28 days and the dreaded subject

Sorry to take so long between posts. Last time I posted it was forty days until publication of my book. Now it’s a mere twenty-eight and will probably be twenty-seven by the time I get this posted.

Twenty-eight days left until publication of my book. Four weeks. Four groups of seven days. One lunar month. Holy cow.

Okay, so it’s about time I addressed the subject I’ve been avoiding. Sex. There’s a sex scene in my book. There! I said it, it’s out there! Whew.

Sex was a really hard thing for me to write about. It’s a part of all our adult lives and a driving force behind our world, but it’s still taboo in polite adult conversation. I’ve never been one to believe in free love or anything like that, but I do believe that loving sex between committed adults is a wonderful and rewarding thing.

So how come it’s so difficult to write about?

Well, part of my hesitancy arose from who I suspected would read my book. My family, friends and fellow parents. The idea of the people I love reading a sex scene I wrote didn’t really appeal to me. With this in mind, I determined to gloss over the whole thing. I could write a modern, realistic romance and close the bedroom door when the time came, right?

Evidently not. One of my first readers complained to me that if I expected people to read 60,000 or so words, I needed to provide a payoff somewhere in there. Resigned, I started looking at ways to write sex without embarrassing myself.

I read multiple articles about how to write about sex. One of my favorites was coincidentally by one of my favorite authors, Steve Almond. His lighthearted approach to many a subject has made me laugh out loud, smile thoughtfully or nod in agreement. I’ll admit, this one made me blush a little, but the advice I gleaned from it was invaluable. You can read it here: Writing Sex by Steve Almond.

I found and read article after article about writing about that most important of our creative functions. Most all of them boiled down to two things. First, don’t be gratuitous. The sex should serve a purpose for the storyline. Evidently, sex can even reveal something about character. Yes, I thought, I can use the sex scene to develop my two main characters, to reveal something about them that the reader wouldn’t know if the scene took place behind a closed door. Working from that angle helped me loosen up. I was actually fascinated by how much the scene really did reveal in the end.

However, it was the second point many of the articles brought up that I clung to like a life preserver as I wrote my scenes. What was that point? Simply put, it’s not really advisable to try to get too creative with your descriptions of the actual act of sex, and it’s almost impossible to say anything original about it, anyway. In the end, it’s a pretty simple process most of your readers are probably going to be familiar with. Yes, I thought. My readers know what I’m talking about. It’s like when you describe a sunset in too much detail. A sentence or two of actual description is really too much. We’ve all seen sunsets. What’s important is what your characters do and feel when they see the sun set. Same as with sex. (As a side note, there actually is a description of a sunset in my book, so go figure.)

So how did I manage to write about sex and not embarrass myself? I’m not sure I did. The process was extremely difficult, and I wound up with a scene that probably won’t knock anybody’s socks off (and if it does, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know about it), but in my heart I know I remained true to myself and my characters. And as a writer, that’s what’s most important.

(Another important point: it’s now past midnight, so that means it’s actually 27 days until publication.)

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