Pry open your characters with sex

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Sex is an essential element in any character, although it sometimes doesn’t earn a place in the events of a story. Knowing how a character has sex, with whom, or why they don’t, gives insight that can be useful in other aspects of the story.

At this year’s AWP conference in Austin, a panelist on the Sexing the Story roundtable suggested that knowing why people have sex the way they do offers a peek into their most intimate nature. Writing about sex can be intimidating, or liberating. But it’s perfect early-draft material, the subject matter that often gets cut in a rewrite.

Steve Almond sat on the panel and offered a 12-step program on how write better sex scenes.

1. Never compare a woman’s nipples to pits, cherries, or erasers. No bullshit comparisons
2. Never use the words penis or vagina
3. No euphemisms: tunnel of love, man-root. You get the idea.
4. Sometimes sex is funny — don’t be afraid to describe these comic aspects
5. Real people do not speak in porn film cliches
6. Don’t obsess over the rude parts; give us the indentations on the small of a back, a trembling lip.
7. It takes a long time to make a woman come.
8. Fluid is fun. Sex is sticky, so if you want to represent the truth, pay homage to the wetness.
9. Arouse yourself, to arouse the reader. This is pretty much required.
10. People think during sex; what do your characters think about it?
11. If you don’t feel comfortable writing about sex, then don’t.
12. Don’t forget the foreplay. Don’t make the traditional porno mistake. Tease your readers.

Always include emotion. We already have a name for sex without emotion: pornography.

Stop having sex. It really improves the intensity of your writing about it.

Steer clear of announcing orgasms at all. People do a lot of tossing about during an orgasm; it’s your job to describe the tossing

The panelists also all agreed that The Song of Songs in the Bible is among the best examples of elegant prose about passions.

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