Writing About Sex

Welcome to Part II of my novel preview, Writing About Sex in Fiction. Yes, I omitted two words for the title. The word sex attracts attention, and there it is at the title’s end, and here you are. That’s the whole point. As a reward, I’ll share everything I know concerning writing about sex: “Omit needless words.” ~William Strunk, Jr. Mr. Strunk wasn’t specifically speaking about sex and fiction, but his words do just fine.

I don’t want you to get the idea there’s no sex in my novel. People in love often act certain, predictable ways. But no young reader will memorize page numbers as I did with my parents’ copy of The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins. No mature reader will dog ear specific passages–not much there to titillate. I’d like to think, however, I had a few interesting problems when it came to writing about sex in Beat the Blues.

The most obvious is it’s a love story which takes place over forty years. The main characters move from their late teens into their fifties. Luckily, I know about sex in all of those decades. I can even remember some examples, although they’re more numerous and less trouble than they were in reality. Thankfully my characters are a hardy couple.

Another problem is the passage of time. There’s the question of evolving social mores. In 1968, one summer after the summer of love, morals and attitudes were quite different than they were in 2008, the year my characters reunite after 20 years. So much has changed: marriage, women’s careers, communication (phone & snail mail vs all that’s new),  pharmaceuticals ( one pill for the gents vs a month supply for the laddies) to name a few. The constant is the protagonists’ fear of rejection, uncertainty, insecurity, and hopes. Those things don’t change when it comes to love.

Timing is critical when it comes to sex. Not as much as it is in comedy, but important. Some readers like to see sex coming. That is, some readers enjoy anticipating a sex scene. I prefer spontaneity and surprise. There’s something to be said for two people who feel strongly about one another doing unexpected things at unexpected times and places. Not to pick on Americans, but many of us don’t agree. We’d rather mutter “get a room” than sigh and appreciate mutual affection.

To get serious for a moment, what’s most important is the reader should have a sense of the lovers’ hearts. In the long run, whatever our attitudes are about sexuality, when readers invest time in fiction, they want sincerity. I don’t like tricks in fiction. If you try to fool a reader, eventually you’ll be found out. The first time my two lovers are seen together in the novel, Katie, who is my main character, and Ronny are sitting on stairs listening in to a conversation between Katie’s parents. Katie is 20, Ronny 16. He has a big time crush on her; she has other male interests. While they are eavesdropping, Katie’s father disparages his only daughter, and this happens:

Ronny’s hand consoled her soft upper arm. She tucked her chin, leaned her head on his shoulder, and bumped his heart.

If you bump a reader’s heart, I don’t think he or she will mind if a sex scene isn’t up to snuff. After all, I wouldn’t have bothered with Harold Robbins if in my day there had been…well, you may be familiar with those websites already.

Beat the Blues, published by Unsolicited Press, is set to release June 21st, 2018–a summer read on the summer solstice. Novel preview III coming soon.




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