Online | Fiction | Seminar

1-Day Fiction Seminar: How to Write Sex Scenes

It's easy to drag a bad sex scene, but hard to write a good one. It's even harder when you or your characters come from a marginalized background, or the sex they're having is non-normative. There are a lot of reasons for this: the deep vein of Puritanism and squeamishness in American culture that leads to slut-shaming and kink-shaming; the cultural devaluation of romance and erotica "genre fiction"; and our good old friends misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and rape culture, just to name a few. Many of the sex scenes in "canonical literature" are written from a cis white male perspective; much of the sex we read about is either objectifying or happens completely "offscreen."

Yet sex is a huge part of most of our lives—and whether the sex is ecstatic or traumatic or mundane, it's often where the rubber hits the road in terms of the tender, awkward, messy experience of being human. When we leave it out of our fiction—due to internalized taboos, fear of criticism, or simply a lack of tools, models, and confidence for describing our unique embodied experience—our fiction potentially loses something precious.

In this one-day seminar, we'll look at examples of sex scenes written by authors like Ocean Vuong, Miranda July, Jenny Zhang, Alexander Chee, Nalo Hopkinson, Zeyn Joukhadar, Chris Kraus with work featuring characters who are women, nonbinary, or trans; who are queer; who write honestly and bravely about kink and fantasy; and who dare to limn their characters' experience of sex and intimacy in all of its nuance.

We will read these scenes with an eye to how point of view is handled; how embodiment is conveyed on the page; what details are included or left out; how sex can reveal, clarify, or complicate character; and how an intimate scene can reveal striking truths about society.

We will also practice writing sex scenes ourselves, using prompts that will enable participants to work with characters they've already created or start from scratch. The prompts will encourage permission to experiment with different ways of writing about sex, while encouraging embodiment and authenticity; they will also help participants to identify the craft choices that will best serve their work.

There will be opportunities for sharing work in class and possibly receiving feedback—all optional, and all with the option of sharing work anonymously. This class is open to writers with all levels of experience, and though this is designed as a fiction seminar, it may be useful to those writing autobiographical nonfiction as well.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  

COURSE TAKEAWAYS:

- Permission and confidence to write about sex, intimacy, bodies, and attraction from your own unique, authentic perspective

- Heightened appreciation for the craft that authors bring to sex scenes—especially with regard to point of view, character development, and selection of details

- The opportunity to generate new writing in a supportive environment

- The opportunity to receive verbal feedback on a sex scene from the instructor and fellow students (either anonymously or not)

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes

COURSE EXPECTATIONS:

A packet of readings will be distributed before class, intended to take about 2 hours to read. No outside reading or work will be required after the seminar.

Students can optionally submit scenes (one paragraph to three pages) in-class for verbal feedback from the instructor and classmates.

COURSE SKELETON:

11am-12pm: Introductions, overview, & mini-lecture

12-12:45: Writing exercise #1 & debrief

12:45-1:30: Break

1:30-3: Writing exercise #2, debrief, further discussion of reading

3:15-3:30: Break

3:30-5: Optional sharing & verbal feedback

Amy Bonnaffons

Amy Bonnaffons is the author of the story collection The Wrong Heaven  (2018) and the novel The Regrets (2020), both published by Little, Brown. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Kenyon Review, The Sun, and elsewhere, and has been read on NPR's This American Life. She holds a BA in Literature from Yale, an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU, and a PhD in English and Women's Studies from the University of Georgia. Amy is a founding editor of 7x7.la, a literary journal devoted to collaborations between writers and visual artists. She has taught writing at New York University, the University of Georgia, and in many other settings, including senior centers, hospitals, and prisons. Born in New York City, she now lives in Athens, GA.

Photo: Brittainy Lauback

Testimonials

“Working with Amy is liberating, revelatory, and deeply fun. It helped me see my writing life in a new light, one in which my fears of not being good enough dropped away and in their place was an intimacy with art's ecstatic purpose.”

former student

“When I started working with Amy, I was in a creative and spiritual rut. Amy's workshops not only enlivened my work and my spirit, they gave me tangible, usable tools. This work has been life-changing, and I find that my writing - and my whole self, really - is more colorful and alive.”

former student

“I have taken a fair number of writing classes, literature classes and writing workshops, but it wasn’t until I studied a couple times with Amy Bonnaffons that I came to understand where my art comes from, and how to access that part of me with less doubt and trepidation. Rather than spending most of my writing time looking over my own shoulder, ‘professoring’ my work to smithereens, I’m feeling the wonder, surprise, joy, and even innocence I once experienced as a novice.”

former student

"I know contemporary writers who can lacerate, and I know others who are funny, and I even know some who can pull off pathos. But I don't know any who can do all three at once--with mastery, mischief and meaning--like Amy Bonnaffons."

Boris Fishman author of A REPLACEMENT LIFE and DON'T LET MY BABY DO RODEO

"In her amazing, wildly inventive collection, Amy Bonnaffons writes about transformation, each story further complicating the world as we know it. With a style that blends humor and sincerity in such strange, perfect ratios, Bonnaffons reveals the mysteries inside of us, just waiting to make themselves known. THE WRONG HEAVEN, so wondrous, will alter you in all the necessary ways."

Kevin Wilson author of NOTHING TO SEE HERE and THE FAMILY FANG

"Bonnaffons reads like Haruki Murakami for the millennial generation; she is weird, tender, and full of magic."

Lucy Tan author of WHAT WE WERE PROMISED