Writing With Color – Featured Description Posts

Some of our most useful posts on describing People of Color, all in one place.

Specific Description Posts  


How to Make Your Descriptions Less Boring

We’ve all been warned about the dangers of using too much description. Readers don’t want to read three paragraphs about a sunset, we’re told. Description slows down a story; it’s boring and self-indulgent. You should keep your description as short and simple as possible. For those who take a more scientific approach to writing fiction, arbitrary rules abound: One sentence per paragraph. One paragraph per page. And, for god’s sake, “Never open a book with weather” (Elmore Leonard).

But what this conventional wedding wisdom fails to take into account is the difference between static and dynamic description. Static description is usually boring. It exists almost like a painted backdrop to a play. As the name suggests, it doesn’t move, doesn’t interact or get interacted with.

There were clouds in the sky.
Her hair was red with hints of orange.
The house had brown carpeting and yellow countertops.

In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with static description. Sometimes, facts are facts, and you need to communicate them to the reader in a straightforward manner.

But too much static description, and readers will start to skim forward. They don’t want to read about what the house looks like or the stormy weather or the hair color of each of your protagonist’s seventeen cousins.

Why? Because they can tell it’s not important. They can afford to skip all of your description because their understanding of the story will not be impacted.

That’s where dynamic description comes in. Dynamic description is a living entity. It’s interactive, it’s relevant. It takes on the voices of your narrators and characters. In short, it gives us important information about the story, and it can’t be skimmed over.

So how do you make your description more dynamic so that it engages your readers and adds color and excitement to your story? Here are a few tips.

(I have a TON more tips about setting and description. These are just a few. But I’m trying to keep this short, so if you have any questions or want more advice about this, please feel free to ask me.)

Keep reading

Words that describe someone’s voice
  • Adenoidal: adj: if someone’s voice is adenoidal, some of the sound seems to come through the nose
  • Appealing: adj: an appealing look, voice etc. shows that you want to help, approval or agreement
  • Breathy: adj: with loud breathing noises
  • Brittle: adj: if you speak in a brittle voice, you would sound as if you’re about to cry
  • Croaky: adj: if someone’s voice sounds croaky, they speak in a low rough voice that sounds as if they have sore throat
  • Dead: adj: if someone’s eyes are dead, or if their voice is dead, they feel or show no emotions
  • Disembodied: adj: a disembodied voice comes from someone who you cannot see
  • Flat: adj: spoken in a voice that does not go up or down
  • Fruity: adj: a fruity voice or laugh is deep and strong in a pleasant way
  • Grating: adj: a grating voice, laugh, or sound is unpleasant and annoying
  • Gruff: adj: a gruff voice has a rough low sound
  • Guttural: adj: a guttural sound is deep and made at the back of your throat
  • High-pitched: adj: a high pitched voice or sound is very high
  • Honeyed: adj: honeyed words sound nice, but you cannot trust the person who is speaking
  • Hoarse: adj: someone who is hoarse or has a hoarse voice speaks in a low rough voice
  • Husky: adj: a husky voice is deep and sounds hoarse often in an attractive way
  • Low: adj: a low voice or sound is quiet and difficult to hear or deep sounding
  • Matter-of-fact: adj: used about someone’s behavior or voice
  • Monotonous: adj: a monotonous sound or voice is boring and unpleasant because it does not change in loudness or become higher or lower
  • Nasal: adj: someone with a nasal voice sounds as if they are speaking through the nose
  • Orotund: adj: an orotund voice is loud and clear
  • Penetrating: adj: a penetrating voice or sound is so high or loud that it makes you slightly uncomfortable
  • Plummy: adj: this word shows that you dislike people who speak like this
  • Quietly: adv: in a quiet voice
  • Ringing: adj: a ringing sound or voice is very loud and clear
  • Rough: adj: a rough voice is not soft and is unpleasant to listen to
  • Shrill: adj: a shrill noise or voice is very loud, high and unpleasant
  • Smoky: adj: a smoky voice is sexually attractive in a slightly mysterious way
  • Silvery: adj: a silvery voice or sound is clear, light, and pleasant
  • Singsong: adj: if you speak in a singsong voice, you voice rises and falls in a musical way
  • Small: adj: a small voice or a sound is quiet
  • Strangled: adj: a strangled sound is one that someone stops before they finish making it
  • Strident: adj: a strident voice or sound is loud and unpleasant.
  • Taut: adj: used about something such as a voice or expressions that shows someone is nervous or angry
  • Thick: adj: if your voice is thick with an emotion, it sounds less clear than usual because of the emotion
  • Tight: adj: a tight voice or expression shows that you’re annoyed or nervous
  • Thin: adj: a thin voice or sound is high end unpleasant to listen to
  • Tremulous: adj: is it not steady for explained, cause you’re afraid or excited
  • Throaty: adj: a throaty sound is low and seems to come from deep in your throat
  • Wheezy: adj: a wheezy noise sounds as if it’s made by someone who has difficulty breathing
  • Wobbly: adj: if your voice is wobbly, it goes up and down, usually cause you’re frightened, not confident or you’re going to cry

Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. –C.S. Lewis

I found this great piece of writing advice from C.S. Lewis on twitter today.(courtesy of @thatboycanteach)

I know the phrase “show don’t tell” confuses a lot of people who are new to critiquing/workshops, because all writing is telling… isn’t it? 

But this is exactly what writers are talking about when they use that phrase. 

This is also why, when critiquing your work, writers might tell you to remove adjectives and adverbs, or why you might hear that those two types of words are “bad writing.” It’s not that you’re never allowed to use an adjective or an adverb, but that–like Lewis says–it’s much more preferable to be terrified, than to be told something is terrifying. 

Whenever you tell your reader what the characters in a story are experiencing, instead of letting your reader have an experience alongside your characters, you miss an opportunity to invite your reader into the story. If you miss too many, eventually your reader will stop waiting for their invitation and simply leave. 

Descriptive words for characters: personality traits (pt 1)

for studying, creative writing, book reviews, essays, fanfiction & other things

Nervous / scared easily

  • startled
  • afraid
  • spooked
  • tense
  • high-strung
  • on edge
  • fidgety
  • overwrought


  • bashful
  • in high spirits
  • elated
  • contented
  • joyful
  • overjoyed
  • jubilant
  • gleeful


  • sullen
  • down
  • peeved/peevish
  • cantankerous
  • querulous
  • dissatisfied
  • irritable

cold/doesn’t care

  • impassive
  • (wilfully)ignorant
  • coldblooded
  • unfeeling
  • apathetic
  • unsymphatetic
  • cold-hearted
  • blah
  • flat
  • unmoved
  • deadened


  • dramatic
  • enraged
  • heated
  • offended
  • inflamed
  • provoked
  • irrated
  • livid
  • scornful
  • splenetic
  • cranky
  • belligerent
  • acerbic


  • collected
  • unwavering
  • certain
  • composed
  • steady

has a lot of fantasy/lighthearted/playful

  • whimsical
  • light
  • blithe
  • eccentric
  • quirky
  • joyful
  • sympathetic

sudden changes/moodswings

  • impulsive
  • any way the wind blows
  • capricious
  • vagarious
  • unstable
  • volatile
  • changeable


  • cunning
  • clandestine
  • two-timing
  • insidious
  • fraudulent
  • deceptive
  • shady
  • surreptitious
  • wily
  • devious

you can trust this person/honest

  • reliable
  • loyal
  • respectable
  • solid
  • safe
  • responsible
  • true-hearted

different from most common/different from norm/strange(some positve, some negative,some neutral)

  • divergent
  • non conforming
  • atypical
  • heteroclite
  • peculiar
  • odd
  • bizarre
  • weird
  • anomalous
  • ludicrous
  • cooky
  • absurd
  • daft
  • bananas
What each zodiac reminds me of:

Aries: random sparks of energy, doodling at night, warm coffee, martial arts, meaningful hugs.

Taurus: laughing so bad you can’t breathe, sentimental conversations, pumpkin muffins, music played loud, family reunions.

Gemini: Wikipedia searches, cute faces, extravagant places, house parties, understanding smiles.

Cancer: pancakes, shy appearance, libraries, fantasy books, seashells with pearls

Leo: fashion walks, old memories, stability, black and white photographs, genuine expressions.

Virgo: newly bought books, home interiors, accepting yourself, strange calming songs, owls and trees.

Libra: marmalade, yellow sunrises, free horses, kind gestures, freshly painted walls.

Scorpio: sitting beside a window at night, passionate and intense conversations, surprise gifts, gentle cuddles, smirking.

Sagittarius: hiking, curiosity, rock/alternative music, sculptures, history textbooks.

Capricorn: writing a journal, family dinners, watching your favourite series, silent communication, flowery fields.

Aquarius: clouds on a nice day, sparkling eyes, goofy jokes, debates, extreme sports/skydiving.

Pisces: group projects, foreign languages, humanitarian works, poetry, when your pet(s) sleep beside you.


So one of my players is playing an Aasimar but since he’s not white he really didn’t like the stareotype that anything that’s divine, holy or blessed are white (as the Aasimar are depicted as). I told him as long as it’s strikingly beautiful and clearly unnatural and has a hint of divinity he can make his Aasimar look however he wants.

Here’s what he decided: bronze skin. Not skin LIKE bronze, ACTUALLY bronze skin. Like a living statue with a slight tarnish to it and a soft glow or sheen to it. His eyes are black void with swirling blue clouds and white flecks like stars and his hair is jet black and curly. We found these two photos as reference

I will be very honest: i think this looks more divine and holy than a glowing alabaster skinned human. It got me thinking: what are some other appearances for Aasimar besides glowing white skin? Here’s some ideas i came up with

1. Skin like angels. Deva: soft green/blue. Planatar: powder blue. Solar: salmon red/orange.

2. Skin like metals. Reflective gold, polished bronze, shiny silver

3. Skin like marble. Marble comes in pretty much any color but always has vains and patterns in other colors

4. Neon eyes. Purple, green, orange, yellow iris

5. Metallic eyes. No whites, just golden orbs, silver spheres, bronze balls set into their skull

The skin is always going to be glowing/reflective and their eyes reflect light unnaturally. Optional: when injured their blood is gold or silver like celestial ichor

Aasimar are touched by the upper planes just like Genasi are touched by the elemental planes and Teiflings are touched by the lower planes. Just as there are many types of Genasi and an infinite type of teifling variants out there there should be more than just pale human to represent the divine mortal children of the celestial. I personally love my players character and together we worked on a backstory and quest for him (which I’m psyched about) so i just had to share the creativity

How People Watching Improves Your Writing

Sensory detail. 

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I liked to draw. I’d look up internet tutorials on how to draw the human figure, and nearly all of them suggested going outside and sketching anyone who goes by. Not only was this relaxing, but I noticed my art style become more realistic over time. I think we can apply similar concepts as writers to improve sensory description. 

How to practice: Try writing down specific details about the people you see. How is their walking gait? What does their voice sound like? What quirks about them stand out as you observe them? Write down descriptions using all of the senses (except maybe taste) and, over time, you’ll notice your words become more lively.


You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to benefit from observation skills. Writing stories is all about noticing connections and seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life. People watching can boost your ability to notice little details and recognize them as important, and it can help you sense patterns more easily.

How to practice: In this case, remember once again that you are not Sherlock Holmes. Don’t assume that you know a person’s life story based on what socks they’re wearing (and definitely don’t try making such assumptions with friends or family). 

Try to take in people who pass by and the small, unique details about them. Notice how they’re interacting with other people and the world around them. Think about why that might be and write down any thoughts or connections that interest you.


Writing first drafts can paralyze anyone. We all know that getting the words out is the first, most important step, but that can feel like torture sometimes. If you’re a hesitant writer, freewriting can help you feel less self-conscious when writing and jot down thoughts or impressions as they come. Other exercises can help you with editing later on, but you can’t get there unless you freewrite.

How to practice: Write down anything that strikes you without worrying whether it’s important or you’ll use it later. I like to focus on one person per minute and during that time, write anything that I find interesting. Once the sixty seconds are up, I move onto another person and continue that cycle as long as I want to keep going. With time, you’ll get faster and may notice that words come more easily.


In the book Stargirl, one of my favorite parts is when Stargirl and Leo go to the park and play a game where they make up stories about the strangers they pass. As they connect together little observations, they create vivid backstories that may not necessarily be true, but that’s not the point. What matters is stretching their minds.

How to practice: Play this game for yourself. Pick a person at random and, piecing together little details you notice about them, give them a backstory. What are they doing, and where are they going (both right now and in the long-term)? Why are they hurrying so quickly to wherever they’re going or walking almost aimlessly along? Don’t worry about getting it “right” so much as creating an interesting story for this person.


Developing empathy as a writer is so important, though not often talked about. If you can put yourself in the shoes of another person and consider what complexities, challenges, and little joys life holds for them, you will create emotionally powerful pieces. People watching helps train your eye to notice those around you more and remember that yours is not the only voice in the world.

How to practice: Remember the definition of the word “sonder:” the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. Look for those complexities. Notice relationships. Notice facial expressions and emotions. Don’t just look at them but see them, and write down what strikes you about them.

How to Write a Novel:  Tips For Visual Thinkers.

1.  Plotting is your friend.

This is basically a must for all writers (or at least, it makes our job significantly easier/less time consuming/less likely to make us want to rip our hair out by the roots), but visual thinkers tend to be great at plotting.  There’s something about a visible outline that can be inexplicably pleasing to us, and there are so many great ways to go about it.   Here are a few examples: 

  • The Three-Act Structure
    • This one is one of the simplest:  it’s divided into the tried-and-true three acts, or parts, a la William Shakespeare, and includes a basic synopsis of what happens in each.  It’s simple, it’s familiar, it’s easy to add to, and it get’s the job done. 
    • It starts with Act I – i.e. the set-up, or establishing the status quo – which is usually best if it’s the shortest act, as it tends to bore audiences quickly.  This leads to Act II, typically the longest, which   introduces the disruptor and shows how characters deal with it, and is sandwiched by Act III (the resolution.)  
  • The Chapter-by-Chapter
    • This is the one I use the most.  It allows you to elucidate on the goings on of your novel in greater detail than the quintessential three act synopsis generally could, fully mapping out your manuscript one chapter at a time.  The descriptions can be as simple or as elaborate as you need them to be, and can be added to or edited throughout the progression of your novel.
    • Can easily be added to/combined with the three-act structure.
  • The Character Arc(s)
    • This isn’t one that I’ve used a lot, but it can be a lot of fun, particularly for voice-driven/literary works:  instead on focusing on the events of the plot, this one centralizes predominantly around the arc of your main character/characters.  As with its plot-driven predecessors, it can be in point-by-point/chapter-by-chapter format, and is a great way to map out character development.  
  • The Tent Moments
    • By “tent moments,” I mean the moments that hold up the foundation (i.e. the plot) of the novel, in the way that poles and wires hold up a tent.  This one builds off of the most prevalent moments of the novel – the one’s you’re righting the story around – and is great for writers that want to cut straight to the action.  Write them out in bullet points, and plan the rest of the novel around them.
  • The Mind Map
    • This one’s a lot of fun, and as an artist, I should probably start to use it more.  It allows you to plot out your novel the way you would a family tree, using doodles, illustrations, and symbols to your heart’s content.  Here’s a link to how to create basic mind maps on YouTube.

2.  “Show don’t tell” is probably your strong suit.

If you’re a visual thinker, your scenes are probably at least partially originally construed as movie scenes in your head.  This can be a good thing, so long as you can harness a little of that mental cinematography and make your readers visualize the scenes the way you do.

A lot of published authors have a real big problem with giving laundry lists of character traits rather than allowing me to just see for myself.  Maybe I’m spoiled by the admittedly copious amounts of fanfiction I indulge in, where the writer blissfully assumes that I know the characters already and let’s the personalities and visuals do the talking.  Either way, the pervasive “telling” approach does get tedious.

Here’s a hypothetical example.  Let’s say you wanted to describe a big, tough, scary guy, who your main character is afraid of.  The “tell” approach might go something like this:

Tommy was walking along when he was approached by a big, tough, scary guy who looked sort of angry.

“Hey, kid,” said the guy.  “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to a friend’s house,” Tommy replied.  

I know, right?  This is Boring with a capital ‘B.’  

On the other hand, let’s check out the “show” approach:

The man lumbered towards Tommy, shaved head pink and glistening in the late afternoon sun.  His beady eyes glinted predatorily beneath the thick, angry bushes of his brows.

“Hey, kid,” the man grunted, beefy arms folded over his pot belly.  “Where are you going?” 

“I’m going to a friend’s house,” Tommy replied, hoping the man didn’t know that he was ditching school.

See how much better that is?  We don’t need to be told the man is big, tough, and scary looking because the narrative shows us, and draws the reader a lot more in the process.  

This goes for scene building, too.  For example: 

Exhibit A:

Tyrone stepped out onto his balcony.  It was a beautiful night.


Exhibit B: 

Tyrone stepped out onto his balcony, looking up at the inky abyss of the night sky, dotted with countless stars and illuminated by the buttery white glow of the full moon.

Much better.

3.  But conversely, know when to tell.

A book without any atmosphere or vivid, transformative descriptors tends to be, by and large, a dry and boring hunk of paper.  That said, know when you’re showing the reader a little too much.

Too many descriptors will make your book overflow with purple prose, and likely become a pretentious read that no one wants to bother with.

So when do you “tell” instead of “show?”  Well, for starters, when you’re transitioning from one scene to the next.

For example:

As the second hand of the clock sluggishly ticked along, the sky ever-so-slowly transitioning from cerulean, to lilac, to peachy sunset.  Finally, it became inky black, the moon rising above the horizon and stars appearing by the time Lakisha got home.

These kind of transitions should be generally pretty immemorable, so if yours look like this you may want to revise.

Day turned into evening by the time Lakisha got home. 

See?  It’s that simple.

Another example is redundant descriptions:  if you show the fudge out of a character when he/she/they are first introduced and create an impression that sticks with the reader, you probably don’t have to do it again.  

You can emphasize features that stand out about the character (i.e. Milo’s huge, owline eyes illuminated eerily in the dark) but the reader probably doesn’t need a laundry list of the character’s physical attributes every other sentence.  Just call the character by name, and for God’s sake, stay away from epithets:  the blond man.  The taller woman.  The angel.  Just, no.  If the reader is aware of the character’s name, just say it, or rework the sentence. 

All that said, it is important to instill a good mental image of your characters right off the bat.

Which brings us to my next point…

4.  Master the art of character descriptions.

Visual thinkers tend to have a difficult time with character descriptions, because most of the time, they tend to envision their characters as played their favorite actors, or as looking like characters from their favorite movies or TV shows.

That’s why you’ll occasionally see characters popping up who are described as looking like, say, Chris Evans.  

It’s a personal pet peeve of mine, because A) what if the reader has never seen Chris Evans?  Granted, they’d probably have to be living on Mars, but you get the picture:  you don’t want your readers to have to Google the celebrity you’re thirsting after in order for them to envision your character.  B) It’s just plain lazy, and C) virtually everyone will know that the reason you made this character look like Chris Evans is because you want to bang Chris Evans.  

Not that that’s bad or anything, but is that really what you want to be remembered for?

Now, I’m not saying don’t envision your characters as famous attractive people – hell, that’s one of the paramount joys of being a writer.  But so’s describing people!  Describing characters is a lot of fun, draws in the reader, and really brings your character to life.

So what’s the solution?  If you want your character to look like Chris Evans, describe Chris Evans.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Exhibit A:

The guy got out of the car to make sure Carlos was alright, and holy cow, he looked just like Dean Winchester!

No bueno.  Besides the fact that I’m channeling the writing style of 50 Shades of Grey a little here, everyone who reads this is going to process that you’re basically writing Supernatural fanfiction.  That, or they’ll have to Google who Dean Winchester is, which, again, is no good.

Exhibit B:  

The guy got out of the car to make sure Carlos was alright, his short, caramel blond hair stirring in the chilly wind and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.  His eyes were wide with concern, and as he approached, Carlos could see that they were gold-tinged, peridot green in the late afternoon sun.

Also note that I’m keeping the description a little vague here;  I’m doing this for two reasons, the first of which being that, in general, you’re not going to want to describe your characters down to the last detail.  Trust me.  It’s boring, and your readers are much more likely to become enamored with a well-written personality than they are a vacant sex doll.  Next, by keeping the description a little vague, I effectively manage to channel a Dean Winchester-esque character without literally writing about Dean Winchester.

Let’s try another example: 

Exhibit A:

Charlotte’s boyfriend looked just like Idris Elba. 

Exhibit B:  

Charlotte’s boyfriend was a stunning man, eyes pensive pools of dark brown amber and a smile so perfect that it could make you think he was deliciously prejudiced in your favor.  His skin was dark copper, textured black hair gray at the temples, and he filled out a suit like no other.

Okay, that one may have been because I just really wanted to describe Idris Elba, but you get the point:  it’s more engaging for the reader to be able to imagine your character instead of mentally inserting some sexy fictional character or actor, however beloved they may be.

So don’t skimp on the descriptions!

5.  Don’t be afraid to find inspiration in other media!

A lot of older people recommend ditching TV completely in order to improve creativity and become a better writer.  Personally, if you’ll pardon my French, I think this is bombastic horseshit.  

TV and cinema are artistic mediums the same way anything else is.  Moreover, the sheer amount of fanart and fanfiction – some of which is legitimately better than most published content – is proof to me that you can derive inspiration from these mediums as much as anything else.

The trick is to watch media that inspires you.  I’m not going to say “good media” because that, in and of itself, is subjective.  I, for example, think Supernatural is a fucking masterpiece of intertextual postmodernism and amazing characterization, whereas someone else might think it’s a hot mess of campy special effects and rambling plotlines.  Conversely, one of my best friends loves Twilight, both the movies and the books, which, I’m going to confess, I don’t get at all.  But it doesn’t matter that it isn’t good to me so long as it’s good to her.   

So watch what inspires you.  Consume any whatever movies, books, and shows you’re enthusiastic about, figure out what you love most about them, and apply that to your writing.  Chances are, readers will find your enthusiasm infectious.

As a disclaimer, this is not to say you get a free pass from reading:  I’ve never met a good writer who didn’t read voraciously.  If you’re concerned that you can’t fall in love with books the way you used to (which, sadly, is a common phenomenon) fear not:  I grappled with that problem after I started college, and I’ll be posting an article shortly on how to fall back in love reading.

So in the meanwhile, be sure to follow my blog, and stay tuned for future content!

(This one goes out to my friend, beta reader, and fellow writer @megpieeee, who is a tremendous visual thinker and whose books will make amazing movies someday.)

anonymous asked:

So, I like to give each of my character a habit that makes them "unique". The problem is that I can think of only a few like biting their lip/nail or licking their lips for example. Are there any others that I could include? Habits in general would be very nice. Thank you!!

Hey, love!  Thanks for sending us your question :)  All the mods have brainstormed a bit to help provide you with some good examples…

Habits for Your Characters

People have at least two kinds of habits: those which they experience every day, especially when deep in thought; and those which they experience when anxious or upset.  We’ve split our list into these two categories for you! 

Absentminded Habits

  • Rocking on heels
  • Whistling/humming
  • Tapping foot; bouncing leg
  • Tapping finger
  • Licking/biting lip/cheek
  • Popping joints
  • Clicking nails
  • Tucking and untucking hair/clothes
  • Shifting positions
  • Bobbing head
  • Unfocusing eyes
  • Repeating hand gestures
  • Playing with jewelry
  • Fidgeting with a nearby object
  • Playing with a phone case
  • Chewing/sucking utensils, cups
  • Using fidget toys
  • Clicking pens
  • Hand-signing words
  • Juggling/bouncing objects
  • Playing with ears/bellybutton/cartilage
  • Tensing/untensing muscles

Anxious Habits

  • Tracing scars/birthmarks
  • Biting nails
  • Grinding teeth
  • Picking scabs
  • Sucking/biting finger
  • Playing with/chewing on hair
  • Ripping paper/napkins
  • Ripping/pulling out hair
  • Pulling out eyebrows
  • Rubbing/scratching skin

I also wanted to note that these habits can be a form of stimming, which means self-stimulation.  Stimming is the repetition of movements such as those listed above; it’s a common comfort mechanism for people with autism, OCD, ADHD, and other neurodivergencies.  Literary representation in these areas is very lacking, so if you’re interested in expanding on this, I’ve included some links to get you started.

As always, our followers (and anyone who comes across this post) are encouraged to reblog/reply with more examples – especially those unique to you or the people in your lives!  We can all only work from our experience, so asking about other people, or simply observing the humans around you, can improve your characters drastically.

Thanks again for your question <3  Let us know if you need any more help!

– The Mods

If you need advice on general writing or fanfiction, you should maybe ask us!

anonymous asked:

How do you write a sex scene without being explicit? Or do you just not write it, and sort of cut around it?

This is a bit of a tough question because ”explicit” means different things to different people, and then has the additional layer of meaning different things in different age categories for novels. So I’ll answer this like looking at the difference between a movie PG-13 vs an R-rating.

In writing, an “explicit” sex scene usually means there is direct reference to genitalia in an overtly sexual manner or a sexual action itself. I’ll admit that’s kind of vague, but it’s kind of like how you can only show bare breasts for a certain number of seconds before that PG-13 jumps to R and showing an erection would be straight to R. (Note: Book ratings based on content are not exactly the same as movie ratings– this comparison is only for the ease of explanation!)

A sex scene is more than just sex. Foreplay is a thing and it doesn’t even have to be with clothes off if you think that’s too explicit for your novel. The actual act of reading the sex is often not what a reader has any interest in (unless you’re writing erotica); it’s the cathartic value of sex and what it means for the characters’ relationship after what’s hopefully some good buildup. Cutting around a sex scene does reduce the cathartic value for many readers, but going all the way and describing everything the entire time is often a turn-off.

The middle ground is a thing! Cutting down on “explicitness” typically involves shifting focus away from the direct act and/or relying on implication rather that direct statement. These options can be taken individually or combined:

  • Focus on the relationship/feelings rather than the physical act. You don’t have to paint a picture of nudity even though your characters may be nude. The glory of writing is that you can direct what your reader “sees” by what you write about and sex should be bringing up a lot of feelings in a character. Sex is unique in that it brings some sensations that aren’t really felt in other situations, but focusing on emotions is certainly fair game to help “censor” things.
    • “There she stood before Sabina naked and disarmed. Literally disarmed: deprived of the apparatus she had been using to cover her face and aim at Sabina like a weapon.” (Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera) 
  • Focus on the little things that aren’t inherently explicit. Skin contact comes to my mind immediately since it’s just skin and touching can be non-sexual, but there are other aspects of sex that aren’t directly explicit. Instead of a brief mention, write the “sexiness” of a specific thing– like how hands carefully explore a body, the smell of any perfume, the feeling of hair, etc.
    • “His forehead presses to mine as we gasp together, the cold air barely cooling the heat raging between us.” (Midnight by Elizabeth Miller)
  • Write the lead-up, but not the actual act. You can have foreplay without getting too sexual, like kissing, touching, talking, sex isn’t just sex (good sex, anyway). When using this method, you just want to be careful to not make it seem like what you show is as far as they went and a common way to avoid that is to increase the steaminess of the scene and then cut away at a clear hook. A common one is when the clothes start coming off, which leads directly to the next point…
  • Fade to black. Most authors tend to use this because sex acts aren’t really pivotal scenes that need the entire thing to be shown to the reader. The best fade-to-blacks don’t just cut off the scene, they mimic the “fade” and give better sex-implications by giving a line or few sentences that tell the reader where it’s going.
    • “His extreme gentleness was in no way tentative; rather it was a promise of power known and held in leash; a challenge and a provocation the more remarkable for its lack of demand. I am yours, it said. And if you will have me, then..” (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)
  • Gloss over it. This kind of depends on narration technique and is much easier to get away with if you’re using an omniscient narrator, but it’s possible for a narrator to “talk” over a sex scene. A POV narrator that’s set up like they’re telling the reader a memory and inserting thought about the scenes can also get away with this. Stories where the narration is play-by-play and immediate at all times can’t use this as well since the narration tends to start sounding like their mind is wandering. 
    • “Did you ever find yourself, without admitting it, tangled up with your best friend? Or in a dorm room bed with two people instead of one, while Bach played on the chintzy stereo, orchestrating the fugue? It’s a kind of fugue state, anyway, early sex. Before the routine sets in, or the love.” (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides)

Ultimately, the safest way is always not to write it, but my recommendation (based on my own opinions about explicitness) would be to use the foreplay to make it clear what’s happening, write the foreplay with focus on what you deem appropriate for your story, and then fade to black. It might make sense to add some afterglow or whatever the characters would experience in their situation.

Good luck with your scene!

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