How to Write an Excellent Bonking Scene

There is a popular Australian writer (I won’t name) whose success, to me, is a mystery.

 His plots are painfully predictable, following the same pattern every time, which is reflected in his sex scenes. I’d estimate he averages four sex scenes per book and has published over 20 books.

 Every sex scene is exactly the same.

 That’s about a hundred sex scenes, all described in graphic detail, and every one of them using the same set up, following the same sequence and even using the same euphemisms.

 This is not sex! This is a collage of clichés cobbled together in some vague approximation. It is a one dimensional sexual cipher with as much allure as pencil shavings. It is, I suspect, what people imagine sex is like when they’ve never done it themselves.

 Clearly, I’m not a fan, but what gives me the right to judge?

 *     *     *

 John Barth, in his masterpiece Chimera, suggested that: writing and reading, or telling and listening are literally ways of making love. There is a bond between teller and told that is by its nature erotic. Its success depends upon the reader’s consent and co-operation which can be withheld or withdrawn at any time…and the author’s ability to arouse, sustain, satisfy and even impregnate with ideas and images.

 When you are writing, you are inviting the reader into a relationship. You must woo them, tease them, excite them, fulfil them and leave them gasping for more, and if actual sex is involved it must be genuinely woven into the fabric of the story. Not just tacked on like a grubby afterthought.

 I have three rules for the writing of excellent bonk scenes:

  • the reader must desperately want the characters to do it (the set up);
  • the scene (and even the sex) must be meaningful to both plot and characterisation (the context); and
  • the scene must be different to every other bonk scene in the history of literature (the action).

 The set up is all about getting the reader interested in the characters and (hopefully) developing an emotional investment in them. This need not be sexual (at least in the beginning) – particularly if they (or at least one of them) are main characters. What you’re really aiming for is to get the reader to identify with the main character and enjoy his/her amorous activities vicariously. In my book Mr Cleansheets, the reader is in Eric’s head most of the time and is privy to all his hopes and frustrations, and (hopefully) rapidly comes to like him. Eric takes a while to start getting properly interested in Doreen, but the reader thinks he should be interested from the moment he meets her. Then, when he finally does get interested, there are a couple of false alarms before they finally do the deed, by which time the reader is positively gagging for it.

 The context has several aspects. For a start, the lead up to the scene, PLUS the scene itself must reveal something about the characters (or at least one of them).

 Secondly, the scene (or at least the formation/consummation of a relationship) must be relevant to the plot. (I wonder what percentage of literary bonk scenes describe the first time a couple have done it? Well over 90% I’d imagine.) By relevant to the plot, I mean that both characters have a back story leading into the relationship, but those stories are thenceforth to be combined with both characters giving each other (and the reader) something extra in order to navigate the story’s problems going forward.

 There needs to be something unusual about the context – possibly the location; the way the opportunity to ‘do it’ came up; a particular peccadillo that one of the characters has; the way one or both characters responds to the sex; how it finishes; and what the consequences are (there are always consequences). For example, in my novel THEM, the main character, Lasseter, falls in love with Ari. The problem though is that Ari is so perfectly androgynous that Lasseter is uncertain as to Ari’s gender. Lasseter is therefore confronted with the fact that he is in love with someone who may turn out to be a man. Ari’s gender is not revealed until the actual bonk scene, but you can imagine the fun I had with this in the lead up, and the reader’s curiosity is off the scale by the time Ari finally gets his/her kit off. (The issue of gender is, of course, a key sub-theme of the book.)

 How you impart the information is also important. In THEM the reader gets some information about the developing relationship between Lasseter and Vera (another love interest) from the archived reports of undercover agents. In my recently finished (yet to be published) Straight Jacket, a particularly intense scene is described from the perspective of a non-participant – a character with a massive crush overhears the woman he loves having sex with a man who is not her husband.

 Finally we come to the sex itself. As I said in the dot points, the sex scene (especially the way the action is described) must be different to every other bonk scene in the history of literature. As for the description – it must be enough, but not too much. (Not enough description is far better than slightly too much. Too much is pornography.) Of course, what exactly IS too much is dependent on the type of story – a gritty urban drama will warrant much more description that a lightly comic romance.

 The atmosphere is key to the sexiness of the scene. Always remember that the reader brings their own experience of sex to the scene so the key is to tap into that well of experience and unleash the reader’s own primal sexual imagery. One of my most effective sex scenes involved no description at all. It was all about the set up and context, where Eric and Doreen go into the woods armed with a pictorial book on tantric sex. I have had several readers tell me it was one of the most powerful sex scenes they’d ever read, who were then rather nonplussed when I pointed out that no sex was actually described in the scene. The thing is, everyone has had at least one sexual experience in the bush/woods/forest (or has at least fantasised about it) so they bring that imagery to the scene. Mainly through careful description of the set up and location and then with some olfactory images (sex in the bush seems to really lock smell into place as part of the memory) the reader’s own sexual imagery floods forth to fill the gaps left in the narrative.

 *     *     *

 The funny thing is, I’ve never set out to write a book with a view to putting in bonk scenes – they just happen as they ought to happen when healthy adults find themselves in unusual situations. On reflection, it occurs to me that there is quite a lot of sex in my books – but I’m proud of the fact that every scene is different and (more or less) obeys my rules regarding set up, context and action.

 In the end, it strikes me that there is a fourth bullet point – sex scenes must be memorable. How many bonk scenes from literature occasionally drift into your thoughts? If the reader is still remembering your bonk scenes ten years later, you’ve done a good job.

 As for the bloke I referred to earlier, I can’t remember one of his bonk scenes, even though he’s written it a hundred times!



  1. […] its climax is sex actually mentioned.I’ve written elsewhere about the mechanics of writing sex scenes and the most important rule is this: the reader must desperately want the characters to do it. If […]

  2. […] written a sort essay for those who are interested called: How to Write an Excellent Bonking Scene. How to Write an Excellent Bonking Scene | The Book Hammer Reply With […]

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