Humor: Funny Sex

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

Note: This series of posts was written quite a long time ago, but it is still very popular. Someday I hope to get around to revising it and making it available in pdf format. Until then, please be aware that links and images may sometimes disappear. 

 

Given the fact that this subject can get very bogged down in pseudo-intellectual banter, I’ve decided to start with a sex scene that is humorous and still evocative. This is from Welcome to Temptation by Jenny Crusie, which is a novel for anybody who (1) likes a good story (2) especially likes a good romance (3) appreciates good dialog. She’s also very good at sex scenes, as you’ll see here.

The first rule for any sex scene is that it has to contribute to the characterizations and the plot. In this case, we have two people in bed together for the first time. They’ve only known each other a few days but there’s a lot of tension between them, sexual, personal, professional; she’s got a secret he’s determined to unearth because he sees her work as possibly damaging to his own. Sophie is unsure of herself in a lot of different ways, and at odds because she’s wildly attracted to this guy and doesn’t trust him.

This is the first full sexual encounter (although there’s a very interesting assignation on a boat dock earlier), and right off Sophie’s not having a good time. She’s wondering how to tell him it’s not working, and that maybe they should go watch television, when he figures that out for himself and takes steps — without interrupting what he’s doing. That’s where this excerpt starts.

Welcome to Temptation. Copyright Jennifer Crusie.

“I think it’s time we got to know each other,” Phin said, laughter in his voice. “What do you think about when you masturbate?”

“Okay, I’m out of here.” Sophie tried to roll out from under him, but he pressed down on her with his hips, and she stayed just to feel him hard inside her.

“What do you think about, Sophie?” he whispered in her ear, and she said loudly, “I don’t think about anything.”

“You are such a lousy liar.” He rolled again, this time so that she was on top, his body sliding slickly under hers, and Sophie felt herself flush.

“Bondage?” he said, his voice husky as he rocked against her, his hands on her hips, and she caught her breath and said, “You come near me with a rope, and I’m history.”

“Okay, later for that,” he said. “Rape fantasy?”

”Tacky,” she said, and he said, “Not if you do it right. You want to dominate?”

“Oh, yeah. Like you’d let me.” She started to laugh, only to stop when she heard people in the kitchen downstairs. “Shhh.”

“Why?” Phin stopped moving. “It’s just Wes and Amy.”

“Yeah.” Sophie looked over her shoulder at the door.

“Did you lock it?” Phin said in her ear, and he sounded amused.

“I forgot.” She tried to pull away from him, but he rolled and trapped her again, sliding deeper inside her and making her gasp. “Stop it,” she said breathlessly. “I’m not even sure it’s closed all the way. Let me go lock it and I’ll come back.”

“Bothers you, huh?” Phin started working his way down her neck again as he pulsed inside her, and Sophie felt the heat spread low as her blood pounded.

“No,” she lied.

‘”They could walk in anytime.” He nibbled on her shoulder, and she twitched under him and felt her breath go. ”Walk right in and find us naked.” He slid his band up to her sweat-dampened breast, and the heat rolled across her as she moved to his rhythm. “Find you naked. With me inside you. Nothing you could do about it.”

She caught her breath and said, “Stop it.” and he said, “Nope, I think we’re getting somewhere.”

She squirmed under him to get away, and their bodies slid together. He said, “Oh, God, yes. Do that,” and she smacked him on the shoulder because he was so impossible, and arched into him at the same time because he was so hard moving inside her and he felt so good.

“Maybe I can get. . . somebody else. . . to open that door,” he said in her ear, and she said, “No!” a lot louder than she meant because it was part moan. She heard Amy say, “Sophie?” downstairs, and she tensed. Phin laughed down at her, his face as damp as hers.

Beautifully moist, Sophie thought. Be careful what you wish for.

Amy called her name again, and Phin said “Excellent.” He rocked higher into her and she bit her lip to keep from moaning and then moaned anyway. “Louder,” he said, and she shook her head as the heat built and his rhythm began to make her mindless.

“Then it’s up to me.” He sounded breathless. “The guy always has to do everything.”

He leaned over her to the bedside table, and she bit into his shoulder from the sheer pleasure of feeling him against her. Then he stopped, and she looked up to see him holding the alarm clock.

“I’ll buy you a new one,” he said, and threw it against the wall. “What are you doing?” she screamed as it crashed and went off clanging. Amy called up, “Sophie?” and Phin moved again, rocking harder, and she shuddered under him and gasped, “Stop it.”

“This close? Not on your life.” He was moving faster now, and she clutched at him and breathed hard as the pressure built. She said, “No… no. . . we’re not… close,” and he rolled across her again, making her jerk against him. He picked up the dolphin lamp, yanking the cord out with it, and she realized what he was doing and shrieked, “No!” just as he threw it against the wall.

It shattered and fell on top of the clanging alarm. “Sophie?” Amy called, and started up the stairs, and Phin said, “This is it,” and moved high into her, grabbing her wrists and holding them over her head, sliding hot on top of her, rocking hard inside her, whispering in her ear that Amy’d catch them, any minute, any minute, any minute, now, now, now, and Sophie twisted under him, caught in the heat and the slide and the panic and the throb he was pounding into her, and then Amy said, “Sophie?”‘ and pushed open the door, and Sophie cried, ”Oh, God,” and came so hard she almost passed out.

“Oh,” Amy said, and shut the door.

So to go about this in a fairly analytical way, it’s a good idea to look at word choice first. You’ll notice there’s no explicit vocabulary here, no naming of anatomy being engaged beyond breast. The passage sure comes across as explicit, but why?

You can go through and pick out the words that are evocative, and many of them are verbs: pound, move, clutch, pulse, rock, bite, slide, whisper, moan. That list of words taken alone says ‘sexual encounter.’ Sex is a matter of physical exertion (in this case, at least) and these verbs bring that home to the reader. There are quite a few indirect references to the way these two are engaged; particularly the prepositions in and into make clear what is going on. Heat is a major theme here: the room is hot (earlier it’s established that there’s no airconditioner, and it’s high summer) and the friction is both emotional and physical.

My take on this scene is that in spite of the deft choice of verbs and visual images, it really works because of the dialog. Dialogue is one of Jenny’s strongest points, and here she really shines.

The cardinal rule of any dialog is that it has to serve more than one purpose to earn its place on the page. In this case, we get some real information about Phin: He’s got a sense of humor, tremendous presence of mind, exquisite control, imagination, and he’s sexually generous and playful, all excellent things that Sophie can’t resist, and neither can the reader. He’s also outrageous, which really takes this scene beyond the pale. Whatever doubts Sophie had about him before this encounter, they have changed significantly by the time they are through. His suspicions about her — the fact that she’s repressed but reachable, that she will respond if approached well, are confirmed. They are on their way.

One final note on this: notice the way the rhythm of the sentences changes over the course of the scene. From fairly short and choppy in the beginning to an ending which is one long, fast, intense sentence. Which is meant to remind us of the act it’s describing, and does.

Tomorrow I’m going to look at something very different, far more serious in tone, almost lyrical in approach, which works for different reasons and in different ways.

Lyricism

This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

In her comment to yesterday’s post, Robyn quotes a friend’s thoughts on the matter of evaluating sex scenes:

two hallmarks of a Generic Sex Scene: (1) You can grab a few such scenes at random from different books, juggle the names and eye colors, and be hard-pressed to tell which scene goes with which story; and, even more damning, (2) you can remove the scene entirely, substitute the sentence, “Then they had sex,” and the larger narrative will not suffer.

Which I think is a good place to start with a list of general guidelines for writing sex scenes.

The excerpt I’ve got today is from A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which won the Booker Prize some years ago and is as high-brow as a novel can get. It’s a hugely complex story, but at its center is a romance set in the Victorian age. A correspondence between a well established poet (Randolf Henry Ash) and a lesser known woman poet (Christabel LaMotte) begins when they meet at a breakfast given by a mutual friend. Ash is married; Christabel lives with a woman artist in a relationship that may go beyond friendship, something that is never made clear. They are intellectual equals; they fall in love, and eventually they travel to Yorkshire together, secretly.

Possession: A Romance. Copyright A.S. Byatt.

She met him with passion, fierce as his own, and knowing too, for she exacted her pleasure from him, opened herself to it, clutched for it, with short animal cries. She stroked his hair and kissed his blind eyes, but made no more specific move to pleasure him, the male — nor did she come to that, all those nights. It was like holding Proteus, he thought at one point, as though she was liquid moving through his grasping fingers, as though she was waves of the sea rising all round him. How many, many men have had that thought, he told himself, in how many, many places, how many climates, how many rooms and cabins and caves, all supposing themselves swimmers in salt seas, with the waves rising, all supposing themselves — no, knowing themselves unique. Here, here, here, his head beat, his life had been leading him, it was all tending to this act in this place, to this woman, white in the dark, to this moving and slippery silence, to this breathing end. “Don’t fight me,” he said once, and “I must,” said she, intent, and he thought, “No more speech,” and held her down and caressed her till she cried out. Then he did speak again. “You see, I know you,” and she answered breathless, “Yes, I concede. You know.”

The excerpt yesterday from Welcome to Temptation was written from Sophie’s POV; this one is observed by Ash, who is a historian and poet. It sounds like him, the places his mind would travel, the associations he would make. His physical observations are given to us again with verbs: opened, clutched, stroked, kissed, pleasured; there are very few directly sexual turns of phrase. Mostly we get imagery and metaphor: fire and sea and rising waves. There are few adjectives, but the ones used are very evocative: moving and slippery silence.

There is a great deal of very exacting, very deep emotion in this short paragraph — which fits, because this is not a casual sexual encounter. This is a life changing experience for a man who had reconciled himself to a loving but platonic marriage and a life of celibacy, and who has now found — but will not be able to keep — a woman who is his intellectual and sexual equal.

The short bit of dialog here echoes their whole relationship: he leads past the point of her comfort, she resists and so they move beyond the language which drew them together in the first place. There is change for both characters as individuals, and the relationship has shifted, as it must in this circumstance.

I’ve got a passage from Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart that I want to excerpt tomorrow. I find it interesting because its tone falls somewhere between the comic playfulness of Welcome to Temptation and the intellectual lyricism of Possession. After that I’ll take on Robyn Bender’s “The Well Known Act” — so brace yourself.

NC-17

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

This discussion is going to get very explicit, just to warn you. If sex scenes aren’t your thing, you probably want to turn back now. You should also turn back if you are under eighteen. Really, go away.

Now that we’re alone.

A few notes before I get started. First, if you are new to fan fiction, you probably should have a look at an earlier post (Fan Fiction, and why I like it), which will make some of the preliminaries clear. Second, this is Farscape fan fiction. If you don’t know about Farscape, you must be pretty new to this blog, as I talk about it on a regular basis. Here’s the absolute minimum you need to know:

John Crichton is scientist who was running an aerospace experiment when he got stuck in a distant part of the galaxy; Aeryn Sun is Sebacean, a species very closely related to human. (One of my favorite tag lines: He’s human. She’s not. And you thought Romeo and Juliet had problems.) They spend two years becoming friends, saving each other’s asses and minds in terrible situations, beating each other up (sometimes literally), and falling in love.

The relationship doesn’t become sexual until the third season. Because this is television we’re talking about, it never becomes overtly sexual. Which is where Robyn’s fan fiction comes in.

Fan fiction exists mostly on the internet, so I could just send you over to read Robyn’s “The Well-Known Act” in its entirety. In fact, you should do that, because it’s an example of an extremely well done, very adult extended sex scene. But in the spirit of the exercise I began, I’m going to quote bits of it, anyway. For those of you too shy to take the plunge, so to speak.

The consummation of this very complex, very intense relationship is a topic Robyn handled in a series of short stories which deal with the emotional development of the characters as individuals and a couple, as well as with the physical. This is from Aeryn’s point of view. I’m excerpting two bits here, from the beginning of the interlude (the first line of dialog is John) and then a bit from the middle of it when things are in full flow.

“The Well-Known Act”. Copyright Robyn Bender.

“The well-known act of sexual congress. I’ve had some thoughts.”

“You think too much.”

“But I do good work.”

“Granted. All right.”

“We ARE different creatures. We don’t know how we fit, not like that, not for sure. I need to know that you’re way more than ready. I’m thinking, we start with the usual stuff. Rev you up a few times. Probably more than a few. But just keep away from my cock, okay? I’ll get far enough, fast enough, touching you, seeing you. Give me a chance.” The towel was gone. He was kissing her, settling in.

Might as well lie back. Put herself in his hands. She knew the man couldn’t be rushed.

She was right, of course. Things happened. Time passed. He could drive her all night.

========================

bodies entwined. How much skin could they press? Embrace and roll. His lips on her throat. Her hand caught the nape of his neck, run through that short, soft hair. Come here, you. Cup his skull. Capture his mouth for a wet, deep kiss

========================

on her back, shaking. Helpless with laughter. His mouth buried down in her sex. Those gleeful blue eyes peering up, eyebrows waggling. She stretched her arms toward him. He caught at her hands. Interlaced fingers, palms pressed together. She rolled her head back and stretched their arms high. Laughed and laughed as she came.

When I re-read this, the first thing that comes to mind is how very playful it is without being coy. So often sex scenes are generic, forced, contorted, self-conscious, but there’s a vitality here, a directness that works on multiple levels. If you know these characters, the way they talk to each other feels absolutely right. John is quick witted, self-confident; he likes word play; Aeryn has come to that kind of playfulness late in life and is often a half step behind, but appreciative. She’s given herself over after long months of agonizing, and she’s applying herself, now that she’s taken the leap.

Note that the word choice is explicit but matter-of-fact; nothing flowery, no over extended metaphors. The most direct descriptions of sexual acts (his mouth buried down in her sex) are offset by simple images of affection (interlaced fingers, palms pressed together).

Things intensify:

“That okay?” he asked softly, voice in her ear.

“You bastard!” she laughed. Could barely say it. Breathed hard through her mouth. “It’ll do.”

He gripped her waist. “Baby, I want you.”

“You have me, I think.”

“Yes, I do.” He moved deliberately, microns, fractions. Slow, so slow. He is going to do me, indeed, indeed. He intended to use everything he knew, his midnight thoughts, his very best skills. She was frelled. She laughed again. Too small a word. Who had known what it meant?

Her laugh faded out. She was straining up toward him. He held the same spot. Not so fast, my dear. Can’t have it all. He slid his hand down, wet with the silk. Cool, slippery stuff on her lips, her clit. “Oh, you are BAD,” she gasped, as his fingers skittered around, around. Just that little bit extra. Just one thing more. He watched the flush rise on her chest before he leaned down. His lips found her nipple. She jumped, and that jump hit his cock and she rippled around it, set off again. His mouth clamped down wetly and sucked. Can I come with my breast? Apparently so. God, only one mouth. But his palm took over, rubbed that wetness, his mouth to the other one, swirling his tongue. Yes. That!

She needed more brain. Too much coming in. Her hips rocked, her pelvis, she could feel each wet curl at his root. All circuits locked open, no filter. Squeeze her eyes shut. Try to swallow the waves in her throat. Was she making that cry, that call? His mouth clamped hers. Her throat still sang.

It’s Aeryn’s emotional transition as well as her physical one that makes lifts this scene out of the realm of the merely voyeuristic. Note the lovely balance between explicit acts; internal monologue; and dialog. Take any one of those three elements away and the scene won’t work nearly as well. We follow the natural progression from playfulness to absolute concentration not just because we are given the physical facts, but because we hear them in Aeryn’s rather amazed, completely engaged voice. Her rational mind tries to take over, but her body and her emotions are in control.

To follow the analysis I used in the other passages, the obvious contrast is in this author’s willingness to use words considered by many to be taboo: cock, clit, nipple — without resorting to technical terms or coy euphemism. It’s very possible, even likely, that if you are writing fiction in which sex scenes have a natural place in the character and plot development you will not want to take things this far. I don’t, not because I’m afraid my readers wouldn’t like it or my editor would object, but because I don’t think I could manage the delicate balance necessary to make it work. Which for me means that you can’t substitute “and then they had sex” without losing things important to the characterization and narrative flow.

And now that I’ve peaked your interest, here’s a link to a list of all Robyn’s Farscape fanfiction in chronological order.

I’ve been talking now for three days about scenes that don’t work because they are generic, forced, and coy in tone. Tomorrow I’m going to look at some of those. Then I’ll look at a scene that isn’t badly written, but doesn’t work, for me, for other reasons. I’ve got a list of maybe four or five sex scenes to cover in the next week.

Less; More

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

I have been wanting to look at a sex scene from a hardboiled thriller/detective type novel. I vascillated for a long time between a very short scene from John Sandford’s Rules of Prey and one from Dan Simmons’ Hardcase and finally decided to look at them both.

Both of these novels are excellent examples of their genre. Sandford’s Lucas Davenport is a tough, no-nonsense homicide detective; Simmons’ Joe Kurtz was a tough private investigator until he killed the guy who raped and murdered the woman he loved — in a very well written, very shocking scene, I might add, the very first scene of this series of books about Kurtz.

Davenport has his very dark side, but Kurtz doesn’t have anything but dark, no matter how you look at him. Davenport loves women, likes to talk to them, his closest friend is a nun. Kurtz is so hard bitten and terse that it’s hard to imagine him smiling. We know he likes jazz; we know he’s concerned (from afar) about his daughter; that’s the end of it. These scenes are so different in tone you know, even if you read nothing else, that they are not from the POV of the same character.

Rules of Prey. Copyright John Sandford.

“You should have been a shrink, ” he said, shaking his head ruefully. He cut the water off and pushed open the shower door. “Hand me that big towel. I’ll dry your legs for you.”
A half-hour later, Jennifer said hoarsely, “Sometimes it gets very close to pain.”

“That’s the trick,” Lucas said. “Not going over the line.”

“You come so close,” she said. “You must have gone over it a lot before you figured out where to stop.”

Hardcase. Copyright Dan Simmons.

They moved together hard. Kurtz made his right hand a saddle and lifted her higher against the tiles while she wrapped her legs around his hips and leaned back, her hands cusped behind his neck, her arm and thigh muscles straining.

When she came it was with a low moan and a fluttering of eyelids, but also with a spasm that he could feel through the head of his cock, his thighs, and the splayed fingers of his supporting hand.

“Jesus Christ,” she whispered in a moment, still being held against the tile in the warm spray. Kurtz wondered just how capacious this loft’s hot water tank was. After another moment, she kissed him, began moving again, and said, “I didn’t feel you come. Don’t you want to come?”

“Later,” said Kurtz and lifted her slightly.

I should note that these are both the first novel in a series written by a male author. This is the first time you see Lucas in a sexual situation, and the same is true for Joe Kurtz. The Rules of Prey scene is so short and so lacking detail it’s hard to see why it might be erotic. There are two things: he orders her to submit to being cared for (the dichotomy here is intrinsically interesting) in a fairly matter-of-fact, gruff way; and then it is a half hour later when she is coherent enough to raise the subject of his methods, in a hoarse voice. A hoarse voice is a very distinctive thing, and should by rights be a cliche, but it still works, if used sparingly, to get across something about the scene.

Mostly this short scene is erotic because it makes the reader wonder what in the heck was going on, and draws on the reader’s own imagination. “And then they had sex,” does the same thing, but not like this. In this case, you have just enough information to make you understand a few things about Lucas Davenport. Interesting things.

The Hardcase scene is extremely explicit, and from a man’s POV, which is interesting in its own right. I would say, though, that it’s so mechanical, and Joe Kurtz’s POV is so detached, that there’s nothing erotic about it. The author lets us into Joe’s head, where we find him wondering about hot water heaters — and this is the first time he’s had a sexual encounter after eleven and a half years in prison. Would “and then they had sex” be a suitable substitute for this scene? Nope. Especially not if you read the whole scene from the beginning, which starts with Joe’s contemplation on how doing without sex in prison drives some men crazy, and how he read the Stoics to deal with it. This scene gives you a lot of information about Joe. It’s not very pleasant, it’s slightly disturbing, but most of all it’s very intriguing, for me at least. I kept wondering if he was ever going to put down the defenses and let himself feel anything. That’s why I kept reading the series, to answer that question. You’ll have to read it too if you’re interested.

So now I’m done; this is the last time I’ll post scenes for analysis, at least for the time being. I’m going to try to gather my thoughts on what I’ve learned by the process and I’ll post them tomorrow.