When we’re little, romance stories end in “happily ever after.”  But then, a little later, a few hormones coursing through us and we wonder what happens after happily ever after.  Especially, you know, immediately after.

That’s when we start learning about stories with a little “Bow-chicka-wow-wow.”

Then we turn into writers (which may or may not be related to the above revelation).  Our characters meet someone in Fictionland.  They fall in and out of love, have romantic adventures, and make us contemplate about what it means to be human at all, and how the meaning of being alive is found in our relationships.

(Or some such thing we type out on the page.) 

And then our characters might do a little bomp-chicka-wow-wow.

But as a writer, writing “bow-chicka-wow-wow” just doesn’t get it done.

Readers want (or maybe need) more.

And writing these scenes?  It’s really, really difficult to do well.

It’s possible that love stories, romance, and sex scenes are the hardest things to write in fiction.

When it’s done badly, it’s awful.  It ruins the story, it makes the readers laugh at the characters, it squashes any of the romance that was brimming. 

When it’s done well, it makes readers fall even more in love with characters, root for them more, think about them forever.

These scenes are an insane writing/circus act of avoiding cliches, making things sound fresh, not being stupid with adjectives, avoiding overdramatizing,  using just the right voice, and giving readers the culmination they want.

In this episode of Fiction School, we get frank about writing romance, love stories and sex scenes: what goes in a good one, why the bad ones are so bad, what writers can do with characters to set up good love stories to make sex scenes even better, and much more.

Plus: Tommy talks like Barry White, Baker reads the worst sex writing of 2012, and Jody’s voice becomes a danger that might cause our voicemail quota to go over.

Cute shoes have a cute meet.  Pursuit and Obstacles ensue. Will it lead to he-in' and she-in'?  Ah, we love us some Romance.

Cute shoes have a cute meet. Pursuit and Obstacles ensue. Will it lead to he-in’ and she-in’? Ah, we love us some Romance.


  • Writing love scenes and sex scenes is the hardest thing to do in written fiction, according to Tommy.  What makes them so difficult?
  • And it’s not just the sex scenes, but the actual romance scenes that are so important.  It’s always key to avoid cliches, but even more key here
  • What’s the difference between romance and sex scenes?
  • The most enjoyable part of love stories?  The sexual tension in the character relationships
  • A key to writing romance and sex well is being vulnerable with the writing
  • And leaving whitespace for the imagination, letting the readers fill in their own details
  • Is the sexiest part of the story really the dialogue, the interaction, rather than the physical interaction?
  • Want to write a boring sex scene?  Make it read like a laundry list
  • Then we talk about the popularity of erotica in the current moment.  Is there something in the publishing industry that’s pushing erotica to the market now?  Or are ebooks behind the rise in erotica?
  • Maybe the market’s always been there–think about the shirtless cowboy on the cover of supermarket novels
  • Baker reads excerpts from The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Writing Awards and their tweeted samples
  • We discuss what makes bad sex writing bad on a sentence level
  • And Jody actually gets a call! (But it wasn’t actually a voicemail for the show)
  • Readers have to feel the emotional context behind the act.  “The mechanics don’t matter as much as the emotional content of the moment”
  • Jody discusses how publishing houses push women writers into the romance category
  • What readers want in romance novels is the male character who absolutely worships the female
  • Is there a difference between male and female writers writing romance and erotica?
  • Jody talks about the Chick Lit category in writing, and why it is different than romance or erotica
  • Tommy works in a Kum ‘N Go reference (of course he’d been dying to get that mention in.  Too perfect!), mentioning a scene that isn’t sexual but has sexual tension and love in it that develops the relationship
  • Behind any good love story, romance, or sex scene, the central plot conceit is, “Will they or will they not end up together?”
  • Is there a difference in the way Young Adult novels have to handle sex scenes?  Baker talks about the sex scene in his upcoming book–but maybe the characters dictate how the scene is handled.  Jody discusses how she’s bad at judging what’s going to be offensive, and the character arc has to head that direction.  Wanted to ban Jody’s book in Texas.
  • How are sex scenes handled in screen plays?  Or stage plays?  Jody talks about offensiveness with sex scenes on the stage.
  • Baker mentions John Green’s Looking for Alaska and the sex scene in it, how it’s handled in an interesting way for Young Adult literature
  • Is there a prudishness for writing sex and love senes?  Having terrible violence and lots of death is fine, but a blowjob with a tube of toothpaste, that crosses a line!
  • Tommy feels he has to leave lots to the imagination because he’s using historical characters and risks lots of offense
  • Weird taboo about sex writing-there’s an award for bad sex writing, but not GOOD sex writing…
  • When describing the physical act of love, be very careful with your adjectives.  That’s where things usually go way wrong.
  • We love the “meet cute.”  You can do so much with the cute meet to spark the sexual tension instantly.
  • Pursuit and Obstacles are the main elements of great romance, the fun of the story
  • misdirection and deception, the will they/won’t they worry is what keeps readers reading, and the culmination physically is the payoff of that worry.