Screenwriting : Writing sex scenes by Randall C Willis

Randall C Willis

Writing sex scenes

A bit of cheating here as this is for a novel I am co-writing, but figure I may one day do this with screenwriting as well. So, anyone have any thoughts they would like to share on how to effectively write sex scenes? My novel is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of my coauthor's escape from Iran (among other things). It covers a large portion of his life and because of his rebellious nature and normal hormones, sex played a major role in his life and his experiences help to form the character that he is. To this point, I have largely dealt with the foreplay and exploration aspects, cutting away before the actual events, mostly due to my own discomfort describing the subject (even this post is difficult to write). But I don't feel like this will do justice to his whole story and there were some seminal events (can't believe I just wrote that) that I believe must be recorded in more detail. Any experiences out there with writing sex scenes? Even if the advice is "Get over yourself, Puritan boy and type the damned thing". I promise to place black bars across your eyes so no one will know your identity.

William Martell

The research is tax deductible!

Randall C Willis

Cheers, mate! Definitely trying to only include those elements that are important to the story/character.

Yasmin Neal

In my scenes, I have written them in a way, where I simply describe erotic action. I mean, you aren't writing a porn script (i just recently found out pornos have scripts when i saw porn studios posting in jobs sections looking for scriptwriters) I digress. lol so, you dont have to worry about writing something nasty, because I really dont think its necessary...but it depends on how sexual the storyline is supposed to be

Randall C Willis

Thanks Yasmin! Can't wait until PAGE or the Nicholl competitions add a "Porn" category.

Yasmin Neal

would you like me to post one of my sex scenes or "sex scene teases" here for you to look at?

Randall C Willis

That would be amazing, Yasmin...or you can email it to if you'd rather.

Molly N. Moss

Personally ... I like to leave most of a sexual encounter to the imagination of viewers/readers. I make clear that sex is about to happen, and then I cut to the next scene. Whatever the viewer/reader considers a turn-on, they're free to imagine the lovers doing that. And people who don't like sex scenes don't have to imagine it at all. That seems, to me, to be a win-win approach.

Jenny Masterton


Royce Allen Dudley

Novels are novels. Fish and foul. In a screenplay, " they have sex until there is a knock at the door and they scramble to put their clothes on " is adequate. Only pertinent information is necessary ( "he looks at the photo of his dead wife on the mantle as her sister caresses him' tells me the eyeline of the actor and that I need an insert of the photo) ; the director and actors and DP will figure out what to shoot... poetic titillation is useless.

Yasmin Neal

@royce I think the issue is that randall may be trying to write a "vulgar" sex scene, and he may be trying to "write" it lol but like you said. letting the direct, actor, DP figure all that stuff out.

Randall C Willis

Thanks all. My current sexual need (hmmm, doesn't sound quite right) is in the context of a novel and yes, I (think I) want to write something a bit more explicit but not necessarily pornographic. I completely appreciate Royce's comments, however, regarding a screenplay whereby you dance around the sexual activity without being explicit, and let the director, etc, do the heavy lifting. So to speak. Again, I appreciate everyone's input!

Kathryn Waterfield

Randall have you sat down and made an attempt to write a scene yet? I agree it can be nerve-wracking to start. Has your co-author described the experience you want to get down on paper? Also reading other writer's sex scenes might give you some ideas. The early sex scene in The Godfather where Sonny takes a bridesmaid up against a door is a memorable one. If the sex is useful moving the plot forward you shouldn't feel shy about describing it. One of the most elegantly written stories of a sexual encounter I have ever read is by V.S. Pritchett, entitled 'The Diver' in his Complete Collected Short Stories.

Joyce Zeller

Okay, I'm very new to this website so be kind, all you lurkers. I write romance and have one published novel containing two scenes, that are pretty explicit. It's called Maddie's Choice. The trick is to be unexpected. It sounds like your protagonist carries a lot of baggage, so I would imagine the scenes would have a lot of internalization and angst. Sex scenes are hard to write if you, the writer, are a voyeur, watching the scene and telling about it. I don't know how else to put it without getting technical. Writing is like acting. You have to become the person, feel what they are feeling, suffer their anxieties, open a vein (not really) and bleed, and when you are into the scene so even your cat doesn't recognize you, start writing. Sex has become tedious and boring; been there, done that. The graphic grope and grab stuff doesn't work anymore. Use your imagination. What if it's in the dark and you can't see anything, just sound and touch, and internal reaction?

Randall C Willis

@Kathryn: Not yet...coming soon (ouch, bad pun). @Alle: There will likely be sexual liaisons in either direction, but directed at mainstream audience (rather than focused on one subgroup)...only thinking of details as they tell us something about the character or influence downstream behaviour. @Dan: All over that in the screenplay format! No details unless identification is crucial to understanding character or later actions. @All: Thanks for your wonderful input!

Randall C Willis

And not to miss you, Joyce...amazing amazing the idea of darkness and going sensory!!!

Randall C Willis

Couldn't agree more, Dan! I find even with action sequences, too many screenwriters want to choreograph the scene and so write these long-winded detailed descriptions that make the reading anything but action-packed (see my blog post from a bit ago). Short, punchy statements of only the most necessary information to achieve your point.

Joyce Zeller

Re: your comment on choreography. Blocking and movement are, I would think, always up to the director. Since I'm considering trying my hand at screenwriting for a novella I've completed, i'd like to know how much information on the motivation of the characters is welcomed by directors. So much of a scene is done without dialogue but simply with a close-up of the actor's face. Especially TV. Whereas, with a play, emotion is conveyed by body English.

Michael Dougal

Keep it simple or it turns into porn.

Joyce Zeller

Egad! It's a jungle out there! Thanks for the post.

Randall C Willis

Hey choreography, I'm afraid I cannot speak for the directors, not the least because I am only now in the process of having something produced for television and the director is a buddy. Would recommend you open it as a new question in the lounge, particularly as I would love to know the answer to that myself.

Richard Toscan

For screenplays with sex scenes aiming for a general market, anything much more than a sentence is too much.

Demiurgic Endeavors

As far as your novel is concerned there are no limitations. From a screenplay perspective. Look at it from an actor's point of view. What quality actor are you going to get for your script? There's a reason Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks don't make movies like Nymphomaniac. Be careful about padding your script with bloated explicit sex descriptions. A) Either the reader will think you're trying to write your male fantasy. B) Or your script lacks story so you went overboard with the scene (sex) descriptions.

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