SEX versus sexy!

When we were together, locked like scissors,

nicely buzzed on mini-bar tequila,

she reached down and …

What’s the difference sex and sexy? Which sells? How far should your characters go in the bedroom, and how much should you, the author, show?

Anyone who reads the prelude of Bella knows reporter Danny and the distraught widow will end up together. When it finally happens in an upscale D.C. hotel, there’s a lot more at stake than the raised eyebrows of a nosey chambermaid. Danny’s a married dad sleeping with the main source in a big story. Bella has a young daughter and is far from over her husband’s untimely death.

For me, there are two “don’ts.” One is, don’t indulge in sex scenes simply because they’re available. There must be a point, and the scene must reveal something you haven’t shown yet about the characters, and move the story forward. The second is, don’t lapse into porn, or worse, unintentionally funny porn, full of acrobatic acts and contraptions that are better left to true professionals.

Think of all that can be – no pun – exposed by a well-done sex scene: confidence, creativity, knowledge, skill, consideration, and patience, or – uh-oh – insecurity, ignorance, clumsiness, and selfishness. What does the reader take away from a character who wants the lights left on, or who chooses the kitchen over the bedroom, or who slides a zipper instead of tearing it open? What are we to make of Bella after she sleeps with Danny and then says, before anyone’s breathing returns to normal, “You need to go?”

The truth is that, as in life, sex and sexy both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are intensely personal and subject to another truism, that the more you practice, the better you get. Funny that this is the case, since we are all born with a powerful instinct to procreate and communicate.

No one is without an opinion on this subject. What’s yours?

14 Comments so far »

  1. Karen Hinton said,

    Wrote on October 1, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    The sexy scenes in Bella are realistic, not overly romantic but not sensational either. And, they were fun to read and paced exactly right. Also, I’m honest enough to admit that I always look forward to them in well-written novels. Bella is one of those!

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  2. stevepiacente said,

    Wrote on October 2, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    Thanks, Karen, right or wrong, there’s a spark between Danny and Bella from their first meeting. The scenes in which they finally get together are intended to take readers deeper inside their personalities.

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  3. Sasha Concaugh said,

    Wrote on October 2, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    I admire the author for not being a prude or going overboard on sex scenes
    for a sake of “sex sells” mentality! A reader can see characters in their
    most vulnerable moment. It helps us to make a complete picture of who they
    are, especially if the sex scene is done right! Steve Piacente did it right!

    [Reply]

  4. Josh Sawislak said,

    Wrote on October 2, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    Interesting points Steve. I read a lot of fiction and this tends to be a sticking point (if you will excuse the pun) for many authors. Some take the TV approach and go directly from foreplay to the alarm or phone ringing in the morning. Some take a “soft porn” cable TV approach, and some end up going way too technical or romance novel-like. (I must admit I have never read a romance novel, but did see Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner). I think its one of the hardest things for a novelist (sorry, can’t avoid the puns this morning). In Bella, you walk the line, but I think you did a great job of not crossing it.

    [Reply]

  5. stevepiacente said,

    Wrote on October 2, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

    Sasha, Josh, appreciate your thoughts. A lot of rewriting went into those scenes. I couldn’t even save some of the early drafts, they were so clumsy…

    [Reply]

  6. Sally said,

    Wrote on October 3, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    I think the author has to consider his/her brand and what they are trying to portrait beyond just one book. Some authors are known for writing romance novels and we all know what to expect from them. As a female, I like to see chivalry alive (a girl likes to dream!) and I believe it takes more skill to walk the fine line of describing sex or sexy in such a way that allows the reader to use his/her imagination to complete the picture. So a good tease that allows me to imagine what it may be or what it may mean is important. Let the reader use his/her imagination!!

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  7. stevepiacente said,

    Wrote on October 3, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

    Hey, Sally, the great actress Bette Davis said, “I often think that a slightly exposed shoulder emerging from a long satin nightgown packs more sex than two naked bodies in bed.” I agree in principle, but think we can go a tad further…

    [Reply]

  8. Michael Proul said,

    Wrote on October 7, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    When using sex in a book or movie, it needs to be authentic and serve a purpose. The language used for the sex scenes in Bella is authentic. Without getting into too much detail, it is closer to the way it is in real life. Because of his less than stellar decision on starting the affair with her, it adds to the story because it makes the readers question his motives and makes him human. Some protagonists in novels are made to be larger than life and at times unrealistic.

    [Reply]

  9. Jo Settles said,

    Wrote on October 7, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

    Hey great read… Alot to think about.

    [Reply]

  10. stevepiacente said,

    Wrote on October 9, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Thanks Mike and Jo. Mike, you’re right on the money. Jo, please come back and share some more after you’ve thought it through!

    [Reply]

  11. njs said,

    Wrote on October 11, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    This week I saw the movie ‘Bad Education’. http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Education-Original-Uncut-NC-17/dp/B0007OCG5G. It has a lot of hinted at sexual encounters and several graphic ones too. Both approaches are used to good effect. It seems as if sexy or sex is more to do with assessing the message to be conveyed and then making a good choice on the method, either sex or sexy depending on what the writer is trying to express. A good writer will make the right choices for good reasons. (remember DH Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover?)

    [Reply]

  12. stevepiacente said,

    Wrote on October 16, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    Decide on the message, assess the audience, select the vehicle. Spot on, NJS.

    [Reply]

  13. Pavarti K Tyler said,

    Wrote on July 16, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

    As an erotica writer (although I write other things as well) I have to say your points are excellent. Porn is easy to come by and in the world of self publishing it has inundated the market. Having intelligent, logical and evocative literature about sexuality is much harder to produce. Sexy doesn’t even need to include sex, sometimes the most tempting moments are the ones that never happen.

    [Reply]

    Steve Piacente Reply:

    Saucily stated, Pavarti, and right on point. There’s a lot more on the subject you should check out at Pavarti’s site: http://www.fightingmonkeypress.com/blog/

    [Reply]

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