May 192014

One of the questions beginning writers ask us most often is: “How do you know if you have captured the love in your characters’ lovemaking, and aren’t just writing a run-of-the-mill sex scene?” 12 writers offer their own thoughts and advice in this unique WriteSex Author’s Roundtable. Each Monday a well-known romance author will discuss the difference between a sex scene and a love scene, and show us how to charge an erotic encounter with romance. Look for personal insights and how-to tips from our participants in this first ever WriteSex Authors’ Roundtable. —Ed.


By Blake C. Aarens

My first thought was that there isn’t any difference between a sex scene and a romantic sexual encounter.  Both describe the selfsame event with fake notions of good and bad, right and wrong, coming down to nothing but the use of language to try and tabulate and limit by judgment some forms of sexual expression. That’s my default setting these days, to try and emphasize—as often as possible in as many arenas as possible—that we humans and the animal things we do are more alike than unalike.

But that’s not an honest answer to an honest question, ‘cuz just as I say out loud, as I read the question off my phone and mutter “there is no difference”, the split screen in my head plays two scenes:

On the right-hand screen, a couple, A and B, are at each other in the dimly lit corner of a club. A has at least one body part inside at least one opening in B’s body. Tab A in slot B. Penetration and friction. That is the essence of a sex scene. But on the left-hand screen in my head, and playing at the very same time, are the same two people, in the same corner, in the same club, with the very same lighting, tab A in slot B, even. But here is where the romance comes in: in the way they strain in the darkness to see the expression on the other’s face as they move together, in the way the owner of slot B holds their breath to hear the noises coming from the owner of tab A, in the way their focus on each other makes the bouncer’s mouth water and he leaves them alone and lets them love each other up.

If you look the two words up in the dictionary—as I did—you’ll discover that both have entries as a noun and as a verb. They can both be either an action, or a person, place, or thing. But for the purposes of this roundtable discussion, I want to concentrate on several very specific dictionary entries:

romance1—n.  4. a baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.
—v.i.  10. to think or talk romantically.
—v.t.  11.  Informal.  a.  to court or woo romantically; treat with ardor or chivalrousness.

sex n.  3. the instinct or attraction drawing one sex toward another, or its manifestation in life and conduct.
4. coitus.
—v.t.  8.  sex up, Informal a.  to arouse sexually

For me, it’s all about focus.  And not just the focus of the writer. If my characters are primarily about body parts and positions—and there ain’t nothing wrong with that—it’s more of a sex scene in the way I craft it and the details that it makes sense to share. But if I’m writing a romantic sexual encounter—George Carlin would hate the wordiness of that phrase—the focus is about cause and effect. This is what I’m doing to you, with you, and this is how it is making me feel, and breathe, and arch my back. The difference seems subtle, but is in fact, huge.  It is the canyon that exists between intimate physical contact, and intimacy itself.

They say you don’t fall in love with another person, but you fall in love with the person you become when you’re in the presence of your love. You fall in love with how they make you feel about yourself. Within yourself.

I wrote a story called “I Want You Back” where one of the characters is having a sex scene while another is involved in a romantic sexual encounter. The interesting thing is, they’re in the same scene. The story was published in my erotic collection Wetting the Appetite.

To quote the introduction I wrote to the story,  it “deals with the uncontrollable urges some lovers are able to arouse in us”, particularly “that lover we know isn’t a damn bit of good for our head, or heart, or self-esteem, but who does something to us that we can’t live without.”

The point-of-view character—who is never named—becomes the object of badboy Nick’s focused sexual attention the day they meet in a bowling league.

He made me nervous, made me conscious of my own body, made me ask him to come over just to get a break from all the sexual energy he was aiming at me.

The narrator is already off into a romance, inventing a connection between them and exaggerating its meaning, based on nothing more than how Nick’s attention makes him feel.

Nick, on the other hand, is just doing what he’s done with every other member of the league. He meets a bowler he hasn’t had sex with, and he does the obvious thing: he makes sex happen between them. That’s what Nick does.

The story details their first sexual encounter. An encounter completely dominated by Nick’s timetable and tastes.

When we arrived at my place, he pushed me inside.  He kept on pushing until he had me on my back on the living room floor.  His dick was in my face before I knew what was happening.  I lunged for it with my mouth, but he put his hand on my forehead and pushed my head back onto the carpet.

“Open,” he said, and I parted my lips.

He put his dick in my mouth, but he wouldn’t let me suck it on my own time.

The narrator is turned on by his own openness, his quick obedience. Nick seems to take it as his due from a sexual partner. The narrator relaxes and just lets him, focusing on the pleased murmur that comes from Nick when he registers the narrator’s surrender. He can’t get his pants down fast enough.

When they move to the narrator’s bedroom, it’s still a two-tier encounter. Nick has found the bedroom and waits on top of the comforter, stroking himself back to hardness for round two. The narrator, on the other hand, is on an expedition through his own apartment, trying to find where his newfound lover has gotten to.

I walked to the door of my bedroom and found him lying naked on the bed. He had his own fat cock in both hands and was taking long strokes up and down it.

“C’mere,” he said.

Of course I went to him.

When I got close enough, he let go of his dick and grabbed me by both wrists. He snatched me off my feet and onto the mattress, then dragged me to lie on top of him. We were belly to belly, our cocks pressed between us and just touching.

I could barely look him in the eye. He put one of his hands behind my head and the other in the small of my back and made me kiss him for a very long time.

They are having two very different experiences. The narrator’s is amorously familiar; he’s submitting to things and showing sides of himself that make him feel vulnerable. Nick is doing what he likes, when and how he likes, to get himself hard and get himself off, end of story.

And therein lies the difference between the two. Romance is about more than the interaction of genitalia. It’s more than just the act itself. Romance is about breath and eyes and feelings. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves about what the intimate physical contact means. It’s about the actions we take and the thoughts that propel us into action. And it’s those details—above and beyond and beneath what characters are doing with their naughty bits—that carve out the difference between romance and sex.


Live fully, keep reading, and don’t stop pressing those keys!



Blake C. Aarens is an author, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and former college theatre instructor. Her play, The Prince of Whiteness, was the Invited Play at the 56th Conference on World Affairs.  Her solo performance piece, My Great-Grandmother Had a Sex Life, debuted at the “Have I Got a Story for You/Solo Performance Showcase” at The Studio Theatre, College of Marin. Excerpts from her erotic poetry collection Words on Fire appeared in the Milvia Street Art and Literary Journal. Her script, Still Life with Android, won a Judy Award for Achievement in the Thriller/Horror/Sci-Fi Screenplay division.

Blake is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who writes award-winning erotic fiction.  Her work has appeared in the Herotica series; Aché: A Journal for Lesbians of African Descent; Best American Erotica 1993; Penthouse Magazine, and numerous other anthologies.

Blake has seven letters after her name and more than two decades’ experience teaching classes on everything from Principles and Theory of Acting (Laney College), to Dramatic Technique for Fiction Writers (Berkeley Story Workshop), to Writing Life’s Moments: The Craft of Personal Narrative (The Writing Parlor, SF), to How to Write and Read a Dirty Story (San Francisco Center for Sex & Culture).

Her first collection of stories, Wetting the Appetite, has been published by Sizzler Editions both as a paperback and an ebook.

She lives in the Bay Area with Kazimir, the Crown Prince of the Universe.


Mar 062014

By Blake C. Aarens

My first piece of erotic fiction was published in 1991. Since then, my work has appeared in magazines and journals, in print books and e-books, in all kinds of anthologies, and even in book-length collections of my very own. The constant across all those forms and formats has been that I respect sex and I respect writing and I don’t ever lose sight of either one of those things when I come to the keyboard to craft new work. The basics of sex and the basics of writing are shockingly similar. In both pursuits, it’s all about the nouns and the verbs, the who-what-when-where-and-why.

1 – People, not just parts
If I don’t give a f*#@ about your characters, I won’t care when you write their clothes off and start bumping their pelvises together. Build people—fully realized, deep, conflicted human beings—before you even begin to worry about his length & girth or her cup size.

2 – What the f*#@ are they doing?
Give your reader details—specific, anatomically correct, graphic details. Certainly temper your language to the format and intended audience, but SHOW us what your characters are doing. People read erotic literature for all kinds of reasons: to be the fly on the wall or to imagine new possibilities for themselves, to name just a couple. It is our responsibility as writers of erotica to plant details in our readers’ brains that set their neurons firing.

3 – What time is it?
What day, what week, what month, what year? It’s important. Cuz morning wood is a whole lot different from the wood ya gotta work for at 11 PM after 2 meetings, a performance review, and getting 2 kids fed and bathed and off to bed. And an anonymous sexual encounter on the hood of a car in Chicago in January is a completely different animal from that same scene set in New York City at the end of July.

4 – Where the f*#@ am I?
Take the reader to your bedroom. Or the back row of your favorite movie theater. Or the one room in your place where you’ve never “done it”. The setting for an erotic encounter is one of the major players in the scene. Don’t give it short shrift.

5 – Why them, why this, why now?
More often than not, this last essential detail is for the writer more than the reader. The piece you’re crafting might not actually get into why these 2 (or more) have come together to come, but you as the writer certainly better know the answers. Knowing your characters’ basic motivations, their backstories, and their specific erotic needs are the jumping off points for any encounter you write. They are the place where you, the author, must begin.

Take your writing seriously. Take sex just as seriously. This is the most important thing I have learned, and I pass it on to you.


Live fully, keep reading, and don’t stop pressing those keys!



Learn more about, and keep up with, Blake C. Aarens on Twitter as @BCAarens, and at her Amazon Author Page.

Dec 122013

By Blake C. Aarens

Sex scenes.  Actors have said over and over again that there’s nothing sexy about the filming of a sex scene.  You as an author do not have that limitation.  If you’re having trouble building compelling intimate scenes—and even if you’re not—taking time to put yourself in a sexy mood before you put your characters in bed (or over the hood of a car) can go a long way.

Get out of your stained T-shirt and baggy sweatpants.  You don’t have to go all the way to lingerie and man thongs (or leather and chains) but do take a moment to bring sexy back into your own body before you put fingers to keyboard.  And if you have an article of clothing or outfit that resembles something one of your characters wears in the scene you’re writing, don’t hesitate to go and put it on (or at least bring it to your writing area as a talisman).

The things that make sex scenes sexy are the same things that make the act itself so magnetic to all of us creatures that we sometimes literally risk life and limb just to get ourselves off.  They make full use of the five senses we all possess.  What follows are five exercises that will help you maximize sensual details in your scenes so that readers won’t know how to choose between continuing to turn the pages or putting the book down and getting caught up in their own dalliances.


1.  Sight – Think in terms of the mating display of the Greater Bird of Paradise—do an internet search if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Go people watching.  Sit in a fairly public area and give yourself permission to look.  Each time you find yourself attracted to some passerby, write down as many visual keys to your attraction as you can.  Jot it down quickly and then let your eyes roam again.  Spend about 20 minutes doing this on a regular basis and you’ll find the visual training and connection to your own experience of attraction will show up on the page as more specific and varied physical detail.


2.  Sound – There’s more to this than just, “Oh, God!”  The soundtrack of sexuality includes breath, body sounds, and those sex-specific non-words.  It also includes the music that’s playing in the background (or loudly enough to buffer things for the neighbors).

Watch an erotic scene with your eyes closed so all you experience is the audio.  It doesn’t have to be porn; pick a romantic/erotic scene from a movie you love, put the headphones on, even turn away from the screen if you’re tempted to peek, and just listen to what happens.  The first two times through, just listen.  Then listen again and record the sounds, and your reactions to them, to help train both your ear and your pen.  (This also works really well with a completely unfamiliar scene, forcing you to stay present with what you’re hearing in order to stay connected to it.)


3.  Smell – This is our most primitive and I believe most sensitive sense.  It can trigger instant passion or revulsion.  It is also the one most neglected on the page.  Remember, the act of smelling a potential partner is often a huge part of courting and foreplay.

Start an aroma diary.  Get one of those mini notebooks and carry it around and record any scents or smells that you encounter.  But don’t simply write: December 13th – smelled neighbor’s roses.  Jot down notes on the sensual experience of taking a smell from outside you and drawing it into your body.  Even note whether your nose is clear or congested, because this can add some humor or frustration to the experience.  Whenever you feel the need for nasal inspiration, take an entry from your notebook and freewrite for 20 minutes off of that note.  You’ll be surprised where your sense of smell can take you and how putting some focus on it will improve your sex scenes.


4.  Taste – Do you know the sensory difference between the taste of your thumb and the sweat off your forehead?  You should if you’re writing sex scenes.  Could you tell the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate just by taste?  How about the inside of an elbow versus the inside of a knee?  Our earliest instinct is to put things in our mouth; never forget that.

Do mouth meditations.  Take something you like to put in your mouth—doesn’t matter what it is, the cap of a pen or those baby corns from a jar.  Close your door (or close your eyes if you don’t have a door) and Put It In Your Mouth.  Give yourself complete permission to play with whatever you’ve just stuck in there.  Use teeth and tongue, roof and throat.  If it’s edible, eat it, chewing slowly and taking your time to meditate on changes in flavor and consistency.  Now set that clock for 20 minutes, and Write.


5.  Touch – C’mon people; do I really need to give you a touch exercise?  Or tell you why using and honing this sense will make for better sex scenes?  Okay, here goes:

Touch yourself.  Do it often.  Do it with reverence for the body you get to have.  I’m not talking masturbation (though it’s not a bad idea to be doing that regularly if you’re writing sex scenes).  I’m talking about holding your own hand, rubbing your feet, running your hands through your own hair, or lightly tracing your lips with all the fingers of your hand.  Do it and take notes on your experience as a regular writing prompt.


If you’ve noticed anything about these exercises, I hope you noticed that the common denominator in all of them is that I want you to Slow Down.  As I said at the beginning of this post, the things that make sex better are the same things that will make the scenes you write about it more powerful and compelling.  You can use these exercises to help you invigorate a scene you’re having trouble with or to generate ideas for brand new scenes.


Live fully, keep reading, and don’t stop pressing those keys!



Learn more about, and keep up with, Blake C. Aarens on Twitter as @BCAarens, and at her Amazon Author Page.


Oct 072013

By Blake C. Aarens

I got sent to the office a lot in 3rd grade.  I’d finish assignments ahead of time and then start talking to (and distracting) the other students. Eventually my teacher figured out that I wasn’t a bad kid, I was a bored kid. And so she, in her infinite wisdom, gave me—one at a time—her leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare’s plays.

Most of what I read I didn’t understand.  At that stage it wasn’t about understanding. What my teacher was trying to do was expand my mind. It worked. I stopped getting sent to the principal’s office. Once I finished a task in class, instead of harassing the other kids, I read every one of those plays. And every time I came across a word I didn’t understand, I went to the big dictionary that the teacher kept on a stand with a magnifying glass. In my stumbling through the plays and searches through the gold-edged pages of the dictionary, what developed in me was a love for the crazy, wild, unruly and alive beast that is the English language in all its accents and dialects.

On my writing desk, I have four miniature photos representing my personal holy quadrinity of writers. They are: (left to right  & back to front) Jeanette Winterson, in a square burgundy frame, Toni Morrison in a purple oval frame with pink jewels at the four points, Octavia Butler in a gilt pewter frame with 12 crystals on the edges and at the corners, and in a copper frame with floral accents at the upper right and lower left corners, is a picture of the man reputed to be William Shakespeare.

I have learned a lot from Shakespeare in my 45 years of writing, and so can you. To illustrate my point, I’m going to suggest 5 writing lessons that will help you in the crafting of your erotic romance.


LESSON ONE — Plot Construction

Shakespeare wrote his plays in a five-act structure.
1. Exposition – This is where you introduce your main character and principal themes, and where you establish your world and its particular conflicts.
2. Rising Action – Here you bring in secondary conflicts and obstacles that start your character working for her happy ending.
3. Climax – This is the bulk of the drama or action in your story.
4. Falling Action – Your protagonist and antagonist come to a head.
5. Resolution – This is the emotional release of the resolution of the conflict.

Of course you can use this structure to craft any piece of writing, from flash fiction to a quintet of novels. But what I want you to key in on is how closely the five-act structure parallels the four-stage Human Sexual Response Cycle first proposed by Masters & Johnson in their 1966 book, Human Sexual Response. The phases are: Excitement Phase, Plateau Phase, Orgasmic Phase, and Resolution Phase.

The only thing missing is the exposition. Take your characters through these motions. You may not end up using every single one of the acts or phases in the final piece, but your writing will be better for having done the experiment. Pay particular attention to this structure when you are writing the erotic encounters that take place in your work and you will write scenes that flow with realism and give weight to your story.


LESSON TWO — Dialogue

Let your characters tease each other and play with each other’s words as much as, or even more than, they play with each other’s naughty bits. Example: The Taming of the Shrew (Act Two; Scene One)—playful banter about cunnilingus.

Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.

If I be wasp-ish, best beware my sting.

My remedy is then, to pluck it out.

Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.

Who knows not where wasp doth wear his sting? In his tail.

In his tongue.

Whose tongue?

Yours, if you talk of tales; and so farewell.

What, with my tongue in your tail?



Shakespeare describes the sunrise in an infinite number of scenes, playing with language and matching the imagery to suit the speaker and the circumstances.

Hamlet (Act One; Scene Five):
The glowworm shows he matin to be near, and ‘gins to pale his uneffectual fire
Matin – the first of the of the 7 canonical hours and/or the service for it which sometimes begins at daybreak.
(This spoken by the ghost of a king, murdered without benefit of Last Rites.)

Romeo and Juliet (Act Two; Scene Three)
Friar Lawrence
The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night, chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light; and flecked darkness like a drunkard reels, from forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels
(Spoken by Romeo and Juliet’s confidant after the disastrous events of the previous night)

Titus Andronicus (Act Two; Scene One)
As when the golden sun salutes the morn, and having gilt the ocean with his beams, gallops the zodiac in his glistening coach, and overlooks the highest-peering hills
(Aaron says these lines in a soliloquy while contemplating his secret lover’s rise to power and his hopes of benefiting from the connection)

Be fearless when it comes to finding the words to say it. Language is a flexible thing; bend it to the circumstances of your plot and the people who inhabit it. Let your experience guide you as you wrestle with the words to make them work for you.


LESSON FOUR — Characterization

The following exchange in King Lear (Act One; Scene One) between the Earl of Kent and the Earl of Gloucester opens the play. Gloucester is speaking about his children with one of his children present in the room. What does this tell you about the man? How can you use language to show the content of a person’s character in your own work?

Is not this your son, my Lord?
His breeding, sir, have been at my charge: I have so often blushed to it knowledge him that now I am brazed to it.
I cannot conceive you.
Sir, this young fellow’s mother could: whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.
But I have a son, sir, by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson and must be acknowledged.


LESSON FIVE — Settings

In Richard III (Act One; Scene Two), Richard, Duke of Gloucester woos Lady Anne over the body of her husband whose death Richard is responsible for. And he succeeds! This is a call to action for all writers of erotic romance.  Go and read that scene for how Richard uses every tactic he can think of to get the girl. And then I challenge you to come up with the least erotic setting you can imagine—not gross or horrific, necessarily, just not particularly conducive to romance—and write a wooing scene that makes your characters have to work hard for what they want.

I hope these lessons will free up new space in your writer’s mind that will result in more words on the page!


Live fully, keep reading, and don’t stop pressing those keys!



Learn more about, and keep up with, Blake C. Aarens on Twitter as @BCAarens, and at her Amazon Author Page.