Smut! Erotica! Naked Butts! Sex scenes are a fun way to add life to a plot; to give it a nice punch of emotion, conflict, and spice to the story. The big problem is that sex has a stigma. In the Romance genre especially, sex scenes are much like the explosions in Michael Bay movies. Totally fun, but when gratuitously thrown in every other chapter without point or reason it falls lacking. Sure it’s hot to read your favorite characters gettin’ it on, but how great would it be if each sex scene actually developed your characters and progressed the story? Let me take you on a magical ride through the randy world of se-
Hold up, lady. All I see is a whole lot of description about where genitals are getting stuck. What is the difference between Sex as a Plot Device and Pointless Boning?
Well, dear reader, it all comes down to consequences. Good or Bad. Your sex scene should be adding something to the development of your characters and plot; a catalyst of change. It could be an expression of feelings or it could be creating conflict and problems. In your story, you have a problem, a goal, and a resolution. This moment between characters should either be helping or hindering them towards that final resolution.
Okay, I get it. Sex scenes can have purpose. But how do you use SEX as a story element?
Ask yourself this: What does this scene affect in my story? Your sex scene is adding to your plot. No matter the choice of theme or atmosphere, it changes something for these characters. It doesn’t just have to be an endless barrage of sex in a dozen different positions. The characters can learn something in these moments about themselves or each other.
- CONSIDER THE PLOT: Even when you are writing a romance novel, there needs to be more to the story than “the characters meet and fall in love and bone”. Are you writing a murder mystery or a fantasy? A medical drama or a contemporary comedy? The context of your setting can make a huge difference on your sex scene. Characters will be able to interact with the setting and in turn also be affected by what’s around them. Think about what could go wrong. What goes right? Could they be discovered or interrupted? Is it a private space where they feel comfortable doing things they normally might not?
If you’re writing about two high school teachers having a secret affair, a sex scene set in a bathroom at the school would have wildly different potential consequences compared to a scene in the bedroom at the married character’s home. It’s the difference between getting caught at school and losing their job, or getting caught at home by a spouse.
CONSIDER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: With every scene in your story your characters need to evolve. What does it convey about the characters? What did the moment mean to that character? How did it affect or change them, even if in the tiniest way? Because of the sex, something has altered someone’s life and every time it happens, it’s making the problem better/worse.
Suppose our teachers wanted to bang one out during lunch period. One is hopelessly in love and the other is cheating on their spouse. How has giving in to temptation changed things for them? Are they thrilled about what happened or is there regret?
Examples of Sex as a Plot Device with Common Trope Pairings:
- The Sex Slave and Master. A classic pairing that reeks of porn without plot, but a clever writer it can bring exciting life to this potential story. It can be an inspiring tale of exploring one’s sexuality through BDSM where during one sex scene the main character learns how to set boundaries and this new confidence spills over in to the rest of their life. You might write a tragedy about abuse in an unhealthy relationship; how the dynamic is being used to manipulate a character in to sex they don’t want.
- The Vampire and Human. This pairing is so popular there’s thousands of novels dedicated to the hot vampire trope. You can go for a romance that borders on obsession; guy or girl being so infatuated with this dark and dangerous creature that they throw sense out the window. This could be a story about seduction and resistance, the vampire charming their way to what they want. A psychological thriller with erotic torment; a fantasy that goes horribly wrong. A Romeo-Juliet tale of love, going against rules and expectations in favor of love.
Remember: The scene should trigger consequences in the plot. Perhaps your vampire has seduced the wrong person and someone seeks revenge. Maybe your character exploring the world of BDSM has noticed their partner’s style lines up a little too well with the modus operandi of a serial killer on the news. Consequences make things interesting.
You CAN have character and plot development with your sex scenes. A wonderful and engaging story that gives all of that sex some real meaning. Whether it be two characters hooking up at a bar for a one night stand, or the love affair between a married man and his secretary. There is a story to tell beyond all the ways you can bang a person. Do it well and you’ve got a spicy element to add to your novels!