This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘scenes’

When is Too Much Sex, Too Much? (Caution Terminology)

In Editing Your Manuscript, General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

Listen to a podcast of this article here.

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One of my blog readers asked me to expand on an earlier article, “How to Write a Sex Scene,” and today I’ll try and help her out. Her question entailed how much detail should one write into a sex scene. In my mind it’s up to the writer, but the answer varies according to writer’s target audience and the needs of the scene. Regardless, the reader’s imagination is the determining point.

Let’s look at the scene first. If you’re writing about raw sex, you might wish for more detail. Should you write about the power of love, you’d likely incorporate less. In the first case, you might include the feel of a woman’s wetness, whereas in the second you might offer nothing more than a bit of caressing as the two disappear behind a door.

Think also about the scene’s perspective. Is it written from the eyes of an eighteen year-old male bully or from grandma’s? Imagine how the bully might envision sex in relation to how might your grandmother. (Sorry for that visual.)

Let’s now take a look at the target market. Imagine how “the first time” scene might change if you wrote about seventeen year olds, thirty-somethings or grandmothers. In the first, you might have a young boy’s initial experience which entails raw sex with much more physical and tactile detail. The second could be a woman’s first encounter since her oppressive divorce where the details revolve less on the physical than the emotional. Grandma’s first encounter since her husband died might have very little detail, (if you don’t mind…), and convey something like comfort or even betrayal. Each displays the same basic scene, but with wildly varying descriptions and need for detail.

Here is how I feel about the subject in general. It’s all about the reader’s imagination.

Consider this simple example of describing a woman’s eyes when writing this type of scene.

“As he grabbed her hair and pushed her down on him, her eyes grew wide as silver dollars.”

“As he grabbed her hair and pulled her down on him, her eyes grew wide with excitement.”

Which of these lines creates the better vision to the reader? To me, everyone knows the size of a silver dollar and though the scene might be titillating, this simple detail reduces the reader’s option to use their imagination. In contrast, her eyes growing wide with excitement allows the readers to interpret how the character looked and thus makes the scene more personal to the reader. Now envision how involved a reader might be if a hundred details form in their mind, rather than on the page. This concept of appealing to the reader’s imagination applies regardless the level of detail. The more your reader employs their imagination, the more personal, more powerful the scene is to them.

I’m also all about the emotion of a scene. Consider a rape. Though the grabbing and thrusting it integral to the incident, if nothing else is described, the scene lacks much of its potential strength. However, if you write about how the woman emotionally responds to these actions, your writing will have much more impact.

To me, detail is dependent upon the scene and the audience. Use more of the reader’s imagination and fewer major details and I think you’ll write with more powerful imagery.

Now for some general tips.

A sex scene, as with all others, should maintain your writing style. Do you include every detail in every scene? Then continue in that vein. Do you skirt the large details for the small? Then carry on with that.

Highlight the tiny details. A man caressing the goose bumps on a woman’s thigh is more enticing than simply thrusting into her.

Think of your writing more as an Impressionist painting than one from the realistic period. The Impressionists worked with blurs of color and motion, allowing the reader’s mind to see what they wanted to see. The viewer’s imagination filled in the gaps. In contrast, the Realists painted each and every detail, giving each as much power as the next. Though their work is amazing, you only see what they want you to see.

Color-code the emotions you write on the page. Some people use colored pencils or crayons, while others use their word processing text highlighter. It matters not, but here’s how it works. When you mention an emotion such as yearning, you might color it gray. Should you highlight that mood one gets when a couple cuddles after sharing sex, you could use gold.

After colorizing each emotion, make a flip-book of your pages and thumb  through them. The colors that jump off the page will offer a strong insight as to the effectiveness of your writing and inform you if you’ve produced the type of article you wished. If your sex scene has a lot of black, for example, let’s hope it’s a rape. If the colors begin with cerulean, turn to yellow, shift to gold then orange and red, then back to blue, you’re probably on the mark for a love scene.

I read somewhere that “Details are the fingerprints of prose.” (Great line, don’t you think?) However, think of your details like spices. Too much salt or pepper and you’ll ruin the taste of the meal. So it is with your writing. Use your details sparingly so as not to overpower your reader.

When incorporating details, insure you employ your characters’, and thus your readers’, five senses. Have your character look at her nakedness, touch her skin and taste her lips. Have him hear her moan and smell her explosion. (And he’d damn well better see she has one.)

The general purpose of your novel is to transport your readers to another place and time. Would they rather go where they wanted or where you tell them. It’s all about the imagination.

It’s not about the sun, it’s about the warmth of the sun on one’s skin.

I do apologize for not offering specific instructions to leave in the erection and omit the sigh, but how much detail to write into a sex scene is up to the writer.

I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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How to Write Sex Scenes (Terminology Caution)

In The Craft of Writing on February 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

Download the podcast Version of this article here: How to Write a Sex Scene

How much would you like to bet this post garners the most reads of any of my articles? Sorry, guys, but this one is factual.

If you write for any length of time, you’ll stumble upon the opportunity, with intent or otherwise, to write a sizzling scene where your characters take off their clothes. For obvious reasons, many writers struggle with this type of prose, while others jump in without reservation. Either way, every fiction writer has the ability to write erotic scenes. After all, it’s just another form of conflict, is it not?

Let’s look first to the scene as an integral part of any novel. As with every scene in every novel, it must fulfill the same functions and have the same components as would any other. It must fit the storyline, utilize believable characters, employ effective dialogue, move the story forward, build tension, (Yeah, boy!), exhibit a character’s needs, (Too easy…), offer conflict, (You bet!), contain a valid point of view and all those other tedious things. It’s no different than any other scene in this regard.

Let’s look to storyline. As a writer you should give thought as to why you’re writing this specific scene in the first place. It must have the same authenticity as any other in your manuscript. If you write an erotic scene for the sake of titillating, (Oh, geez…), readers won’t understand how it fits the story, and though they may read it multiple times, it will drag down your novel and reduce its acceptance. So, think it through and insure this scene has legitimate purpose to the story.

Characters: The main thing to remember is they must stay in character. The meek office worker will never start talking like a stevedore in bed, nor will your hunk ever giggle. The rapist won’t turn into a cuddle-bunny when he’s done, nor with the Stockholm Syndrome come into play for his victim. Insure the way they act out of bed corresponds with the way they act in bed.

Dialogue: When you want to write an erotic scene, dialogue is not what you might think. In real life, people say things like, “I don’t bend that way,” or “that hurts” or the ever-deflating, “Is it in yet?” So, like any other dialogue in your novel, it won’t be true to life. Consider talking as foreplay for your characters. Lead into the scene with dialogue that builds in intensity, then allow it to fade as things get more heated. Words should give way to sighs, whimpers, groans, exclamations and whispers. Just be cautious your characters don’t sound like farm animals.

Conflict: Consider the conflict that caused the characters to engage in sex, and/or the conflict that results from the act. If there is none, the scene is probably not necessary.

To me, the secret to a steamy scene is found within psychology. Once you realize sex is more a mental exercise than physical, your writing will focus upon the emotional sides of love making. Be sure your reader “sees” the emotional tension rising, falling and rising again to its crescendo.

And don’t forget the lead-up and the follow-through. What drew your characters together and holds them to each other? How do they feel the following morning? What happens to their relationship with the passing of time? Sex scenes are a much larger part of your story than just momentary and wanton passion.

Let’s now look at some general tips to consider when writing sex scenes.

You’re not writing a brochure for the medical community, so dispense with all the technical terms like “penis” or “vagina.” Further, unless you’re writing for comedic effect, “tacos” or “thingys” have no place either. Consider using instead, pronouns, which are quite effective in these scenes. Your example?

“His thingy forced its way into her vagina.”

is replaced by,

“He forced himself upon her.”

Resist the temptation to use euphemisms. The Tunnel of Love is a ride at the carnival and meat slapping is all about being mean to hogs.

You don’t have to describe too much nor do you have to tell everyone what’s going where or who’s grabbing what. They already know. Besides, the reader’s imagination will fill in the blanks, and they’ll create a more interesting image with their minds than you will with your words.

Yes, your own writing, in this situation, should excite you too. If it doesn’t, you need to rewrite the scene or drop it all together.

In sex scenes, like any other, incorporate the five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Fluids can be fun. Yes, sex is sticky and fluid-filled, so don’t shy away from those components of the act either. Just be judicious in their use.

Nipples are not pencil erasers or anything related to a cherry. They are tough to describe, so become comfortable with the word, “nipples.

Shy away from clichés. They rarely work in writing anyway, and they’ll rarely work in writing sex. Have you ever been with someone who screamed out, “Do me now! Do me now!” Neither have  your readers.

Women rarely beg for sex. Men just might.

Your erotic scenes should never be tedious or disappointing. If they doesn’t turn you on, rewrite them.

No formulas. Paint-by-number sex is boring.

Unless you’re writing a rape scene, “no” really does mean “no.”

Build tension before your characters do the dirty deed.

Don’t forget to include foreplay. It’s a major part of the best sex, so be sure to include it in your writing.

Give your readers fantasy. That is one of the most interesting parts of sex anyway and there’s no reason to ignore it.

Sex is all about the mind and so much more than just the orgasm. So it is with your characters. Let them use their minds more than their other body parts.

Sex can be humorous. After all, “Get bent,” can have so many meanings.

Use the small aspects of sex to enhance the scene. A woman’s neckline can be much more enticing than most any part of her body. A man’s hand on the small of a woman’s back can lead her in any direction.

People usually look better in their clothes than out of them. Don’t get too involved with physical descriptions. Allow the reader to imagine as they will.

The illusion of nakedness is much more tempting that actual nakedness.

A falling silk dress is more alluring than a fallen silk dress.

In a first encounter, women take time. In later encounters, you may have to slow them down.

Odd thoughts can, and do, seep into people’s minds at the most inappropriate of times.

If it makes you cringe, it will make your readers put your book away forever.

Okay, for those of you who still feel hesitant, there’s only one way to overcome your fears. Pick up your pen and get your paper wet.

I hope by now you know, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

How to Write a Scene in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on February 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

Great! You’ve developed these wonderful characters who stand primed to flit about your magnificent setting and boy-oh-boy do you ever have an idea for a storyline. Well, it’s all for naught if you can’t compile these things into scenes and string those scenes together to make your story awe your readers.

Imagine a lustrous string of pearls. The first gemstone compliments the next which balances with the rest and strung together they lay upon a woman’s neckline to bring forth her natural beauty and give her a radiating sense of elegance. Now imagine that necklace where the jewels are a hodgepodge of odd sizes, hues, luster and even quality. All of a sudden we’ve taken the best of nature and the best of man and made them into something unpleasing. The same thing happens with your story if you don’t create your scenes as well as you’ve created your characters and your setting.

One secret many find useful is to write the last scene first, and the first scene second, at least in outline form. If you know where you need to go, the steps to get there will become much more obvious. Now some people recommend you consider what the characters want to happen, what they need. Personally, I disagree. Determine where you want to go and what steps you must take to get there and the characters will follow your lead.

Let’s get started.

First outline what you need on hand to create an effective scene. It requires emotion, action, dialogue, characters, conflict and setting. (Did I leave anything out?)

Next, determine what has to happen in a scene to move this part of the story toward the next. Ask yourself, “What must happen now?”
Don’t worry about what could happen or what should happen.
Be concerned only about what must happen. At this time, use only two or three sentences to write your scene. That’s all you need at first.

Now that you know what must happen, figure out who must be in the scene to make it work. Put only those characters necessary into it and leave everybody else out.

Next you determine where this scene takes place. It may be obvious after you asked yourself what must happen, but if it wasn’t, fix the setting into your mind. Consider having things happen in places that one might think out of place. Consider a teacher and high-school student discussing the child’s grades. You’d assume this would happen in the classroom, most likely after class, right? Why not have this discussion taking place at a racetrack or better yet at a bar. Now that would perk the scene up, wouldn’t it?

Okay, we’ve got what must happen, who’s in the scene and your setting. Now consider how it all ties together. A classic secret is to begin a scene as late in the scene as possible. Regardless, this next beginning almost calls out for recognition as it naturally piggybacks off the ending of the previous scene. However, give this a bit of thought, too, and see if you can’t punch up your creativity just a bit. For example, your student and his teacher are talking at the races when one scene ends. The next scene might typically start the following day in class. What if this second scene started on a Saturday as they watch the school burn down? The oddity of your settings may just give your novel a unique and imaginative spark. After all, why should all the surprises come at the end of a scene?

The next thing I’d like you to do is visualize your scene as if it were in a movie. If you can see it working visually, it’s probably got some strength to it. Try this first with only the characters’ physical actions and nothing more. When you close your eyes and “watch” your scene take place, look for those areas that stutter or slow the pace. Those are the parts that need work. After you’ve “seen” it play out, go through this process again, this time with the dialogue. Does it “hear” as well, too? If not, you know what needs work. Do this a third time within your setting in mind and you’re good to go. Visualization is the real secret to a good scene.

Okay, you wrote your three sentence scene and you’ve “watched” and “listened” to it and it feels good. Now’s the time to pen what some people call a scribble draft. It doesn’t have dialogue, setting or anything beyond simple physical actions. Make is a bare-bones outline. It’ll look something like this:

Jack runs down the hill.
Jill runs after him.
Jack falls down hill, dropping his bucket.
Jill does too and screams as she tumbles.
Both land in a heap at the bottom of hill.

After all that, now guess what you get to do? Yep, first draft. Now’s it time to put fingers to keyboards and clack away.

We’re now to our last step in writing an effective scene. Now that you’ve gotten a few scenes strung together. Reread them and ask what’s the worst that could happen if this scene or that were omitted in whole. If the basic storyline is unaffected by the missing scene, it’s unnecessary and should probably be cut from your manuscript.

Yep, it’s a lot of work, but you’ll get that beast wrestled to the ground and your story will emerge. Good luck.

By the way, read back to step one and you’ll see I recommended you first write out your scenes in just two and three sentences. If you do, put all these mini-scenes on the same piece of paper, a file of its own. Make a copy of that document before you expand them into full scenes. This is the start of your synopsis and the beginning of your outline. (You’ll thank me one day for this tip!)

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the soon to emerge novel, “Born to be Brothers”

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The Secret to Secrets in Novels

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 17, 2010 at 7:03 am

Almost every type of novel can utilize the power of secrets to advance the plot and improve the suspense. Think of how many stories you’ve read where something unknown pops up in the middle of the book and shifts the entire story to another track. I’ve come up with five ways to use secrets within your novels to enhance your storyline, increase suspense and even help your characters grown and change during the story.

One of the best ways to use the suspense created by a secret is to make it corporeal, something your characters can see and touch. When utilizing this technique, your reader is allowed to share in the secret and all the interest and excitement the unknown brings. It could be a sealed envelope, a person lurking in the shadows, a photo or a diary. It can be anything as long as your reader doesn’t know what it represents until you want them to know what it represents.

You can use a secret as a source of conflict for your characters. How about the husband who comes home late from work and refuses to tell his wife why?  What if a soldier cannot bring himself to talk about a war experiences, though his wife tells him she’s heard an ugly rumor about that situation. In fact, this secret could even be your entire novel. Regardless, in these situations you’ve got something you readers know exists but is hidden from them for a reason they are not yet allowed to understand. They may just read on just to find out what’s going on.

A third way to take advantage of secrets is to enhance your climactic scene. How often have you read a novel where just as the hero is about to die, he learns a dramatic secret that changes everything and saves his life and sanity? Personally, I don’t care for this use. I think it was Orson Wells who said, and I paraphrase, terror isn’t terror unless the viewer knows something is about to happen. As I recall, he used the example of two people sitting at a table with a bomb underneath. There is much more suspense if everyone knows the bomb is there and are waiting for it to explode, than if it just detonates all of a sudden. I feel the same way about secrets. They have more power if everyone is waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Regardless my sentiments in this, a climactic secret might be useful to your story and you may wish to give it consideration.

Another common use of secrets in novels is as a vehicle for a plot twist. The secret to this secret is to insure it is truly hidden within your story as you set up your readers for its revelation. In Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, (not the movie versions but the book), the creature threatens the not so worthy doctor with perpetual evil unless Dr. Frankenstein creates another creature, a female companion for the monster. When that comes to light, the entire story took on a new direction. If you can work this tool into your novels, it’ll create terrific conflict.

I think the most powerful secrets to use are within you. You’ve got some, just like everyone else. Why not choose those secrets that inspire your life to inspire your readers?

If you wish to use secrets but don’t have one in mind, find real life ones at Post Secret Blog for ideas. (This place is interesting.)

I hope you’ve found something in this article that’ll spark a secret for your novels.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of “Born to be Brothers” (Coming Soon.)

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4 Steps to Character Development

In The Craft of Writing on February 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

We all realize one of the most critical components in the craft of writing any novel is its characters. Without effective characterization, the chance of penning a successful novel approaches zero. Therefore, I spend much of my writing time creating those people who will populate my manuscripts. Personally, I use a four-step process for developing my characters.

These four steps are:

  1. 1. Summarize the type of character needed for the story
  2. 2. Find a photo of that person
  3. 3. Interview my main characters
  4. 4. Review my character’s reactions during the editing process

First, I jot down the basic characteristics I’ll need for my hero, villain and any love interest. I focus more on their personality than physical characteristics and I try to envision how this person I’m creating will react to situations I already imagine will occur in the story.

I sort of feel this person out and makes notes as my mind wanders between the character and the story. Other writers fill in formal note cards or databases, many types of which you can find on the Internet. It matters not how you gather this information, but knowing my characters’ personalities before I craft them helps me flesh them out as I write.

Next I locate, cut out and paste up photos of my characters. I physically mount their faces, and if necessary to the story, full body photos of my people. I pay very close attention to the look in their eyes, for I need specific personality types, and the eyes are the harbinger of this. I might take hours upon hours to find the perfect pictures, but when I have them, I paste these photos on a piece of poster board and keep it on my desk as I write. Early in the writing process, I refer to these photos often, especially when I write dialogue, which I think is one of the secrets to effective dialogue. As I become more familiar with the characters as individuals, I refer to their photos less and less, but still keep the mounting board on my desk as I write.

Third, I interview my characters. Yes, it is a formal interview as if I’m speaking to someone for a magazine article. By now I’ve developed a basic storyline so I ask them questions that relate to my story. For example, in an early manuscript, my heroine learned her husband died in battle and she traveled to the field to find his remains. (It was common in the era in which I write.) So, I asked her, “Lorena, it’s late at night and you’ve wandered over this horrid field with a lantern for hours. You’ve just found your husband, dead on the battlefield. How would you react to this?” I allow my instincts about this character to answer for me. If I don’t get an answer that can translate into an effective scene, I consider altering the scene and/or characterization of this person. By the time I’ve reviewed most of my story’s major plot points as they relate to my major characters, I’ve got a firm visualization of who my characters are and how I’ll write about them in my manuscript.

Finally, as I edit my work I study how my characters reacted to the various situations in which I’ve placed them. Did they respond according to the  personality I’ve given them? Did they act as expected? If not, what has to change, the scene, the character or both? The situations in which my characters find themselves have often morphed into something quite different than I’d visualized in my first draft. I consider it imperative to insure my character’s have adapted to these new situations in a fashion consistent with their personalities.

My manuscripts are character-driven and this four-step process insures those people I create mesh with my plot points and storyline without issue.

Are there other techniques or tips you use to create your characters? Let me know and I’ll post them, with appropriate credit, of course.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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