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Sex and Truth in Story

The most freeing experience for me as a writer was when I wrote my first sex scene. Oh, I’m not talking about the ones I Bernini Hades and Persephone close uptumblr_lg4h59T3z31qe2nvuo1_500imagined, or the ones I might have scribbled on a page in a notebook only to rip them out and tear them into shreds before I tossed them, wanting to make certain no one ever saw what filth came from my mind. I’m talking about the first sex scene I wrote for publication.

The actual including of graphic sex in a story I’d written was both terrifying and freeing. It was terrifying in that it was a very difficult letting go. I’ve never had trouble actually writing sex. The writing has always come easily, but I doubt very much if there’s a writer out there who hasn’t written a sex scene and wondered if her readers would see her in it and think that she had either done what her characters were doing. Or perhaps they would wonder what kind of a filthy mind would dream up such smut. Of course now that I’ve written more than my share of sex scenes and done lots of promoting, I know that it does happen. We all get asked if we’ve done the things we write about. We all get the giggling responses from people who aren’t quite sure how to handle sex uncovered, aren’t quite sure how to handle someone actually saying, ‘yup! I write it. Yup, I’m proud of it.’

Other people’s opinions aside, there’s a much more personal connection that one feels when writing a sex scene than when writing almost anything else. I think it’s the vulnerability, the letting ones guard down and the becoming honest with our characters. That also means becoming honest with ourselves as writers – knowing when to leave the bedroom doors open, knowing when sex matters to the reader and when it only slows the story down. But all of those technical aspects of story, all of the finessing of sex in a scene can only happen when a writer is brave enough to put sex on the page for everyone to see and do so realizing that while the reader may question how much said sex scene speaks of the writer, if the writer chooses to leave it out, she will be cheating her reader out of a better view of her characters or an important movement in the story. By the same token, gratuitous sex diminishes both the character and the story. If the writer chooses to put sex in when it’s not necessary, she’s cheating the reader with lazy writing by using sex to titillate instead of good writing and gripping story to keep the reader engaged.

It took ages before I could let the characters speak to me through their sex lives because I was so afraid anyone who read those sex scenes would associate them with me personally. Imagine my fear and trepidation when I released The Initiation of Ms Holly out into the world! Imagine my feeling of exposure. For months before the book came out, I feared that connection, that visceral connection, that I as a writer would be viewed as the sum total of the sex scenes I’d written, in spite of the plot that was moved by the sex, in spite of the characters said sex revealed.

One of the major battles young writers face, in my opinion, is becoming comfortable with writing sex and with being able to separate themselves from what their characters need to do in order for the story to unfold, in order for the reader to be fully engaged. That battle is a double-edged sword in that basic psychology would say everything we write is, on some level, the unfolding of our own story, the way we deal with our personal journey. Let’s face it; writing can be great therapy, if it’s not totally messing you up in the process.

Still, there’s a level of unselfconsciousness that each writer must reach in order to tell the truth. Truth in story carries much more weight than truth in the real world because it’s a multifaceted mirror, not only for the writer, but when done right, for the reader as well. Truth in story is archetypal and touches nerves that anything less real could not. In fiction, denial drops away and the naked truths of the characters and their story become larger than life reality checks that bring us up short and cause us to reflect on our own realities. If the writer can’t be honest, in sex as well as in every other aspect of story, then the reader will know, and if the reader doesn’t trust the writer, then she won’t read what’s been written.

Sex can and should be one of the most honest, most vulnerable places in which the reader encounters character and plot. It can also be the cheapest possible way to bullshit a reader into reading something with no substance. Once the writer is brave enough to let the characters have sex out in the open before god and the reader and everyone, then the writer must also be very sure that it’s the characters and the plot that the sex drives and not a cop-out for lazy, Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bdishonest writing.

Twelve novels and multiple novellas and short stories later, and I still feel vulnerable every time I write sex. Every time I write sex, I find myself in a position of mutual respect. I have to respect my characters and the story that they need to tell, including the sex acts that involves enough to be honest, and I have to respect the intelligence of my readers, who are on the journey with the characters. Sex is a powerful tool. Sex is the true magic of the biological world, and if anything it’s even more powerful magic in the world of story. But like any powerful tool, it can and often is abused to the detriment of the writer and the readers.


Sex and Fiction Revealed

From the Archives:
Rodin 250px-The_KissI once sat through a reading of four fairly well-known romance writers, who had great stage presence, read beautifully from their new best sellers, and answered the audience’s questions with the level of expertise one would expect from people who make their living as writers. That is until they were asked about writing sex.

There was a frisson of embarrassment across the stage and a lot of shifting and shuffling and throat clearing as all four made excuses for why they were uncomfortable writing sex and therefore didn’t do it if they could avoid it. Then the question was dismissed with all the gravity a question about the proper shade of lippy might have been.

I wanted to shout, ‘This is sex! It’s the biggie! It’s what romance leads to! It’s what made us all! Beyond the shouting, sex is the powerful leveler of persons that strips us of our facades and brings us down to the deepest part of ourselves, and occasionally the best part. It exposes our animal nature with all its crudeness and all its charm. Sex is one of the best ways for a reader to get to know a character. With that in mind, I can’t imagine why all writers aren’t dying to write their next sex scene.

I appreciate a good sex scene in a novel – any novel – because sex in fiction, no matter how dangerous, is always safe sex. I enjoy writing erotica because it allows me, and my reader, to experience sex vicariously, safely, in ways we would never experience it in the real world. In some cases it’s only to see what the appeal of being there is. In other cases it’s the fulfillment of fantasy on the written page done safely without leaving the comfort of the recliner. For me, as writer and reader, there’s also the added excitement of sharing fantasies with total strangers.

I’m told I don’t look like the type of woman who would write erotica, but the more I write, the more I
wonder why the type of woman who writes erotica shouldn’t be Everywoman. We all have fantasies, and I can speak first hand as to how hot it is to write those fantasies down – in detail. No one needs to read them but ourselves. Hey, it’s a cheap sex toy – a piece of paper and a pen – a hot pink one, maybe??? It’s safe sex at its best. The world of the written page has always allowed us to walk in other dimensions, other realities, other times, and to see the world through the eyes of other people. Why shouldn’t sex be included in those other realities?

Coming home from the States on a night flight a couple of years ago, unable to sleep, I found myself watching the film, The Ugly Truth, with Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigle. Butler’s character is trying to help Heigle’s character develop a relationship with a hot doctor. He asks her how often she Naked guy readingmasturbates. Horrified, she says she doesn’t do that sort of thing, to which he replies, ‘If you don’t want to make love to yourself, what makes you think anyone else will want to?’

According to Wallace Shawn, “Sex really is a nation of its own. Those whose allegiance is given to sex at a certain moment withdraw their loyalty temporarily from other powers. It’s a symbol of the possibility that we might all defect for one reason or another from the obedient columns in which we march.”

I’ll admit it; I’m a defector to that nation of sex. It’s a large nation with lots of room, and I’m inviting everyone I know to defect and enjoy.

You can read Wallace Shawn’s great essay about writing sex here:


© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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