Writing: intimacy in fantasy

Not so long ago, I made a post about how I see intimacy and sex scenes as a reader of fantasy literature – and what factors I see as important in redards to including such a scene. This time, I’ll share my thoughts as a writer.

Warning: potentially sensitive content inside this post.

Before I begin, I’ll link the posts I made on the topic of romance in fantasy: as a reader and as a writer, should you want to see my thoughts on that matter. With that done, let’s get to the post itself.

To include or not?

The first decision to face is whether or not to include such a scene. If you’re writing a story with no romance whatsoever and you don’t want to shock and/or make a strong point with either paid-for or forced sex, the answer will be ‘no’. If there are romance elements in the story, the decision gets more complex.

In the previous post, I mentioned several factors on this matter: story-based factors, target audience, and level of detail.

Target audience

The most obvious part is to not include nudity or sex in books aimed at children but that’s quite obvious. Setting that aside, different target groups will have different tastes – and these should be kept in mind. As the author, you can write anything that comes to your mind, but you should keep in mind that not everyone will like it. If you’re to include something potentially off-putting, it’d be good to let the potential readers know. After all, who’d want to have someone to buy a book only to put it aside at the beginning with 1-star rating because of being disgusted by the content? That is especially true for gore, non-consensual, BDSM, and fetish content, for example. If a story turns out to be far too heavy, consider the way you label it: fantasy with romance elements means fantasy is the dominant element. Romance with fantasy elements means it’s mainly about the romance.

Story-based factors

Setting

Quickly repeating my previous post: never forget to consider the setting. Is there something your fictional society would consider taboo or immoral, despite being normal for you? Are they favoring a romantic intercourse or a ‘quickie’? At what age is it okay to get intimate? How is it affected by the social status of the involved characters? Keeping all of that in mind is something that can get such a scene beyond just the act and show more about the setting and/or race. Stay consistent. If you go with the stereotype of dwarves being hairy and even women having a beard, clean-shaven crotch will be a very obvious inconsistency.

Story progression

Probably the most important factor. You can write a perfect scene but if it does not fall into the whole, it’ll be for naught – and become food for flamers and trolls. A scene of any kind needs to feel as integral and organic part of the story, more so with intimacy and sex.

So, what do I mean by that? If you’re including a sex scene, make sure the story is going towards that point. Something I was reminded of recently: keep consistent. If a character has doubts, it will make little sense if he’s suddenly a bedroom phantom unless there’s a bulletproof reason for that – which, then, should be known at that point. Make sure the scene takes into account the buildup and the potential consequences. Which leads me to…

Character progression

…the fact that it needs to be consistent in regard to the involved characters. Keep their personalities in mind and consider how it could affect their decisions. As said above, a shy character suddenly trying to seduce someone will feel out of place. If it’s the first time, there will be fears and doubts – and I had to be reminded of that myself.

The act will also have consequences on the character – they’ll have either fond memory of it or a bad one. They might regret some parts of the event – from the choice of location through potential injuries to their approach towards that moment. Brooding characters might have doubts even if everything went well!

Level of detail

The toughest part, in some cases. Something I’ve learned the hard way and only recently: making a compromise is hard, doubly so in this. Since the moment I’ve decided to include such a scene in my writing, I knew it’ll focus on the character’s development. More than to show their lovemaking, I wanted to show how it ties to their personality and how thin the line between joy and regret can be.

My first attempt was a scene that featured three-paragraph foreplay with one-paragraph wrap-up/fade-out. The result: In such a condensed manner, it never had a chance to show all the emotions raging within the characters. The lack of visible problems made the scene feel far too perfect despite not being intended to be so.

The second attempt I finished recently led to the opposite extreme: I went all in and the scene grew almost six times when it comes to length. I managed to show way more emotions, both in the lead-up and the final decision and the scene fits the character personalities. The downside? It’s getting far too close to softcore porn, despite not even showing much of the actual act as it’s still focused more on the foreplay.

Which means I’ll need to return and re-evalue how I approached it. Knowing that a short scene failed to show what I wanted, I’ll face a decision between toning it down and risking that some of the aspects I wanted to show in character development will be gone, or stay closer to the current version and label the book 15+ or maybe even 18+ because of a single scene.


Okay, this posts is getting quite long already. Scary! So, I’ll wrap it up here, I believe the main points were made. I am not ruling out returning to this topic for the third time and sharing my thoughts related specifically for my work-in-progress but I can’t promise that.

Anyway, as always, I’ll welcome your thoughts and opinions. Have you written a nude/sex scene? Want to share what felt the hardest on it for you or any other experience from that? Your comments on that matter will be welcome.

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