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.
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.
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.