Writing THAT Scene: The Struggles of a “Provincial” Novelist


In a previous post, I shared my feelings...my discomfort...writing explicit sex scenes.
By choice, I don’t write erotic fiction; I’ll leave that to others.
(There are plenty of writers out there doing that already. Which will be the subject of an upcoming post, by the way!)

I’m not a prude (Really, I’m not!), but I readily admit to being somewhat…provincial
I blame my background and culture. 
And my Mom!

I was born and raised in the deep south; sex was not talked about in "polite company." My Mom is, in the old fashioned sense of the word, a Southern Lady. She didn't allow profanity in our house. Certainly not talk that was sexual in nature. (She’s in her 80s now, and still doesn’t tolerate "cussing.") In addition, I was a minister, in an extremely conservative religious background. 

That said, I don’t think I have “hang ups” about sex. I’m not judgmental about those who choose sexual activities different than mine. (Clarification: when it involves consensual adults!) I think sex is natural, beautiful and healthy. As a writer, I acknowledge the influence and impact a sexual encounter can have on the story arc of a character. Sex…or the potential for sex…builds conflict, which is essential for a novel. (Will they or won’t they?)

But I do have an issue when the sex—described in intricate and (in my opinion) tedious detail—takes precedence over realistic settings, believable characters or discernible plot. I think the characters, the setting and the plot should provide the context for sex.
Too often, sex is the plot, and sex is the main character.
Sex should not drive the story, or be the story!
(Unless, I suppose, the book is an instructional manual on prostitution.)


Which brings me to my current dilemma.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m working on my new/next novel.
This one is probably the most personal one for me, as I’m drawing from the events in my own life that led to my involvement in “ex-gay” ministry and leadership. I’m not interested in writing an autobiography, but it occurred to me that I can expose the deception and dangers of these groups by using a fictional character. He’s not me, but some of what happened to me will find its way into his life, his decisions, and his mistakes.

Author's Note: I emphasize this not me element to dissuade people who read this book to try and superimpose it all onto times, places and events in my life. The same will be true of the people who populate my story. I don't want folks who were part of my life at the time to assume they "know" someone. 

When I write, I work from an outline, with the beginning, the middle and the end worked out in advance.
I craft an extensive backstory for my main characters; I know more about them than will ever show up on the page.
I tend to write consecutively, scene by scene…though I usually write the ending early in the process. (I never feel secure until I know what happens on that final page!)
Thank the muses for Scrivener!

This story begins in 1982.
At the time, “ex-gay” programs were strong and growing.
I was actively involved…and somewhat prominent…in the “ex-gay” world at this time. (Though this not my story and character is not me.)
Within a year, the gay community…indeed the world…would forever be changed by the appearance of a deadly virus.
Fundamentalism would use this tragedy to further stigmatize gay people, and “ex-gay” programs would be seen by some—fearful of contracting a fatal disease—as a solution.
“If I’m not gay, I won’t become infected.”

My main character, Nate, is on staff at a conservative church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. (Again: he’s not me!) Nate was happily married until a tragedy took his wife. He’s dealing with his grief, rebuilding his life. 
The chance meeting with a handsome man reveals to us that Nate has a long-kept secret: he’s attracted to other men. While he’s never acted on these impulses, they’ve always caused him guilt and shame. As his friendship with this man deepens, Nate grapples with his hidden desires, which are in conflict with what he’s always been taught. (Remember: novels must have conflict!)


I’ve written nearly eleven chapters so far.
I know the (pardon another pun) climax of Part One will be the two of them having sex.
But writing THAT scene has proven to be challenging.
Actually, that scene has been written, edited, deleted and re-written…several times.
I’ve even skipped ahead and completed the two chapters that follow.

To complicate the issue: this story is being told entirely by Nate, in First Person. We don’t have the advantage of an objective narrator who can give us commentary or analysis. The entire experience has to seen and felt through the eyes...the senses…of Nate alone. 
He’s lived a sheltered life and essentially exists in an incubated religious bubble. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t use profanity, and has only had sex with his wife.
(And this is a time before the Internet.)
His faith is real, but so are these forbidden feelings.
He's committed to his ministry…his calling…to help other, but who will help him?

When we reach THAT scene, it's all new and foreign to him.
His vocabulary—informed and constrained by his strict moral culture—hinders his ability to adequately describe his feelings and what’s happening to him.

Having sex will be a major turning point for Nate—pivotal in his journey of self-discovery.
In the aftermath, he’ll make mistakes that impact his ministry and his relationships. Eventually, he chooses to participate in an “ex-gay” group that promises to change his sexual orientation.
That sincere decision that will have lasting…even deadly…consequences.


Needless to say, I want the sex...THAT scene...to be meaningful; it's not a casual quickie or a one-stand. 
It should be exciting, and passionate, but also include elements of Nate's innocence and awkwardness.
I don't want to trivialize it.
I think it deserves more than a mere reference or insinuation. (“The next morning...”)

It demands substance.
I want to infuse it with significance. Emotion. Gravitas.
(No pressure on his partner, right?)

As readers, we will get to experience what’s happening to Nate, as it’s happening to him…in his own words.
But I don’t want graphic Fifty Shades of Gay.

So, here I am.
At THAT scene.
And finding ways to avoid it.
(Like writing a blog about that scene rather than actually writing THAT scene!)

Help me, band of Erotes!