On Fanfic Writing: Earn Your M Rating!

Over on FanFiction.Net, the “M” rating section is for…<looks around furtively> <drops voice to whisper> S – E – X.

Not just any sex — the explicit, soft-core/hard-core (within limits) stuff that tends to get raised eyebrows, dropped jaws, and “what the FUCK what did I just read??”  Yeah. THAT stuff.  As we all know, there’s ways to do sex scenes incredibly, laughably, the-writer’s-obviously-never-even-masturbated-in-her-life wrong, but there’s plenty of ways to do it oh-so-right.

First — I’ll come out & say it bluntly — if you have absolutely no experience with sex, if you’re under the age of 16 (hell, if you’re under 18, judging from what I’ve read over on FFNet), your best bet’s just to skip sex scenes. Don’t write them. Period. (well, you can write them…but don’t post them where your obvious ignorance will be on display, because all you’re asking for is a bunch of trolls giving you shit.) Have your characters sweep into the bedroom & shut the door, do a fade-to-black, let your characters kiss passionately and fall into bed, make your hero drag your Mary Sue off into the woods, whatever, but don’t attempt anything more explicit than that.

Why?  Because most people under 18 have no clue what sex involves, other than “insert tab A into slot b” (what TVTropes calls IKEA Erotica).  Worse, the descriptions are often biologically impossible, dangerous, and painful (and not in a good way), lacking in true emotion, feeling, and awareness. If your only experience of sex is Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey — don’t put a sex scene in your posted fanfic. Just…don’t.

If your only experience of sex is what you’ve read in the “M” section of FanFiction.net, definitely don’t.

If you’re not comfortable with writing/reading the words “cock”, “penis”, “vagina”, “cunt”, “pussy”, “fuck”, and other similar words, you probably shouldn’t be writing a sex scene.

If you still giggle at anyone saying any of those words out loud, you definitely should not be writing a sex scene.

(Look, I realize I’m making large assumptions here — key word in all of the above is *experience*. If you’ve got the knowledge and/or experience, then feel free to ignore what I’ve said, m’kay?)

Second: none of this is about rape or abuse or the traumas associated with forced, non-consensual encounters.  Those are completely different subjects. Head over to “Basic Tips to Write Better Abuse Victims” and take it from there.

Third: for gay scenes, I highly recommend Minotaur’s site, Minotaur’s Sex Tips For Slash Writers.  He goes into the mechanics, the how-to’s, what to avoid, and common mistakes that most slash writers make.

With all that in mind…

The biggest trip-up for most sex scenes is…yup…vocabulary.

English is a gutsy language.  It’s got the flowery terms, sure, but it’s also got the down-and-dirty, direct-and-to-the-point Anglo-Saxon words.  So the first thing you need to decide is: what are you trying to accomplish with your sex scene?

Well, besides the obvious, I mean.

Does the sex scene advance the plot? What does it reveal emotionally & psychologically about your characters? What does it accomplish in your narrative? Is it meant to be an emotional high for the characters involved, or just a physical release, or an all-encompassing, soul-shattering event, or just a rough quickie in the backseat of a car?  Are your characters virgins, or has one or both of them been around?

The words you use need to convey the highs and lows of whatever situation your characters are dealing with, and their reactions.  You need to put the reader dead-center of the action: the feelings (both physical and emotional), the smells, the tastes, the sights. Your words must be solid, descriptive, and evocative of the mood you want.  Just like any other scene, the right words are critical!

The words need to be appropriate to the characters, culture, and situation.  I will say it now: if your scene has words that would be said by a giggling five-year-old playing doctor & the scene is supposed to be romantic/serious, you have no business writing sex scenes (unless, of course, your characters are goofing around — context is all-important!).  Baby-talk coming from adults is not sexy; it’s fuckin’ creepy & out of place.  Childhood euphemisms for body-parts have absolutely no place in any serious sex scene.

For that matter, most euphemisms for sexual parts (man-meat, tube-steak, anaconda, tunnel of love, coochie-coo, etc) have no place in a sex scene, either, unless you’re trying to be funny.  I don’t care if you heard it in a pop-song.  You’re not writing music; you’re trying to keep your reader involved & experiencing what your characters are going through. There’s no faster way to throw a reader out of the story & kill the mood by using an incredibly stupid & out-of-place euphemism that no adult would ever use to another adult’s face.

Seriously, if a guy ever referred to my private parts as “coochie-coo”, I’d shove him out the door with directions to the nearest psychotherapist…once I got done laughing him out of the bedroom.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, the strict medical terms (penis, vagina, testicles, intercourse) should usually be avoided, too. They make sex scenes fall flat & kill the erotic atmosphere.  They also tend to drop you straight into the Ikea Erotica mentioned above, and that’s not good — again, though, context matters. If that’s your intent, then go for it. But if you’re trying to turn people on, then sounding like a how-to textbook is not good.

Sometimes it’s best to simply not use words for those parts at all — readers will understand exactly what you mean, believe me.  For example:

* * *
“That was beautiful,” he breathed.  “You’re beautiful.”  He nuzzled at her neck, shifted so that his weight rested on her.  “May I?”

She nodded, then gasped as he pressed in, his arms tight around her.
* * *

Pretty clear what’s going on, right?  Yet there’s not a single word there that would trigger even the toughest censorship-filter on the most conservative of sites.

To sum up:

1. Put the reader dead-center of the action: tell us what we see/hear/taste/smell.
2. The right words are critical: avoid prissy anatomical terms and silly euphemisms.
3. If you have no experience at all with sex, a fade-to-black is your best bet.

Extra reading:

Steve Almond’s “How To Write a Sex Scene”
Karen Wiesner’s “20 Steps to Writing Great Love Scenes”
Toby Neal’s “Avoid the Moist, Turgid Pole…”

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