Emotion in Motion: writing sex by L.C. Wilkinson
Every story presents a challenge. Every time I put pen to paper – fingers to laptop – it’s as nerve-wracking and fear-inducing as it was the first time.
I’ve been writing fiction for seven years. I’ve written flash fiction, short stories and four novels, and it never gets easier. Managing the feelings of insecurity, doubt and sheer terror becomes more straightforward, but the emotions themselves are still there. At least until I’m a good way into the narrative.
Earlier this year, as L.C. Wilkinson, I wrote my first erotic romance novel, published this summer by Xcite. I have spoken of the story behind the story of All of Me on K D Grace’s blog, and how I wrote the novel quickly (by my standards), but the raging fear, as I call it, was there nonetheless.
With this novel the major focus of the fear was sex. Writing about it. It’s so easy to get it wrong; there’s even an award for the worst sex scene in a literary novel each year.
I’m a newbie to the erotic romance genre and getting the sex scenes right was, undoubtedly, the most challenging aspect of the process. Why, I’ve asked myself? It’s not as if I’ve shied away from sex altogether in other work; my Laura Wilkinson work. The bedroom door is often left open. I’ve covered heterosexual and lesbian love, and in the past my work has been described as emotional and sensual.
The difference is that the sexual relationships have not been at the heart of the stories and for an erotic novel to be, errmm, erotic, it must be. And for dramatic tension there need to be obstacles and plenty of them, preventing the couple truly fulfilling themselves until the denouement. In All of Me a major source of conflict for my lead, actress Flick Burrows, is age. Flick is 15 years her love interest, Orlando’s, senior and nearing 40 she is not as body confident as a woman in, say, her mid-20s. Although she is fit, healthy and attractive, she is not surgically enhanced – despite the pressures of her profession – and her body has inevitably changed. Along with his youth, the fact that Orlando works part-time as a model, and has the requisite physique, only adds to Flick’s insecurity. Also, I didn’t want Flick to be a predator. She has had few sexual partners and has been in a committed relationship (at least on her part) with an unimaginative lover for nigh on a decade. So, for Flick, the sex had to feel fresh, unselfish and surprising. And the language and rhythm had to reflect this. The pacing of the sex scenes had to be right.
In every narrative there needs to be literary foreplay, but drag it on too long and you’ll lose your reader; too fast and they’ll feel cheated. You need to set the scene, and given that we’re talking fantasy in the main here, you can be as glamorous and exotic as you like: expensive hotels, beaches, the shores of lakes (Como in my case). What are the characters wearing? How are their clothes removed? Are they listening to music? Or trying to be as quiet as possible? They might be having sex somewhere very public. Dialogue can be used as foreplay, teasing, tempting and as much a turn on as the visual and visceral. Scenes need to be painted in as much detail as those in any kind of literature, and characters given as much depth, otherwise the love scenes will feel forced and unbelievable. And the sex must be varied. Quickies should be balanced with longer, more lingering, sensual scenes. Variety, spice and all that jazz.
Vocabulary was another worry. Sex is so very, very personal, as too are the words we use to describe various sexual acts and the intimate parts of the body. For example, there are still those who shy away from using the ‘c’ word (you won’t find it in Fifty Shades), while others are happy to do so (Sylvia Day’s CrossFire trilogy). Cock and fuck are other words that tend to be avoided in the more mainstream ‘new’ erotica you might find on the shelves at Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s, though there are no rules. Fifty Shades and Day’s work is littered with the ‘f’ word!
Although All of Me is set in Europe and Flick is English (and while Italian born, Orlando has been educated in London) I didn’t use words whose meaning alters depending on which side of the pond you live on. I’m thinking of words like fanny. Slang has to be treated with caution because of cultural differences (this is true of any genre) and then there are those words and phrases that I personally, and my characters, find a real turn off. My characters have been known to call people twats, but Flick and Orlando would never use the word to describe a vagina. Oh yuck. But that might be just them. Similarly, ‘pussy’ is used liberally in much erotica, but Flick is an actress and for her that word conjures the language of the adult entertainment industry – porn movies – and as such she would never use it. Pet names for parts of the anatomy are to be avoided at all costs – unless you’re planning on injecting humour into a scene; most people consider words like foo-foo and bajingo as silly and deeply un-erotic.
Years ago I heard historical novelist Sarah Waters talking in a radio interview about those tricky love scenes. She said that she aims to turn herself on when writing sex scenes and this stayed with me as a sound piece of advice. It’s important to stress, however, that as in all other areas of fiction, you don’t have to have actually done all of the things you are describing; after all, crime novelists don’t go around killing people. As a writer I allow my imagination to soar. I’m an ordinary wife and mother of two and if I enjoy the scenes perhaps others will too. I certainly hope so.
I grew up in a Welsh market town and now live in Brighton with my husband and two ginger boys. As well as writing fiction, I work as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. I have published short stories in magazines, digital media like Ether and anthologies. I write general fiction as Laura Wilkinson and erotic romance as L. C. Wilkinson. My first hot romance, All of Me, is published by Xcite. Currently, I’m working on a two novels: a romance following a petulant young woman and a man running from his past, and a sequel to All of Me.
My second Laura Wilkinson novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, is scheduled for publication in 2014 with Accent Press. It’s about a young miner’s wife set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 strike. It’s about friends and enemies, fighting and feminists, and being the very best you can be. And lots and lots of CAKES!
What do all my works have in common? Compelling, emotional stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little. At least I hope so. Find out more here: http://lcwilkinson.com or http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk Or follow me on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. I love to hear from people.