Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sex has a formula?

In one workshop I attended, the instructor presented a helpful progression for structuring a sex scene. I found it useful and often refer to my notes while writing, if there isn’t some primary storyline already establishing the pace of the intimate scene.

Given you have a couple, person A and person B (gender doesn’t matter):

1)      Aggression from A
2)      Submission or pushback from B
3)      Elevated aggression or softening A
4)      Escalating physical contact between A & B
5)      Pull back/ fear/ uncertainty from either A or B
6)      Reassurance supplied by A or B (opposite from #5)
7)      Physical interaction
8)      Increasingly intense physical interaction/ both are lost to the physical sensations
9)      Completion

The moments of hesitation or pushing the other away add tension and invite a change of emotion from the partner, to be supportive or more aggressive. The drama of taking two steps forward and sliding back one builds excitement for the reader. Anticipation is a wonderful device. 

As a reader, do you enjoy this gradual build up of intimacy in sex scenes more than wild abandon? As a writer, have you used this type of progression? If so, how does it work for you?

I'll leave you with a wonderful example, a poem by E. E. Cummings—one of my favorites!

May I Feel Said He

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she

but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she

(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she

(cccome?said he
ummm said she)
you're divine!said he
(you are Mine said she)


Elisabeth said...

This is fantastic, thanks for sharing! Most of the love scenes I've written more or less follow this pattern, but I was never aware of an "official" formula! How cool! As a reader I do sometimes prefer the wild abandon, but the slow progression helps ratchet anticipation and make the "completion" that much more delicious. ;)

Kay Dee Royal said...

Hi Marsha,
Like Elisabeth, most of my romance has this back and forth kind of play between the heroine and hero, but I was never privy to an actual formula. Nice.
The poem following is thoughtful as well - did you write it? It goes perfectly with your article.

Ruth said...

Can't say I like the formula, but I love that you shared it. IMHO, part of the formula could work for the initial sexual content, but by the time the characters are actually having sex I want them to both be involved. Hesitation so close to consummation makes me wonder if they should have done it at all.

When I'm writing a sex scene, I ask myself what the dynamics of the relationship is -- and that is what I have each of them bring to the scene. Regret/second thoughts are ok after the scene, but (at least for me) it doesn't belong in the scene.

What a great point of discussion. Hope you don't mind if I share your blog on twitter.

Marsha A. Moore said...

I was surprised to find a formula for writing intimacy. Remarkably, it does work well for most scenes. I do agree with Ruth, if a couple is established, you may deviate and take out one step or emphasize another, but the basic flow remains. I write fantasy romance and sometimes there is no time for hesitancy with dangers of the quest looming, but I tend to follow almost all of the steps even then.

J. D. Brown said...

Okay, first, I LOVE the poem! :)

Reading over the formula, I'm surprised to see that I do often follow it, except that usually I start out with either both characters feeling aggressive, or both feeling submissive, lol. But the rest is pretty spot on. I have the feeling I'll refer back to this post if I ever get stuck during a sex scene.

Well done, Marsha.

Danielle Ravencraft

Cathryn Cade said...

Always interesting to find out something I've been doing by instinct is really stored memory of allllll the romances I've read over the years.

Thanks for sharing--and I love e.e.cummings. What a great wit.


Marsha A. Moore said...

I like those moments in writing when you happily realize what you've been doing follows the recommended craft technique. I find it reassuring to then be able to keep the guideline in mind...easier to remember and check my work.

Sharon Hamilton said...

Love it, Marsha. I've never seen that poem before, but what a great description of a scene.

Like JD, the primer will be a good reference tool. Well, almost as good as my JT Calendar I use a lot...

I have a clock I got at RWA two years ago, that has the progression, starting with "1" and going up to "12". It hangs over my writing desk.

Fun, but very useful post.