First Person Sex: A Discussion

So I’m writing a book in first person and that’s fun although different–only one POV, for starters–and then I get to the first sex scene. Hmmmm.

Here’s the thing about first person for me: it feels like I’m sitting next to somebody on the bus and telling them a story. Okay, that’s fine. But then I get to the sex scene, and even if it was Lani and Krissie on the bus, I wouldn’t go into detail, not the kind of detail I use in third person sex scenes. It just feels wrong, not morally wrong (we crossed that bridge long ago), but out of place. My Girl Liz would not do that. For one thing, it’d be a betrayal of her lover (“So here’s what he did last night . . .”). For another thing, it would probably make whoever was listening uncomfortable in real life. (TMI.)

I know fiction isn’t real life, I know first person is a construct, but I’m having a heck of a time. I showed Lani and Krissie the first sex scene awhile back and there were crickets. Then Krissie said, “More dick and awe,” and I said, “It’s first person,” and she said, “I write first person sex all the time,” and of course she does, but I’m more repressed than she is. Well, everybody’s more repressed than she is. But even no-sex-in-the-courtyard Lani said, “That’s a little . . . distant.” Or words to that effect. Okay, here’s actually what they said:

Jenny: Okay, here’s how bad I am at writing first person sex scenes. After Liz says she doesn’t like guys who don’t pay attention in bed she says:

Vince was not one of those guys. Vince wanted participation. Vince encouraged volunteering. Vince practically had a sign-up sheet, but that’s okay because that’s what I prefer. It all worked out just fine since anything he nudged me toward I was all for and anything I asked for he followed through on with what I’d call enthusiasm if it wasn’t Vince. There were a couple of surprises along the way that upped the ante and a good solid climax for me and, I’m reasonably sure, for him. He didn’t complain anyway.

That’s the first sex scene. I’m screwed. FIRST PERSON. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.

Krissie: LOL. I’d put up my first person sex scenes but they’re pages long.

Lani: It’s tough writing sex in first person. But that’s your first sex scene. That’s their first sexual encounter, and sometimes, you’re not terribly romantic about it.

Jenny: I’m afraid of sounding like that person on the bus who Shares Too Much. Liz isn’t romantic at all. But I like Vince in that part. That’s my kind of hero.

Krissie (typing at the same time): That sounds like the sex scene written by a man. Well, there it is. I still think she might have a reluctant reaction to all that. Not so cut and dried.

Lani: It’s a first-person story. They want you to share. By buying the book, the reader’s saying, “So TELL ME.” And you’re just doing as asked.

Jenny: uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Don’t make me.

Lani: I think it’s consistent with Liz’s personality, and it’s fun. When the sex is important, and moving, she’ll talk about it differently. And it doesn’t have to be all hot-sexy. It’s a mystery. There are dead bodies. Liz has shit to DO.

Krissie: You did a great job with that in Dogs and Goddesses. After we trained you for more shock and awe. Or was it cock and awe?

Jenny: Dick and awe, I believe. But that wasn’t first person. First person is different.

Krissie: Yes, first person is very different.

Lani: In first-person, you have to be consistent with what the character would actually say. I think that’s consistent.

Well, I need to show the relationship arcing. Liz is not a needy kind of woman. She’s responsible for her own orgasm.

Krissie: It can definitely be done. And despite what you say, you write really really good sex scenes. And I’m a connosseur — can’t spell that word.

Lani: You do write really great sex scenes. But this is different. It’s Liz talking about sex.

Krissie: Yeah, but I do first person sex scenes.

Jenny: I’ll have to get drunk to write real first person sex in real time.

Lani: I think it’s good. You’re not writing a sex scene, you’re writing Liz talking about sex.

Krissie: Did you know they let me get away with an inn in the Rohan books called The Cock and Swallow? heh heh heh.

Jenny: LOLOL!

Lani: The Cock and Swallow!

Jenny: Only in a Stuart.

My editor didn’t notice until it was too late.

Jenny LOL again. I’m dying here.

Lani: Your editor didn’t see it?

Jenny: I know. Cracks me up. Who could have missed that?

Krissie: So back to Liz. If sex to Liz was like brushing her teeth then it wouldn’t be interesting.

Lani: Well, you write a different kind of story. You’re not writing Liz. It’s about how that character would talk about sex, and your characters would absolutely talk about sex that way. Liz wouldn’t.

Krissie: And really, the sex needs to be interesting if it happens. She may be hard-boiled and matter of fact but something must have reluctantly touched her. No, that not “thing”

Jenny: That’s another reason to summarize it. The real reason I wrote that was to characterize Vince. Liz is very practical about sex. But she’s in a place that makes her vulnerable, and when she reaches out for somebody later, she reaches out for Vince. And it’s different. But still in summary. I think the reader already knows who Liz is, but this is another look at Vince.

Lani: See, this is the first sexual encounter, and Liz isn’t romantic. Later on, she’ll talk about it with a bit more gusto, but right now, she’s not allowing herself to be vulnerable to Vince. I think it’s good for a first time. It’ll be a while before Liz gets more into it.

Krissie: You just need a hint. Like you did in the original shock and awe scene. Which you turned into the terrific sex in the rain on the hood of a car. Richie was impressed.

Jenny: LOL.

Lani: I think it works. I think if you change it, you change Liz. It’s absolutely who Liz is.

Jenny: It’s who Vince is. That’s why I needed it in there. It characterizes the hero.

Krissie: Well, if this is a throwaway at this point, and doesn’t change her and/or him, then it’s okay to summarize.But then, shouldn’t every scene change the characters a tiny bit?

Jenny: Yes, it should. That’s a good point, I’ll have to make that clearer. This establishes the baseline for their sexual arc. Everything worked fine, they shook hands and went their separate ways, but yeah, it should change the characters at least a little bit. I think sex is a huge characterization . . . I want to say tool, but Krissie will run with that.

Krissie: LOL. Okay, that I’ll buy.

Lani: Krissie will run with everything. And yes, as a starting place for the sexual arc, I think it’s great.

Krissie: Any tool I can get.

So here’s my question: What do you think about sex in fiction in first person? (Notice how carefully that is worded, please. I don’t want to hear about the first person you had sex with. Well, I do, but not here.) How much is too much, how much is not enough, do you even want sex in a first person story? Because I’ve got three of those scenes in this book, and I’m going to have to get drunk to do them unless you give me an out.

139 thoughts on “First Person Sex: A Discussion

  1. I often wonder whether there is a rule for romance saying there must be sex scenes. Of course I don’t know Liz as you do, but I’d go with your gut feeling and not have her tell the details to the reader. If the sex changed something, she can explain it without actually telling how they did it. What I like about those scenes anyway is not the sex itself (no matter how creative you get describing the way A was inserted into B) but the before and the after, how it came about, how they both reacted to it. I’d say if you need to get drunk to write something, don’t write it. Not just for health reasons.

  2. Plus, I like the way you wrote that scene. It gives a lot of room for imagination whereas in some expilicit scenes, you can practically tick off the varieties (e.g. calm, wild, oral both ways, against the wall if needed) which makes me wonder if those authors think that when in doubt, quantity tops quality.

  3. Your hesitation sounds like you don’t want her to narrate the story to the reader. Don’t think of it that way. Have her evaluate it in the moment for herself. It would be ok for her to consider all of this stuff to herself, unless she’s not analytical or unless it’s boring. Because if it’s not boring, something or somethings in specific should stand out for her about the experience.

    Instead of “a couple of surprises”, how about, “just for grins, I asked him to do that thing my best friend told me about over drinks last week, and it turns out she’s right. I didn’t think I was even going to enjoy it, but Vince sure made ‘it’ sing.” Where you would replace placeholders “that thing”, “best friend”, “drinks”, and “‘it'” with specifics. You can add why she thought to try it – testing boundaries (his or hers), seeing if he’d be repulsed by her least favorite body part (or seeing if she would be…), the joy of finding someone so into her that she didn’t get awkward, etc… Or maybe, given your last sentence, she still needs to figure out if he’s into sex or into sex with her specifically still.

    But think of all those scenes authors write (of which you may or may not approve) where they walk into a bar and 3 pages of description and one eyeblink of time later, they shake hands. Because she can be thinking lots of things simultaneously that you can’t get on paper and that I can’t read in real time. Make the effort/length/impact of the description match the impact of the event. If it’s really necessary to the plot, we need to know why and “a couple of surprises” doesn’t tell us much. The paragraph above is definitely a “behind closed door” description, but is she the type to close the door on her own musings and experience?

    Or not. Do what you gotta do.

    1. FWIW, I think if the scene is about Vince, it might help if there were more about Liz’s reaction to Vince’s outward personality vs his personality in an intimate situation were included. Not in a “he banged my brains out” way, but more “I was surprised how into it he was, he’s usually so laid back/nonchallant/whatever.” or “his desire for an ethusiastic response was exactly what I would have expected.” “He does a really good dismount. I’d have cuddled in if I were a cuddling kind of woman.” (but, you know, in Liz’s voice) Like how did his actions reveal his character to her, and/or what did he show here that she’ll need to know later? ex. when you showed control and trust issues through the sex scenes in “Faking it.”
      (honestly, the surprises line? Kind of screams “I don’t really want to write this scene.”)

      1. This. What surprises her, here? Or, was it exactly as expected and that’s why she could shake hands and go home?

    2. I agree with this and would say that, to me, there are two types of first person:

      1) she’s directly narrating/telling the story to someone else. A confessional, a letter, a cop who’s cuffing her, an attorney, her last words on death row, but there’s a very direct, specific audience (often bookended and we assume, as a reader, they’re there all along)


      2) she’s recounting this story–an as-it-happened sort of rumination and as such, we’re getting to eavesdrop but *Liz doesn’t know we’re there* — so she’s going to be a bit more honest and direct with herself and not be coy about the details. She doesn’t have to romanticize the details, or sound sentimental about the experience, if she’s rather matter-of-fact about the sex, but she’d think about those details, whether the experience was enjoyable or not.

    3. I think you need to revisit the sex scene you wrote in Welcome to Temptation that featured handcuffs and almond oil. This was told, and retold, from Sophie’s POV. It was so good that I talked my hubby into trying it, sans handcuffs. We had a very good time. Your writing was fresh and fun, not self-conscious. Maybe you ought to revisit all of the sex scenes in Welcome to Temptation. Maybe I’ll take turns reading them out loud with DH, now that I think about it.

        1. I remember being advised in a writing seminar that if you are “stuck” writing the scene in one form/POV, switch to another.

          When reading Liz’s account of sex, I was lost (not that I want the tab A into slot b description). If you haven’t already, step back and write the entire scene in all its sweaty, third person detail. The fumbling with clothing, the giggles and gasps and groans, the surprises. All from the safety of third person voyeurism.

          And then write Liz’s first person account as she remembers her feelngs–or lack thereof–about the encounter.

  4. I like sex in a Romance Novel. In fact, I often ask what’s the point of reading romance if there isn’t some steam? Having said that, can’t handle *listening* to a sex scene in a romance novel. In fact, I don’t listen to audiobooks of romance novels for exactly the same reason that you don’t like to write 1st person sex scenes. Listening to it makes me think I’m on a bus and hearing about someone’s exploits. *Bleah*

    I’m fine with 1st person sex too although it is a bit more intimate. The sex I like to read; I liken to Chick Porn. You know, the films that have plenty of sex without the gyno shots? That’s what I like. I don’t need all the “slick pelts” and “throbbing cocks.” I can use my imagination. I do like the seduction and the tongues trailing along to various yummy places…fade to black.

    As for your scene? I like it for the first scene. It sets the stage and gives you the basics. You’ll have to ramp it up for the next two scenes to keep me interested, though. 🙂 Instead of thinking you’re talking to someone on a bus, would it help to imagine that Liz is writing in her diary?

  5. Who is Liz talking to? Is she telling someone else – are real someone else? Then wouldn’t her relationship help determine what she’d say and how she’d say it. (Talking to a relative vs a lifelong friend vs a stranger on the bus – they wouldn NOT get the same story.)

    Is she talking to herself? That would be a whole different conversation.

    All that conversation had me wondering about their first kiss and how she described or thougth about that experience. If he really is different, I’m betting it was different from the very first. I’d love the who/what/where/when/how scoop on that kiss.

    From reading that snippet, I get no sense of how Liz Felt or is feeling. (It seems like a BIO paragraph she’s writing for Vince.) If he was different than her usual, the sex had to be different for her. Wouldn’t that freak her out a bit – even if it was in a good way?

    I think I’d miss the sex if it was left outta the book. It’d be a different kind of book than I’m used to or would expect. But, the Stephanie Plum books don’t share all that much – a few paragraphs about sex or the working up to sex, or the recovering from sex – and I still scour the book for rereads. If I care about the character – I wanna know.

  6. I loved the way Gil McNeil handled it in The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, there was the lead-up to the evening, and then she lay back and said, “I feel wanton.” And described how wanton she felt. But without the science lesson.

    1. That seems like it would give you a really good insight to the way to tell the story: “I feel…” wanton? insecure? worried? threatened (rereading Agnes), inquisitive, bored, up for an intellectual puzzle, in need of contact…. pair that with who, exactly, she is talking to, and you have the basis for something.

      1. You know one of the reasons that first sex scene in Agnes was so easy to write was that it was funny (to me, anyway) that she’d gotten herself into that position because she was so angry, and then when the anger finally subsided, there she was. I never thought it was particularly hot, just the kind of thing Agnes’s temper got her into, which was a nice contrast to how Shane never ever let his emotions get him into anything he didn’t want.
        Krissie read that section of the book and then said, “You know the part I liked best,” and I said, “Yeah, when he put two bullets in the dead guy,” and she said, “YES!” Hot is in the eye of the beholder. (BTW, Bob wrote that part and I thought it was brilliant, too. I did the sex, he did the violence.)

  7. I think I see the problem. Sex is about feeling. Liz shouldn’t talk about the sex in terms of acts, she should give some insight into how the sex made her feel. Evoke the senses a bit and see how that goes. Sex aside, first person is all about getting to feel what the character feels and experience it along with her, not just hearing what happened to her or having it narrated. Even if you’re not trying to do a sex scene in the moment and are having her share the highlights with someone after the fact, readers still need to be able to feel how the experience touched her. So to speak;)

  8. So here’s the question for me. Is she experiencing the scene or thinking about it? I think if she is experiencing it there should be more detail, not necessarily in the body part function category but in the sensations. Maybe?

    Right now it sounds like the pros side of a pros and cons sheet.

  9. I wonder if the real difference here is that in third person past tense, the story is unfolding as it actually happens, even though it’s written in the past tense. It *seems* like it’s happening right now, while with first person, you only get the sense that it’s happening right now if it’s in present tense. When first person is past tense, you’re right, that’s someone sitting next to you on the bus telling you about what happened to them, so what’s happening is edited in a way it wouldn’t be in first person present or third person past tense.
    So I suppose the only way for the character to let go and reveal more is to do as you suggest, which is to use those descriptions of the sex in a way that shows Liz has changed. When Vince opens her up, she becomes more open about the sex as she talks about it, and she’ll talk about it differently. It will reveal how she has changed and what the sex means to her, even if we don’t get all the juicy details about what, exactly, he does to her.

  10. Was the sex boring? Because it sounds like it was boring. Mechanical, even. (Which would definitely be boring. Unless the mechanic was very good in bed. Har.)

    I agree with those who say it makes a difference who she’s talking to in the scene. I wouldn’t go into big detail talking to my best friend (if, ya know, I ever actually GOT to have sex ever ever again), but I’m also not a character in a romance book. More’s the pity. I think Liz has to talk about how she felt about the sex, and maybe a few details about what made it stand out from other sexual experiences she’s had. And it would be good if she doesn’t sound like she went to the dentist.

    *passes bottle of wine*

    I’m sure in the end, it will be great. (No, Krissie, that’s NOT how I meant it.)

  11. Maybe I’m out in left field here, but when I read first person narrative, I pretend she is writing to her diary, in which she will say whatever she wants to say. I’m just her diary, so she can say anything to me without oversharing. Does that make a difference?

  12. Oh, sex scenes. Can I be honest here? I skip sex scenes in any book I’m reading, not because I’m a shrinking violet, but because I find them boring, the literary equivalent of watching a porn movie. And I know what I’m talking about: the company I work for, let’s just say they are known for erotica. And I’d say about 90% of it is insert tab A into slot B, which reduces the characters to their body parts. And that is my biggest problem with sex scenes in books as well. I just finished reading a book by another author on recommedation from a friend. I liked the female protagonist and the story, hated the male character. I described him as a ‘walking penis’. Can I say penis here? Oh, well, might as well fling it out there. I find Liz’s description intriguing; it leaves something to the imagination. Makes me want to go out and find myself a Vince. Ha!

    1. I also tend to skim most sex scenes, especially if I’m reading inublic. I do not like reading a sex scene on the metro. There are some authors whose stories I adore but I skip at least 15 pages per book due to overly explixit sex scenes. Yours I do read though I admit more for the banter during than the actual sex. Your sex scnes tend to mean something more than just “woohoo! Sex!” (Even the one with the non hero in Fast Women).

  13. It’s funny but abstract/detached. I agree that I imagine first-person narrative as a kind of diary usually. If this is the first sex with the real hero, couldn’t there be something that rattles her in some way? or leaves her with a feeling of mystery/confusion – a feeling that they might have brushed against something that really would change everything. Just a hint – but the feeling that everything isn’t cut and dried for her; that perhaps she hasn’t got a handle on it completely. I wouldn’t tell my best friend (more especially if I felt a real connection); but I would keep turning the experience over in my mind – reliving it; trying to make sense of it. On the other hand, I’m obviously not Liz (I don’t know her yet either).

  14. I don’t know. I find the passage kind of frustrating. I kept trying to imagine what exactly she might be talking about, and reading the next sentence hoping for enlightenment, only to be disappointed.

    Also, I’d like to know how she felt about it. Really, she sounds kind of ambivalent. I realize Liz is very practical about sex. So, is this just a practical kind of orgasm? It got her there, but was nothing special, nothing she couldn’t have done for herself? Because that’s how it sounds to me. If it felt really great, I’d love to know that, dick and awe not necessary.

  15. I think I’d feel a bit cheated with a sex scene that doesn’t have some more details. I agree with CrankyOtter above…even one actual description of what the surprise was would add to it.

    Also, I think the person we are walking on the street can be a different person than the one we are during sex. Just because someone is quiet and calm when dealing with her day to day business doesn’t mean that she’s not someone more aggressive and excitable during sex. So I think you can have Liz act slightly out of character in sex scenes. Sure, she might not tell her friends about it in complete detail, but she could certainly think about it!

    One of the attractions of romance for me is seeing how other women, if they are fictional, react to all aspects of sex…pre, during and post.

  16. If I read the sex scene as it is, I would predict that Liz’s growth with Vince is going to include staying in the moment — as they are together more, she will focus more on how the fact that she is doing THIS thing is creating THAT effect in him (and how she [emotionally] feels about that), or how she [emotionally] feels when he does THAT.

    What I’m trying to say is that she’s doesn’t come across to me as vulnerable in the scene, which seems unusual for the first time of sex with someone but it happens and you can definitely write that. You wrote “sex can be boring when you’re faking it” in, uh, Faking It. And what was it, Charlie All Night? When the sex came first and the vulnerability later?

    In terms of reading first person sex scenes in general, I’m a vote on the side of “less is more.” For one thing, without oversharing with Argh Nation, can’t sex go to a place where language is inaccessible, as well as irrelevant? Isn’t the point to get beyond that damn talkative internal narrator to just be?

    1. I once heard that referred to as “reptile brain” I still need to find a way to use that phrase in a story.

  17. Yes, I like sex scenes in first person stories. This retelling is a little too much of a list that this happened then he did this and then we did this …

    I understand that Liz isn’t romantic about it, but I expect some hint that there was attraction and passion in the sex and not just two disconnected people getting each other off.

    Even if Liz had just had sex with her vibrator wouldn’t there be at least a grace note of the orgasm? Even if she keeps the story simple, inside she might feel a residual shudder or pause for a beat as she remembers how it felt when Vince touched her just so right there.

  18. I agree completely with the comment about the first person feeling like past tense and third person happening as you read it. I’m not a writer, but I think that makes third person sex scenes easier to read and I’m guessing easier to write.
    The scene as written makes me feel like she could be talking to her mother or coworker or something. And with your characters, I feel like I’m their friend. I think its one of your strengths. I like and get the general idea, that its more for Vince’s character development than hers. But it needs to feel like they both felt something. Right now, I’m reading it as “sex, it felt good, now its over.”
    I like the sign-up sheet line. But it needs some sarcasm and some heat, in my opinion.

  19. When I read first person, I always treat it like the narrator is thinking back on events, and is not aware of the reader – Toni’s second category. So, if she’s in her own head, then I’d say you could get away with more detail than you have now, even if she wouldn’t be that specific with another person. Of course, if she’s remembering/analyzing her own reaction to the sex, then it’s not going to be a blow-by-blow sort of thing. Maybe keep what you’ve got, but have her remember one or two of those surprises in a little more detail, and how they made her feel? With sex scenes, I want to know what the sex means to this character, how it changes her relationship with the guy. Was there something about this encounter with Vince that made her think of him differently than she did before, or made her think there could be more to their relationship? I feel like that’s missing right now. I don’t think I’d want to read a detailed first person sex scene (frankly it would feel weird). But I would want to know in some detail the moment(s) during the sex to which she had a strong emotional reaction.

  20. I’ve been a romance reader forever, but I’ve started to like the way some male writers handle sex scenes – it’s important to know that it happened, but I really don’t need a (no pun intended) blow-by-blow description. When I want porn, I read porn. It sometimes feels like the author is working off a checklist; this is a romance, so there has to be a drawn-out sex scene every 40 pages. I often skip them, or fast forward through if it’s an audiobook. What you wrote above would almost work fine for me, except it feels peremptory, although I don’t know the context. I want to feel like the sex rocked her world, if that’s what the sex was supposed to have done. I just don;t necessarily need all the details.

  21. Why don’t you ask Liz what she’d do if she were in your place? Or is that where the conflict lies, between what you think your fans expect of your (from your previous books) and what Liz wants you to do?

    If that’s the case, go with Liz. It’s her book.

    (And never mind what the readers want. You’re going to get answers all over the place, and satisfying one group will leave the other group disappointed. And isn’t that always the case?)

  22. Yes, it sounds a bit distant and mechanical, like someone who’s not in touch with her sexual self. But then, I’ve read very few books where the sex scenes were really worth reading, and I can’t think of any in first person, so maybe it’s a difficult thing all around. Besides, how often are you listening to someone talk about something difficult for them, and all of a sudden they’re talking about “you” rather than “me?” I think sex is one of those things we don’t talk easily about in first person. And it definitely makes a difference who she’s talking to.

    Moving to the cheering section, your sex scenes are really great. They’re real, and this one sounds real, though real for someone who’s a bit distant from it all at the moment. Kind of like in Faking It, where Tilda kept thinking (boy did that one sound familiar).

    If I found myself in the unlikely position of having to do this, I’d probably do the work twice; write it in a way that I’m comfortable with, to get a clear picture of the scene, what was important to the character, how she felt, etc. Then I’d rewrite it to first person. I think I’d have to imagine myself telling it to someone who would totally appreciate it and not judge me in any way for anything I said. Ever. That’s a tough thing to find. So honestly, if I had to write a first person sex scene, it would either end up very vague or I’d go hide under the bed until whoever was making me do it went away forever. So here’s to your courage!

  23. not a writer, but i wonder… is it easier for you to write it in 3rd person, then convert it to first?

    and i agree with the person who asked how this is 1st person: is this happening to her at the time? is she thinking back to it in her head? or is she telling someone else what happened? i would think that the approach would be very different depending on the situation.

  24. Perhaps Liz needs to mention a couple of moments, maneuvers, caresses, that really touched her deeply and she’s wondering where the hell that came from. (But then I don’t know Liz well enough) I also think Lisa T’s idea is a good one writing the scene in third person and then switching to first.

  25. Like others have mentioned here, it matters to me where I think that first person is directed — to the narrator’s self, to someone the narrator knows, or to a generic reader. That impacts degree of intimacy. But in other ways, a sex scene is like any other scene with a first person narrator — a lot relies on the narrator’s reliability. For instance, is the narrator trying to convince herself/listener that it really didn’t mean that much while the reader understands that it meant more than the narrator knows or is willing to admit? And, of course, there are structural questions as well: in what way does this sex scene differ from later sex scenes (Faking It was marvelous in showing the difference and, I’m hoping this doesn’t sound snooty to say this, the difference was thematic to the novel as a whole). Which brings me to this: I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to take from the snipped you wrote yet, and it isn’t what body parts are doing that will answer that. I’m not sure yet what she thinks or feels and if what she thinks/feels is the same as what she wants to believe she thinks/feels.

    And after saying all that, I think each book is its own thing. As a reader, I don’t need there to be explicit sex scenes (see: love for Georgette Heyer), but as I reader I can enjoy them as well (see: love for Anne Stuart, Jennifer Cruise, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Courtney Milan, and …).

  26. I’m pretty much okay with however an author approaches sex. Barbara Samuel O’Neal is definitely not graphic, but I love her books as is. Erin McCarthy, on the other hand, is close to erotica, and I love her books as is.
    I have always loved your sexy, funny, sex scenes. I feel confident that whatever feels natural to the story FOR YOU is the right way to go.

  27. I write first person past tense and for me, as the writer, I’m following the character around and getting her thoughts etc. She’s not telling it to a third person. The first 1st person sex scene I ever wrote was a bit odd after third until I made the mental click that the I is not me, it’s her. Other than that, I write it the same as I do a third person sex scene. Maybe try writing the scene in third person and see if it comes out differently? Then change the tense (which is annoyingly sucky to do) but might help?

    If the book is a mystery I will settle for less sex than a romance and I maybe expect it to be a bit less emotional but in a Crusie book I still want awesome Cruisie sex scenes : ) Even when they’re the awkward/less involved first time ones.

  28. Good question! I’m writing a YA in first person (male), and yes, with sex scenes. My reading mate read the first draft and told me, plain and simple: “you can’t skimp on the sex scenes in a YA. It’s a part of their lives and your readers would want to know every detail.”
    I tried to envision it in third person, but that was just too distant, too far away from where the action should be, and a bit creepy as well. So, I’m rewriting the scenes in first person, digging deep into my memory of how it was and what I thought when I was that age, and trying to ignore my inhibitions. It’s a tough job, though.

    1. Reading through this, I think CrankyOtter and that Causey woman have it along with everybody who said the same thing after them (Hi, Mel), that maybe it’s more Liz retelling it to herself, than to her best friend Molly or even the reader. Now I have to figure out what Liz would say to herself, but that’s good because it’s the stuff she’d remember. Like not describing Hawaii as having blue skies and palm trees because of course it has blue skies and palm trees, but talking about the lava rock. Or something.

      Bill’s point about how would Liz tell it is probably my problem: at this point in the story, Liz would pretend she didn’t care, he’s just a one-night stand, it didn’t change anything. But it has to change something because Vince is going to turn out to be The Guy, so while she wouldn’t get all sappy about him, she’d notice, even if she was offhand, that this is a guy who’s going to stick.

      I think that may be one of the problems I’m having with the book as a whole: Liz is really angry about a lot of her past, and coming home hasn’t made her less angry, but she keeps telling herself that everything is fine. So it’s getting what’s really happening on the page through the lens of Liz’s denial. I think there’s a lot of Agnes in Liz–“No, I’m not angry, I’m perfectly fine, but fuck with me again and there’s a frying pan with your name on it.”

      I did try to do it in third, but the book lost too much; this one just needs to be told in first person. I know, that’s not exactly a scientific explanation. Sorry. Writing in third and transferring to first doesn’t work; they’re really different languages (and yes, I tried that). It seems like it should work, but even the voice is different because of the distance.

      There are three sex scenes in here. This is the first one which is the second night Liz is in town and she’s mostly curious. It’s very low key, she knows if she says no, he’ll say goodnight and drop her off at home, so she goes more out of curiosity and boredom and that one really good kiss. Then where he lives is so amazing she’s knocked out of her disinterest, and then the sex is good, so that’s nice, and she gets up and wanders around his place naked, just dazzled by the fact that he lives in an old diner. Plus she’s had a lot to drink so she’s not firing on all cylinders, not sloppy drunk but definitely with her guard down. The second time, she’s in trouble and goes to him deliberately and he fixes everything, and the sex is different (although no more explicit) in that she’s really there, paying attention to who he is, much more emotional. And the third time, he says no, and she says, “You’re kidding,” and he tells he doesn’t want an emotional involvement, and she gets him anyway, but it’s another notch up the involvement chain. And then the book ends and she leaves town. It’s a four book series, the first one takes place in a week, that makes sense to me.

      I’ll see if I can find the first kiss. It’s a joke kiss so it’s not intense, more of a “Oh, hello.”

      1. *snerk*

        Though it probably shoots my chance at having too-cool-for-school street cred to be over here doing the Snoopy dance.

        1. Yeah, that ship sailed about the same time the boat named “Crusie Knows What She’s Doing” left. And then they promptly sank.

          Welcome to Argh. All illusions shattered.

  29. What if, rather than having the sex scenes in Liz’s first-person head, in the “story on the bus” mode, where she’s essentially relating what happened to the reader, that the first time actually is Liz telling someone else in conversation what happened, so that the details really are glossed over, because she would never say out loud what happened, in detail, to another person, but then as she opens up more to Vince, the description of sex changes from limited details in conversation after the fact, to having Liz remember more of it in her head –obviously editing it to whoever she’s talking to, but giving the reader more of a sense of what really went on, until finally, there’s no discussion of it with someone else, but just her being open completely about what happened, to the reader/person on the bus.

  30. I think the person on the bus is always going to make me freeze up. Unlike Krissie who would show slides of her pelvic exam on the bus. Sigh. Some of us just are not made to do sex scenes.

    This is the first kiss. The interaction starts in a bar when Liz thinks he’s trying to pick her up and then realizes he isn’t and tries to get out of her mistake gracefully, and he basically says, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s an option?” and follows through with some banter, and ends with this:

    “I’ll have to think about this.”
    “Don’t bother.” I slid out of the booth. “I’m leaving tomorrow, so you won’t have to pony up anyway.” Then I bent over so he could see down my Dark Side T-shirt. “Thanks for the beer,” I whispered and kissed him.
    You know, I was a little drunk, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Kiss him and then walk leaving him gasping from my allure.
    But he kissed me back, and it was good, chemistry smacking me between the eyes while his hand slid under my T-shirt, resting on my waist, hot on my skin.
    I grabbed his wrist and pulled back. “Hey.”
    “We should talk about this,” he said, and I will give myself some credit because he looked as blindsided as I was.
    “No, no.” I backed up a step and zipped up my hoodie.
    He stood up and then there was a yell from the back of the bar and he looked back and swore.
    “Go protect and serve,” I said and waved good-bye to Jill and escaped out the front door before I could change my mind.

    So basically, the same thing. I don’t have a lot of depth in third person; in first person, it’s all surface, honey.

    1. “Some of us just are not made to do sex scenes.”

      If I had my copy of Welcome to Temptation, I’d smack you with it. (grin) Or Agnes and Shane… or Faking It… or…

      1. For the longest time I thought that was the actual process used by authors to write sex scenes. Admittedly, I was fairly young when I read Welcome to Temptation.

    2. See, the wrist is the kind of detail that isn’t too graphic to share on the bus, but is still hot.

      Like, one of my friends finally got a guy who was good in bed and the thing that really struck her was that she was cold so he held her feet in his hands, and his hands were warm. Seriously, she’s telling me about one of her first partnered orgasms and that was the thing. That wouldn’t be embarrassing on the bus, except for the other details it would lead to in her head.

      Also, what Toni said. I do have a copy of Faking It right here and, uh. You’re just wrong with that first paragraph there.

      1. And thank you all very much.
        But I think Krissie and so many of you are right: This needs more dick and awe. And I am terrible at D&A. (They were vicious about my sex scenes in Dogs and Goddesses. Never write with your sisters. They pull no punches.)

    3. I love this scene. The sex description, not so much. It’s like Liz takes a big step backwards and the warmth between her and Vince disappears from the description. Does she have anyone, a friend, who she could talk to? Someone who won’t let her completely get away with not dishing the details? That way, she could be reserved about it but get pushed into spilling something, some small detail or response, that leaves us feeling that it was good and that there’s potential for more to come? Or someone who can read her well enough to guess at what she’s not dishing?

      1. I know I’m two days late, but this! Did something happen while they were having sex, that she stepped back like that? Or is it just a writing squeamishness problem.

        It seems like, for her to be that into him at first and then just walk away, there has to be some reason – either something between them that shows up in the sex scene itself, or some sort of Tragic Bittersweet Roadblock kind of plot thingy. And this doesn’t seem like a bittersweet book.

    4. Your sex scenes are among the best I’ve ever read. I’ve actually studied them (hey–it’s RESEARCH, people) to try and figure out what the heck you’re doing right so I can try and do it too. I think it is just the switch to 1st person that’s throwing you.

      But the scene above has much more zing than the one you posted. So you just need to keep working on it. And, you know, sharing 🙂

  31. To answer your question I have no problem reading first person POV sex scenes. From the perspective of this reader, it’s like a cross between being there for your very good friend, and being the person having the sex. From the perspective of a story analyst, (yes, I pick apart the books I like–they can take it) the only difference between good 1st person POV sex and 3rd Person or Omniscient POV sex is the reader doesn’t get the male’s viewpoint.

    I read your sex scene and thought it sounded like a third grader’s book report. After having read “Bonk” by Mary Roach, I know it is possible for a science reporter to do an actual “sex report” and make it sound more sexy than what you posted above, with fewer words. Paraphrased, Roach’s aside went something like “I talked my long-suffering yet supportive husband into having sex with me in an MRI(?) machine for the sake of orgasmic science. It took far longer than I expected. Successfully amorous behavior in a confined space while wired up to assorted monitors and observed by clinicians is difficult.”

    The sentence structure differences between your excerpt and my memory of an equally short passage tells me where the issues are in your sex scene. Liz sounds either bored or resentful by her sexual encounter. If I were to paraphrase it, it would go something like “I had sex with Vince. We used assorted positions, and we both climaxed. End of story. Next topic?” In contrast Mary Roach sounded (to me) like she was saying “Isn’t my husband soooo sweet? I just love him!” Meanwhile, my imagination had him at a poker party with his buddy drinking beer and bragging “Do you know where she wanted to have sex this time? I love Mary’s current research topic!”

    Longer sentences in sex scenes are like foreplay. Do it right, and you won’t need much, the readers will do the heavy lifting (stroking?) for you. A bunch of short sentences imply a “wham, bam, forgot to thank you ma’am” encounter.

  32. Hmmm. I like the beginning:
    Vince was not one of those guys. Vince wanted participation. Vince encouraged volunteering. Vince practically had a sign-up sheet
    It leaves a lot up to the imagination, but still makes it sound like a very good time was had by all. I think all that’s needed is a final comment by Liz.

  33. I didn’t read the previous comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone else’s advice. Write the scene in third person, then, re-write it in first-person. That way you can get the whole layout of the sex scene, then work on putting it all from Liz’s perspective.

    And remember, when people have sex, all sorts of crazy stuff can flow through their minds – fantasies, memories, observations, shopping lists, whatever. And sometimes, when it’s really good, absolutely nothing is going on mentally! After all, everybody wonders what their partner is thinking, so nobody really knows – anything goes!

  34. I actually like what you wrote. Especially for a mystery where the emphasis is not on the sexual side of the relationship.
    I can picture Liz walking around naked in Vince’s apartment, picking up things and looking at them, maybe a photograph or two, and thinking suprise of surprises it was pretty good sex. She does a mental check list, but she’s sort of off-handed about it. No big deal. It was just sex, but then she snorts as she thinks:
    There were a couple of surprises along the way that upped the ante and a good solid climax for me and, I’m reasonably sure, for him. He didn’t complain anyway.

    Without knowing what comes before or after that snippet, my only suggestion would be to put in a little more movement, just a word or two here and there.

  35. I write a LOT of erotica, and I tend to write most of them in first person .Click on my name, and you’ll find some of it. The thing about first person is that it has to have truth to it. If what you want is to take your readers with you on a ride; to have them experience what she is, and not standing off to the side and watching… you don’t necessarily have to be graphic to do that. A few well worded details is sometimes enough to carry the scene. Even in the midst of sex ourselves, we don’t think of the actions so much as what we are feeling physically ( and emotionally) so maybe by concentrating on that instead, you will find the balance between graphic and sensual.

  36. I can tell that I’m going to like Liz and Vince, but I don’t think I can tell that from that draft of the sex scene. If this is the first of a set of four books, I would want to see more clearly what the things are that are pushing the two of them apart, along with some hints of the things that are eventually going to get them together. But more of the former, definitely. I see him as considerate with a bit of a tougher guy exterior of some kind, rather than a Lothario. And I see Liz as a whole lot more guarded and dubious, rather than all satisfied, with a laminated sex partner checklist.

    Like, it would be nice to have the scene interrupted by some backtracking, some kind of inner debate — “dammit, I don’t know how we ended up doing X or Y — it wasn’t part of my planning, and he was so focused on Z… why was he so focused on that anyway? Did I make him think I was some kind of…etc. etc.??” Dubious. Troubled.

    Because this obviously isn’t going to lead immediately to going steady and a long boring devoted engagement. Not if it’s going to pack the kind of tension it’s going to need for four volumes. I want both of them torn and more than a little confused. Kind of reluctantly sexy, rather than skillfully sexy, if I’m making any sense.

  37. Hmm. I’ll tell you tomorrow. I’m going back in for the 2nd pass on the love scene. I write 1st person POV, past tense. I’m usually in her head, reacting as she does.

  38. Are you allowed to still drink wine? Because, we can have a case shipped to Squalor manor to aid you in writing the scenes. 🙂

  39. I’ve only done one book in the first person, and because the sex scenes were so hard I only had… three? But I did it by having more feelings/descriptions in it: all at once he was in me and I was bored and then I thought about my shopping list… (lol) So though I get what you’re saying, and I know this is just a first draft – but more! I want more :-).

  40. I haven’t read every comment, so forgive me if mine is an echo. I liked the sex scene. It came across as being an excellent form of escapism, enjoyed by both Liz and Vince. It was good recreational sex. I loved the kiss scene, and I think it’s because I understood what she meant by the feel of his hand, hot on her skin. That’s a very erotic moment, and so deliciously easy to visualize. And feel. Very evocative and that’s great in a first person narrative. I thought it was wonderful.

  41. I LOVE the kiss scene. NOT superficial. Your sex scenes are generally great (yes, this first-person one needs work). And what most of the other folks say (the ones who sound smartest and most on-target, of course).

  42. I’m for less detail.
    “Vince was not one of those guys. Vince wanted participation. Vince encouraged volunteering. Vince practically had a sign-up sheet.”

  43. You guys so crack me up. So to be clear: This is Liz talking about the sex, not experiencing it, right? Because I think the experience might be at least a little more graphic. Umm, I don’t really feel qualified to give La Crusie advice, but could you write it in third and then switch it to first? I know some people write the other direction to get a deeper POV. Doing third and then changing might make it easier to get into. That’s the extent of my assvice.

  44. oops. Sorry – should have read the comments first.

    I write first person sex scenes – but it’s the as it’s happening variety. Not the thinking about it later kind. And you really do write the best sex scenes.

  45. Wrote a whole bunch of stuff, then read the wonderful comments. I think the thing is, LIZ doesn’t want to talk about it. A kiss is just a kiss, and you get this wonderful, in-depth yet concise scene. But sex? She KNOWS something is there, and she Just Doesn’t Want To Talk About It. Not even with you, the author.

    You don’t really need to go into the details. A hint is enough, especially with the first sex scene. But, if she feels the need to talk about swinging off chandeliers while a thousand fireworks explode around her, then she’ll do that . . . .

    And since this is a four-book arc, even her last sex scene in the book may be kind of quiet. She might still not be able to handle what she’s feeling.

    I think as long as you give us some idea that being with him was more fun than being with a battery-operated boyfriend, you’ll be OK. (Well, of course, assuming that the sex WAS more fun than doing it alone. That might be part of the arc, too.)

  46. And by the way, I don’t think I remember seeing any really good masturbation scenes outside the obvious porn outlets. Why is that? I don’t even know if I’d want to see it in a romance, to be frank, because romance is about the fantasy of connection, and being self-sufficient in that department seems to break the fantasy into little pieces.

    Then again, I’ll be the first to admit that my romance-reading is quite limited, and some genres might have self-satisfaction galore.

    Final comment while I’m here — very helpful discussion about what first person is, and who we are talking to when we write it.

  47. The kiss scene is really good, the hand-on-the-hip is the perfect kind of touch (woops, pun!) that a moment like that needs. Sexy & surprise.
    But the sex scene is pretty distant. Like “yea that was fun, but if I never see this person again, no loss.” Riley & Nell have more heat in Fast Women, & neither of them are each other’s The One.

    Not sure if this would mess with the characters’ established personalities, but maybe if Liz was the aggressor in the scene. That way you can still have Vince surprised but game for her taking charge. Also by having her the aggressor, she can force this emotional distance, but it becomes harder to do that for each encounter. And while I haven’t read the book of course, from the snippets you shared, Liz has to take care & fix things for her family. She runs the show (based on my assumption), so that could be how she approaches sex, until their feelings that get in the way.

  48. Okay, so I give in. The sex scene needs more . . . sex. Emotion. Something the reader can grab on to. Probably the same thing Vince is grabbing.
    Back to the drawing board. Dick and awe, coming up. So to speak.

    1. What most of the other people are saying. The kiss scene works. The sex scene doesn’t. I think it is _so_ short that fast readers might skim over it and miss the whole point that they’d have sex.
      And, all these comments have clarified first person for me. As a reader, I really don’t feel like an outsider, or a companion, sitting on a bus listening to a story. At least, not usually. I tend to be inside the character’s head, or floating very near it. The diary, I would guess, would be the closest example to what I expect. Now, there are various levels, and I’m not saying I haven’t read things that feel more companion-like, but I think the FP stories that work best for me are the ones where I’m closest.
      One other thought – it may be a gender bias. I’ll have to think about it more, but I suspect that it is easier for me to get into the head of a female protagonist, and I’d tend to be sitting next to a male protagonist. But I can’t think of specific examples as I type this, so I may be wrong.

  49. A bit off topic, but in case you ever still need music for soundtracks, there is a free service online with tons of songs otherwise unknown.

    I recently discovered it and it’s pretty great ^^

    Sorry, back to sex.

  50. P.S. For what it’s worth your struggle in figuring out different povs teaches us so much! Please write a book on well, writing, soon! 🙂

  51. Typing without reading the comments. Later, Argh people when I have a bit more time. I have no doubt y’all were very cool and erudite and uproariously funny.

    I don’t “glom” to first person as rule. It’s just not my cup of tea. I often feel “pushed out” of the book, or more correctly – not drawn in.

    It takes something special to get me involved. The most well written first person books I ever read were Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. And side benefit (heh) there’s a lot of sex. Somehow, when she wrote, I didn’t feel kicked out from the book. I’m not a fan, and I’ve only read a few of the series, but I still recommend them as a good example of first-person writing. The next best was the Undead and Unwed series by Mary Janice Davidson.

    The books about the archeologist – by Dana Cameron? I couldn’t read those. I felt I was never drawn into those stories.

    As for the perspective of the person on the bus whho is a fount of TMI, this is NOT that. It is more internal dialogue. Think of Quinn in Crazy for You with Nick for the first time – as much as it is a third person book, her internal monologue (if she’s well adjusted it can’t be a dialogue) has aspects of first person. She’s not gossiping, rather experiencing.

  52. I can’t read through 71 comments, so apologies if this has already been said. It seems to me that the crux of the matter is your understanding (or use) of first person POV. You say “it feels like I’m sitting next to somebody on the bus and telling them a story”. I found that surprising – it feels too distant for me. Quite apart from sex, who would share with someone on the bus the type of thoughts and reactions which for me are the quintessence of 1st person POV? I think of 1st person POV as including the character’s most private thoughts, things she probably would not share with anyone – even her sister – and might even find it difficult to allow herself to think.

    With that approach, she could experience and describe a sex scene in terms of what actually happened, what she thought/felt at each point, and what she thought (or hoped) her lover was thinking/feeling. Surely 1st person POV should enable the sex scene to be more erotic and more able to convey the effect on (at least one of) the participants than other POVs, rather than the reverse?

  53. I can’t read through 71 comments, so apologies if this has already been said. It seems to me that the crux of the matter is your understanding (or use) of first person POV. You say “it feels like I’m sitting next to somebody on the bus and telling them a story”. I found that surprising – it feels too distant for me. Quite apart from sex, who would share with someone on the bus the type of thoughts and reactions which for me are the quintessence of 1st person POV? I think of 1st person POV as including the character’s most private thoughts, things she probably would not share with anyone – even her sister – and might even find it difficult to allow herself to think.

    With that approach, she could experience and describe a sex scene in terms of what actually happened, what she thought/felt at each point, and what she thought (or hoped) her lover was thinking/feeling. Surely 1st person POV should enable the sex scene to be more erotic and more able to convey the effect on (at least one of) the participants than other POVs, rather than the reverse?

  54. First of all, Crusie sex scenes are some of the only ones I don’t skip. Don’t say you’re not meant to write them! Welcome to Temptation where they rock the gun out of the bed? Or the pool scene with her panties? Hot and double hot, but still not taking themselves terribly seriously. I like the first kiss scene and your description of her reaction to his house so much better than the sex scene. Maybe Liz could be talking to herself, sort of convincing herself that it was good, that his han

  55. Ummm, sorry. My baby kicked my touch screen and managed to hit submit. Oops.
    Anyway, that his hands may be incredible, that this or that was amazing, but it was still just sex. No emotions, just mutual satisfaction. If it reads as her trying to convince herself I would see the points of her character that you mentioned more clearly.

  56. Thinking about first person pov sex – trying to remember books that do it well. What comes to mind are Dick Francis’ books (sure there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere). His books are all 1st person and while there’s not a lot of graphic sex in them, there’s something about many of his love scenes that really work for me, and that stick with me. Perhaps they stick because I started reading him as a young teen, when most descriptions of sex became permanently seared into my brain, but I think it’s more the combination of frankness and humor and connection between the characters. They certainly didn’t feel like tmi reading them.

    In fact, I can see how writing first person sex might feel like tmi, but I don’t think it usually FEELS like tmi when reading it. At least not to me. It’s not at all like talking with my girlfriends – I’m mostly modest and I’d rather not know what my favorite cousin does with her boyfriend, thank you very much, but when it’s a character in a book, um, I don’t mind knowing more details.

  57. I can understand why this would be awkward to write. Never mind it’s the actions of your character, you’re still saying “I” and “me.” I’d suggest getting a little bit drunk, but that’s not good for the diabetes.

  58. This is hilarious. I have the opposite problem. I find sex much easier to write in first person, because it’s somebody kissing and telling. It’s one person’s report of their experience. There’s a filter. I know the character so I know what words they’d use and how they’d describe things. I can be idiosyncratic. I can have the character address the reader directly and say “I don’t want to get all mushy…” and proceed to get all mushy.

    In third though where it’s all external and descriptive I never know which words to use and I feel as if I’m a voyeur — as if the characters would like me to go away and stop watching them now. I get embarrassed. I don’t think I have ever written a third person sex scene I’m happy with. (I’m not writing romance and my readers have different expectations. I can leave my characters alone under a … if I want to.)

    I think that Liz para is doing just fine up to the last sentence, where “good solid climax” doesn’t sound right for her voice. Also there is a thing — it’s not just who is she telling, but when is she narrating this? After the end of this chapter? The end of this book? After the end of all four books? It makes a difference to how she describes this sex act. And indeed to her anger and everything. How much hindsight does she have?

    In general, I find the way sex is described in fiction very stylised and conventional and not having much relationship to my actual experience. You on the other hand write terrific sex scenes (in third) because you don’t do that by the numbers thing — you describe female arousal without talking about liquids. You don’t call arousal an emotion — I hate that!

    1. Ew. Liquids.
      That’s really interesting, that idea that third person is voyeuristic. I’d never thought of it that way, possibly because I’m always so far into the head of the protagonist. Of course, I write third limited usually, so that’s pretty close anyway. It really is in how the writer sees her (or his) position in the text, isn’t it?

      1. Yes, where the writer sees themself in relation to the text — and third, even the closest possible third, has an objective reality that first doesn’t. In first, the character could be lying, and they are certainly filtering — deciding what to include and what words to use about it. In third, the writer is saying what really happened, and the words and level of description…

        I always point people at the Krispy Kreme scene when I’m talking about this, and say you have to make the arousal as real as the doughnut. There’s no subjectivity in there.

        Once, years ago, when I was stuck writing a sex scene in something or other, I asked on my livejournal for people to recommend good sex scenes. And people recommended books and linked to stuff all over — and what astonished me was that half of these online things they linked to were in second person! Second! “You slowly remove his underpants…” Like heck I do!

    2. Yes! “Dick and awe” kind of bothers me. It should be about trembling bellies, and sugar rushes . . . LOL, but “vag ‘n’ jelly” just doesn’t have the right sound to it. Sounds like a spermicide.

  59. Would it help to think of her writing in her diary rather than talking to someone on a bus? Or maybe wallowing in a bathtub full of bubbles and memories?

  60. I met some friends of a friend in a bar last night (I won a prize in a lip-sync-for-your-life drag queen contest. It was a good night.) and they turned out to be Crusie fans. None of them said, “I read her books for the hot sex”. They all talked about characters and humor. The point it, I think most of us reading your work have had sex. We’ve even had great sex. We’ve got the concept. We know the “drill”. We read your books for other things, like plot and characters and witty banter. Your summary was funny and sounded “Liz-like” and allowed the reader (me) to imagine Vince did all the stuff I like with what passes for enthusiasm for him. And if I am reading a mystery I don’t expect it to be all sexy-time, so a summary of sex is okay in way it might not be in a different genre or book.

  61. I probably need more context here, but I’d have said that she might look back on one or two moves specifically – in the first kiss, she talks about his hand under her shirt, on her skin, at her waist. So if she does that with a first kiss, I think even if she is a matter of fact kind of lass, she’ll think Cheshire cat with cream about maybe one of those things that upped the ante in a little more detail.

    As a reader, I want frisson. Full on wangs and magic hoohas don’t necessarily provide frisson. The two Crusie scenes that immediately leap to mind are Sophie and Finn and the bear scene at the start of WTT and then when she whups him at pool. Why not have a go at rewriting something you’ve written that you know works taking it from third to first person?

    Good luck. I always need half a bottle of rose when tackling the writing of Tab A goes into Slot B.

  62. Oh, you asked how we felt about it, the first person thing. Well, I have to confess that with some books I sort of skip over the sex scenes because it’s too much tab A, slot B. I already know how sex works so I don’t need those details. For me what the characters are thinking and feeling is much more intimate and sexy. So for what it’s worth, in first person I don’t need graphic details, just what’s going through her head.

  63. Is Liz’s story romance or mystery with a romance subplot? I was thinking it was primarily mystery, in which case the sex scenes would likely be less detailed than in romance.

    FWIW, I’ve been reading Charlaine Harris’s backlist (the not-Sookie books), especially the Aurora Teagarden series, and there’s a significant romantic subplot (that almost takes over the main plot), and it’s first person, and the sex scenes are pretty minimal.

    1. Subplot. It’s really the story of Liz coming back to her hometown and coming to terms with her past. Which sounds boring, but you should see her past.

  64. I’m in the “is-the-graphic-sex-part-really-necessary?” boat. I mean, don’t tell anyone, but I usually skip over that part anyway. It “fit” in Welcome to Temptation, for example… but if it feels forced and uncomfortable, can you just leave it out?

    So I’m an old prude I guess, but I enjoy romance novels for the play between the characters and can do without the sex entirely.

  65. (Sorry, I usually like to read all the comments before adding mine, but I’m dashing off elsewhere, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone.)

    Have you tried writing the whole thing in third person, in your usual terrific manner, and then converting to 1st person when you’re done? Just as an exercise.

  66. After wading through the comments, anything I could say about the scene would be redundant. So I will just tell you that I found it very amusing that you, Jenny Crusie, have a problem writing sex scenes. I would never have guessed. 🙂

    1. Oh, god, as long as I think of them as a sex scenes, I’m paralyzed with fear. If I think of them as scenes in which the characters are also have sex, I’m not so bad. You know, like “These two people are arguing while having dinner.” It’s not a dinner scene, it’s an argument scene.
      So I just have to find the conflict in that one and go back and write it again. Story of my life, relearning the same damn thing over and over and over again.

  67. So this has given me some food for thought. Actually two thoughts, sex scenes and POV. Back later this weekend with another post.
    And thank you all very much for this. And for all the compliments, too. Lovely way to start a sunny Saturday.

  68. 1. Jenny Crusie writes sex the way I wish more men would do it and more women would admit to. As in, it’s Really Good and we want it That Way.
    2. By all means, get your drunk on and get those scenes done!
    3. It’s not TMI; 1st Person is like sexting or online chat. You can roll your eyes, cover your blushing face, raise your eyebrows, smile delightedly, whatever – no one can see your pupils dilating as you read, so it’s not embarrassing, so it ain’t TMI. It’s The Good Stuff, and no one does it better than you. Write on.

    Yeah, I’m a fan. 🙂 There’s nothing you can’t write the hell out of, woman.

  69. If Liz kept a diary, what would she write about the night before? Let’s assume she knows no one will ever read it, she’s being honest, and she’s fondly lingering over the memory. Anyone would think about the night before…

  70. Okay, with only the snippet that I read I would say that as a first encounter this works for a character like Liz. I like the short sentences describing Vince at the beginning. The thing that I think makes it awkward is when she talks about the surprises along the way. I think you should explain those. Not in gritty detail that would be out of character but just why it was out of the ordinary for her or him. What happens that starts to make him different from other men for her.
    You wrote once before that you didn’t like books that had sex without any motivation or catalyst to them other than dropping a graphic sex scene into the book. Like a bad porno. I think if you made this encounter too descriptive and not in character for Liz then you would run smack into this type of scene.
    And I’ve always liked the way you write sex scenes.

  71. Someone in here said that they enjoy the banter in a Crusie sex scene as much as the sex. I absolutely agree! Sex is more fun to read when its funny, because otherwise it hits that Tab A Slot B thing. I think part of the problem here is that in first person, Liz has no one to banter with. And your dialogue rocks, in general and in sex scenes. So, how do you write sex without dialogue? I almost wonder if you need her to be arguing with herself in the telling, so you can get the banter effect?

  72. This is a fascinating discussion. Pretty sure I’d love any book written by you, so, you know, large helping of YMMV.

    I want to know what happened, but I don’t want a real time, play by play, tab A into slot B. What happened isn’t nearly as interesting to me as is how the characters felt about what happened. Like this.

    We ripped each other’s clothes off and there were multiple orgasms and I sneaked out before he woke up and I don’t want to talk about any of it.

    There’s a lot unspoken in there but it’s there. That sort detail would completely satisfy me for a first sex scene as long as I knew how they got to the point that clothes were in danger of getting ripped off.

    First person past tense done well is a favorite for me. To me it reads like the person it happened to wrote in their journal about whatever they said, did, and felt. It’s “what really happened’ but as filtered through how the POV person felt about it and what they chose to put in that journal. The ultimate example of this done perfectly and absolutely fairly is one of my all time favorite books, The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart.

    Present tense first person is does not work for me at all and it’s a major wall banger. The POV person is either doing what she’s doing, and later telling someone about it or writing about in in her journal, which gives it a strong feeling of reality, or she’s sitting in a chair somewhere like six guys sitting around a table rolling dice and saying I reach for a frying pan or I shoot the dead guy twice.

    For me, if the POV character is saying I do this, they can’t possibly be doing it at the same time. Totally takes away any feeling of reality in the story for me.

  73. Well I read through all of the comments. And I was right, Argh people were funny and cool and erudite. As if there was any doubt.

    Anyhow, back to the first vs third view of sex. I liked what you wrote of the initial scenes – some of the banter was “Amazon for the reviews” – and though it was in first person, I still fell into it.

    With third person I don’t mind the detailed sex. I just wish some editors would catch the use of “dig, tunnel and burrow” in sex scenes. I mean, I can see that they looked at a thesaurus in an effort not be clichéd, so points for that. But in setting, those words have the worst use.

    I like best when the emotions and sensations are described.

    QUESTION: Am I the only one who sees first person not as story being told to someone or self reflection/remembering BUT happening right now just somewhere else in the world in a different time zone. I might be reading at 1am but she’s running across the yard with Molly (previous scene) *now.*

    First person, to me, is not Liz recounting to someone and it’s not her thinking on what happened and how, but rather *it is happening now.

    1. I think of it as happening as it’s related, but not in the now, not present tense. So there’s some distance, but she’s still surprised when things happen, she’s not looking back on it from a time in future.

  74. I had to chime in because I’m terrified you’ll listen to those who said “skip the sex scenes.” Please, for all that’s holy, don’t lose the sex scenes. Seriously, I’m begging you, here. (And not just because I usually live vicariously.)

    Good sex scenes display intensity of emotion AND connection. Without the connection, you’re left with a lot of intense internal dialogue, which strikes me as a lot of tell without the show.

    As to the first person issue, that voice always strikes me as the main character’s running commentary in her/his own head, not a recitation to her/his seatmate on the bus. (I know I’m not the first person who said that here, but I’ve lost track who should get the “I agree with so-and-so” credit.)

    1. For the kind of book I write, it would be dishonest to skip the sex scene unless it doesn’t affect the characters or plot. If you write relationship stories, and your characters have sex, you pretty much have to put it on the page.

  75. I’m another who doesn’t like graphic sex in books and will skip over it to get to the story. As in movies I watch, I want the emotions and what the characters are doing and how they relate to each other. I like the build up to and fade away from the actual sex act. I don’t want porn (although I do have to admit, I have liked the sex scenes in your books, they fit the story).

    As an example, has anyone seen Bo Derek in Bolero? That was pure porn (my first husband insisted that we go see it). I much preferred the sex scenes in Romancing the Stone. I was drawn in by the characters and their increasing physical and emotional attraction to each other. They ended up in bed together but I didn’t have to watch them do it. I feel as if I’m invading someone’s privacy (yes, even in books I’m reading) if I have to read too graphic of details.

    That being said, I really liked the scene with the kiss, moreso than the first scene where she’s remembering what she and Vince did. I’d like to see it expanded a little as others have already suggested with more detail as to what she felt and thought during and after the encounter.

  76. I am way late to this discussion and someone probably already said this in the previous comments (which I didn’t take the time to read)

    I wrote my last novel in the first person and am in the midst of writing another. Frankly, it the sex is done correctly, I don’t think any character is going to give you the details as it happens – I hope they won’t really be thinking coherently at all. I described some of the lead in and then faded til the next morning when there was more talk about what had happened the night before, but in a way you might talk to your best girlfriends, not a stranger on a bus. Does that make sense?

  77. I also agree with everyone else about focusing more on emotions and how things made her feel than graphic descriptions – unless perhaps some particular act surprised her in some way. Maybe she has a previously undiscovered erogenous zone?

  78. Well, I have read all these comments, and what’s more, I went on a Crusie binge this weekend. (I finally bought a Kindle right before I had my first weekend away from my children ever, and I’d bought both Amazon bundles.) And I’ve reached the conclusion that 1st person or 3rd person, I’m either right down in there with the protagonist, or I’m skipping the scene. I’m not the diary, I’m not the person on the bus, I am identifying with the character.
    And secondly, you do real sex scenes. You do the type of sex scenes where the heroine loses focus, or falls out of the moment and can’t quite get back in. And then the guy turns out not to be a lummox and actually realizes that and connects anyway, and things get doubly hot after that, because who hasn’t been there? And because true partnership is romantic as all get out, and that’s hot in itself.
    There are some very explicit scenes in WTT, which again, I just finished rereading last night, and the one that keeps occuring to me right now isn’t. The almond oil scene is all about Sophie’s memory and sensory experience in the shower – the aftermath, if you will. S maybe there’s your point of entry – the smell of him in her bed, the twinge of a muscle, the feel of a shirt against the skin that he touched.

  79. And I’m double posting (triple if you count the reply) because I had another thought after I hit submit. I often notice that as a writer becomes more established, the sex scenes in the novels tend to get less about tabs and more and more about intimacy. A And I think that intimacy – not the actual details- is what’s missing so far in her recollection. It doesn’t have to be dick and awe for me (although hell, I like that, too.) But *something* has changed, and her thoughts should reflect that.

  80. well, one of the things I look forward to most in your books (aside from awesome characters, and fun plotlines) are the sex scenes. Why couldn’t you write it from the third person omni perspective, to get to what you want in the hero, and then change it to first person?

  81. Sex scenes in books I skim – RELATIONSHIP scenes in books, I devour, relish, revisit… And I have to agree with the masses, you ROCK relationship scenes!

    My personal observation after years (and years and years) of dishing with friends about sex and relationships – we only give details if the guy doesn’t matter. Anyone you have even the vaguest inkling might be a keeper? Surprisingly mute, vague and evasive. I may not have read this carefully enough, but who is Liz talking to? If it’s a friend, I think she might try to dish and then find herself holding back and puzzled by the impulse to keep the encounter private. If it’s herself, it might have more details – but again, I think the focus would include at least some vague, subconscious probing on why this feels so different – sure, he’s into it, he’s technically adept, a real “team player” – but she’s run into a sexpert or two over the years…. so why is this DIFFERENT?

    I actually like the scene – it has a very distinct voice. Would changing “Vince was not…” to “Vince IS not…” help? A subtle indication that Vince is a keeper who will be back?

  82. OK this is one of those “just a thought, would it work at all to…” kind of things, probably wont work, but here it is, ready? Ok. You sure? Ok.
    Toni above mentioned that one way is for the 1stP to be telling someone else.
    1. she is telling the story (at least the story of the first sex) to Vince, (sometime in the future somehow) and she’s uncomfortable telling it coz that is Liz, but he’s pulling the story out of her, teasing her (and himself) with the story, and he’s finding that quite hot, and so is she even though she’s uncomfortable, like discovery fantasies in WTT, and she really likes it, so they wind up having sex in the future while she’s telling him about how she felt during their first time which is really now, so it fits in the story when you need it to, IE now. Thats how timewarps are. So you get two scenes, sort of, for the price of one.
    2. Or she is telling it to herself more or less, and finding out something about herself, that she likes telling it, finds that hot, even though she’s uncomfortable, but she’s liking it so much that she is overcoming to some degree the uncomfortableness.

    Hopefully those might be ways to stay true to the character in 1stP. Or at least maybe get you further along the direction you are going…

    1. The time swap stuff would be fun. Hmmm. I think she’s just going to have to cowboy up and tell the truth. It’s not like any other scene I’ve written has been explicit, so it’s just me trying to keep my distance from Liz.

  83. Just getting dug in on a project, and I found this quote from Carolyn Haines book, Dem Bones. (dang, or was it Them Bones?) Anyway, I had copied it out because it was the antithesis of explicit, yet I found it very sexy…just a little inspiration…and in first person, too. 😉
    “His hand moved around my head and then drew me gently toward him. My arms went to his shoulders and then slid around his neck. We rose together and stepped into an embrace.
    With the first kiss, I was lost. Hamilton practiced no restraint. His kiss was consuming and alive with lust and pleasure and the strong, deep river of passion that is not a place for wading. We dove into that desire and swam straight for the bottom.”

    Maybe not big help, but well done. I love that series from Carolyn Haines.

    1. That’s a little more metaphorical than I can get. Mainly because I never think of metaphors when I’m in the middle of something like that. Hers is a more distant POV so she’s not losing anything by putting figurative language between her character and her reader, but I can’t write like that and maintain any illusion of believability in my characters because none of them think like that or talk like that, and my POV is really close.

Comments are closed.