If you write about grown-up characters for grown-up readers, sooner or later, you’ll need a touch of sex. Crafting a raunchy, intimate or downright dirty erotic scene is excellent practice even if you’re not sketching 50 shades of anything.
Here’s how to sharpen your skills by trying your hand at a realistic, physically and emotionally engaging scene that excites your reader’s senses.
1. Use your words.
It’s easy to be clichéd, vague or unintentionally ridiculous when writing sex. Squeezed into a pair of skinny jeans, nice nates and bodacious booty look exactly the same but in prose, there’s a big difference. As writers, we need to overcome inhibition and find the right terminology to control the mood and characters we’re creating.
When I teach smut writing, I ask workshop participants to generate a vast vocabulary. Everyone shouts out words – body parts, verbs, acts – and we scribble them up on the walls. (I always learn a new term!)
You can do this on your own or with a writing buddy: List every word you can think of related to sex.
Now, mark which words you’re most comfortable with and that suit your story best. Then challenge yourself: Try a 10-minute freewrite using words you wouldn’t normally use because they’re too naughty, clinical or just ew. You’ll be surprised what shows up.
Getting comfortable and specific with a range of words will not only expand your toolbox, but also will help you avoid clichés and confusion. No matter how skilled your hero is at nuzzling a nub, your reader will be irritated if she or he can’t tell whether you mean ear, clitoris or the stylus of his smartphone.
2. Know your hot spots.
The range of human sexuality is immense, with more hidden nooks and crannies than a swingers’ convention. The way to break through conventional ideas of what’s “allowed” to be written – and what’s allowed to be sexy – is to tap into what’s interesting to you about sexuality. Learn what gets you and your characters juiced. Then be willing to go there.
Try it: Think of one of the most sexually exciting moments you’ve experienced or witnessed. Jot down a few notes about what made it so amazing. Notice if there’s shame attached to the memory and whether that shame enhances or deflates the intensity.
Now create a character who is nothing like you or anyone involved. (Look, you’re the emperor – no one can see you naked now!) Change a couple of other identifying details, too: not red rose petals but white tulips.
Write a scene in which your character gets to experience the moment. Make it as detailed as possible, drawing from the energy of your own memory.
3. Revise for the win.
A couple of years ago, I asked Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes – the wife-and-husband duo behind the steamy Tennyson Hardwick series of detective novels – about their secret to co-writing hot scenes. After a couple of giggly jokes about “practice,” they confessed that it was all about revision. A partner comes in handy in more ways than one.
Write it, read it, share it: Is anything confusing, silly, anatomically improbable? As in any sexy situation, listening is the key to turning up the heat. Then fix it.
Minal Hajratwala is a writing coach, author, editor of an anthology of queer stories and co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective press.