I’m in the middle of writing a novella (erotica) at the moment and today I found myself spending a fair amount of time redoing a number of sex scenes that, in retrospect, don’t work. In some cases they are too long (seldom too short. I get carried away) or overcomplicated and need to be simplified. In taking a break from that work (that is the euphemism for procrastination), I realized how my approach to fiction has changed over time. These days, when I write fiction I start by laying out the basic story chapter by chapter and then scene by scene. I didn’t used to write in such an organized fashion, but I found that by winging it I was over complicating, running into a lot of dead ends or incorporating a lot of irrelevant things into the story. That affected the pacing. Judicious editing helps excise all that, but the time writing it and then cutting it, could be better spent. So now I spend more time trying to understand the story and laying it out with reasonable clarity.
Let me point out that I am in no way suggesting that this is a better, or even good, approach. I don’t advocate it (I don’t advocate much at all, when you get down to it.) All I am saying is that right now I am having more fun writing that way and being more productive too. That pleases me. Defining what will go into a chapter is usually pretty easy and functional. My mind can grapple with a balance of the right amount of action and a big enough story chunk to fill a satisfactory chapter and still leave something for subsequent chapters.
But it isn’t so easy with scenes. My scenes are organic. They can blossom and or take wing and spin out of control (depending on the type of organic, of course). Add a little detail or some new thought and the story founders under a weight of such detail and thought. This is a micro version of my original problem. But my struggle with scenes in general isn’t the issue I want to talk about (it is a struggle that I enjoy, actually). The observation I want to share is that explicit sex scenes are the worst offenders in that regard. A scene can start with a simple premise and still suffer. Consider an erotic book and a chapter that involves the heroine deciding to let her boyfriend take her in the ass for the first time—for her first time. Okay, no great drama there, but an important personal decision and when we break that into scenes, we need to introduce the factors that make it a story and not just a description of anal sex. We need to determine, and show within reason, why they haven’t done this before and why she has decided it is okay, or exciting, or just necessary, now. Is he pressuring her? Has he even raised the issue? What is the nature of their relationship anyway? Do they talk about sex easily? Not at all? These factors will provide the texture and ensure that the climax (of the chapter) is congruent with the little world I’ve created.
That is all fun and useful, but now comes the task of providing the information, the texture, the drama (what does she get from this besides a new sexual experience?) while maintaining the heat and tension that makes the book erotic. Blending thoughtful perspective with action makesfor great fiction, but bouncing around in people’s heads at a point when strong emotions and chemistry are making thinking more difficult, is a challenge. As a result, I’ve probably thrown away enough sex scenes to fill a very bad book. For one reason or another they just didn’t work. Sometimes the reason that a scene is jettisoned is simply that my description of the sex overwhelmed and flattened the characters.
I love sex, but I love my characters too and I try to protect them from the heavy hand of the writer. I want my characters to have good sex, and not just go through the motions and lose their individual personalities, their fears and hopes. Some of my stories deal with characters who come to realize that their sex lives are as flat as some of the scenes I’ve thrown away. But because it is fiction, they get to see the error of their ways, and move along to more interesting adventures. Writing about it is a great adventure too.