The romance genre is one of the best selling book genres in the world, and that includes erotica novels full of unforgettable sex scenes.
So how do you get over the awkwardness of writing sizzling action, and learn to write sex scenes that your readers can’t get enough of?
In this article I’m going to be talking about erotic fiction; from how to start your first draft and engage your reader’s imagination, to ensuring you are writing high quality erotica that will have your target audience wanting more!
So, like any good romance, let us start at the very beginning….
What’s The Difference Between Romance Novels And Erotica?
The simplest way to look at the two is this:
Romance novels have the sex scenes revolve around the plot.
Erotic fiction has the plot revolve around the sex scenes!
So before you start writing erotica, ask yourself whether your story is about the characters and an exciting plot (that just so happens to have the odd steamy scene) – or whether the hot action is what your readers want, and you simply have to thread each sex scene together with a plausible storyline.
Which leads us on to structuring your story – because, like any genre, your romance needs to have a plot!
Structure Your Story
Now I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about how to write a great book – because every successful author of erotica will have a different story to tell. All I will say is that you do need to respect your basic story structure.
Writing erotica novels is no different to writing any other kind of fiction!
The teasing quality of a suspense-driven story (Will the heroine succeed or not? Does he or doesn’t he like her?) should match up perfectly with the will-they/won’t-they quality of the romantic/erotic dance. Without that suspense, that build up, you have no momentum driving the story forward.
That said, when it comes to writing erotic fiction, your story can be relatively simple – and relatively short. A 50,000 word story wouldn’t work so well as a crime-thriller, but it’s plenty long enough for erotica.
Hit The Beats
And I’m not talking BDSM here!
‘Hitting the beats,’ in the most basic of storytelling ways, simply means making sure your book has a story arc. this may sound formulaic, but if you have too much of any of these segments, some or missing, or they are in the wrong order then your readers will notice as the pacing will feel ‘off’ and it won’t keep readers hooked.
Make sure your romance or erotic story includes all of this:
Set The Scene (Act 1)
Where does the book take place? Is it on a tropical island? Or in a 19th century mansion? Two very different stories.
Introduce The Characters
From the onset we need to know who the characters are – is the MC a love-starved vampire or a controlling millionaire (or both)? Readers need to see what the main character’s life was like before the…
What happens in the book that’s a point of no return? This is the part when the book gets going.
The Middle (Entering Act 2)
Some writers struggle with this part as it’s generally the least exciting part of the book. It’s where the character grows and learns things, it’s their journey or discovery. What will happen between your two characters? Add lots of twists and surprises.
False Peak/False Defeat
The book isn’t over yet. There’s either worse things to come or hope on the horizon. Keep the readers on their toes.
Things Can’t Get Any Worse
Your hero/heroine thinks that all is lost, then they work out the solution
The Hero Overcomes (Enter Act 3)
Show the MC overcoming their internal or external struggles and finally getting what they set out to get at the beginning of the story
Happily Ever After
Because you are writing erotica/romance, it’s important that you have your two main love interests get together at the end. And if they don’t, well, at least hint that they might in future books. Always end on a high note!
Let’s take a look at what makes amazing writing and what the best erotica writers consider when building their worlds.
Even if your story is simple, your characters shouldn’t be. The power of sexual tension (and release) is multiplied tenfold on the page if there is some conflict and resolution between the characters.
That doesn’t have to mean the two main characters are always shouting at each other (though that could work). It means you must have some kind of push-pull dynamic that will have to be resolved somehow … and often via them taking all their clothes off.
It also means that your characters have to develop through the course of your story. The sex they have on first meeting won’t feel the same as the sex they have at the end of your book.
But sex is just sex, right? Wrong.
Writing Sex To Reflect Plot
Most people, when thinking about adding sex scenes in their erotic novel, focus on the body parts. What goes where, who does what, what they are wearing etc. But it’s so much more than that.
Sex doesn’t belong in any book without a purpose. Much like in any other genre, a sex scene is no different to an action scene. Every fight isn’t the same, every car chase is different.
The sex your protagonists have at the beginning of the book should not be the same as the sex scenes at the end of the book. They have been on a journey, they know one another better, their relationship has helped heal old wounds or accomplish what they set out to do.
How they interact with one another has to move the plot forward and show character growth in such a way that you’ve moved beyond the sexiness to something a lot deeper.
But you need to do this subtly. How?
Show Don’t Tell
When writing erotic stories, showing and not telling is vital.
People read erotica to be part of the sex, to feel the same emotions the characters are feeling.
That means you can’t merely report that character X had great sex with character Y. You have to let the scene unfold, action-by-action, on the page. Keep plenty of dialogue there too, make it part of the plot. Remember that interesting character interplay = interesting sex.
Put yourself in their shoes (or lingerie) and imagine what they are experiencing. Engage all five senses. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What can they smell, hear, taste, see?
Make sure that what the setting and props reflect the story. If the scene is set in a 19th century mansion then is he ripping off her silk ballgown? Do the candles in the chandeliers flicker? Is she feeling off her gloves finger by fingers?
Alternatively, if they’re on a dessert island, do they have sand in their mouth and hair? Can they hear tropical birds and the crash of waves? Is the warm breeze caressing their naked backs?
How To Write A Great Sex Scene
We’ve established the importance of character, story structure, and showing not telling when writing your erotica novel as a whole – but how do you write your individual sex scenes?
Here is my simple guide in ten easy steps (this advice refers specifically to erotica, the genre my Unbreakable trilogy, starting with The Silver Chain, is written for. Although it can be applied to sex scene writing in general):
Create A Picture Of The Characters, Imagine The Flow
If you can, put yourself in the scene. If you find that too difficult, then superimpose famous heart-throbs, or a secret crush, on to your characters.
Imagine these characters making love in front of you on a screen, and describe what you see and feel. Put yourself in the picture. If it’s not exciting you…then it won’t excite your readers!
Make Your Readers Care
Because if they don’t, they’ll soon get bored.
Your protagonists may come from different worlds, or there may be a difference in age or in the balance of power between them, but they are drawn to each other like a couple of magnets.
And once we know how this dynamic works, we will know how and why they like one another, and your readers will be attracted to them, too.
Remember that in erotica, upon first meeting, these characters have one aim – to have sex with each other. And the aim of most readers is to watch that attraction unfold, grow and reach an unforgettable climax (in every sense of the word).
Voyeuristic, yes, but true!
Choose Your Location
So next, place them in a sexy environment for this first time.
Depending on their age, situation, energy, athleticism and/or pure machismo, the back of a clapped out Ford Cortina or the bins behind the Plaza cinema might be just the place for a quick, rough first time, and that will certainly do it for some readers.
Any good erotic writer is more than capable, like the old Martini adverts, of creating a sex scene any time, any place, anywhere!
But others usually pick up an erotic novel to get away from the dirty old mean streets of real life. They’re after escapism!
So whisk your characters off to a place you’d like to be. A moonlit beach, or a sumptuous penthouse hotel room, or a soft rug in front of a roaring fire.
Imagine you are a film director setting the perfect scene. Make sure there’s low lighting and great music or some other subtle sound track. Garish lighting and deadly silence are not always the sexist ambience, at least for the first time.
But as the story progresses you can really have fun with your characters – having them so hot for each other that after the first seduction they’ll do it anywhere. A lift, a restaurant, a riding stable, an art gallery.
And to keep us on our toes, you can also later on play with the dynamic, too. Have the meek heroine take the lead, for once. See how the hero responds to that.
Don’t Forget The Build-Up/Foreplay
Build up sensuously to the physical act with suggestive conversation which will either be blatant and in your face, or playful, teasing, even holding back.
Depending on whether you have just 50,000 words to play with and it’s straight forward erotica, or whether you are writing a 90,000 word steamy romance, you can decide how long it takes them to get together.
They can have wild passionate sex in chapter one, then get to know one another…or they can spend four chapters stealing glances at one another. Either way, stick to your story beats in terms of pacing and keep the readers just as tense and excited as the two lovers!
Also, remember characters don’t stand woodenly about like actors in a bad am-dram before they get down to it. Have them eating, drinking, dancing, singing, involve us in that experience, then show us their clothes, how well they fit, are they too formal or tight, how good does it feel as they come off? Unbuttoning cut-off jeans can be just as sexy as unzipping a ball gown.
Make it tense, passionate, breathless, but …
Take It Slow
In real life the first time you have sex with someone new is often urgently desired but ends up fast and disastrous, but this is fantasy!
So although there can be some hesitation, shyness and teasing, ultimately everyone, reader included, needs to be on tenterhooks to get their hands on each other and get down to it.
Teasing the characters means teasing the reader, which is what they picked up the book for in the first place!
Structure Your Scene
Structure your scene like the sex act. That is, foreplay, action, climax, wind down.
Too obvious? You might think so, until you start writing the scene.
Think of the foreplay as the aforementioned setting. The removal of clothes, the first sensation of skin on skin starts the action rolling in the obvious direction.
If it helps, think of a movie scene. I know actors always say how pedestrian and workmanlike it is simulating sex in front of a crew of burly cameramen, a bank of arc lights and a demanding director, but imagine yourself as an extremely involved, generous, hands-on director with your characters.
Make sure the bed is soft, the studio is warm, and soon they’ll take off on their own towards the strong, satisfying, long-awaited penetration! As for the climax, well, no beating about the bush, is there? This is when the glorious pinnacle of where we all want to be is reached, and tread carefully here with the language (see below). Challenge yourself to find different ways of describing that rush of ecstasy. Avoid waterfalls, avalanches, orchestras!
What actions or words stimulate the eventual moment? Focus on emotion just as much as action here.
Keep A Tad Of Realism Alive
Slightly unrealistically erotic couples tend to come together every time but if you want to be more realistic, let one come before the other and show who is the generous one, who is thoughtful, who is selfish. Or are they both equally considerate, and if not, will they become so as the novel progresses?
Finally, the wind down is often the hardest. After the shivering and shuddering, do they fall asleep, or analyse, or do it all over again? I often have a knock at the door, or a phone call after the act, so that in the early days the couple are never at leisure totally to relax or take each other for granted until the next drama occurs.
Find The Right Balance Of Cinematic And Plausible
Make it dramatic, but human. Not impossibly athletic, but not mundane either.
The characters will already be attractive and/or beautiful, or arresting in some way to turn the reader on. The men have got to be strong and well hung and very experienced (unless the opposite of that caters for a specific audience).
The women are generally curvaceous, soft and wonderfully proportioned, and if not experienced, then primed and ready to learn. Again – if you write for a different audience then change your characters to fit the readers’ ida of perfection.
If this is a romantic setting, lots of kissing and stroking, exploration. If this is more down the BDSM route, then the participants will get their kicks from spanking, binding, and pain. But there is always room for sensuousness and tenderness – and most importantly, whatever they do in the bedroom must be a natural part of the plot AND help the reader understand the characters better.
Don’t Get Coy With Your Language
Keep it simple, punchy, evocative, but not obscene or anatomical.
Don’t, like John Updike, veer away from simple words and use hideous ones like ‘yam’ to describe a penis. Don’t use euphemism or flowery words, either. ‘Cock’, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ are acceptable with some publishers, but not others, and certainly not in the new mainstream type of erotica.
There’s a difference between well written erotica and graphic pornography!
You also have to use your powers of evocation very carefully to avoid sounding awkward or coy. So ‘manhood’ and ‘sex’ can be used, but sparingly. Read erotic romance books and other works of your chosen genre, or find a publisher’s house style, to find what works and what publishers/readers prefer.
Use The Rhythm Method
Next try to get into a rhythm similar to the rhythm of sex.
Slow, slow, quick, slow. Yes, that’s it. Like a dance. Why else to you think dancing was considered so daring in the old days? It was the nearest people could get to each other in public. And have you ever seen sex better choreographed than in the Argentine tango?
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have questions about writing erotica? Here are some FAQs…
How Do I Start Writing Erotica?
Start with your characters and setting, think about how they influence your plot, and what kind of relationship they may have. You may want to practice with fan fiction first or self publish before approaching a publisher.
How Do You Write An Intimate Scene?
Begin with all four senses and picture yourself in the scene. What are you feeling? Try to avoid brash or corny words, keep it simple, and focus more on the characters, the setting and the emotions than the step by step actions. No one reads erotica because they want a How To sex manual.
How Do You Write A Steamy Romance?
Steamy romance novels are different to erotica as the sex is part of the plot and moves the story forward. With romance novels the characters and plot are the most important part…then the sex. Whereas with erotica it’s all about the sex and the plot matters less.
With steamy romance novels try and focus on the characters, what they want and how being with the one they love will achieve their goals. Don’t add sex scenes for the sake of it, ensure there’s a build up, lots of teasing, the pull and push suspenses, and then a big climax (as it were).
The Ultimate Guide To Writing Sex
And there you have it, everything you need to write a sizzling sex scene for your erotic fiction.
Just remember to connect with all your senses, write about whatever specific kink interests you, and have fun. The last part is the most important – because if you’re not enjoying yourself your readers won’t either!
Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community.