Articles / On Writing

Let’s Talk about Sex and Perspective

 

There are manifold ways in which a sex scene can go wrong. Hello, disembodied motion, I’m looking at you! It can become unbalanced by focusing on one aspect too much. When readers and editors start complaining about robotic scenes this is the problem. It may be unrealistic (Welcome to the Virgin Extreme Sex Olympics!) or rushed (It’s over? When did we begin?) or may not fit the readers’ expectations (#!*#%&#@! fade to black!). But occasionally there is something about a scene that just leaves the reader uncomfortable and they don’t know why.

Today, I’m going to reveal the reason behind this phenomenon. When you’re doing everything right in the scene but readers are still receiving it wrong (no pun intended LOL), it’s time to look at sex and perspective.

Who’s relating the scene?

Sometimes it’s those little subtleties that matter most, and that is true most of all when it comes to the perspective through which you tell your story. While there are many things that can make or break a story, I find perspective to be one of the most important considerations when it comes to writing. Who is telling the story can have the same impact upon a story as characterization. If your narrator sucks, so will your book!

Perspective is evocative. Your readers will react to a scene, and its narrator, in a variety of ways because they are influenced by their personal proclivities, morals, and hang-ups. These aspects of your readers’ personalities are just magnified by a hundred when it comes to sex. And as a writer, you can use this knowledge to your advantage or ignore it to your detriment.

Which brings me to the first rule of writing sex scenes:

Know thy target audience!!

Your readers are going to have different levels of comfort when it comes to sex scenes. Some readers are going to skip over them entirely and be upset that you even put one (or ten) in the book. Others are going to read them without an ounce of embarrassment and be grateful for the added “hot factor”. And others will dig a scene or be turned off by it simply because of the narrator alone. Recently this very thing happened to me, and it got me to thinking.

I was listening to an audio book that was narrated by a man. I’m ashamed to say that the book squicked me out to an extreme degree because of the way the man read the sex scenes. I was so embarrassed by his moans and groans and sighs of the protagonist’s name. The book was absolute hell to listen to because it made me so uncomfortable. While I was OK with the male narrator relating the story to me, I couldn’t handle him narrating the sex.

The lesson I took away from that story debacle? The narrator matters, especially when it comes to sex scenes.

There are strengths and weaknesses in every perspective type and you need to consider the story you want to tell and the content that will be in it before you ever sit down to write, especially if you want to give your audience what they want and do it in a way that isn’t going to make them uncomfortable.

-the omniscient narrator

The omniscient narrator is awesome, no doubt. But the omniscient narrator is an unknown observer. He or she is a voyeur, a Peeping Tom. And while the omniscient narrator knows all and can relate all, the distance this type of narration can create in a sex scene can be problematic. Some readers may be turned off by the voyeuristic feel of this point of view. This type of reader prefers to be in the action rather than benched on the sidelines. While other readers will appreciate the observational perspective, the insight into the minds of both the characters while intimately involved, and most of all the distance from the action.

-the limited narrator

When you are writing using limited narration, you are telling the story through the character. This can be a problem when it comes to sex. Will your readers be comfortable reading a scene told through the point of view of your chosen character? Will the sex come across as realistic if written in this character’s point of view? Will telling the scene through this character’s point of view ruin the romance of the story or come off as too crass? Is your perspective character capable of relating the events in a balanced and engaging manner? These are all things to consider.

There is a huge divide when it comes to the way a man would relate a sex scene and the way a woman would. Consider the terms a man and a woman would use when it comes to the act of sex. They are quite different, aren’t they? Need I remind you of the ‘80s and the days of galloping abs and maiden-conquering “manhoods”? (I must say that term still manages to bring a gleeful tear to my eye every time I read it!) Reading sex from the point of view of a macho, unromantic, dirty-talking sex god may not sit well with your readers, and it just may not fit the feel of your book either.

-first person

He touched me…

Are you uncomfortable yet? Well, your readers may be! The use of personal pronouns in the first person perspective can wreak havoc on a sex scene. But oh the emotional connection cannot be beat.

First person perspectives move things onto the readers’ home ground. Oh me, oh my, oh I! While your readers may be comfortable reading about an intimate parts of “his” or “her” body, it may be a different issue when it becomes personalized. This said there is still some differentiation between the reader and the first person narrative because it is still the character relating the events to the reader—just on a personal level. And some readers will love this because it feels like girls dishing about their sex lives to one another.

-second person perspective

For the brave, the truly brave. And the author with no boundaries!

The second person perspective makes the reader a character in the story. This point of view combines the voyeur feel of the third person perspective with the personalization of the first person perspective, or worse it moves the Peeping Tom into the realm of scary stalker who has you bound and gagged in his basement and is relating his fantasies to you, face to face.

I won’t have much to say about this perspective type beyond my advice to never, ever, ever, EVER use it for a sex scene. Please, just run far, far away and don’t look back.

But if you must, here are a couple of examples of second person perspective.

You watch him, eyes dark and unwavering, as he…

Your heart pounds and you feel your control slip further as I step toward you…

The day I read this type of narration of a sex scene is the day I carry that book out to my backyard, bury it deep, and cover it in lime.

One more thing before I go.

Your comfort level with sex is also going to affect the way you write. If you are embarrassed it’s going to show in your scene. You will skimp, skip over, under relate, or rush things. So consider not only your target audience but also yourself before you put pen to paper in such a way.

 

Writing Exercise:

Write a sex scene in the omniscient point of view. Rewrite it in limited point of view in one character’s point of view. Rewrite it again in the limited point of view from the other character’s point of view. Last, rewrite the scene in the first person perspective.

How does this affect your scene and your comfort level with it?

Now back to writing! 🙂


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