By Mistress Lorelei Powers
You’ve carefully described your protagonists: their degree of youth, beauty, and desirable physique. You’ve choreographed the placement of arms, legs, mouths, and genitalia in various positions for maximum satisfaction and ease of description. Maybe you’ve even tested those positions with a willing volunteer to make sure a kneeling submissive of a given height really can reach quite that far with a tongue.
But have you considered how the scene fits into the flow of the narrative? What purpose it serves in the plot?
“But it’s erotica! The whole point of the story is the sex!”
Well, yes and no. The sex is essential, but it isn’t sufficient. Submissions guidelines generally emphasize phrases like “complex plotting” and “storytelling as well-crafted as the sex is hot.” So if you wish to publish your story in an anthology or have your novel accepted for publication, you need to understand how to time a sex scene to make it effective—and incidentally increase your chances of getting the reader and even the editor aroused.
The Role of Sex in Genre
One way to look at the question of how soon and how often is to look at the standards of the particular form you have chosen. Clearly, in a short story, you can’t postpone the first sex scene for 10,000 words, but in a literary novel you just may want to. Pure erotica often has a faster pace than the “erotica plus” genres: erotic romance, erotic suspense, erotic mystery, erotic horror. Old-fashioned pulp porn generally featured a new sexual combination every other chapter.
Many traditional erotic romance novels (AKA bodice-rippers) brought the hero and heroine together about a quarter of the way into the novel, again at the halfway point, and one final triumphant time toward the end. The ones driven by rape plots generally started the action earlier, sometimes in the first half-dozen pages.
In order to get the feel of a form, you must read widely in it. Read the classics of the genre, but also read plenty of contemporary fiction.
The Motives for Sex
Another way to decide where your sex scenes fit into the story is to ask yourself why your protagonists are going to bed. There are innumerable reasons people have sex of any kind. Here are a few:
· A simple desire for touch
· Wanting children
· Wanting to establish a relationship
· Basic horniness
· To manipulate someone or gain someone’s favor
· Revenge (usually on someone other than the new partner)
· Sorrow (grieving people can have incredibly hot sex)
· Wanting to forget troubles
· Compulsion by inner demons
· Competition with an established love object or a new flame
· Hot make-up sex to rebuild a damaged relationship
Think about these motives. They’re not unitary. Each partner may have several motives, some subconscious. Furthermore, the participants may have conflicting motives—a conflict that can drive plot in any of a number of different directions. Most of the noir genre is based on such mismatches, but then so are most romantic comedies.
The motivations for having sex help dictate where the scene should go. If you are working on a story that emphasizes why or how your protagonists get together, the sex should be placed later in the story—as the climax. If a sex scene is the happy ending you have been promising the reader all along, you should place one of them in the final pages to serve as a symbol of happily ever after or at least happily this afternoon.
If your story arises from the complications of the relationship, the first sex scene must appear earlier. In either case, the sex should change things for your protagonists.
The Consequences of Sex
Once your protagonists have gotten together, they have to face the consequences of that sexual act. Complications are the bone and blood of plot, and sex can create a lot of complications.
The desire for sexual fulfillment, whether plain vanilla or a specific kink, is one of the most powerful of all drives. I’ve seen good sex (not to mention failed sex) radically change people’s lives by:
· Helping them find new confidence and a powerful new sexual/social identity
· Beginning and ending marriages, creating and rupturing families, causing long-distance moves, resulting in career changes
· Shifting the balance of power in a love triangle, ultimately dissolving the triangle and severing several relationships
· Beginning a number of friendships and ending a few
· Signaling to one party that they were now in a relationship—an assumption the other party didn’t share
· Serving as glue for a long-term relationship that was otherwise deteriorating
· Causing a breach between my date and his hyper-religious mother, who threw him out of the house when he refused to stop seeing me
· Causing pregnancy—a result that can be joyful, disastrous, or anything in between
· Prompting one party to have a crisis of faith
· Triggering unexpected memories and feelings (of love, anger, terror, despair, giggling) in one or both parties
· Ending with an intervention by the cops
And that doesn’t even go into the matter of the enraged house-sitter waving a machete, who didn’t realize that the homeowners had given us a key and permission to meet there. Can you see the plot possibilities here?
To be effective, sex needs to be woven in and through your story. The urge to have sex or to frustrate someone else’s desires can set your protagonists and the other characters in motion. Once sex has occurred, it can be the catalyst for unexpected changes. Keep on following the trail of desire, frustration, and fulfillment, and you have a plot in which the sex isn’t gratuitous, but essential for the story. And that’s the kind of story that readers—and editors—love.
Lorelei Powers, also known as Mistress Lorelei (pronounced LOR-eh-lye, and named for Germany’s famous siren of the Rhine River whose seductive music lured sailors to their doom), is the author of the BDSM how-to classics The Mistress Manual and A Charm School for Sissy Maids, as well as the short story collection On Display. She is a bisexual, polyamorous sadist and lifestyle Domme. She has started using her surname to avoid confusion with her respected colleagues, Lorelei Lee or Lorelei of BedroomBondage.com.
By profession, Lorelei Powers is a writer and editor. Under various other names she has published a number of books, articles, and stories. She also teaches writing classes, gives workshops and presentations on BDSM technique, and offers private coaching sessions by phone or in person for Dom/mes and submissives.