Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revising the Novel - Sex Scenes - the Final Hitchcockian Word

We've had a few posts recently about writing that all important sex scene. Now, I'm not saying that every novel needs a sex scene, mine doesn't. But I have struggled over writing sex scenes before, so I wanted to bring it up here for discussion.

Previously, I've made two points about how to successfully navigate your way around this rather sticky subject.

1) Avoid cliche. Be very careful of cliche in every aspect of the scene, from the terms you use for male and female anatomy, to emotions, to setting, to tone. With so much bad daytime television and trashy novels, a sex scene will only work if it's novel.

2) Only introduce the scene if it a) doesn't interfere with the flow of the plot, and b) like all scenes, it must serve the story and move the plot forward.

So for our final discussion, I wanted to make one final point. Over at, I'd posted a thread in my favorite writing group, searching for opinions from fellow writers on how they handle this subject. After reading the responses, I was pleased that the general consensus matched my opinion and even gave me a great term to describe the best way to handle the scene.


What I mean by this is that the best way to write a powerful, dramatic sex scene is to think like the famous director, Alfred Hitchcock. What made his movies so compelling was the tension in the scenes. The lead up to the violence. The implication of violence. He usually avoided showing the violence itself. Instead, the viewer was left to fill in the holes with their own imagination, which can often be far more frightening than anything Hitchcock could have put on the screen.

I believe a great way to handle a sex scene in your novel is to follow that same advice. Really, unless you're writing erotica, it's not the sex in the scene that will interest your readers. It's the implication. The build up. The tension.

And just as importantly, never forget the ramifications. The post-sex scenes can be just as powerful or more so than the pre-sex scene. You simply can't (or shouldn't) have two characters fall into bed together without their relationship and possibly lives being irrevocably changed. Unless the point of your story is to show how a character can have sex and remained totally unchanged, don't pass up this opportunity to explore your character's feelings after sex; the embarrassment, the confusion, the insecurity, the building romance/love.

The possibilities are endless.

So my final advice on writing a great sex scene is maybe you don't need to write the scene at all.

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