By Writing Excuses | September 16, 2012 - 4:29 pm - Posted in Season 7, Theory and Technique

Shanna Germain joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard in front of a live audience at GenCon Indy to talk about writing love scenes. They’re not easy to get right, and they can be even more difficult to talk about it in a way that leaves the Writing Excuses team’s “clean” rating intact.

We cover the ways in which the love scenes must support the story, and the importance of tension in setting those scenes up. Mary asks the question foremost in all our minds: how do you write a sex scene so that it’s not silly? Shanna fields it with aplomb, explaining how she lets the characters drive it, washing unintentional humor out of the scene.

We also talk about how difficult it can be for those writing the POV of the opposite sex to get the head-space details right, and how love scenes fit into the pacing of your work.

What You Missed: Prior to recording this episode, in an effort to get all the nervous giggles and snerky titters worked out of our live audience, Mary read a portion of a recently released Pathfinder novel in her “one-nine-hundred” voice. No, we did not record it. Some things are meant to be loved, then lost.


Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Shanna plugged "One Hot Summer," but the actual title is One Long Hot Summer. It is not currently available Audible, but it's available on Amazon at the link above. There are lots of OTHER things on Audible for you to listen to, including four titles featuring Shanna Germain.

Writing Prompt: Put your characters in a place they cannot escape, and keep them there.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

Visit for a free trial membership.

Audible Free Trial Details

Get an audiobook of your choice, free, with a 30-day trial. After the trial, your paid membership will begin at $14.95 per month. With your membership, you will receive one credit every month, good for any audiobook on Audible.

Cancel anytime, effective the next monthly billing cycle. Cancel before your trial ends and you will not be charged. Check out the full terms and policies that apply to Audible membership.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2012 at 4:29 pm and is filed under Season 7, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. September 17, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    Excellent cast. I agree with everything Shanna said. My only criticism is that there’s no video of Brandon’s giggle fits.

    Posted by Kim Mainord
  2. September 17, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

    The RSS feed for this episode is faulty. There’s no enclosure. I checked it in both Google Reader and MSIE, and it doesn’t show up in either spot.

  3. September 17, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up, @Nobilis. Looks like I forgot to check a couple of boxes.

    They’re checked now. Hopefully that will take care of it.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  4. September 17, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

    Thanks for doing this episode. Given Brandon, Dan, and Howard’s beliefs and the lack of sex in their writing, I think its great they did this. That said, I do think there’s a large divide between a sexual scene in a SFF book and an Erotica book. Definitely agree with the scene needing to do double or triple duty. Sex, like violence, when done well can be very moving. When its not done well it can be gratuitous and/or offensive. Just my thoughts, good episode!

    Posted by Ryan
  5. September 17, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

    Ryan: There’s a difference between sex scenes in SF and Erotica because of the focus of the work, in exactly the same way that there’s a difference in the way science is handled in SF versus Erotica. The basic techniques are the same, but the focus of the work is going to determine which tools you use.

  6. September 17, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

    It’s also worth noting that if you know how to write good sex in erotica, any sex you write (or even just allude to) in SF/F is going to be good.

    Generally speaking, if you learn to write a thing where that thing is the focus of the story, you’ll be better prepared to write that thing in such a way that it works when something ELSE is the focus of the story.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  7. September 17, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    A fellow aspiring writer chastised me for having no clear romantic interest in my high-fantasy manuscript and having no intentions of adding one. Does every good story need an element of romance? I avert my eyes in PG-13 chick flicks and blushed like crazy every time you all said “Errotica.” Is this my own squeamishness? I mean, even John Cleaver had a crush. Help!

    Posted by Becca Lee G.
  8. September 17, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

    Every good story does NOT need an element of romance.

    Blushing at “Erotica” is your own squeamishness, and I say this as someone who had to work to get over my own pre-conceived notions of what that word meant. I’m naturally a prude, but recognize that my own levels of comfort have changed over my lifespan and are not universal.

    At the end of the day, however, you need to write stories that you want to read.

  9. September 17, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    Is it a good sign that this took a long time to get onto iTunes? It’s the first ‘cast I’ve seen from you guys with an explicit [CLEAN] label on it!

    Wow… how’s that for an oxymoron?

    Posted by Duke
  10. September 17, 2012 @ 11:43 pm

    Hahahaaha, a Pantsing followed by a Love Scene. I think that may be a first… and possibly the worst writing prompt ever.

    Posted by Sean
  11. September 18, 2012 @ 3:51 am

    Disappointed with the episode. I know it’s “normal,” I just expected more of you guys. You can get “normal” anywhere.

    Posted by David Porter
  12. September 18, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    Don’t worry Becca, not every plot needs romance. I’m glad to see Mary’s support for writing YOUR story, not someone else’s.

    My fantasy stories tend to have strong romantic subplots in them and often end with a wedding. But like you, I’m a bit of a prude and nothing ever happens, or if it does, it’s fade to black early or let it happen off-screen so we don’t have to see it.

    Posted by Talmage
  13. September 18, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    Per Mary’s comment, @Becca, while a story does not need romantic elements to be good, or to be complete, it’s possible that YOUR story does — at least as currently written.

    Sometimes the things that we don’t want to write turn out to be exactly the things that our stories need in order to be complete, and to be good. The only useful counsel I can offer is the directive to do some soul-searching. Ask yourself why something is, or is not, in your story. If something’s not there because it’s difficult for you to write, you might treat this as an opportunity to learn to do a new thing.

    (I’m saying this because right now the piece I need to write for Schlock Mercenary is a piece that is difficult and uncomfortable for me to write. It’s also critical to the story, and to the arcs of four or five major characters.)

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  14. September 18, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    @Howard, that is a good point. I think whether it belongs there or not goes back to a concept from an earlier podcast of yours. Are you setting up expectations and promises early in the story that aren’t met by the end of the story? Sometimes you think you’re writing one kind of story (ie roadtrip coming of age) when the structure of your story is matching another kind (ie mystery). Sometimes as a writer, you don’t realize what promises you’re actually making.

    @Becca, I wouldn’t change your story based on the feedback of a single person, unless you agree with them about the change improving the story. However, if feedback from multiple alpha/beta readers bring up the same point, you may have a broken element needing fixing. If the readers are expecting a romance and not getting one, you can either add in the romance or find where that promise is implied in the story and change/remove it so they don’t have that expectation.

    Posted by Talmage
  15. September 18, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    […] Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 7.38: Writing Love Scenes […]

  16. September 18, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

    So many hilarious, unintentional double entendres in this episode, but the best one was saved for last:

    “…increase the length of the rising tension.”

    Posted by RG
  17. September 19, 2012 @ 10:21 am

    Thank you, Mary, Talmage, and Howard.

    @Howard, I think you are exactly right on this one. I tend to rush through moments that I’m afraid I can’t pull off (climaxes, deep character thought and emotion, etc.). Which is why my draft is currently 40,000 words too short and I’m now “Triage Editing” my eyeballs out.

    Will I ever write a love scene? No (but that’s for moral reasons). Should I shy away from all romance because it’s difficult for me to deal with? No. A romantic interest does not cheapen the depth of my writing, but enhances it. Thanks again!

    Posted by Becca Lee G.
  18. September 19, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

    Love the Podcast. It’s been very helpful to me as a writer and I want to thank you all. You deserve all those awards.

    That having been said, this one was a fail.

    Love scenes are not the same as erotica. If you really wanted to help writers with romance in other genres, talking about a completely different genre isn’t really the way to do it. You can teach people the principles of photography without using nudes.

    Shanna’s advice was good. I just think the title should reflect the content. Using inuendo is not enough to justify it as, “family friendly.” Any child interested in writing will understand what you were talking about. As writers, we know that it is possible to make powerful statements using very simple words. Any media that talks about BDSM should have a content warning.

    Posted by My Two Cents
  19. September 19, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    The purpose of bringing in a specialist is to talk about the aspects of the craft that we have less experience with writing. In this case, writing love scenes was something that we needed help discussing.

    While it is true that you can teach the principles of photography without using nudes, you cannot teach figure drawing without using nudes. This particular episode was not an effort to teach the principles of writing as a whole, but a specific aspect of writing — love scenes. It is impossible to discuss love scenes without talking about sex.

    Because of that, we gave a PG-13 warning when we started. The content of the podcast does not discuss BDSM, so I assume you are talking about the anthology that Shanna mentioned at the beginning.

  20. September 19, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

    Mary, I’ve really enjoyed your work. I especially like Kiss Me Twice. So please understand it is with great respect that I completely disagree. Not only is it possible to discuss love scenes without discussing sex, the best ones don’t devolve into sex at all. People like to justify sex in books on the basis of, “what people really do.” But people do a lot of things which authors choose to leave out of their books. Art is, in fact, largely about what you leave out in order to shine a light of importance on what is included. So it is not only possible to write love scenes without sex, I find it preferable. What scene could express more love than an aged couple holding hands across rocking chair armrests?

    I know there is a HUGE market for romance novels and a growing erotica market. And I don’t begrudge those writers a “writing excuses” podcast. But I personally think there is a difference between art and porn. And while the porn wasn’t in the podcast, it was the topic. I was disappointed after years of this show taking the high road to see it go that way. But I can’t say I am surprised, considering the trends in all art forms these days toward more sensationalism (sex) and less feeling (love).

    If you want to talk about writing about sex, own it. No need to make excuses. 😉 While my esteem is slightly lessened, you still have my loyalty.

    Posted by My Two Cents
  21. September 20, 2012 @ 7:25 am

    @My Two Cents I think you’ve got two different complaints here:

    1) The content was not, in fact, “clean” enough for that iTunes rating.

    2) The content itself is unnecessary, teaching something that shouldn’t be taught.

    #1 isn’t really the salient point, since the guidelines around “clean” and “explicit” are not clear. We’ve always treated it as the NSFW distinction. For music, you can have lots of very explicit language and not trigger the “explicit” tag unless you drop the F-bomb or some such. Ultimately, the argument isn’t about the content of the cast, but about what Apple thinks of it, and that’s not something we control.

    #2 is worth discussing, because it’s the part we actually own.

    Taking Mary’s lead, artists draw nudes because until you can draw the nude you can’t put clothes on it. This does not require the artists to sell finished paintings of nudes, but at some point they did have to concentrate on where the naughty bits go.

    Can you write romance without showing the reader the bedroom? Absolutely. And three-quarters of what Shanna talked about was EXACTLY THAT. The rising tension before the act, and the way it affects character arc. If those things are done poorly in works in which the reader has not been invited into the bedroom, we’ll feel like the romance in unjustified or unbelievable. If they’re done poorly, and we are invited into the bedroom, it’s even worse.

    Yes, there are genres in which character and story are irrelevant, and it’s all about portraying the sex, believable or not. I’m pretty sure nobody came away from this cast thinking that’s what we’re trying to teach you to write.

    So — the parts of the cast where we discuss the run up to the sex scene, whether that’s on-screen or not? EVERYBODY NEEDS THEM, and Shanna can help us write them.

    Now, getting into the bedroom — this is where our analogy about the nude comes into play. Suppose you want to describe some physical romance, but it’s just kissing or holding hands. Maybe it’s a teenager’s first kiss, or the intimacy of a decades-married couple collapsing onto a couch together.

    What must be present in order to describe the physical aspects of the PG-rated intimacy in a way that fulfills character arcs and keeps the reader in the story? This cast gives our listeners the information they need in order to begin working that angle of their craft. If you want to write the kissing, you need to know how to describe how your POV character feels about lip-on-lip contact with the romantic interest.

    If somebody wants to write actual erotica, I don’t expect them to come to us for help. Shanna teaches it, and now the aspiring erotica writers know to whom they should go for that sort of explicit instruction and critique.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  22. September 20, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    I found this podcast a couple of years ago by playing “Six Degrees of Separation, Wheel of Time Edition,” and this is the first time I have ever been compelled to comment. I just want to say THANK YOU. Thank you, Writing Excuses crew, for recording ‘casts like this. For reasons I will never understand it is acceptable for you to discuss young girls who slaughter entire armies, demons, serial killers, and giant piles of poo that run around vaporizing people while hopped up on food additives, but the minute you mention sex or gender issues you get lambasted. I’d like you to know that there are listeners who do remember that this is a podcast on WRITING, not morality, and while a person’s beliefs will always color his writing those beliefs should not prevent a person from learning about all aspects of the craft and taking what lessons he can where he can get them. Creating tension between characters and recording the details individual characters notice are important aspects of writing any scene, whether the characters are falling in love or coming to blows, and this episode did an excellent job of stressing those points. This ‘cast is not a “fail;” being unable to draw useful information from it is a failure on the part of the listener.

    Posted by klmercer
  23. September 20, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    @klmercer, well said! Mirrors my own thoughts. As a former infantry E-5 who served in OEF, is always astonished me that violence is more palatable than sex. Violence, no matter how righteous its cause cannot create life and life is more magical than any word put to paper. Sappy, but something I passionately believe.

    Posted by Ryan
  24. September 20, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    If I am recollecting correctly, the podcast had nothing to do with the subject of young girls who slaughter armies. It always amuses me when people attempt to draw fire away from an important subject by distracting people with something else that they deem to be worse. News flash: We will always be able to come up with something worse than just about anything. That doesn’t automatically justify anything. Next we will be asking why everyone is so upset that Al Qaeda killed a few thousand people on 9/11, when Hitler’s murder spree was MUCH worse.

    “My Two Cents” was NOT suggesting that there be no resource for those who wish to write erotica. Neither did the commentator suggest that the podcast make a moral statement. I understood three clear messages from the comment:

    1) There is a tendency of the whole writing/entertainment industry to treat love scenes and romance as if they cannot possibly exist without sex and erotica. It is to the point where one questions if people even know the difference. Since the commentator did not feel that the podcast sufficiently made that distinction, the commentator deems it a fail.

    2) The commentator obviously has listened to a great many Writing Excuses podcasts. A longtime listener is bound to develop certain expectations, including moral ones. Those expectations help the listener to decide whether or not to continue listening to future podcasts. It therefore is more than reasonable for “My Two Cents” to have developed moral expectations for this particular writing resource. This podcast betrayed those expectations and therefore was deemed a fail.

    3) “My Two Cents” obviously felt mislead by the title of the podcast. It is obvious that the podcast markets itself as a family-friendly, “clean” rated program. It is perfectly logical therefore, that a listener be able to expect the subject matter to be as family friendly and clean as the podcast creators present themselves to be. The “family-friendly” rating, in this case, was inadequately attained by substituting transparent innuendos for non-family-friendly behavior. The podcast ignored its own moral family-friendly image and therefore was deemed a fail.

    In my world, three strikes–you are out. My Two Cents is spot on.

    Posted by That One Guy
  25. September 20, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

    1) There is a tendency of the whole writing/entertainment industry to treat love scenes and romance as if they cannot possibly exist without sex and erotica.
    Well… actually, I think that’s true.

    But I also think we’re using different definitions of sex and that you aren’t familiar with erotica.

    I do the whole “fade to black” thing in almost all of my fiction. To use the terms I learned during this podcast, I show the rising action — the foreplay — and not the climax, because in my work that’s all that is necessary. BUT I know what happens in those fade to black scenes. As I mention in the podcast, in my first novel my characters ALMOST kiss. It is racy and erotic, and it is all about sex, but it’s also a novel set in 1815, so we don’t go past an ALMOST kiss.

    Just because they don’t actually kiss doesn’t mean that the scene isn’t about desire. I mean most of romance is about non-platonic love. It is about the tension that comes from two characters wanting to have a physical relationship and being denied that, for whatever reason. So understanding how to work those tensions in a scene to build character is an incredibly important thing to know.

    These are tools.

    And it is completely possible to be erotic without sex. Allow me to demonstrate with this ridiculous bit of SF.

    Ensign Andrew Dahl ran his hands along the sleek, hard surface of the shuttle, seeking control. Under his broad, manly fingers, the thrusters throbbed in response. The shuttle groaned, quivering around him as she took him deeper into space. The thrusters pulsed again, pushing him to come where no man has come before.

    As for point 3, I will again note that when the podcast started we said it had a PG-13 rating and were pretty darn clear about what we were going to be discussing.

  26. September 21, 2012 @ 1:16 am

    Brandon’s three Mistborn novels, which have all been discussed in detail on this podcast (and by “this podcast” I don’t mean “this episode”), are all about Vin, a teenage girl who does, in fact, slaughter armies. I was not pulling in a random idea, but referencing the work of Brandon Sanderson. This was not an attempt to distract from the topic at hand, but to note that violence, which many would deem morally reprehensible, does not give rise to the kind of vitriol that sex/sexuality/gender issues have WHEN DISCUSSED ON THIS PODCAST. The point of my comment was not to moralize or make broad, “holier-than-thou” judgments about the moral fiber of the world (though I do agree with Ryan). My point was, and still is, that even something that does not align exactly with a person’s morals should still be useful to that person AS A WRITER. And, quite frankly, I’m flabbergasted at the lack of respect being shown to the podcasters. Every person is entitled to his/her opinion, but the people commenting here are being provided a service, FOR FREE, that can do nothing but benefit them and their craft. My comment was not directed solely at My Two Cents, but to all the people who could deem it appropriate to write the nasty comments such as those on the episode about gender issues and the ones now cropping up here. Criticism of the material in the podcasts and its usefulness to writers, and POLITE requests for different topics, should be expected and welcomed, but to say “While my esteem is slightly lessened, but you still have my loyalty” (now I AM referencing My Two Cents) is no longer expressing an opinion about WRITING–it’s insulting the podcasters and smiling about it. These people work hard for their fans, readers and listeners, and they deserve better than smug insults.

    Posted by klmercer
  27. September 21, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    Further research shows that there are THREE rating categories on iTunes, at least as defined by the plug-in we’re using:.

    Default (no),

    Additional poking around suggests I’ve been going about this all wrong. “Clean” is typically for content that was initially explicit but has been edited. “Default (no)” means “Not explicit.”

    “Explicit” basically means R-rated.

    So… Now that I know there are THREE levels of granularity, I’ve changed the rating of this post to be “Default (no).” The team and I will discuss what we want to do going forward.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  28. September 21, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    Guys, I want to add my voice to this discussion – I see both points being made. Yes, we have come to expect, in general, that this is a very clean, family friendly, even kid friendly podcast. However, I think the title “love scenes” tells MOST of us what this is going to be about. Note, they didn’t say, “romance” or “relationships.” Also, the blurb for the ‘cast and the introduction at the beginning of the ‘cast make it abundantly clear what is going to be discussed.

    At that point, if you didn’t stop listening to the podcast, you really have no one to blame for your moral outrage but yourself. Your complaint really can’t be that you were blindsided by the content, but really more that you are morally disappointed with the decision to discuss the topic.

    That’s fine. Express your opinion. But this isn’t different than many of the other podcasts. Just because the guest writes erotica doesn’t mean they don’t have something to share with the rest of us. Do you remember Mary’s puppetry episode? We weren’t learning to be puppeteers; we were learning to apply the principles of puppeteering to writing fiction. In this episode, we weren’t learning to write erotica. We were learning to apply the principles of successful erotica to genre fiction.

    Posted by Terrell Sanders
  29. September 21, 2012 @ 9:09 am

    “That One Guy” writes: In my world, three strikes–you are out. My Two Cents is spot on.

    Oh, Americans. Your childish, gross oversimplification of the world and everything in it entertains us all. Don’t ever change.

    Posted by Ed
  30. September 21, 2012 @ 9:15 am

    AND… at the suggestion of Benjamin in last week’s discussion and in a shameless attempt to lighten the mood: (drumroll)

    The Writing Excuses Drinking Game!

    Take one drink if:
    The answer to any question is “practice!”
    Brandon talks for more than a one-minute stretch without breaking, or, apparently, breathing.
    The guest ‘caster goes for more than three minutes without speaking.
    Any reference is made to “world builder’s disease”.
    Howard starts to take a brainstorming exercise in a completely different direction than everyone else.
    Brandon asks a question and immediately answers it himself.
    One of the podcasters pimps their own merchandise (with or without the national anthem being hummed).
    Anyone says, “In late, out early,” or “In medias res.”
    Someone mentions Jerry Pournelle or “The Mote in God’s Eye”.
    Someone calls a can of worms.
    Brandon makes a joke and no one laughs.
    The phrase “crispy crunchy writing” is used.
    Anyone says, “And there went our clean rating,” or the guest ‘caster says something that endangers the rating.
    Someone says “Smoke and mirrors,” or “handwaving.”
    Someone questions Dan’s mental stability.

    Take two drinks if:
    Howard says, “Luxury!”
    Dan refers to bacon.
    Brandon goes fanboi about the Wheel of Time.
    Mary uses her reading voice.
    Tracy Hickman, John Brown, or Larry Correa are the guest ‘casters.
    Dan says, “These marshmallows are delicious!” in an English accent.
    Brandon starts speaking so fervently that he starts to stutter.
    Someone mentions Christopher Paolini , Stephenie Meyer, or J.K. Rowling.
    The podcast begins with Howard admitting that he has no idea what the topic means.
    Anyone in the podcast, or the podcast itself, is nominated for an award.

    Finish your drink if:
    The writing prompt involves monkeys.
    The writing prompt involves something that would require you to write an entire novel.
    The writing prompt requires you to write one of the podcasters into your story.
    The podcast or a podcaster actually wins an award.

    I’m sure I missed something! And, since I don’t actually drink I’m going to have to do this with coffee, so I’m going to be REALLY WIRED by the end of each episode. :)

    Posted by Terrell Sanders
  31. September 21, 2012 @ 9:21 am

    Oh Ed, you’re just jealous because your country isn’t as good at baseball, and therefore baseball analagies. 😀

    Posted by Terrell Sanders
  32. September 21, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Yeah, I’d just like to say, despite my sort of immature post earlier about the innuendo, that after reading through the comments and seeing the overreacting prudish complaints, that I thought the podcast was excellent as usual and applaud you guys for taking on something that, to my surprise, could be seen as so controversial.

    When I saw the title, it occurred to me that I didn’t remember this subject ever coming up before, and despite the fact I have no plans to write one myself, it was a fairly standard writing subject. I’m actually kind of a prude myself in real life, but by no means did I have a “rage-gasm” listening to this, and I hope you guys won’t let the criticism stop you from tackling other controversial writing subjects.

    Posted by RG
  33. September 21, 2012 @ 11:33 am

    @Terrell Sanders: your drinking game sounds like alcohol poisoning in under 15 minutes :)

    Posted by Jesse CUnningham
  34. September 21, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    @Jesse CUnningham: fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’ve already given you alcohol poisoning! :)

    But seriously, this was one of the funniest podcasts I’ve heard. Useful, yes, but funny. The silence as Shanna NUDGES the line without quite stepping across, the double entendres, and Brandon giggling when he thinks no one can hear him… priceless.

    Keep it up! I’m impressed that this ‘cast ever got made, to tell you the truth. And as a bonus, you didn’t have to scrap it due to content.

    Posted by Nathan Hall
  35. September 21, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    It has also just occurred to me that we’ve been making “Howard has no pants” jokes for SEVEN SEASONS without complaint.

    No PANTS.

    No pants in mixed company.

    (Also, for accuracy, you get the advice for free but we are getting paid. Hence the sponsored by Audible ads.)

  36. September 21, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    As usual, great podcast! :)

    Listening to this a second time (as I listen to them all more than once – all you complainers don’t go weird on me), it occurred to me that perhaps it might be possible to find out where and when you guys record the podcasts. How does one get in on the live audience experience?

    Thanks bunches!

    Posted by Allandre
  37. September 21, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    No pants… yes kilt? You’re shattering my sense of propriety, Mary!

    I enjoyed the episode as always. It inspires me at home and keeps me sane during work.

    Posted by Sam
  38. September 21, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

    I think the podcast was excellent, to address some of the comments about the title of the episode being misleading: episode 5.31 is titled Romance, so the line in terms of misinterpeting “love scenes” as “romance” is moot as the precedent for labelling episodes shows. Howard and Mary were right that Shanna spoke about the lead up to the physical act more than describing the “nuts and bolts” (as she put it) and that’s something that can be applied to any time and different subject (beyond romance) a writer wants to add tension.

    To be quite honest, sex in literature is rarely done well, hence why there is an award for the worst sex in fiction (given to the worst euphemism heavy works) and conversely a movement to highlight porn as not being realistic ; the more we as writers dance around sex in euphemistic or unrealistic circles the more our writing suffers for it. That’s why 50 Shades of Gray is panned as a terrible representation of the BDSM lifestyle because E L James didn’t make the choice to properly portray it.

    As for the rating? Take some responsibility for your own choice of what media you consume. It’s not an issue for Shanna, Mary, Howard, Brandon, and (in absentia) Dan that listeners have hang ups when they stray into topical territory (be it sex, violence, gender roles, or puppetry) that makes you shift uneasily in your seat.

    As for Howard’s lack of pants I just assume that the only two wearing pants are Dan and Mary (though her modelling story has thrown that into question) also Howard’s MUCH more gutter-minded on twitter.

    Posted by Rob Morgan
  39. September 22, 2012 @ 1:35 am

    It seems that some listeners are morality police first, and writers second.

    I appreciate that you are all writers first, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Posted by Duke
  40. September 22, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    @ Mary:

    Oh, I understand that making Writing Excuses does result in the crew getting paid–by Audible, by people who buy Writing Excuses discs, and by people who become drawn to your other works after listening–but you don’t charge the listeners directly, so this podcast, in that sense, is a free learning tool. When we choose to listen, we are not your customers but your students–and no student in any class I’ve ever attended would have been allowed to walk up to the teacher and say “I don’t like today’s topic, so you’re a total failure and I’ve lost all respect for you.” To come on here and act as though Writing Excuses is a made-to-order product and tell you that you must pander to any moral code other than your own is beyond presumptuous, it’s downright rude, and I allowed myself my own bit of presumption and came on here to talk about it. In closing, thanks again, Writing Excuses crew, for tackling subjects that some find controversial; episodes like this one answer questions many of us would never have thought to ask.

    And @Terrel Sanders, can I suggest switching to decaf for the drinking game? I’ve heard having your head explode can be a bit messy….

    Posted by klmercer
  41. September 22, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

    @klmercer Thank you. I am very, very glad that we have listeners like you. It makes being locked in a basement with the guys worthwhile.

  42. September 22, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

    Dear everyone,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the podcast and to offer your comments, support and feedback. I love hearing everyone’s thoughts on the podcast and on the topic itself.

    As you probably figured out from the podcast, I believe that writing well about sex requires the same amount of skill and craft focus as writing about death or cancer or space aliens. And, in truth, maybe it needs even more skill because we first have to overcome so much of what our culture teaches us about sexuality in order to write it without flinching. And isn’t that what writers do? We tell the truth — not factual truth, but universal truth — and the universal truth is that no matter how embarrassed or upset sex might make us feel, it’s a huge part of our lives, our humanity and our culture.

    Of course, not every story needs an element of sex or romance, just as not every story needs an element of horror or sci-fi or fantasy. But I believe it’s an important tool to have you in your writer’s toolbox, even if you’re never going to use it.

    For those who do want to write about sex and love — or even just have a better understanding of the elements involved in erotic and romantic scenes — I hope the podcast was of use to you. I really had a wonderful time!

    All the best,

    Posted by Shanna Germain
  43. September 22, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

    Ok, now you’re locked in a basement with a man with no pants. Sounds an awful lot like this week’s writing prompt.

    But seriously I am SO grateful to you guys. I attempted to write my first novel at thirteen and got about 30 pages in before becoming too distracted to get any further (front page news: “Teenage Girl Gets Distracted!”). It’s been sixteen years since then and I can’t even tell you how many novels worth of pages I’ve written without completing a single novel–never, in fact, getting past about fifty pages in any single project. Writing Excuses has helped drive me through those days when I’m convinced that I can’t string a sentence together and I’m now two hundred pages into a manuscript that I WILL finish. It sounds like I’m giving an AA speech or something but it’s true; I was an “eternal chapter one” writer, and Writing Excuses helped me get past my mental walls and WRITE. I can’t thank the podcast crew enough for that.

    Posted by klmercer
  44. September 23, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    I enjoyed this week’s writing excuses immensely. Quite insightful.

    “My book is set in 1815, so people almost kiss.”
    – Mary Robinette Kowal

    Loved that. xD

    Posted by Jian
  45. September 23, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

    I just want to pop on to say I thought it was a good podcast. I do not see harm in addressing the existence of sex and all the writers who want to incorporate some element of sexuality (even if it is just on the emotional side) into their writing. I have never written an explicit sex scene yet. Heck, I haven’t even felt inspired to write a non-explicit one. But I do write about desire and I want to do it well. I loved this podcast!

    Posted by SmileyGirl
  46. September 24, 2012 @ 12:22 am

    Ask yourself “Will it entertain the reader, move the story forward, or show character?”

    Excellent advice. Oh, and a transcript….

    Posted by Mike Barker
  47. September 24, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

    @Terrell Sanders

    In fact, I’ve just remembered what the limp “I’ll make three points” trope most reminded me of: Sheldon Cooper defending himself in court.

    Posted by Ed
  48. September 25, 2012 @ 4:46 am

    How Not To Write A Novel has some great things on the matter.

    “Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half of a kitten. It is not half as cute as a whole kitten; it is a bloody, godawful mess.”

    “…any sex act that has no plot significance attached to it should be examined carefully. Sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed to give richness to the relationships, make the pacing a little more leisurely, or just add sauce. And sometimes it’s like getting embarrassing spam.”

    With that said, the authors are not fully in favor of the fade-to-black, either. They put a lot of importance on lead-up and emotional charge, both to avoid an impression of voyeurism and to help the reader “take the word “throbbing” in the spirit in which it is meant.”

    @Terrell Sanders, many thanks for the drinking game!

    Posted by Kizor
  49. September 27, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    Just wanted to say a big thank you to the whole team and everyone involved in making and providing these podcasts. I am currently going through from S1 right through and the tips and motivation i have gained from you is amazing. not to mention the funny looks i get when i randomly start giggling in the house or on the bus.
    Loved this weeks podcast think it covered a topic many are afraid to.
    Thanks again for all your help. XxxxX

    Posted by Laura
  50. October 7, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

    This episode should have been title “Writing Sex Scenes” most of the love scenes I’ve read have nothing to do with sex, but with actual love or romance. I got bored of all the talk about sex less than halfway through. Please title episodes appropriately in the future.

    @ klmercer
    Your reasoning is illogical. People do one bad thing, so that suddenly makes it okay to do another bad thing? It is not a reason, but a justification. Think about it.

    Posted by Dallan
  51. October 8, 2012 @ 9:04 am


    Your message to klmercer does not make sense. Please quote from one of the 3 comments he/she/it has made with the reasoning you are attacking.

    Posted by Ed
  52. October 8, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    I’m not attacking anyone. I’m only pointing out that it is a logical fallacy to posit that people should write about sex just because they write about gore.
    It’s like saying, I stole a brownie the other day. Well, I guess morality is out the window. Might as well go on a killing spree.

    It should also be noted that morality is a cultural essential. All societies must have morals to continue their existence. All morals exist because societies have come to realize at some point that they were being destroyed without them, so talking about morality as writers and storytellers is not only reasonable, ignoring them is being untruthful.
    One of the most common morals in all societies are sexual morals. So there must be something important enough about them for societies across time and the world to all adopt such morals; i.e. society must have been falling apart without them.

    Posted by Dallan
  53. October 8, 2012 @ 5:25 pm


    I said you’re attacking her reasoning. Learn to read. Do what I suggested (quote the reasoning you are attacking), or scuttle off. I’m happy with either option.

    Posted by Ed
  54. October 9, 2012 @ 1:37 pm


    I never said “people should write about sex because they write about gore;” I would not presume to tell anyone what they should write about. What I said was that the podcasters have covered other controversial topics without being attacked and should not be attacked for this one. I never said that societies should not have morals, or that we should not talk or write about them–only that different people have different morals and listeners should not assume that the podcasters will bow to any moral code but their own and that any requests for redirection should be POLITE. A few people commenting on recent episodes have let their typing fingers get ahead of their manners and forgotten they are being given a gift and that they should be grateful. My main point this entire time, which I believe I have repeated more than once in different words, is “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

    Even the cartoon bunny gets it.

    Posted by klmercer
  55. October 9, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

    At about the 8:23 mark, Mary says something about a common mistake made by men writing female POV characters — “the women are looking at the wrong things”. I’d like to see y’all expand on that in a future episode.

    Posted by Jim Henry
  56. October 9, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

    That would quickly drag us well into the realm of the “explicit” tag. If you need that information, you should probably talk to some women.

    Good luck with that, by the way. 😉

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  57. October 10, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

    Again, you’re mistaking a simple point of logic for a personal attack. Please don’t make that mistake.

    Posted by Dallan
  58. October 10, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

    This episode should have been title “Writing Sex Scenes” most of the love scenes I’ve read have nothing to do with sex, but with actual love or romance.
    Romantic love is distiguished from other types of love by one very important feature — a desire to have sex. It might be a desire to have sex after marriage, but if that desire is not there then it is some other type of love. So– when writing a love scene that is believable one needs to understand the tools in order to decide how to show that desire even if it isn’t acted upon.

    At no point do we say that a love scene must have sex onstage. In fact, we say pretty much the opposite of that, which is that it should only be onstage if it moves the action forward, develops character, and entertains the reader. Part of making those decisions is understanding your story and who your audience is.

    At the end of the day, however, you need to have an understanding of the tools in the toolbox.

  59. October 11, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    @ Dallan:

    I never treated you as though you made a personal attack on me (so saying “again” makes no sense), only pointed out the flaws in your post above. You keep trying to refute arguments I never made. However, there are several people who HAVE attacked the PODCASTERS personally. Saying “I’ve lost respect for you” or “I thought you were better than this” IS a personal attack, not a “point of logic,” and while the podcasters are capable of defending themselves I thought they might like to know that there are some listeners who appreciate what they are doing for us.

    Posted by klmercer
  60. October 18, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

    Thanks for doing this and bringing in an expert. I’ve been afraid to even attempt writing physical intimacy but the way Shanna put in the context of character and doing multiple things in the story like any other scene made a lot of sense. Now the idea seems more manageable and less weird.

    Posted by Mark
  61. January 6, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

    […] do you write sex scenes? (Note: This particular question resulted in an entire episode back in Season 7. Shanna Germain to the […]

  62. June 22, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

    Hey, I give my thanks to Shanna. I do not read erotica and I have no plans to write erotica. Nonetheless, Shanna’s presentation helped me to understand how to write love scenes. She did well with explaining the importance of character development, plot, and setting, all of which add to mood and other essentials. This gave me a lot of insight to writing romance. I plan to write clean love scenes and Shanna inspired me. Thanks Shanna! Thanks podcasters!

    Posted by Callie