10 Tips for Writing Steamy Scenes

10 Tips for Writing Steamy Scenes

Gwynn Scheltema. 

It’s February, the month for Valentines and all things romantic: love and…sex.

When I have to face writing sex scenes, I sometimes feel like I’m getting undressed in public. I feel like my mother is watching; like everyone will think I do all the things I describe. Do you ever feel that way? If you’re a writer, you’ll need to get over it!

Check out these 10 tips to help you.

1. Don’t be afraid to write outside your own experience.

Research and write just as you would for any situation you haven’t experienced personally. Read sex scenes by other authors and note which resonate with you. Ask yourself why.

2. Treat a sex scene like any action scene.

Have a reason to include it that involves advancing the plot or illuminating character, or developing a relationship.

3. Make your characters human.

Keep your characters human, flawed people, not a larger-than-life Adonis or Aphrodite. While romance has an element of wish fulfillment about it, if you make it so like a fairy tale, some readers won’t believe it.

4. Keep the sex real.

Sex is not always spectacular; it can be boring, mundane, or unsatisfying too. And it doesn’t always have to be completed. Interrupted sex can be quite a tease.

5. Get the timing right.

Don’t let things get hot and heavy in the most unlikely of moments and places in your plot. Don’t shove sex in because it’s been four chapters since the last tryst. Remember tip #2.

6. Get the choreography right.

Not just on a physically level, but on an emotional level too. Physically, make sure your transitions let us know if someone goes from standing to lying, or from facing to spooned. More importantly, let us know their emotional reactions and changes. The physical act by itself is just porn.

7. Be careful of metaphor and simile.

Clichés about stars exploding” will only undermine what you are trying to do. Find fresh and appropriate comparisons and don’t hide behind them to avoid being explicit or to add drama. And remember that sex involves all five senses. Use them!

8. Use the correct terms and don’t be offensive.

Research if you have to. If euphemisms pepper your scene, you’ll leave the reader giggling or cringing. Also be aware of the accepted sexual practices of your readership—cultural, orientation and age group—and stay within those boundaries.

9. Keep the scene brief.

Sometimes less is more. Subtle hints are often more effective than graphic description. Give readers enough to satisfy the moment, but leave them wanting more.

10. Know the benchmarks

Of course, not every publishing house is the same, but in general, you can follow these benchmarks:

  • Sweet: not consummated; details vague
  • Sensual: consummated, but infrequent – about 5% of word count max; details “fuzzy”, each sex scene about half a page; focusses on emotional impact
  • Steamy: more sensual than graphic, more scenes, language more graphic and direct
  • Hot/Graphic: raunchy, frequent, direct language, about 30% of word count is sex scenes; variety in locations, positions, who initiates etc.; bit of kink
  • Erotic: frequent, anything goes, still includes emotions, solid plot and good characters
  • Porn: focuses on actions only, little to no plot, characters shallow and stereotypical
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