Monday, January 28, 2008

Can We Talk About Sex?

Rather, can we talk about writing about sex?

Sex is so tricky, so complicated, especially if you're not writing romance or erotica. I'm writing literary fiction, so there's a difficult balance to navigate between being too graphic (the ooh-la-la) and being too sentimental (the corn factor).

A writing friend, John T from my Nudge-Nudge Collective, brought this dilemma to my attention while critting my sex scene. "Too cliche", he said. While graphic, it has that "been there, done that" feel to it. Besides, he said, what is "ultimately important here are the characters, their attitude toward each other, and their feelings" rather than the sex itself.

As I read his review, it rang true; deep down, I was feeling uncomfortable with the scene myself, felt it didn't get at the essence of my two characters.

So, without further ado, here's an excerpt from the most recent version of my nookie scene. First encounter between Ben and the elusive Phoebe, the object of hs desire. She (obviously) capitulates to his advances.

Tell me what you think...


“What?” My gasp slices the dark. A pale apparition sits by my side. “What is it?”

The angel traces a finger down my arm, slides a warm hand into mine. “Shhhhh… nothing.” She rises, tugs at me.

I stumble up, and the cold air slaps me awake. She leads me to the bedroom. The streetlights fling gnarled, ashen shadows on the walls and bed. A dull orange glow tints the horizon.

“Phoebe, are you sure?”

She turns to me, cups her hands on either side of my face, and brings me close and kisses me, a soulful kiss of promise.

I wrap my arms around her waist. We huddle into each other, my cheek resting on top of hair smelling of orange blossom or jasmine, some exotic flower. All I hear is our breathing, cadenced, soft.

She tilts her head to me, her mouth parts, and we kiss slow, lingering kisses that thaw my body from its sleepiness. My fingers tug on the band holding her braid, comb through her silvery hair. I shiver; the silkiness against my hands feels ethereal, the way I imagined.

We fall back onto the mattress. Expanses of her soft, warm skin glow like alabaster between cotton layers, welcoming me, my lips, my hands, my tongue. She watches me, letting me do what I wish, smiling her enigmatic smile as I move over her. I lose myself in the dark warm room, the folds of the cool, crinkled sheets, the terrain of her body.

The tips of my fingers skim eyebrows, cheeks, and lips; she takes my pinkie into her mouth and sucks it, gentle at first, then harder. I bury my mouth in her breasts, the small hollow below her neck, leaving trails of kisses as I explore the gentle swell of her abdomen, the dulcet softness of her inner thighs. Her salty sweetness fills my mouth. Moaning, she pulls me back up to her.

I fumble in the bedside drawer for a Trojan while her hungry hands travel my chest and shoulders, shooting electric riffs down my spine. I keep shuddering. Sweet, sweet God. We kiss, again and again, consuming the other, it seems like forever, then I am on top of her, her thighs part. She gasps a faint ‘oh’, and her eyes flicker open, afraid.

I hover above her, kiss her forehead. “I can stop, Phoebe.”

She stares at me. “No, no…I want… this.” The fear leaves, her eyes close.

I kiss each perfect, trembling eyelid, slowly, like a sacrament, and slide into her warm, velvet goodness.

She looks at me, smiles, and her legs grip me tight. Slowly, we rock together, finding our measure, our breaths keeping time, and I get lost again, rapt in the cacophony of sensation: silky strands tousled between my fingers, the gentle slapping noise of slicked skin rubbing together, her faint peach smell. Brilliant white heat erupts in my head, my body, streaks into hers, and she convulses under me in small tsunamis, her cry ragged in my ear. I collapse in her, and we lay still, legs and arms tangled, hearts pulsing together. An unfamiliar calm engulfs me.

We separate, still holding hands but not talking. Her fingers soften in mine, her breath slows. Exhausted with joy, I curl myself around her and pull up the quilt, feeling whole. Normal. Like I’m home.


Thanks John.

I'm off to write a, sedate scene... Peace, Linda


  1. :-)

    Much steamier without the purple prose. Bravo.


  2. Linda,

    I just had to let you know how much I loved your first page entry on Nathan Bransford's blog! Seriously! Yours was the first entry I read and reread. You totally hooked me!


  3. I enjoyed your posting. Whether or not sex is palatable to your readers is one of those issues that is out of your control. Some readers want all the experience they can get and have no problem with a heavy diet of details. Others want meaning more than actions and are turned off with sex just for the sake of sex.

    On your story, I don't know if you can somehow combine the two in this little segment (or maybe you have later on) to let the readers see what is going on inside your characters. Maybe you can give some dialogue on her part, or more internal monologue on his part. What does this mean to him? How is he feeling to finally experience the love of this woman? Is it just sex, or does it satisfy something he's been looking for? Don't know if this helps or not.

    As for me, the whole issue of sex was a topic of an entry I submitted to Six Sentences. I eventually asked to have it pulled, given that the issue I addressed hit too close to home. Let's just say that some things, even publication, aren't so important to me that I'm willing to sacrifice the ones I love. So can we talk about sex? Sure. But, once again, there is an element that is out of your control, and I question whether or not you need to be too concerned about it. Ultimately, you have to be comfortable with what you are achieving in your scene and what purpose it has to the entire story. Let the readers take from it what they will.

  4. John, thanks for the props, man... all your fault, you pushy cop ;^}

    Maria, also thanks for the props. Made my day. Hey, my week. Only 675 entries and - just announced on NB's blog - 6 finalists. Exactly 1% chance, just like the slush pile odds. Don't bet on this horse...

    Steve!!!!! Hey, nice to 'hear' from you - your perspectives on nookie are fresh and interesting. You are so correct when you say let the needs of the story - and characters- dictate the way the scene is written. Which is what John was telling me (oh so subtly) in his crit. And yes, interpretation of the writing is sooooooo subjective.

    Of course, I've already rewritten the darn scene. Sometimes I think my words are rabbits, always twitching to somewhere else and always in the mood to procreate. Peace, friends...