Sex sells in chick lit… it depends – Maha Erwin
By Maha Erwin
There’s no point denying it: sex sells in the publishing industry. ♥
Younger and older females continue to devour novels filled with “the good bits.” Indie authors are achieving break-out status with their “dirty” e-books. Why? Because sex is a big part of the human condition.
Should you write sex in your novel? It depends on for whom are you’re writing. If you seek to arouse the desires of those who gravitate toward sinful literature (i.e. literotica), then go full steam ahead. A big dose of sexual imagery (e.g. a hot bath description or a S&M scene) is absolutely appropriate. If you’re afraid of alienating readers of mainstream romance, then focus on the relationship. Show that love, NOT sex, overcomes all obstacles. People get together, get it on, make out, split up, and make up – these setups generate page-turners.
Readers of romantic comedies expect to read more than one love story. The heroine goes on date after date; to get back at a cheating lover/husband; to lose her virginity; to destress – romp, recharge and repeat; or to break the monotony of routine life through experimentation. The dating scene must be realistically depicted. A little naughty, and a lot of humor, must keep on coming until the end.
Rather than stick out like a proverbial sore thumb, a sex scene must blend seamlessly in its designated chapter(s). If there’s good chemistry between two characters, then delay satisfaction. If there’s bad chemistry, then infuse a little awkwardness into the scene.
Here are some more tips on how to write the scene:
- Write what you know, and in the same style you’ve written for the rest of the manuscript.
- Make sure you’re not writing about you — but about your characters.
- Write down what’s going on in your mind’s eye. Who put what where.
- If you can’t imagine a sentimental, playful or dangerous scene, enlist the help of your partner.
- Purchase a romance thesaurus and a handbook on seduction.
The Art of Seduction by Robert Green is a handbook on how to manipulate, mislead and give pleasure all at once.
How much sex should be on the written page? The extent of sensuality boils down to personal preference, and your tastes must match those of your chosen readers.
Are you a people-pleaser who is easily swayed by the opinions of others? Do you feel out of your depth every time you approach a sex scene? If you answered yes to both questions, then write mostly kissing scenes. Or else, you’ll struggle to promote your work.
If the nitty-gritties of sex come naturally to you and you want to target an open-minded crowd, go for it – describe sexually explicit images. However, the major drawbacks of racier scenes are two-fold:
1. A significant portion of female readers prefer clean fiction. These readers might be your best friends and/or your family. If so, then you can’t rely on them to be your early influencers and generate book buzz for you.
2. You might need to spend a lot of time explaining why your book isn’t literotica to resistant reviewers. The genre is misunderstood even within the industry; albeit resistance is crumbling.
Fortunately, there are degrees of sexuality which you can exploit in your rom-com. The sex scene can be classified as (1) Hot; (2) Steamy; (3) Mild, sweet; and (4) Minimal.
Hot. Since nudity and graphic obscenities are ubiquitous in these books, they’re often tooted as hot tales or viewed as “raunchy.” Dating disasters and tearful confessions of infidelity are common, whereas forthcoming stories about ménage or open marriages are rarely written.
While some heroines dapple in the kinky stuff like whips and chains or leather and lace, others are less adventuresome. Their characters carry on “racy” conversations inside or outside of the bedroom; and the narrator has lustful daydreams and streams of consciousness.
The readers of hot sex expect more than dialogue to build tension. They prefer to know exactly what’s going on. Hence, this group of chick lit authors do not draw lines in sex scenes. The nude body is described in detail. Since the veil of language between the reader and the action is lacy thin, the author’s prose doesn’t wax poetic.
Here are some examples of hot rom-com.
The Almost Wives Club by Nancy Warren
She gasped as he sucked a nipple right into his mouth.
Blissed by Jamie Farrell
… while her other hand gripped his rock-hard ass and her pelvis pushed against his erection.
The Ending I Want by Samantha Towle
Then, he thrusts his cock all the way up inside me.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
He fucked her up against the cold, tiled wall.
Flying Fearless by Karen Gordon
I reach down between us and use my clit to push me over the edge, almost screaming his name with each wave.
Intomesee: In Pursuit Of A Passionate Life by Maha Erwin
She arched her back, daring not to sit on the puddle of hormones sousing the recliner cushion.
Seduction & Snacks by Tara Sivec
My dick is bleeding.
Your tits are like Bounty. The quicker dick picker upper.
Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
… the guy lifted up the girl’s skirt and started rubba -ing her stomach and everything and then moving down to her skirt.
Steamy Sex. These authors don’t write the explicit details. They prefer to leave that to the imagination of the reader. The narrator when engaged in dialogue or inner thought, however, does employ crude language.
Here are some examples of steamy rom-com.
Amanda’s Guide To Love by Alix Nichols
Obsidian Eyes finally lifted his gaze from the cards and gave her a panty-dropping smile.
Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner
We’d both tested clean, and I went on the pill after a handful of dismaying times when his erection would wilt the instant I produced the Trojans.
Forever Yours, Casey by Cassidy K. O’Connor
I wrap my legs around his hips and kiss him all the way to his bed.
Girl On A Plane by Cassandra O’leary
Her face was dangerously close to his groin.
Hope In A Jar by Beth Harbison
Her butt – which Allie unfortunately got a good look at – was even more cottage-cheesy than Allie’s.
Kiss And Tell by Fiona Walker
She was equally reluctant to admit just how much her horniness was down to hormones…
There Are No Men by Carol Maloney Scott
And I keep the root chakra in line and that helps me, you know, sexually too… tantric sex… Sting does it. Mind blowing.
When It Hooks You by Nicki Elson
Talking about shoving things into her naughty bits in front of a client she’d never met before, however, was nothing short of mortifying.
Mild, Sweet. Off-the-page sex or sex is described vaguely. When it comes to romance, these authors offer poetic euphemisms. Their target audience isn’t interested in being titillated. Reading graphically descriptive terminology in a love scene irks them.
Minimal Sex. Mild kissing is as far the characters go. Authors of clean fiction keep away from sex and foul language because neither appeals to them. Their readers want to connect with the heart and mind of the character, NOT with her body.
Besides taking cues from other novelists, you can learn a lot from non-fiction writers; their unusual stories about love (and the mistakes and pains of falling in and out of it) are insightful. Both are outspoken about sex and girl power. Their books are controversial. Their voices assertive. Their sex scenes in-your-face. They were honest about their foibles. Told the truth about their sex lives.
Sex doesn’t automatically make a rom-com more interesting. Rom-coms must embrace these key ingredients to be truly great.
(1) A realistic plot; your modern heroine must face an obstacle that other working women face today.
(2) Conflicting subplots deepen the love story; your heroine must win some and loss some; frenemies, evil bosses, and/or meddlesome parents must get in the way of their goals.
(3) Lots of laughs; your heroine must screw up, keep doing “wrong,” so that readers can laugh and learn lessons along the way; Lowbrow humor (e.g. screwball, situational, or slapstick) brings levity to an otherwise lousy situation, while middlebrow humor (e.g. satirical or self-deprecating) can make readers think.
Should your rom-com merely entertain or also educate? We set out to do both. Our hot rom-com, Intomesee: In Pursuit of a Passionate Life, tells the cautionary tale of a love addict and love avoidant. Our target audience is the single female, between the 27 and 40, who works in a cosmopolitan city.
What promise is your rom-com selling? We promised our readers that they would go on a journey of self-discovery through sexual exploration.
How did we fulfill our promise? Our heroine, Aimée, wants to FEEL passion. She gives in to free love, jumping in and out of relationships. In the end, she learns that while great sex can be very cathartic, it can’t bond together two emotionally unavailable people.
In conclusion, write what you feel comfortable with and what your audience wants to read. Don’t feel any pressure, whatsoever, to include sex or exclude it in your story.
Maha Erwin is the pen name of the Dutch-American indie authors of Intomesee: In Pursuit of a Passionate Life. In 2013, the married couple quit their established careers in finance and science to travel around the globe. Possessed by an unrelenting wanderlust, they still go wherever their hearts guide them. The memorable people they befriended along the way have inspired them to write many of their quirky characters.