Sex on the Page: Setting the Temperature

If you haven’t read Carol’s post from Tuesday, don’t forget to drop in over there! Some good thoughts on how sex scenes can be “hot” without being graphic.

In romance, a book is usually categorized with a certain “heat level” so the reader knows what they’re getting into before they crack that spine (rare as that’s becoming). While looking for a list of the basic levels, I discovered Starla Kaye’s web site, which I’d encourage you all to check out if you’re not already familiar – she has a Writing Tools blog  that looks excellent. At the very least, take a peek at her Heat Levels in Romance post, which gives a good basic run-down of the thermometer we measure sex scenes by.

My own writing falls between the “moderate” level and the “spicy”, depending on what I’m writing. In my romantic suspense novels, I try to keep it around moderate to sensual, using graphic terms, but focusing more on the emotions and sensuality than the actual actions themselves. Other than the fact that it comes most natural to me, I think this style fits well with the overall tension I like to have in a suspense novel – the stakes are high, emotions are already high, and it makes sense that the sexual tension and interplay would be at a highly charged level as well. It fits the genre and the story, in my opinion.

Erotica is all about the sex, of course, and spicier writing is called for – that’s kind of the whole point. In my thriller draft though, the feel of the novel is different, and calls for a more mild approach to any kind of sexual interplay there might be. Even though the tension is high, it’s told from a male viewpoint (which will generally be less sensual and more “to the point”). The relationship between characters is only important insomuch as it affects the main plot, so I think a minimal approach works best here.

In terms of what makes a sex scene hot – I really think a lot of times it comes down to your own voice. Even a very graphic scene can be mild in terms of how it affects the reader…especially if the writer slips into that technical manual problem we talked about last week. A scene where the characters don’t even touch can be smokin’ hot under the right pen. While writing to different heat levels can probably be learned from a technical standpoint, I’m of the opinion that writers should stick to what comes naturally for the most part, because it’s your personal voice that’s going to make all the difference in the world. Our natural voice is going to “feel” more genuine, and connect with the reader far better than one we have to struggle with on the page.

What’s the heat level of your sex scenes? Do you naturally write to a certain heat level better than others?

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6 comments on “Sex on the Page: Setting the Temperature

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    I agree with the hotness. I have no idea what my “heat level” is, so I’m gonna run over and check out that tool. Thanks!

    I love how a hero can set the page on fire with a simple look and a gesture.

  2. Carol

    I checked out the link and it looks like my “heat level” falls somewhere between moderate and spicy as well.

    For me it’s usually the characters in question who choose the heat level. Some of them are more . . . energetic . . . than others. 😉

  3. Jamie DeBree

    Oh me too. Yum! 🙂

  4. Jamie DeBree

    And thank goodness for that, eh? That’s the thing…even if *I* think it’s time for some lovin’, you just can’t force it. I’d be rather disappointed if my characters never quite got in the mood… LOL

  5. Carol Buchanan

    Thanks for the super post, Jamie! You have a way of thinking through to the core of a subject that I really like.

    Here’s something else for you and the other readers to consider, though.

    With a nod to Robert Burns, one of the most difficult things is to know how others see us. I never know the temperature of one of my sex scenes, because I write it and revise it a number of times until I think it’s good enough to be out in public. By then — and this is true for every scene I write — I’ve been so deep into the writing that I can no longer judge until some weeks later.

    By then, the reader has to tell me its temperature.

    When someone thinks a scene is “hot,” I’m puzzled because I don’t use explicit details. Somehow, it seems, sexual temperature might not depend on them.

    What do you think?

  6. Jamie D.

    I agree, Carol. I think that as writers we can definitely set the base temperature of a sex scene with words and phrasing – I don’t think anyone would call a sex scene with extremely graphic language “mild” in any context. But for the most part, we can only guide the reader a certain direction. The final temperature is really going to depend on the filters each reader brings with them to the book. Some people think my scenes are smoking hot, and for others, they’re mild to lukewarm.

    I don’t revise all that much – just a couple times, but even so by the time work goes out, I’m absolutely too close to judge anymore. But that’s true of every scene in a story, not just the sex scenes.