Vanessa Di Gregorio
If there is one thing I’ve been taught, it’s that sex scenes and fight scenes are the parts you keep an eye on, as both a writer and an editor (or crit partner). Why? Because sex and violence can make people uncomfortable. Because those scenes with sex and violence are difficult to write. It’s what most writers dread having to write sometimes.
So, we’ll start off with violence in books; specifically, those dreaded fight scenes. Chances are, if you’ve never written a fight scene before, you will write something nonsensical. People reading it might be completely lost and unable to visualize the scene at all. The flow and pacing might be too slow. It might lack the OOMPH you’re looking for.
The best way to remedy this? READ FIGHT SCENES IN BOOKS.
Don’t copy word for word, but take a look at how some books portray fight scenes. Heck, make some notes. If you read a book with a great fight scene, place a sticky note or a bookmark there; use it as a reference. But, some books might also have some awfully lackluster fight scenes; and I’m sure you all have come across some not-so-great scenes at some point in time. Writing a fight scene is so much more difficult than one would think. Watch fight scenes. Act them out in your living room. Think of how a body moves during a fight scene, and be varied. Don’t keep having them swinging punches; mention body weights shifting, balance; whatever you feel is necessary to make the scene not only make sense, but more engaging for your readers.
A fight scene consists of Action and Reaction.
He kicks, she stumbles back. The action should come before the reaction.
She stumbled as he kicked her hard in the chest. While not a bad line, and certainly understandable, it might be more effective to write it this way: He flung his leg out, kicking her hard in the chest. She stumbled backwards, winded.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m brilliant at writing action scenes, but you get my point. The pacing is just that much more intense when the action comes before the reaction. If we find out that the character stumbles before getting hit, the pacing is different; the fight scene is no longer as intense, and it doesn’t impact a reader the same way. We can visualize it, sure (which really is the first goal of a fight scene; to have it make sense); but you also want to consider how tense your fight scene should be.
Short sentence are key. Long sentences in a fight scene can make it too complicated/convoluted. So, stick to the short and sweet. But be careful; you need to vary it a little bit. Don’t have all the sentences the same length.
Bad: She kicked. He blocked. She punched. He ducked.
Okay, so maybe that was a bit extreme. Here’s another example:
Bad: He could hear her approach. He turned and they faced off. She suddenly rushed at him.
Better: Footsteps echoed in the alley. He whipped around. A woman rushed at him, throwing a wild punch.
Vary your sentence lengths. Yes, the shorter the better; because then the flow and pacing is quick, as it should be for a fight scene. But you can see how having different sentence lengths makes it more interesting. If all your sentences are the same length, it can also interrupt the flow by being too staccato.
Now that we got through some violence, let’s talk about love (or lust) – and the even more dreaded sex scenes. Whether you are writing YA or Adult Fiction, chances are you might try to write a sex scene. My first suggestion? DON’T MAKE IT CORNY. Your readers should not be snickering while reading a passionate (or perhaps not so passionate, depending on the type of sex scene you are writing) love making session. It shouldn’t be painful to read unless you’re trying to make it awkward.
Writers often fall into the use of clichés, or use inappropriate names for body parts that can either be completely and utterly ridiculous, or just plain offensive. Sex can be both, if it’s your intention to do so. But most authors trying to write sex scenes aren’t trying to make you squirm in outrage (or laugh outright). So here is a list of things to consider when you come across an intimate scene between your characters.
Avoid euphemisms. They can end up being really tacky, funny, and just plain awful. Unless you are trying to be ridiculously funny, avoid body part euphemisms. In fact, why mention the naughty bits at all? I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but really, there are so many other body parts. What about the small of her back, or some trembling hands? You could even just say that she reached for him and you would get the point. So, if at all possible, avoid words that might make you laugh. You can be explicit without being… well… explicit.
Make your sex realistic. Are two teens going all the way for the first time? Well, I’m not sure if you remember what your first time was like, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the greatest session of love-making ever. Sex can be boring or unsatisfying for your characters. It doesn’t always have to end with the ultimate climax. But when a sex scene is earth shattering for your characters and boring/unsatisfying for your reader, well… you have a problem.
People do not talk like porn stars. Unless you are writing about porn stars, your characters should in NO WAY sound like them. Again, it is tacky. And funny (in a sad, this-is-hilarious-even-though-it’s-not-meant-to-be sort of way). No one talks like them during sex; porn is over-the-top. Your sex scenes shouldn’t be.
Don’t forget to use all the senses. Sex (like any intimate scene) shouldn’t just be purely physical. There are sounds and scents and tastes. And it doesn’t have to be obvious, like a shuddering moan or something. Think of all the little details: her strawberry lip gloss, or the sound of the bed sheets ruffling.
So now, hopefully when you go off to write about sex or violence, you’ll find some of these tips helpful. Have your critique partners pay particular attention to these scenes when they read your work. And just keep writing them. Don’t shy away from these scenes because you don’t know how to deal with them. Practice writing; you don’t necessarily have to show it to anyone, but the more you practice, the better. Once you feel comfortable, then write the scene for your manuscript. Look over the scenes after; often, these are the scenes a writer will write, and then not edit/revise. Sure, it might be embarrassing, but if you can’t read it, then why would anyone else? Believe in yourself and your skills as a writer; you never know what you can do until you try.
Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.