Friday, October 8, 2010


by Isabo Kelly

Bet you never considered that before, huh? Well they are. In fact, writing a sex scene and writing a fight scene is a lot alike. And getting either one wrong can ruin an otherwise good book. Each of these types of scenes is intense, action-packed, emotional, potentially dangerous, and should reveal a lot about who and what your characters are. They go beyond a simple conversation and reveal more about your characters than they often want revealed. A gratuitous fight scene, like a gratuitous sex scene, is just boring. They have to matter each and every time. They have to add to the plot and/or character development. And that’s the trick with writing erotic romance, to manage so much sex without it getting boring. (Tricky. Very tricky.)

Like a fight scene, sex scenes have to be choreographed. There is nothing more disconcerting than having a heroine swing three different fists at a bad guy, and there’s nothing quite so disturbing as having a hero manage to touch very different parts of the heroine’s body with the same hand at the same time. Also if you’re writing ménage or more stories, it becomes extremely important to remember whose hands and body parts are where. So you must get your choreography right—remember where the various hands and feet are, make sure in edits that there are no extra breasts or penises involved (two breasts only for human women; one penis for human men—if you’re writing about otherworldly creatures with more of these body parts, well, do keep in mind how many they have).

Just as a fight scene will completely lose the reader if the movements are so physically impossible that it pulls us out of the fantasy of the book, a sex scene in which characters do things we absolutely know they can not do will make a reader throw the book against the wall or shut off her e-reader. If you’re not entirely sure if a position or set of movements is possible, consult books—the Kama Sutra is an excellent resource for sexual positions, and it will tell you how fit you need to be to achieve those positions! It also tells which positions are possible with various size combinations for men and women. If you’re writing erotic romance, and you’ve followed the bandwagon and given your hero an enormous penis, there are certain positions that just will not work if the woman happens to be small. If a reader clenches her knees together in sympathetic pain during a sex scene, the scene probably isn’t very romantic or erotic for that matter.

I also recommend watching movies for fight and sex scenes—yes, this is giving you permission to watch porn, but only for research purposes. If you just can’t bring yourself to get near porn (and I understand, the stuff can be quite boring), then in the privacy of your own home when no one is watching (except maybe your significant other—who might enjoy this experiment), attempt a given position or move. Okay, okay, your heroine and hero might be stronger, fitter, skinnier, taller, shorter, alien, or paranormally endowed so they can do things you can’t. Fair enough, but if you want your readers to believe in the scene you’re writing, they need to believe that what your characters are doing is possible. If you can’t even get close to something similar, it’s very possible your readers won’t believe in your scene.

Above all this, however, you must keep in mind the importance of each scene to your characters. In a good, well-written fight scene, characters reveal themselves—their sense of right and wrong, their strengths and weaknesses both physical and mental. They reveal how they feel about life itself by the way they conduct themselves in a battle. Someone who’s killed a lot and is no longer staggered by it will view a fight very differently from someone who’s never swatted a fly before. The same goes for a well-written sex scene. A lot of a person’s character is revealed when they have sex. Both a fight and sex make your characters vulnerable. In this vulnerability, they show the reader who they are and how they are growing.

And that, more than any other aspect of writing these scenes, is what keeps them from being boring. Readers don’t just want to know what body part went where; they want to know how that affects the heroine, and what this experience does to the hero.

Are they changed? Have they gone somewhere they never thought they would, or is this just the kind of place they’ve always wanted to be? Are they angry, hollow, excited, in love, desperate, scared, bored? How they feel is much more important than what they do—especially in character-driven books like romances.

Nothing will turn an erotic romance reader off more than sex scene after sex scene that doesn’t mean anything to the story. They might be reading erotic romances for the high sexual content, but they want story with their sex (even if the sex is the story). That’s the difference between erotica and porn, between an action-packed battle scene and a pointless succession of bloody fights—character. It’s all about the character.

You want your erotica to sizzle, remember to choreograph your scenes, make sure the movements of the characters are physically possible, and don’t forget to make each and every scene do more than just show sex. If you’re writing sex because you need to add more sex (or throwing in a fight to fill in space) DON’T. Your readers will stop reading. And there’s nothing worse than a reader putting down an erotic book because they’re bored or think there’s too much sex!

Keep your characters uniqueness in mind and you’ll be sure to create a book readers can’t put down.

Isabo Kelly (aka Katrina Tipton) is the author of multiple science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances. Her Prism Award Winning novel, SIREN SINGING, has just been released in paperback from Ellora’s Cave ( For more on Isabo’s books, visit her at


  1. Thanks Isabo, now I understand why I have skipped sex scenes during recent reads . . so I could get back to the story. And I gather that choreography and emotion plays as much of a role between two male combatants as would a fight between lovers. In other words, what is driving them or what is at stake.

  2. Absolutely, Maureen. Any intense scene between two individuals (or more) will only resonate with readers when they feel the scene means something to the book and the characters.

    Shame about having to skip some of the sex scenes in recent books. It does happen, unfortunately. But as writers, we should always be trying to avoid that reaction from readers! Hopefully you'll pick up a few books soon that do it for you in every scene!

  3. Excellent post, Isabo! This is a great reminder to writers to keep in touch with physical reality (i.e. correct number of body parts in the right places at the right time) even when writing fantasy. That would be part of the "world building" you've talked about in other venues. I too have read books (and not even erotica -- just steamy romance) that had too many sex scenes. I ending up skimming those parts to get back to the story, as Maureen said.
    For me, I find it more difficult to write sex scenes than to write scenes in which someone gets shot and killed. It's not that I prefer war to love -- far from it! One bit of good advice I heard years ago was that a writer should write sex scenes (and perhaps the same goes for fight scenes) in the level he/she is comfortable with. I'm just a little squeamish when it comes to describing intercourse without resorting to the usual romance genre terminology for male and female genitalia. Even writing "male genitalia" vs "penis" vs whatever more poetic sounding word (we romance writers and readers know them all) is a tricky and very individual choice for the writer.
    Thanks for a most informative and entertaining post!

  4. Having heard you discuss the similarities to choreographing sex and fight scenes, Isabo, I was still intrigued at your discussion of the emotional aspects of a fight scene. I had never really thought of it, though of course I had considered it in the context of a sex scene. What an important point that someone with a great familiarity and dexterity with fighting (such as my current favorite macho man, Jack Reacher - in the Lee Child novels) would react physically and emotionally, vastly differently from someone going into battle for the first time. And it applies, too, to sex scenes - if your heroine is a virgin (not done so much these days) or inexperienced, or has been with a single lover, then her emotional mind-set and her physical reactions will differ from a woman who is far more experienced, right down to knowing what some act may provoke in her, physically, to knowing what she likes! Great, in-depth post and you gave me lots to think about.