Tag Archives: Sex

Sex and the Screenplay

A guest post by Tracy Mangum.

Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is a cultural phenomenon. Since Random House bought the rights to the trilogy in 2012, the series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Trailers for the movie have been view 250 million times, and has already made over $300 million at the worldwide box office. That means that Fifty Shades is about to become all the more influential, so now seems like a good time to discuss writing sex for screen, and what it’s like filming those scenes.

Note, I haven’t read Fifty Shades, nor have I seen the movie. I also have never written or filmed a sex scene. I do have a BA in film studies, but if my lack of first hand knowledge upsets you, you have permission to click away now.

Still here? Awesome.

Sex in film is a tricky subject. There’s a fine line between too explicit and too tame, and either side can cause you to lose the audience. Another problem from a writing standpoint is that the screenwriter is the least important part of the sex scene. It’s up to the director, the actors, the director of photography, and the editor to determine what will be shown on screen. As a screenwriter, you never give directions or suggested shots/edits in your script. You are there to paint the overall picture and allow the director to make the specific decisions.

The first thing to think about is why are you including a sex scene in the first place. You could just fade out on a couple kissing, and then fade in on them in bed the next morning. The fade is a common editing technique to suggest a passage of time, and it visually gives the audience the information without actually showing anything. You need to have a solid rationale as to why we need to see the scene take place. You need to find the drama in the sex: Is the relationship disintegrating? Is there a healing happening? The script needs to explore the relationship between the characters that is happening during the scene. The scene isn’t about sex, but rather the exchange of emotions. Is it rage, or desolation, or exultation, or tenderness, or surprise? If your scene is only about lust, it might be shocking at first, but quickly becomes boring.

You as the screenwriter sitting at the laptop can easily create a vision of two individuals expressing their love to each other. These characters are deeply in love and this intimate moment plays out beautifully as they lovingly caress each other. Sounds lovely in your head and on paper, but remember you are asking real people to bring your vision to life.

You have two actors that may be strangers, may be friends, may have a decent working relationship with, or maybe despise each other, strip naked, and pretend to share intense intimacy with each other. They have to be mindful of technical restraints such as where the camera focus and framing is, reciting any dialogue, choreographed movement with their partner, all in front of bright lights, cameras, and about 10+ people on set watching. Then you have to do the exact same scene from multiple angles and you try to perfectly replicate the movements and speed in each take to make it cut together in post-production.

Filmmaking is a construction of reality that is very mechanical, practiced, and choreographed. It is made to look like the camera/audience has just happened upon this intimate moment between two people, but the reality is anything but that. Scenes will often be framed to show the actors heads, and only part of their upper torso. This will allow the actors to keep pants on. For scenes that need to show more of the body, actresses often wear flesh colored underwear, and men will wear what is basically a sock. Often times, the actor/actresses significant other is on set to watch and make sure nothing unusual occurs, but this can make a difficult scene even more awkward.

But what about films that appear to be much more explicit like “Nymphomaniac” or “Blue is the Warmest Color” or even “Game of Thrones” on HBO? They look so realistic! Well, that’s because they are good at creating a false reality. Filmmakers will use body doubles, clever lighting and editing, body molds/props, or even computer generated images.

So as you write your script, remember that a good sex scene is just like any other scene in the film. It needs to have a reason to be there, reveal something about your characters, and propel the scene forward. If it doesn’t meet that criteria it shouldn’t be in your screenplay. Cut it out before the director leaves it on the cutting room floor.

Tracy MangumAbout Tracy Mangum:

I’m a local Salt Lake City filmmaker and blogger.

My short film “Father Knows Flesh” won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor at the SL Comic Con FanX Film Festival last year. I cover the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agents of Shield, Gotham, and Disney for Lord of the Laser Sword.

I taught film in SLC for 10 years at LDS Business College.

The Monster Mash: Writing Sex Scenes, Part Two

A guest post by Joshua Essoe.

In part one we talked about if you should go all the way, how to decide, creating tension in all the right places, and what position you should take. Tonally speaking.

Today, let’s get into some specifics of when you’re trying to verb the adjective noun.

Your characters should inform everything that takes place between them. Who are they? Are they gregarious and shameless? Well then, yeah, a character like that might just throw their clothes off, give strip teases for the thrill of it, and view kisses as fun but meaningless.

Is your character shy? Well that character is very unlikely to just throw their clothes off or have sex in a changing room. Maybe they want the light turned off first, maybe they kiss tentatively, and slowly, maybe they need their partner to undress first.

And let’s not forget about laying down complications, hiking up tension, and stroking inner conflict. Maybe your character feigns confidence and it gets tested terribly when things heat up. Maybe they’re worried about some perceived physical defect. Maybe the character is married or committed to someone else–what kind of inner conflict would that engender? How would that other relationship inform their choices in the romance with someone else? Are they in love with two people at once?

Let’s get deeper into the question of how far you should push.

Just like any other scene, you focus on what you want your readers to focus on. And that is what your specific character would be focused on. What does your viewpoint character find attractive and sexy about the character they are with? Both physically and in their personality, their movements, their smell, the sounds they make. Maybe that shameless character is turned on by having everything articulated. That character definitely likes the dirty dirty. Maybe that shy character is focused on the eyes and minute facial expressions. Use all the senses. What is going to make it interesting and unique are the specific details you use. The more specific and narrow you make your focus, the sexier the scene will be. And yes, sometimes that means you’ll be writing about what parts go where and what that feels like.

The way you inform your readers of that, what words you use, will depend on your characters, the tone of the story, and how you’ve set it up. There should always be some words on your Do Not Fly list. Let me suggest a few:

  • Turgid, adj
  • Purple, adj/noun
  • Fleshy, adj
  • Wrinkled, verb (If this is an adjective, then please don’t send me this MS.)
  • Pert, adj
  • Moist, adj

These are not sexy words. Even penis. Penis is not a sexy word. They accurately describe something, sure, but analytically relating what a thing is, or what a thing does, does not sexy make. Likewise, be careful with the placement of your sexy words because it will be hard, err, difficult to keep from using them over and over. Keep track of those little buggers or everything is going to end up wet, or hard . . . or turgid.

But, like everything else in writing, it is a careful balancing act. Just like any other action scene, don’t go overboard with your descriptions or you’ll bog down your prose, and kill your pacing and interest. When I say focus in and use specific details I don’t mean that you should describe every single movement or action taking place. You can leave some things to your readers’ imaginations. They’ll fill in the blanks.

Be aware of the tropes. There are a lot out there, but here are some common ones:

  1. The woman or man is unattainably attractive.
  2. She has an apparent willingness to have sex with the male protagonist, usually as a means of manipulating him.
  3. The female character is duplicitous, and either secretly evil or forced to act that way for some reason.
  4. Rape. I can’t tell you how tired women, in particular, are of reading rape used as a tool to garner sympathy, or stoke conflict. But that is a separate article.

One final note. It’s worth talking about the actual, physical writing of these kinds of scenes. I heartily recommend your local Starbucks if you want the dude with the Beats by Dre, the man in the pinstriped shirt, and the cute, spikey-haired girl sneaking stares as your face flushes, your breath quickens, and you start to sweat. Just please keep your hands on your keyboard at all times.

Or maybe you should plan to write these things in private. And then you can let your hands do whatever they gotta do.

Wherever you chose to write your dive in the dark, don’t stop, once you start. Going halfway into the scene, then pulling out for a break kills your own tension and takes you out of the flow. It would be like texting with your buddy while you’re bed-pressing with your partner. Just like in real life you want the process to go smoothly without interruption. Write the whole scene in one ecstatic burst. Do not go back to read what you’ve written. Do not count how many times you’ve used the words “moist,” and “pert.” It doesn’t matter, don’t break your rhythm.

That means do not stop to edit yourself! The scene might suck, but that does not matter, just like any first draft, you’ll have your chance to go back and massage it into splendor later.

If you’ve never written a sex scene, and maybe even if you have, you may feel embarrassed, or even scared enough that you can only manage a tag to yourself, “put the sex stuff here.” For those of you that this applies to, take heart. You don’t have to view writing sex and romance as writing a sex scene or writing erotica. You’re just writing a scene. That’s it. You’ll do great. Let your characters guide you, listen to them, just as you would with any other scene, and write.

Joshua EssoeAbout Joshua Essoe:

Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.