Sex Scenes in Thrillers: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by | Aug 23, 2017 | On writing | 6 comments


So, how many of you know what I’m talking about? Most, I imagine, but the thriller crowd skews over thirty so most readers haven’t used the latest apps. I’m talking about Tinder, where you upload a picture of yourself and some allegedly true facts in a bio (“I like long walks by the beach and cocoa in front of a blazing fire in winter, have read War and Peace and hold an advanced degree in economics from Harvard and a diploma in international studies from Oxford.”) And then others view that profile and swipe right if they want to meet you or left if they’re passing on the opportunity. If you swipe right you get to meet this random stranger in person who could be the next Hannibal Lecter.

Yes, in our world people are doing this and all I think as a thriller writer is: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? Just about all of us on this blog and every thriller writer everywhere could write over 90,000 words working with this scenario alone.

And this is exactly what I think when I’m deciding on adding a sex scene in a thriller. Because a whole heck of a lot can go wrong when an author not trained in the art of writing romance tries to write it. And just how much can go wrong can be read in my earlier post here. And no, I didn’t make up the bad sex description cited in that post. It’s real. Let’s face it folks, those romance authors? They’re professionals. I’m just a thriller writer moonlighting as a romance author when writing my scenes.

But I’m not against all sex in thrillers, just BAD sex.

My vote is to have sex in thrillers, but first base it on a description of characters whose connection grows over time-either for good or evil, and second, learn how to write it. Without the growth you have no real character arc, and every good novel should have one somewhere. And if that arc is based on a horrible character reeling in a helpless other (Basic Instinct, Body Heat) that’s fine too.This is especially true in espionage novels where the target is drawn in by the spy. The sex is just the hook they use on the poor victim.

And without the training you won’t be able to create the scene in a way that’s believable to the reader. Those who want to attempt these scenes should read books written by romance authors and learn how it’s done. With any luck your scene won’t win this year’s bad sex in novels award.


Jamie Freveletti

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Jamie – You are absolutely right that an author must "learn" to write certain kinds of scenes. When it comes to love scenes, as you say, it's a good idea to read books by some of the best romance writers -one bestselling author, Lisa Kleypas, comes to mind. The same goes for doing extensive research on how to write action scenes, learning about specific weapons and, as you mention at the outset, the latest technology. These are all subjects covered extensively in talks and workshops at our International Thriller Writer conferences, "Thrillerfest" held every July in NY — a great place for aspiring writers of all genres to listen and learn! Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. S. Lee Manning

    I do enjoy love and sex scenes – to a point. When done well, they enhance the reading experience. When done poorly, well, sometimes I can get some laughs – but more often, it's just boring.

  3. Chris Goff

    A 411 on why most thriller writers should steer clear of sex–one the page, that is. Heaven forbid I should be misconstrued.

  4. Gayle Lynds

    What y'all said! 🙂

  5. Jamie Freveletti

    I love Kleypas' writing too. Definitely worth reading to learn.

  6. Sonja Stone

    Jamie, this is so funny. You're absolutely right–I am so unqualified to write sex scenes! I have no idea how romance authors churn out scene after scene and book after book! If my life depended on it, I might be able to write a single sexy page, but even that would be a stretch.