but you might be able to find some of them around. I hope to get some of them back on Amazon in the fairly near future.