Guest post by Erastes
I had a more sensible and serious discussiony post planned but I’m feeling a bit rough today so I’m going to talk about sex instead because that cheers me up.
For obvious reasons this post has no pictures!!
I think that any book these days that deals with any kind of relationship is going to have to deal with sex at some point. It doesn’t have to be a romance to do so, your guys can be spies, shagging frantically against a damp brick wall in post war Berlin, keeping out of the way of patrols–they can be adventurous explorers, risking mossie bites and god knows what else worse as they bare their bits in the jungle. Even inspirational books – and it’s about time we saw more inspirational gay books (is anyone publishing them?) have to deal with sex – even if they don’t describe the sex scenes themselves.
The other day I found a review of Transgressions which gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had – and that was that, even though there was a lot of sex in the book, each and every sex scene was integral to the plot.
Now, your mileage may vary, but I think that this is important. Particularly in a book that has a lot of sex in it. Even something labelled an “erotic romance.” I don’t think that the sex should be superfluous.
First of all, let me just say that I love sex stories. I have shelves of one-handed reads, and the short erotic story is perfect for that PWP (plot, what plot? or porn without plot) but I truly believe that anything longer than a short story the sex scene is as much of a story telling device as the dialogue, or other kinds of action scenes.
What I’ve seen with too many books is gratuitous sex and while I’ll tolerate one – or maybe two scenes of this nature, any more than that, and I’m flipping forward to find the next plot point. “Oh GOD, they are at it AGAIN.” Some characters seem to have sex every single time they meet up, and that’s really not interesting for the reader (after the first couple of times, anyway!) unless it does something for the story.
The trouble is, that loads of sex IS generally realistic for a new relationship. Most m/m books are dealing with a burgeoning relationship (there are a few series or books which start in the middle of a relationship of course) – and as we all know – when you start up a new love affair, you rush together like iron filings to a magnet every single opportunity you get. You can’t be in the same room as each other without wanting to rip each other’s clothes off. But if you write about this over and over again, then the reader is going to glaze over and say “so what?”
After a while, sex in books is a bit like eating, sleeping or going to the loo. We KNOW that the protagonists do all of the above, but the author doesn’t describe every single meal because they’d lose readers fast.
I’ve literally read books that – out of a 300 page novel – have 160 or so pages – JUST OF SEX. Sex scenes that go on for 5,000 words when you begin to worry about the state of their equipment by the end of it.
So how do you know which scenes to write about?
As I say, each sex scene has got to tell you something about the story. It doesn’t have to further the plot, but it could also reveal something about one or other (or both) of the characters. As long as it does something, that’s the main thing.
- First-time sex. This is vital. I proof read a story a while back which started the story after the first time time sex, and I had to explain to the author why this didn’t work. You need those first reactions, the touches, the tastes because they never happen quite that same way again.
- Event sex – celebratory/commiseration, pity fuck, hurt/comfort. This generally doesn’t progress the plot, but it can show a lot about characterisation
- Break up sex – Either when both of them know if, or only one, it can be horrifying, galling, touching, heartbreaking.
- Make up sex – Again, I think this one is always vital to put in, because the motivations can sometimes be hugely satisfying to read.
- Hate/Anger sex – can be swapped with break-up sex, depending on why there’s anger there in the first place. The most obvious and most used is the characters yelling at each other and then flinging themselves on the ground and ripping each other’s clothes off, so it can also work well as first time sex too!
- Adulterous sex. Oh yes indeed!! This can be an established adulterous relationship, or a one-time thing. In fact, with this established relationship, it’s likely you’ll be able to show more of the sex scenes, because the guilt- or progression of the adultery will impact the plot more readily that an established monogamous relationship.
- Emo-sex: Verge of death sex, long separation sex, just after funeral sex. These can be alternated with make up, event or hurt comfort, but can also work well on their own, depending on the level of emo!!
If I can just illustrate my point further with Standish. There’s a lorra lorra sex – but briefly – here are the sex scenes, and here’s what I hope each one says. (Probably worth skipping if you were planning to read the book and don’t want to be spoiled.
Rafe/Quinn – Backstory+breakup sex
Rafe/Francis – hate sex+ semi-adulterous+break up sex (!)
Rafe/Ambrose – Hurt Comfort + First time sex
(then I allude to the fact that they do a lot of sex as the relationship kicks off, but I don’t describe it)
Rafe/Ambrose – Emo (Ambrose recalling sex after finding something really upsets him)
Ambrose/Francis – hate-violence
Rafe/Achille – first time+adulterous sex
Ambrose/Fleury – first time+post momentous event sex
Ambrose/Fleury – developing relationship
Eagle =eyed readers will note that in actual fact the main protagonists never actually have penetrative sex.
Basically – as a reader, if I can read a sex scene and lift it right out of the book, and it makes no difference to the plot or characterisation at all, then, in my opinion, it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?