I got to be a panelist at a convention this weekend, my first time in an actual room filled with people. Yay! And one of the favorite questions the other panelists and I were asked was, “When you’re writing sex scenes over and over again, how do you keep the scenes from getting repetitive?”
This is a fantastic question for multiple reasons. The biggest one is that if you’re writing short erotica, particularly in this rapidly produced, several-stories-per-week scenario that we’re in on Medium, especially if you’re focused on a single trope (which is smart marketing), it is incredibly easy to fall into repetition. Coming up with something new and fresh and interesting every day is difficult.
The other big reason, though, is this is a great litmus test for the quality of your scenes in long fiction. I know this is going to sound harsh if this is something you struggle with, but if all the major elements of your story have been developed adequately and your erotic scenes are engaging, fulfilling, and of value, repetition shouldn’t be an issue.
To explain further, here’s a breakdown of elements that need to be considered and have the potential to be altered or used as a test.
This is the easiest one, right? Even if you are writing straight vanilla sex scenes — and there’s nothing wrong with that — you’ve got them facing each other, him behind her, and they can be laying down, sitting, or standing for those. That’s six position right there. That’s more than enough for most novel-length romance, and with the other elements coming up, it’s also more than enough for an entire series of unique sex scenes.
If you’re writing general erotica and not limiting yourself, you’ve got an incredible selection of positions and acts. There are more holes, of course, and more pairings if you’re good with writing same-sex and the whole rest of the spectrum. You also have larger groups, whether they be harems, reverse harems, or orgies. You have the option to add toys and fetishes. You can get into different body types. I could keep going on this all day, but you get my point.
And if you’re stumped, and you just need to get something out, you’re due for a short and your creative well has dried out, porn sites are your friend. Start typing in the search bar and see what happens.
This is another easy one, and it’s also one of the litmus tests. If you are writing anything long enough to have multiple independent sex scenes and they’re all in the same location, you need to seriously evaluate your story to make sure your plot is interesting, your heat level is sufficient, and your sex is valuable to the story.
Now, I’m not saying that your story is automatically bad. Again, this is an evaluation. It might be critical to your plot that they’re always in the same location. Maybe they’re somehow imprisoned? But that’s so specific. Even prisoners move around. If the story does have a variety of settings — and if they’re snowbound in a one-room cabin, the bed, the table, and the shower are all their own settings — but their encounters are always in the same place, you’re probably having one of two issues. Either your lovers are initiating encounters elsewhere and moving to that location, which is likely to drag the pace and lower the heat, or they only consider sex in that location, which means they’re either not as passionate as you want in a steamy story or the sex isn’t helping the plot along.
But again, if you have a justification for this, that’s fine. Nothing is 100% in writing.
And if you’re writing one-shots? Set your stories all over the place. Every room in the house. Public places. Hotels. Restaurants. Parks. Forests. Beaches. Daytime. Nighttime. Sunny. Rainy. Summer. Winter. If you write shifters, you can literally replace green eggs and ham with banging. Or make it cosplay. Eat your green eggs and ham with a girl in a sexy fox costume.
That’s called yiffing. CSI: Las Vegas taught me that.
This next variable is where it gets more complicated for the one-shot style short erotica author. In longer fiction, it’s also what typically makes the erotic scenes actually sensual.
The thing about erotic scenes is if you’re just describing the motions, it’s not going to be very erotic. Have you ever read a script? In particular, the blocking notes between the dialogue? They’re not evocative. You might be able to picture them in your head, and you can get a good idea of the motions behind them if you read the dialogue for context, but scripts don’t really come alive until someone acts them out. And for scripts, that’s fine. That’s the whole function of a script. A script is basically a recipe for a show.
A novel is the show. A 500-word one-shot is an entire miniature show, just like a commercial is a miniature show. And just like in a commercial, no matter how short your story is, it still needs to have the primary elements of a story. And in romance and erotic, the most important element of the story is the character.
I’m not usually one to speak in definites when I’m discussing writing craft, but it is a universal truth that in order to write an effective erotic scene, you have to get into the characters’ minds. In fact, one of the best ways to write a sex scene that isn’t erotic — and there are all kinds of reasons for this, like you’re writing outside of the romance and erotica genres or you want to convey a loveless relationship — is to stay outside of the character’s minds. Because I have a science background and analyzing data to establish trends is my jam, I love watching for this. It’s incredible how effective it is at killing any sensuality in even the most physically descriptive scene.
Anyway, the important thing here is what makes a scene sensual is the thoughts and feelings of the characters, not the motions they go through. Because at the end of the day, there’s only so much that can be changed with position and location. At some point, it almost always boils down to inserting and reinserting Tab A into Slot B. But describing not the motion but sensation? How it makes the character feel? How the relationship between the involved parties affects the act and evolves because of the act? The spiritual awakening that comes with it, even if it’s just a release of stress or a moment to escape the weight of the world? That’s what elicits a positive reaction in the reader.
But that’s not enough. We’re not here to talk about what makes a sex scene erotic; we’re talking about the tools that will make every one of the hundreds of sex scenes you write fresh and original. The cool thing, though, is as long as your character development game is strong and you’re utilizing it in your erotic scenes, your fully fleshed-out, unique, well-voiced characters will automatically make your erotic scenes fresh and original.
If you write two scenes with a different set of lovers performing the same act, those scenes should not be the same. If they are, you need to develop your characters better. And I know that if you’re doing this Medium thing of writing x many stories per week, you might be balking at the idea of fully developing characters just for a 5 minute bang fest, but I promise you, your stories will be better for it.
And it’s not like you can’t reuse those characters. I personally have quite a few multi-part stories on Medium. Even if you don’t want to do that, it’s not like you can’t write a handful of stories with the same characters and give them different names. But having an idea of who they are, what their lives are like, what their motivations are in this scene and in general, truly does have a huge impact on the story. And I can say this from looking at my own Medium stories. I’ve written a few that were designed as interludes with no character development, and they’re without fail my least successful stories.
So, the position and the setting are the easiest to change up, but they’re the most mechanical. You can set out a goal of writing every kink in every room of the house, and it’s only going to get you so far. Character is huge and has the biggest impact of the three, but all of them pale in comparison to what tends to be the most abused and neglected element in erotic scenes:
Okay, character development does a huge amount of work, but even that really gets you nowhere without a plot. And this is for both short-form and long-form. I constantly hear erotica as defined as sex, like the entire story is just people banging and it doesn’t matter why they’re banging. This is simply not true, and no matter how short the story is, it’s going to suck if there’s no purpose or storyline beyond, “Watch them bang.”
This isn’t porn. We joke that it’s porn, and some of it isn’t too much more substantial than porn. But erotica isn’t sex. Erotica is sexual discovery, and that makes a big difference, even if it’s just a single erotic encounter within the framework of a much larger story.
Look, this isn’t real life. I get that in real life, sex just happens sometimes. We’re bored, let’s have sex. It’s Tuesday, let’s have sex. The kids actually went to sleep when we told them to, let’s have sex.
But this isn’t real life. No story is real life. Slice-of-life is hardly ever written, and the only reason it works is usually because the characters themselves have some unique quality to them. You know your readers don’t want to read about your characters cooking dinner or grocery shopping or going to work if it’s not relevant to the plot or a plot unto itself, so why would you treat a sexual encounter any differently?
Most of the time when you’re writing one-shots, the plot happens naturally. Everything I’ve mentioned so far does. Whether you’re thinking about it or not, you probably have backgrounds for your characters and a reason why this particular sexual encounter is what you’re writing. A lot of times it’s a new partner. Or it’s an established couple in a new position. It’s a special occasion. There’s a change in their relationship. So when you’re writing one-shots and concerned that your stories are getting stale, the best advice I have here is to give the plot, the purpose, the discovery happening in your scene active consideration as you’re writing, and that element alone will distinguish it from other scenes (and further bolster your character development, woo!)
Where the plot becomes super important — and can often be neglected to the detriment of your story — is in long fiction. You know the whole gratuitous sex scene issue in Hollywood? Yeah, that’s just as problematic in novels. Romance gets a bad wrap for being smutty and gratuitous. Erotica gets a bad wrap for being porn. Neither of these are true in general; if it comes off as gratuitous or ‘porn’, it’s a poor representation of the genre (or the reader is just being judgmental and not paying attention, but that’s a whole other issue we’re not talking about). In any decent romance or erotica, every sex scene should further the plot.
No matter how erotic your story is, if you have a sex scene that isn’t relevant to the plot, it is not a valid scene and does not belong in your story.
You might be thinking, “It’s not like my readers want me to fade to black if the scene itself doesn’t further the plot, so it’s okay to keep the scene as long as the lead-up to it includes plot.” Nope, if your story is well crafted, a guarantee your readers care more about the plot than the banging. Your average reader is going to prefer you fade to black, if they notice at all. Hopefully, they’ll be so engrossed in the plot that they’re just happy to see the story develop more.
And keep in mind that plot development comes in all forms. It’s not like some massive plot twist needs to occur in the middle of them going at it. It can be a scene that further develops their relationship or shifts the dynamics of it. They can learn something about themselves or each other. The big thing here is that if removing the scene will make the reader feel like they’ve missed something, it’s essential. If removing it has no impact, it’s gratuitous and either shouldn’t be in your story or needs to be edited to add value.
Just like with character development, the plot isn’t something to be changed (not for this reason). Rather, if you’re writing sex scenes that are integral to the plot of your story and show the progression of the relationship between your characters, they’ll automatically be unique scenes. Yes, the location and the blocking help, but really, well-developed characters whose personalities shine in erotic scenes designed to carry the plot along should be fresh and engaging without too much extra work.
The point of all of this is that if you’re concerned about stale, repetitive sex scenes, the solution probably isn’t forcing your scenes to be more creative. Yes, explore different settings, and it’d be really neat if we all worked harder and normalizing sex beyond the vanilla, but a better long-term solution is building better characters and adding value to your erotic scenes — or don’t write them at all. This is kind of like lifting heavy boxes. If you want to get better at lifting boxes, you can work on your grip and lifting with your back, but realistically, you need to get stronger in general.
Or you need to stop lifting heavy boxes.
And if none of this helps:
Write Alien Romance
and write whatever crazy dick you want. Or two dicks. Tentacles. Detachable dicks. Dicks that have rabbit attachments. Ribbed dicks. Barbed dicks. Dicks that spin. Whatever. The world is your dick oyster.