How do you know if your sex scene has too much detail? This is a scene that’s necessary for the story to move forward because it reveals character and/or moves plot. I have one in my manuscript, which is a first person narrative, and I had one test reader say it was fine just needed some fine tuning. I had another test reader say, that though the scene is a good scene, it’s not necessary at all and should be cut short.The scene has been revised multiple times before anyone read it – it started short and vague, then got really detailed, then was cut again – so how do you know if the details are too much? Does point of view make a difference in the amount of detail included?
The first requirement of any scene is that it move the story and show character change, not just “here’s what this character is like,” but “the events of this scene have such an impact that the character is different at the end than she or he was at the beginning.” The change doesn’t have to be huge, but it has to be clear. So “reveals character” isn’t enough, but good for you for moving plot.
Then your real question: “How much detail?” The first thing I’d ask is, “Who’s your reader?” One thing about betas, God bless them everyone, is that they’re all different. One good thing about getting several betas is that you can spot the outliers, but essentially, you are never going to write a scene (or a book) that everybody likes. It’s never going to happen. So that’s why you always go back to the real question, the Big Question:
What is this book about?
What’s the promise you make in the first scene and fulfill in the climax, where’s the juice in this story, what matters most to the story you’re telling?
Obviously if you’re writing erotica, detail is extremely important because the book is about sex, about creating those feelings for the reader.
If you’re writing a suspense story, detail is probably unnecessary and may even be harmful as it takes up page real estate from the suspense story you promised the reader.
So if you’re writing a romance, you have to ask, “Where is the tension in this love story? How does this sex scene change this story? And what does the detail in this sex scene do for this story? Essentially, what does this sex scene do for this love story, and what do I need to include in order for it to serve this love story best?” Then you write that.
Sex scenes always cause stress in writers, they’re fraught with pitfalls that are made deeper by our own fears and hang-ups. I used to look at my sex scenes and think, “Will people think I’m depraved? Will people think I’m boring? Will people think I’ve never had sex and I’m just guessing?” Now I look at them and think, “This is what the story needs” and cut everything else. Makes it much easier.
What makes them much harder? Writing them in first person. First person establishes a much more intimate relationship with the reader because it feels as though you’re talking directly to him or her about your (fictional) self instead of standing at a distance and talking about someone else. If your character is the kind of person who would discuss her sex life with a stranger on the bus, you’re home free. But if your character is somebody who’s private, somebody who probably wouldn’t discuss intimate details with people other that his or her lover, then you have to figure out how to get around that barrier. So in first person, I think it comes down to the personality and voice of your first person narrator. How much detail would she or he share and still be in character? Then go back to the Big Question, and revise according to that.