I recently found myself skipping over a sex scene in a novel I was thoroughly enjoying. It’s not the first time that’s happened. This particular novel was a fast-paced paranormal story that was original and gripping. There was nothing wrong with the sex scene. Like the rest of the novel, it was well-written and pacey. It was just in the wrong place. It stopped the action in it’s tracks until the couple had their romp – which satisfied them a helluva lot more than it satisfied me. I just wanted to know what happened next. I guess you could say I just wasn’t in the mood.
Because the book was really good and action packed, enjoyable in every other way right down to the last word, I found myself thinking about misplaced sex scenes and story-interuptus. I did a mental inventory of the novels I could recall in which I’ve skipped over sex scenes, then I analyzed the reasons why I’d done it. Interestingly enough, I found that it seldom had to do with the fact that the sex scene was poorly written. Though I’ve read plenty of novels in which the writing of sex scenes was less than stellar, those weren’t the scenes I skipped. In those cases, I usually overlooked the flaws and just got on with it. I reckon writing sex well is a learned process and I can forgive awkwardly written sex in a pacey story that keeps me turning the pages. If the pacing is good, then the sex will not be there without a purpose.Sometimes even poorly written sex still contains an element essential to the story being told.
As I analyzed what I’ve read and what I’ve skipped, I found two main situations in which I skip sex scenes entirely because I know it’s a waste of my time. The first situation is when the writer interrupts the action for sex. When I began writing erotic novels, the standard rule of thumb was that there should be a sex scene every two thousand words. Seriously! So I spent a good deal of time scrambling trying to figure how a sex scene could be inserted that would move the story forward and not stall the plot. I didn’t always succeed. Thankfully more literary heads prevailed and now the tale being told determines the where and when of sex, just like it does with all other action in a story. Like any other action a writer uses in fiction, there needs to be a reason for sex. Like all other actions, sex should move the story forward, ratchet up the plot, or reveal something new about the characters.
The second situation in which I skip over sex scenes, and the one that irritates me far more, is when the writer has
substituted sex for action. I know, I know! I just said sex should be the action that moves the plot. But when it’s not, when it does nothing but fill space where action is sorely needed, then I have a problem with that. Sadly I see a lot of examples of sex being used to resolve a situation, and while I don’t necessarily believe everything has to be resolved for a story to reach a satisfactory conclusion, I also am not romantic enough to believe that a good romp in the hay will lead to
all problems solved, love everlasting and catapult us all to a HEA with hearts and flowers and fluffy bunnies. In erotica, sex can most definitely be the pay-off the reader is waiting for, but in romance isn’t a substitute for resolution.
The thing that I love about sex in fiction is that it’s one of the best movers and shapers of story and certainly one of the most powerful driving forces in epic archetypal tales. It often launches the journey from which there is no return, it introduces chaos for which there is no easy solution and it reveals the heart and soul of a character, flaws, neuroses and all. How can you not love that? That it should ever be skipped over is a sad indication of its misuse – even for this jaded writer. I want it to count. I want it to change things, and I most definitely need it to do more than make me squirm in my knickers.