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By Eric Owusu · August 28, 2014
The film adaptation of the worldwide literary hit 50 Shades of Grey hasn’t even come out yet and it’s already got moviegoers anxious for Valentine’s Day 2015. Evidently, sex sells. Even the mention of it gets people excited. So as writers, we cannot be afraid to try some out in our screenplays. Sex is not only natural, but it’s also relatable. Film in every genre – horror, drama, action-adventure, noir, animated – have humor in them. Laughs are universal. So is sex.
A lot of writers are afraid to stir sex into their scripts. I know I am. Sometimes we think we won’t be able to do it well. We shouldn’t be scared. We write characters into situations that contain dialogue and action anyway. The same elements saturate sexual encounters. If a writer can pen a couple of friends talking about their existential crises masked by a discussion about dandelions at the swimming hole they used to frequent in their youth, then a writer can write people into a scene with sex that does more than feature sex. They can have sex be the focal point or they can have sex be background noise while some other thing is happening involving the characters in the scene. Sex can serve as a garnish or the full-course meal of a scene. The fun part is leaving a little mystery and not spelling everything out or having everything be demonstrated on the page, if using sex to sort of season a scene.
Sex has been in film long before it was acceptable by most people’s standards. Filmmakers knew that people wanted to experience it, especially in ways they could feel semi-dirty about it without regret. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North By Northwest has a famous scene in which he alludes to sex between a man and a woman by showing them kiss in bed, but then cutting to things resembling intercourse, such as footage of a train going into a tunnel. Even though we can show more sex in screenplays and on the silver screen now, it’s still titillating to the audience to build up and skirt it in your script. People like car chases and they also like when one character chases another sexually. Have some flirtation, a chase, and build it up to a satisfying climax. Or two.
People can experience euphoria, pleasure, pain, confusion, comfort, remorse, remorselessness, and a whole slew of other emotions before, after, and during sex. And in the same way that people’s feelings regarding sex vary, so are characteristics that sex can help reveal in characters. A writer can write a scene in which two people who seemingly hate each other have an unexpected commonality or connection. Depending on the characters and the mood the writer has set, the writer can also do much by putting even the slightest hint of sexual chemistry into the mix. The writer can show flaws and/or strengths, motives, secrets, suspense, or expectations, just by involving their subjects in sexual situations.
Like all techniques in creating captivating content, writing sex into screenplays takes a lot of practice. I’m a big proponent of reading other people’s work as examples of how to do something effectively (good work that is), and I suggest the same to writers who want to pepper sex into their stories. Then after (or maybe even, instead of) reading about it, do it already! But do it only if it is applicable. Sex in screenplays is fun and can help a writer intriguingly convey plot points in screenplays. You’ve definitely seen it done well in other movies. A notable inclusion of an effective allusion of sex is the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. Watch that movie again, grab your pen or keyboard, and start having a little of what she’s having.