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View Full Version : Erotic scenes in regular books - how descriptive?



Calliea
12-09-2012, 12:42 AM
Another question from me (pardon me, but it's the first community I've been in where such questions have a chance of getting a sensible reply).

I don't know if this topic needs a special tag or anything, but the topic is pretty explanatory and I'm not posting porn here so it should be fine? ;)

Anyway, I am wondering, in an adult novel, what do you think is the right amount of descriptions when it comes to the erotic scenes without a black screen? How far should the writer go to keep the reader content and not feeling that there just wasn't enough or that there was too much?

If you would have an example of such scene somewhere around, feel free to send me a PM. I've read so many various things ranging all the way from butterflies-over-meadow to a you're-going-to-hell-for-reading-this that I am unable to judge by myself anymore...

Fantasy genre interests me the most.

kaitie
12-09-2012, 12:50 AM
This is going to be such a non-answer, but as much as it needs. I dislike books that throw in the random sex scene just to show the hero getting some, or as if it's obligatory. I've also read books with very detailed scenes which fit perfectly with the characters and story. It's part of the art of it, figuring out the right answer for each individual story. I have some that have no sex at all, others that cut away very early and you see nothing, and others that show more.

Probably not a very helpful answer, unfortunately.

Calliea
12-09-2012, 12:53 AM
It is an answer that I agree with :) Especially when it comes to needless and pointless sex scenes (erotic novels are made for those and if someone wants even less, there are lemon on-line for everyone and about everything :P).

But what I want to know exactly is the level of description when the lights do not go off. What is the golden middle between "They kissed and after that they made passionate love" and... well, that'd be NSFW. But I'm sure you've read what I mean at one point or the other.

muravyets
12-09-2012, 01:18 AM
I agree with kaitie, and I think the answer is the same for your follow-up question as well. There are situations in which precise and complete detail is warranted, even necessary, to carry through the overall mood, impact, import, etc. of the scene and what it does for the plot and/or characters. There are other situations in which such detail would be distracting and irrelevant.

My personal viewpoint is that everything in the story should be part of the story whether it is a plot event or plot insight or part of character development/insight. I see sex scenes as something that let us get deep inside a character's mind, often in subtle, almost subliminal ways. If there is something about the character(s) and the relationship or lack thereof that can be illuminated by extremely detailed description of a sex scene, then I think that detail is appropriate.

However, if the same story-supporting effect would be better achieved with less detail, then that is what the writer should do.

I'd ask myself what the sex scene is for in the story and what we learn about the characters and/or story from the sex scene. That might determine how I write the scene.

virtue_summer
12-09-2012, 01:22 AM
But what I want to know exactly is the level of description when the lights do not go off. What is the golden middle between "They kissed and after that they made passionate love" and... well, that'd be NSFW. But I'm sure you've read what I mean at one point or the other.
I don't think there is a "golden middle," personally. Everything is going to differ depending on the story and the author, and it should.

DeleyanLee
12-09-2012, 01:44 AM
Anyway, I am wondering, in an adult novel, what do you think is the right amount of descriptions when it comes to the erotic scenes without a black screen? How far should the writer go to keep the reader content and not feeling that there just wasn't enough or that there was too much?

How explicit such a scene should be depends on several things for me, as a reader and a writer.

What's the detail level for other scenes in the book? Are they deeply detailed or is the description less detailed? If the book's been fairly "dry" in detail and I'm suddenly reading a really "wet" and detailed sex scene, I'm going to be shocked out of reading and wonder why the author decided they had to change their entire style just for nookie. (Especially if it's just plumbing nookie--which is very boring and not erotic at all.)

What does giving the detail actually do for the story? What conflicts does it bring to light? What stakes does it raise? If it doesn't do anything to inprove the story, then it's gratituitous to me and needs to be axed, regardless of genre.

The last question is for me as a writer--how comfortable am I writing this scene? Some writers can do it, some can't.

Lexxie
12-09-2012, 02:53 AM
I agree with DelayenLee, it really depends on the level of details that are used for the rest of the story/plot/character descriptions. Also, it depends on how comfortable the writer would be writing detailed sex that would be easy to read. Some writers seem to think that writing sex scenes is easy, having read both 'normal' novels and erotica, I know this is not the case. Some writers can write excellent sex-scenes while others seem almost embarrassed by it.

If you can pull it off and it fits with the story, go for details. If you are more comfortable dimming the lights and letting the reader imagine the rest, then that's good, too.

I guess this ended up being another non-answer :D Good luck!

elindsen
12-09-2012, 01:14 PM
I think it depends on the characters. If you have a good girl who likes to play naughty...go for it to show she's not so bubble gum. My advice would be to watch the wordage. If your character would never describe the male gential using the "C" word then don't. It'll seem forced and fake.

aruna
12-09-2012, 01:59 PM
Aother non-answer:

For me, "what they do" is of no importance at all. What matters is "how they feel"; the change they go through from before to after. I'm really not interested in what goes where and when.

I'm fine with the lights going out. You should never feel you have to go into exact detail.

crunchyblanket
12-09-2012, 02:30 PM
It depends entirely on what I'm reading. If I'm reading something that's fairly graphic in other arenas - i.e bad language, blood and gore, drugs and depravity - then I won't be quite so jarred by a descriptive sex scene as I would if it were, say, hard sci-fi or a dry detective novel.

Having said that, I've always found sex scenes awkward reading outside of erotica.

OhTheHorror
12-09-2012, 02:48 PM
As others have said there is no "golden middle." The golden middle is whatever suits that particular story.

I've written stories with no sex, sex with minimum description and sex with detailed description. I do whatever the particular story I'm working on demands of me. :)

Phaeal
12-09-2012, 07:41 PM
My rule is simple: Does the sex scene do anything to advance the story, define character or character change, or provide important milieu description or worldbuilding?

If not, it's gratuitous, and you don't need it.

Even in erotica, I want sex scenes to do double- or triple-duty. That, for me, is the difference between erotica and pornography.

Calliea
12-09-2012, 07:50 PM
One of the most helpful things I've read in this topic that answered the last of my doubts was simply mentioning character's PoV. This influences what they'd look at, how they'd call it. I was wondering about the usage of actual anatomical descriptions and that was my answer. Thanks!

On another note, I have to admit, I've never read a pornographic novel :D I can't imagine how that would make any kind of sense. Short story sure, but say 300 pages long novel... Hm. Must put it on my to-do list :p Never thought of it before.

And Phaeal... Battlestar Gallactica :D I finished the series concluding that I didn't really like them so much, and yet each time I see your avy around I just get that feeling of HOME.

dangerousbill
12-09-2012, 08:04 PM
Anyway, I am wondering, in an adult novel, what do you think is the right amount of descriptions when it comes to the erotic scenes without a black screen? How far should the writer go to keep the reader content and not feeling that there just wasn't enough or that there was too much?


I think that, these days, the brakes are off. You can be as explicit or as decorous as you please. If you're not sure, have a look at Walter Mosley's 'Killing Johnny Fry' It's labeled 'literary' and shelved with regular fiction, but it's full of explicit scenes of squirting semen and outrageous adultery.

I suspect the boundary in today's fiction between 'erotica' and 'any other genre' lies strictly in the shelving information the publisher prints on the back cover.

The sex scenes should entwine themselves in the plot, too, rather than just be glued on top like prurient Christmas decorations for reviewers to quote. Even so, there are numerous exceptions to this.

KellyAssauer
12-09-2012, 08:16 PM
My biggest problem with trying to give you an answer is: what do you consider a regular book - versus - what do I consider a regular book!

The 'regular' books I read rarely, if ever, have a sex scene, and if they do, it's more of fade-to-black, or a morning-after allusion to the characters having had sex. If I'm merrily reading along and a sex scene begins to go graphic, the book's over for me. I won't read it any further. I chose the wrong book. So... I dunno what regular is to you... but it might be different for me.

Manuel Royal
12-09-2012, 08:29 PM
For me, "what they do" is of no importance at all. What matters is "how they feel"; the change they go through from before to after. I'm really not interested in what goes where and when.

I'm fine with the lights going out. You should never feel you have to go into exact detail.That's pretty much what I was going to say. I may or may not provide detail in describing a sexual encounter, but what I do have to do is make it clear what its significance is -- in the plot, in understanding the characters, and in how it makes them feel. Sometimes having sex deepens a relationship; sometimes it wrecks it. Sometimes a character's sexual proclivities or responses illustrate an aspect of them that wouldn't be seen otherwise.

Phaeal
12-09-2012, 10:21 PM
And Phaeal... Battlestar Gallactica :D I finished the series concluding that I didn't really like them so much, and yet each time I see your avy around I just get that feeling of HOME.

So say we all. Except for that part about not liking them so much. Six did not appreciate that.

Calliea
12-09-2012, 11:21 PM
So say we all. Except for that part about not liking them so much. Six did not appreciate that.

Damn. Were it any other number, I could've just shrugged it off, but... I beg your forgiveness for my blasphemous words :o

Robert Gonko
12-11-2012, 04:47 PM
I agree that any sex scene is useless unless it advances the story. I was recently writing one where it started out just to show my MC getting laid. I almost scrapped it for that reason when I came up with an idea that made the scene fit perfectly (at least I hope it does).

quicklime
12-11-2012, 05:45 PM
Another question from me (pardon me, but it's the first community I've been in where such questions have a chance of getting a sensible reply).

I don't know if this topic needs a special tag or anything, but the topic is pretty explanatory and I'm not posting porn here so it should be fine? ;)

Anyway, I am wondering, in an adult novel, what do you think is the right amount of descriptions when it comes to the erotic scenes without a black screen? How far should the writer go to keep the reader content and not feeling that there just wasn't enough or that there was too much?

If you would have an example of such scene somewhere around, feel free to send me a PM. I've read so many various things ranging all the way from butterflies-over-meadow to a you're-going-to-hell-for-reading-this that I am unable to judge by myself anymore...

Fantasy genre interests me the most.

perhaps, since what you read was published, the part in bold should tell you something (no, that isn't snark). You are the writer, YOU get to steer your ship. And I certainly don't buy into the "going to hell" but I've seen everything from "he kissed her and closed the bedroom door behind them" to "he watched himself slide into her as she clenched around him, hot and tight and wet" or whatever else you like within mainstream and fantasy.

How much sex do you like? (lol) You get to choose how you write it. I've done both and all over the map, depending on what suited the story and scene.

kuwisdelu
12-11-2012, 05:54 PM
My thoughts?

There's no such thing as "sex scenes." Don't even think about writing a "sex scene."

There are only scenes that happen to have sex in them. ;)

There's no reason to approach a sex scene any differently than any other scene. Unless you're the kind of person who gets embarrassed writing them, and then you just need to practice until you're not.

ETA: To further expatiate, the reasons for whether you describe a cock or cunt in your story should be the same as for whether you describe the color of your characters' hair or not.

Maryn
12-11-2012, 06:01 PM
Kuwi is wise for one so young.

Yes, there's a huge range, from the bedroom door closing on the happy couple to a fireworks display outside their hotel room to detailed descriptions of characters doing stuff my husband and I didn't try until we'd been married for some time.

But like every other scene in a book, it needs either to illuminate character or propel plot. You also need to bear the tastes of your intended audience in mind. Is this book going to appeal to YA readers, socially conservative people, the deeply religious? Those might all be valid reasons for keeping things as non-graphic as is possible. Or not.

Maryn, who writes sex easily

kuwisdelu
12-11-2012, 06:16 PM
Kuwi is wise for one so young.

I have an old soul, a young heart, and a burnt-out brain.

BethS
12-11-2012, 10:41 PM
Anyway, I am wondering, in an adult novel, what do you think is the right amount of descriptions when it comes to the erotic scenes without a black screen? How far should the writer go to keep the reader content and not feeling that there just wasn't enough or that there was too much?



Sex scenes are like any other scene: they need to advance the plot, reveal character, and by the end, something needs to have changed.

If those functions (story advancement, characterization, change) are realized in the part of the scene leading up to the sex, or in the aftermath, then the actual sex does not need to be described. You can draw the curtain (end of scene), skip ahead to the aftermath, or summarize using metaphorical language.

If the functions listed above can only be realized by actually showing the sex, then show it. It's up to you how you do that. Just remember that sex isn't really about what body parts are doing. It's about emotion, subtext, agendas.

The needs of the story determine which approach to use. I've written both kinds.

NeuroFizz
12-12-2012, 12:31 AM
Furthering what others have said...As with any other scene, stop and think what you want to accomplish with this scene. What do you want the reader to get from it? How will it play into the story?

Keep in mind that sex scenes can be heavy on description of the mechanics, or they can be heavy on the emotional aspects of the interpersonal interactions of the characters, or anything in between. Sex is one of the most intense emotional interactions two people can share, so it is a wonderful springboard for characterization, for introducing tension (good AND bad), and for bringing a variety of non-sex-related events/issues into the story. The fade-to-black approach is frequently a total waste of an excellent writing opportunity, while a deep dive into the mechanical aspects can be a gratuitous giggle-fu or a sensual pleasure-read. But, to come full circle, all of this depends on what you, the writer, want to accomplish with the scene.

ChristinaLayton
12-14-2012, 01:51 AM
All my sex scenes are somewhat graphic, meaning 5 on a scale of 1-10, and they all affect my characters in the future, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but I never throw in random sex scenes just because.

Layla Nahar
12-14-2012, 03:04 AM
hmm. I think that 'erotic scene' is different from 'sex scene'. The primary function of something erotic is to turn you on, but a sex scene can be simply about advancing the story. So an erotic scene outside of erotica seems gratuitous to me. (That being said, just to muddy the waters, you can end up with a sex scene that it pretty erotic. Maybe splitting hairs, but I think there's a difference.)

BlankWhitePage
12-14-2012, 10:56 AM
I have works that are predominantly romance, so needless to say, I do use sex. Not explicit sex. I delve more into the emotional sides and how such an intimate act either helps or hurts the people involved as far as the progression of the story.

Sex doesn't bother me. It's gore and violence that does. So I can read and write sex and not even blush because it doesn't get to me in any way at all.

PortableHal
12-15-2012, 06:47 AM
Today, I think you can freely choose how descriptive you'd like to be. If I'm enjoying the story, I'll either read along or skip ahead to the next bit of business.

Like BlankWhitePage, you'll only lose me if you cut the lights for the bedroom scene but offer explicit detail for your violent scenes. I dislike blow-by-blow scenes of cruelty. I'd much rather read about love than gore.