Photo via The U.S. National Archives
I promised on Wednesday that I'd post about heat levels in love/sex scenes and how to decide which level to go with for your book. This is an updated post from earlier in the year.
This information was pulled from two classes I attended at the DFW Writer's Conference on writing sex scenes--one by author Jenni Holbrook and the other by author Shayla Black. (Great conference btw, if you're looking for a conference to go to DFWCon is coming up in February and is going to be huge. I think there are like 10-12 agents already confirmed to be there for pitches, plus the workshops are always great.)
Now on to the sex (or not as the case may be)! As most of you have figured out, I write and read sexy and erotic romance, so love scenes are an integral part of my stories. Now, I know many of you may cringe at the idea of writing sex on the page and think this isn't for you. But even if you're writing clean cut YA, you should know what the components are because a simple kiss IS a love scene if done correctly.
First, let's get the main rule out of the way:
DO NOT put in a love scene unless it changes the character(s) and moves things (usually internal conflict) forward. Just like any other scene, it must serve a purpose.
Okay, now let's identify the types of love scenes (care of Jenni Holbrook):
1. Closed Door/Fade to Black
--This is where the sex is implied, but not shown.
--When the change in the characters does not happen during the actual act.
--Think of old movies where they kiss and then the camera pans to bedroom curtains fluttering in the breeze.
2. Glossed Over Sex
--This is where a little more is shown--maybe a little touching and buildup, but then that door slams shut.
--When the change in the character happens during the intimate moments leading up to the actual bom-chick-wah-wah.
--Ex.) Dirty Dancing (one of the hottest scenes EVAH), when Baby and Johnny dance in his room. (YouTube won't let me embed the video, but here's the link, if you'd like your daily swoon.) They take off shirts and touch and kiss while dancing, but that is where the change happens--when she says "dance with me" and he accepts the invitation. Then we see them in bed, kissing, and the scene fades.
3. Full Sex Scene
--This is what you'll see in many mainstream romances and other genre fiction. The sex happens on the page, door open.
--When the change in the characters or revelations about the characters happen during the actual sex.
--Ex.) The Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books.
4. Explicit Sex Scene
--This is most often used in erotic romance and erotica. A full sex scene, like above, but everything is described and the language used is no holds barred. (Yes, you know what words I'm talking about.)
--FYI: the difference between erotic romance and erotica is that e. romance has a primary relationship and there is a happily ever after. Erotica is more about sexual exploration, doesn't necessarily need to be relationship based, and doesn't require HEA.
--Just like a full sex scene, the character change happens during the act.
--If you are using kinky sex acts
--This is not for the faint of heart. Make sure you read lots of erotic romance to get a feel for exactly what explicit means, lol.
So, how do you decide which level to write at?
1. Comfort level has to be there.
--If the idea of writing a sex scene makes you squeamish or if you are one of those people who (*gasp*) skips past the love scenes in books, you're probably going to want to fade to black or gloss over.
--The reader will be able to tell if you were uncomfortable about writing it.
--If you think you want to write sex, then make sure you read widely in your particular genre to get a feel for what works and where those lines are.
--And as I mentioned in the comments on Wednesday, I think it's helpful to read one level of heat above what you're planning on writing. So if you want to write sexy, read erotic. It will help you get more comfortable about what you're going to write, desensitize you a bit to the embarrassment factor.
2. What does your character/story need?
--According to Shayla Black, if you can pluck out a sex scene and it won't change your character's arc or transformation, then you probably didn't need the scene in the first place. Do not put it there just to have one (see main rule above).
3. Know your audience
--You have to know what you are writing and who you are writing for.
--If you put a full sex scene in an inspirational romance, your readers would be appalled. If you're writing erotic romance and you fade to black, your readers will want to string you up by your toes and beat you with your book. :)
--And if you're writing YA, you have even more of a challenge. Figure out if you're writing edgy or traditional and how far your want to push.
And one last Public Service Announcement since this came up in Wednesday's comments:
Even though it's hard, try not to let the "my mother/grandmother/father will read this" factor hold you back. I get it. I've had the same thoughts about what I'm writing BUT here's the thing--will you keep yourself from writing the story you want to write, a story that could entertain thousands of readers because of ONE or two people in your life? If you're not comfortable writing love scenes because you personally aren't cool with it or it's not your thing. That's fine--you shouldn't do it if that's how you feel. However, if you like to read/write sexy but are stopping yourself because of what others think, then you're letting other people dictate your passion. Don't give others that much power over you. (Just my humble opinion. Take it for what it's worth.)
Alright, so I hope this helps. Writing love scenes is one of the most challenging things to get right. If you want to know more, I also have posts on sexual tension and writing sex scenes you can check out.
So, where do you fall on the levels in your story? And are you a person who loves to peek past that door or do you skip those scenes? (For the record, I'm fascinated by you scene skippers. How do you do that and why? lol)