Writer's Block in a Sex Scene? How to Open Up and Break Through

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Writer’s block hits in so many different ways.

Technically, right now, I’m not “blocked” per the usual meaning, because I’m writing regularly. Even if I’m in a slack phase in my writing, I am making progress on the crucial second draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan” (working title only), and I have to keep up on the blog.

Since I was blocked in the truest sense of the phrase for years in that I didn’t write at all, what’s holding me up now is not that much of a big deal.

But I do find it interesting.

There’s one scene that’s holding me up – the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan. This scene does not happen right away in this novel.

In fact, it doesn’t happen until the second half of the novel, and there are a several sex scenes before we even get to them, which are juicier, more transgressive, and more exciting.

Before we get to this, we have the psychological BDSM sex scenes between the Patron’s Daughter and the Brute – neither of them main characters – while the main character, Addie, who will later become the Courtesan, acts as voyeur.

We get to Addie’s flight to the Capital City, and none of the sex scenes with her as a Courtesan for the sake of pacing. But we do get the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Woman who would become Ella Bandita; and the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is right after that.

But the difference between all the other sex scenes and this is that this sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is rooted in tenderness, whereas the others have some element of drama and intrigue.

Also in the scene between these characters, I’m writing about those who are not the usual players in an erotic scene, mainly because of age and ageism. The Shepherd is 50, and the Courtesan is 60. They are still true to the usual standard of romantic fantasy in that both characters are exceptionally attractive.

In an erotic scene, the Courtesan suspends disbelief because she’s been very sexual for more than 40 years; and any woman who stays active keeps her juice much longer than those who don’t.

The Shepherd, however, has been mostly solitary and without a mate for 25 years. There is a lot of vulnerability there. I’m resistant to writing about that, and I wonder why.

I wasn’t resistant to writing about the psychological and physical violence between the Brute and the Patron’s Daughter; for the record, that’s not the kind of scene I live through in my personal life, and perhaps that’s why. I’m emotionally detached.

So maybe I can’t be emotionally detached at the thought of a character who had embraced his solitude, and was now suddenly confronted with emotional and sexual intimacy, along with the fears that would entail. That hits closer to home to my experience.

Then I arrive at the logistics of impotence. Erectile dysfunction is reasonable to expect in a middle-aged man who has not had sex in a quarter century. That likelihood cannot be ignored because it would render the scene ridiculous, even in a “fantasy.”

Oh, and then there’s the logistics of being a woman writing a sex scene from the POV of a man. I’ve done it before with the Wanderer in the previous novel, but it adds a whole new level of awkwardness to writing it.

Since Viagra is not an option for a story set in pre-Industrial fairy tale times, I consulted with my Tantra teacher on natural methods to induce a solid hard-on for the good Shepherd. She shared the finger-in-anus-to-massage-the-prostrate technique that she claims would raise an erection in a dead man. (Ok, I exaggerate.)

Although that information is very pragmatic, I couldn’t figure out a graceful, poetic way to introduce it in the scene. And the long-celibate Shepherd is more likely to be scared off with a move like that. Maybe I’ll use it later in the story once they get better acquainted.

For their first time, I went with tender loving care, encouragement, tantric breathing, and palpating the perineum. Although there’s no guarantee those gentler methods would be effective in real life, who is to say that’s impossible? It only has to be in the realm of possibility, and that is good enough for me.

As far as insights and how-to advice, I think I led by example. You can write a blog or a Facebook Note, and open up to strangers. Writing this post gave relief to my shyness. I've never used Facebook Live or Instagram Live, but I bet that would lead to some pretty out there input, and there’s always something useful.

If you prefer a more intimate place to get feedback is talk about it with people face-to-face. Discuss the sex scene with close friends or your writers’ group. I will need to do this eventually for that masculine perspective on those sex scenes told from the man’s experience. But even without that, other perspectives can be very helpful in fleshing out a challenging what ifs and snafus. And talking about it in person is likely to break you out of your reticence.

I’m ready to take on that sex scene now. How do you handle being shy about writing a descriptive sex scene?

For anybody who’d like a nibble - and this is only a nibble - because sex is part of the background, not the main event in the scene, click here to view this excerpt out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”

The Forgotten Little Bastards - Novel Excerpt from The Shepherd and the Courtesan

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This is a novel excerpt from my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” The title may be changed and maybe this scene deleted, because this is between one of the protagonists and a minor character, a courtesan protegee. But I liked the dialogue and I think this scene shows the world the Shepherd has found himself in very well, as well as shed some light on the other protagonist. If you’d like to read another excerpt from this work, click here.

I shook my head.

“You don’t mind?” Astrid persisted. “Or you prefer I leave you be?”

“No. I don’t mind.”

“Good,” Astrid smiled. “Because I wanted to ask you some questions about that scene this morning in the town square.”

“You were there?”

“Of course I was. Everybody was there, even the scrubbers from the dirtiest whorehouse in the Capital were there.”

“What do you want to ask me about?”

“What possessed you and the Wanderer to give the bounty on Ella Bandita to the children of the orphanage?”

“Why do you want to know about that?”

“Because it’s too marvelous! Who would give a fortune for a private education fit for highborn children to a bunch of penniless, nameless forgotten little bastards? Not to mention a modest legacy to start life once they left the orphanage?”

I tensed up. I had not expected this at all. The Wanderer and I had agreed it was the best possible use for what was essentially blood money, but we also believed that such a gesture would silence any questions.

“It seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t. But you could have lived as patrons for the rest of your lives!”

“That means nothing to me.”

Astrid’s hazel eyes were wide in her pale face.

“But everybody wants to be rich.”

I relaxed a little. Nothing in Astrid’s expression indicated suspicion or cunning. She merely seemed amazed and curious.

“I can’t explain how or why. But I’ve never coveted wealth and I’ve always had what I need.”

 Astrid nodded slowly, and her white cheeks flushed a pale pink.

“I can’t claim to understand you, Shepherd. I simply wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing that.”

“I appreciate your kind words. But why are you thanking me?”

“Because I’m one of those forgotten little bastards. Most of us here at the Casa came from the orphanage.”

 “Like who?”

 “Celia and I grew up together there.”

 Astrid nodded to the trio of mandolin players, whose ethereal music filled the air.

“They’re younger than we are, but I remember them from the orphanage. Almost all the servants came from there too.”

 “Are the musicians also protégées?”

Astrid shook her head.

“Not everybody can be for the Life. Originally, they came here as little girls to train to be maids. But Mi’Lady always tests the children, and discovered these girls had a natural talent for music, so she mentored them in their learning. Now they get to be musicians. Not only do they entertain us, but they are often hired to perform at various salons around the City.”

“Do they live here?”

Astrid nodded.

“There are two dormitories at the back of this yard. One is for servants and servants-in-training. The other is for the protégées, as well as the artistic girls.”

“Really? That is extraordinary.”

I stared at Astrid, who smiled at me in appreciation.

“What you and the Wanderer have done is truly wonderful. You saved this generation of boys from a criminal life and eventual hanging, and all of the girls from the drudgery of servitude and prostitution in the brothels. The orphans who had any kind of lucky star on their side end up at the Casa, and the Casa is full. Except for a truly gifted and beautiful girl here and there, Mi’Lady doesn’t have much room to add to her household for at least twenty more years.”

I was speechless. Astrid paused for a moment, then continued.

“There isn’t an orphan, harlot, or servant who wouldn’t sell their soul to be here.”

Love Story vs. Romance

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So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising.

Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than live happily-ever-after.

So what are the differences between love stories and romance?

There are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command my respect and I struggle with romance.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. Romance follows a formula and that always makes it commercial, even if it’s beautifully written.

If we’re going into the classic love stories, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte.

“Pride and Prejudice” ends nicely, but not in a smarmy way. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy had to earn their happy ending. “Wuthering Heights” has a morose aura of tragedy and does end well with Catherine and Heathcliff together.

For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again, yet still makes an impact. And it ends sadly.

Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. In movies, there are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers.

A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places.

But I think the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds.

Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always.

It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life. This also wasn’t what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced in her life.

Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was an insurmountable obstacle in Regency England. Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed.

Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels. But they still qualify as love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. No happily-ever-after for her.

In the “Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving him for a sexy photographer/soulmate.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

Let Me Take a Look at You

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This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.

She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.

She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.

“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”

“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”

She chuckled softly.

“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”

My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.

“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”

“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”

“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”

“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”

The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.

“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”

I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.

“As you wish, Adrianna.”

Her smirk broadened to a smile.

“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”

Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.

Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.

“What are you doing?”

“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”

She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.

“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”

She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.

“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”

She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.

“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”

She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.

“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”

Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.

“Thoroughly uneasy.”

“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”

“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”

Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.

“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”

The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.

“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”

“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”

Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.

“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”

Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.

“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”

The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”

I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”

“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”

Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.

“No,” she whispered. “Never.”

New Respect for Romance! But I Still Don't Write It.

Romance

 Like a lot of young girls growing up curious about that mysterious stuff of love and sex, I had a phase where I read a lot of romance novels during adolescence. Harlequin romances were easy to gobble up, but there was one bodice ripper that I was obsessed with, yet didn’t finish. I’m pretty sure Fabio with his long locks, square jaw, and bulging muscles may have been the male model for the masculine hero. I don’t remember what made me stop reading it. It may have been a rape scene or attempted rape scene or the sex scenes were above my head and far out of my comfort zone, so I stopped reading and never read a romance novel again.

As a reader, I outgrew romance novels. Many of my friends and family did not. As I grew into my writerly ambitions, I’m ashamed to say I expressed contempt for romance and those who read and write romance. Even though former writing teachers cite romance as the perfect example of our innate human need for stories with happy endings, I couldn’t see the value of it. To me, romance novels were not true to life and therefore, were inherently absurd.

A conversation I had last summer at a writers’ conference changed my mind. I ran into a woman I had met years before when I first moved to Portland. It turns out her genre is historical romance, and she absolutely adored romance novels, and always has. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she had been to the Romance Writers of America Conference, and had loved it. This conference is huge, with thousands of writers who come. She met a lot of great women with whom she really clicked. She also mentioned that most of the women she had met, who wrote and read romance novels, were a lot like her.

And how was that?

They were happily married women.

I raised my brows at that, because I’ve always seen romance readers as single women who have developed unrealistic standards on the men they want to fall in love with and marry; or they were bored housewives looking for a vicarious thrill; or adolescents trying to find the juicy parts  in the mysteries of love and sex. When I asked my friend to elaborate on why she would love romance novels when she already got her happily-ever-after, her answer surprised me, even though it was kind of close to my second assumption about readers of romance.

“I really love to fall in love. Of course, my husband and I have been together for a long time, so it’s not a thrill ride. When I read a romance novel, I get to fall in love all over again and enjoy the rush. Everybody I know who loves romance novels love them for the same reason I do.”

That gave me pause. Instead of “bored housewife,” most romance novel readers were in the “stable and steady phase of love.” I never stopped to consider the vicarious emotional joyride that a woman would get immersing herself in a fictional heroine’s impossibly romantic journey, and how valuable that would be. All these happily married ladies staying true to their husbands, while enjoying the jolt of falling in love with somebody new in a way that doesn’t threaten their marriages. I had to respect that.

So anything that keeps the marriages of ordinary people intact as they go through the daily drudge of work, bills, and kids, repeat - how can anybody disparage that?

But I still don’t write it. I write love stories. There’s lots of room for tragedy and loss in a love story. Love stories provide a truer reflection of life.