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Music to get you in the mood (to write a good sex scene)

Okay I admit it, next to producing a synopsis the thing I dread the most is writing sex scenes. Luckily I don’t write books that have a whole lot of sex in them, but there always comes that moment (about three quarters of the way into the book) where I have to insert tab A into slot B.

You would think a child of the sixties wouldn’t have such difficulty with this. It’s not so much that I’m a prude, because I’m not. It’s just so darned hard to write a sex scene that moves a story, deepens the emotions, and still doesn’t devolve into laughable euphemism and hackneyed cliche.

This probably explains why every time I have to write a sex scene I have trouble getting into the mood. I’m likely to get a headache. Or, I suddenly have a need to watch Law and Order reruns. Or, in the summer, there’s always baseball to divert my attention. I’m telling you, as much as I enjoy sex, I really don’t enjoy writing about it.

So what’s a romance writer to do?

Well, for me, it starts with music. Music is my main muse, and never more important than when that moment comes when I have to get my hero and heroine horizontal. When a sex scene is needed I reach for the iPod and my personal sex playlist.

I need to make a point about this playlist. These are not songs to make out to–if you’re looking for that, I would suggest Barry White, Nora Jones, Michael Buble, or Jason Mraz. No, these are songs designed to get my most erogenous zone–my brain–working on writing a scene that has all the requisite body parts, but also something deeper and more emotional. So, here is my top ten list of songs that get me in the mood. I’ve created links so you can hear excerpts for each of these songs. Just click on the title to hear a little bit of each.

  • For scenes where the hero or heroine are thinking about having sex there’s Wildberry Pie by David Wilcox.
  • For scenes where the hero or heroine are fighting the attraction, there’s If I Didn’t Know Any Better by Alison Krauss.
  • For the scenes where the hero and heroine are in the throws of passion, there are these particular favorites:
  • For that moment when the hero and heroine realize that having sex has just complicated everything. My absolute favorite is Language of the Heart by David Wilcox.
  • For the moment when the hero and heroine decide to have one last go of it,even though they know they are never going to do it again, there is I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Rait.
  • For that moment, at the end of a book, where the hero and heroine have HEA sex:

Now admittedly this list is heavy on country and folk music because I’m that kind of person, and also because I’m writing about a small town in the South and these songs fit that genre. I’d love to hear from others about their favorite sexual muse music. Or if music isn’t what gets you in the mood, how do you get up (so to speak) for writing a sex scene?

53 responses to “Music to get you in the mood (to write a good sex scene)”

  1. Hi, Hope. I had a good giggle at your headache excuse. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I agree, synopses and sex scenes are difficult to write. At least, being a YA writer, I can get away without the latter! But if the story called for it, to get me in the mood I would choose ’60s Motown/soul, like “Cry to Me” by Solomon Burke (Dirty Dancing fans, you know what I’m talking about) or “Bring It On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke. And perhaps I would also take myself out for dinner and a movie first.

    Congrats again on your GH final, Hope. What a fantastic 12 months it’s been for you!

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Vanessa, you are my musical soul mate. You just picked two of my all time favourites. And may I just add “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding to the list? And maybe “Oh Darling” by the Beatles & “At Last” as sung by Etta James.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      oooooh Sam Cooke. I didn’t think of him, but that’s definitely makeout music — the kind I made out to. Of course the first I’m any one really kissed me, the song “Come On Baby Light My Fire” was playing on the radio.

      So many songs, so little space….

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  2. Darynda Jones says:

    Tab A into Slot B!!! I’m dying!!! Hahaha.

    Sigh…okay, um, I forgot what I was going to say. I’ll get back to you.

    LMAO!

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  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    Country and folk – two types of music I rarely listen to! I’ll have to look up a few of these. I heartily agree on the Bonnie Raitt and Marc Cohn.

    For me, getting in the mood is more about how the music sounds, and how those sounds make me feel, than what the lyrics are. I think I just need to put my brain in PARK for awhile. Put on Bat For Lashes’ “Two Suns” – the whole album – and I am THERE. Also Roxy Music’s “Avalon,” again, the whole album.

    There’s definitely something to be said for whole albums. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    When I’m trying to write love scenes for characters, the lyrics become a little more helpful in terms of inspiration, but the sound is still primary.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Tamara,

      We are obvioiusly on different music wavelengths, but really it’s whatever floats your boat. I’m going to check out these suggestions…

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  4. Great post, Hope, and again, congrats on the GH finals! At least this year you took The Call and I wasn’t the one to call and tell you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have 87 songs on my Love Scene playlist. (Oops, just checked; it’s now 90. How did that happen?) The song with the largest play count is “So Close” by Jon McLaughlin. Anyone who’s seen “Enchanted” knows what I’m talking about. Another favorite is “Too Lost In You” by Sugababes (thank you, Jenny Crusie). Or, for those who remember Torville and Dean of the 80-something Winter Olympics ice dancing team, try Ravel’s “Bolero”. If you’re not looking for a cigarette by the end of that song, check your pulse; you may be dead. (The video of their perfect performance is on YouTube, too. They make Dancing with the Stars look like Ring Around the Rosie.)

    I could go on and on but this is your blog, not mine. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the suggestions for other songs! As it so happens, I’ve been dragging my heels on the 2nd love scene in my WIP so maybe you’ve kicked me back into gear!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Wasn’t Bolero the music they used in that Bo Derrick move, Ten?

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      • I think it was, but it sounded so tacky then. Torville & Dean elevated it to an art form. ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • Hope Ramsay says:

          You know, and this is going to sound freudian given the subject, Bolero always makes me think of my father. He was a real classic music afficionado, but he flat out hated that song. He used to work at home and have the classic music station on all day, but if Bolero ever came on he would turn the radio off. My father loved all kinds of music, but Bolero was the one piece he detested. So, obviously, it doesn’t work for me when it comes to inspiration. All I ever think about when I hear that piece of music is my father raging about how borin the melodic line is. ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • One more than just came on the playlist: Etta James, “Damn Your Eyes”. Mmmm!

            Really, I’m getting back to the scene again. Promise! I keep thinking of the old Carol Burnett skits when she’d have someone playing a writer, talking aloud as he’s writing the scene. Meanwhile actors play out the scene, only to have to stop and go back when the writer changes his mind. My poor hero/heroine are going to, well, they’ll probably thank me. ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • CJ Chase says:

            Bolero wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so repetitive. After a while, I want to say, “Enough already.”

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  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Oh, the joy of iPod playlists! It’s so great to be able to do a few clicks through the computer and pull up music for any number of different mood-setting categories for writing: “lush romantic / no lyrics,” “Black Moment angst,” “action/adventure/high adrenaline tunes,” etc..

    I may be one of the few romance writers who finds sex scenes easier to write than most other scenes, but I’m grateful for all the tune suggestions! I don’t know many of the songs people are referring to–but iTunes can take care of that, too!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Elisa,

      I envy you. I love sex, but writing about it is about as much fun as enduring a root canal. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy readinga bout sex…

      I guess I am shy, and also I really need to have a connection to the emotion in the scene to be able to actually get down and … well, you know.

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  6. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    In the throes of passion, give me Kiss You All Over by Exile. In the aftermath, Air That I Breathe by the Hollies. For the “boy, did we make a mess of things by caving to our libidos” scenes, True Love Weighs (I think it’s the Everly Brothers, but don’t quote me!)

    I also love the Moody Blues “I know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “Never Blame the Rainbow for the Rain” (although some of their older ones work too) along with Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Diamond.

    This from someone that works in silence, but music affects me deeply so I can listen first and write second, enjoying the emotional depth without the distraction.

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  7. Hope Ramsay says:

    Gwynlyn,

    I also work in silence. But I really have to work myself into the mood to tackle these scene — and to be honest I have a lot of trouble with the really deep emotional scenes and the black moment.

    Music puts me in an altered state, I think, that allows me to feel the emotions without making myself really crazy. Does any else have that problem — not wanted to tackle that deeply emotional scene because you know you’ll be crying by the end of it?

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    • Actually, I’ve reached the point in writing where, if I’m *not* crying my way through an emotional scene, I must’ve done something wrong. Bear in mind that I cry during commercials and at the end of “Undercover Boss”, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Rita Henuber says:

    These are just a few I don’t think have been mentioned
    Put Your Head On My Shoulder- Qunado, Quando, Quando, The Way you Look Tonight — Michael Buble
    Sexual Healing –Marvin Gaye
    You Are My Lady –Freddie Jackson
    Kiss You All Over — Exile
    Right Here Waiting –Monica
    Begin the Beguine –Beegie Adair Trio

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    • Darynda Jones says:

      Oooo, I love Michael Buble! His voice alone…

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Ditto on Michael Buble.

      Rita, Begin the Beguine — wow — I love Cole Porter, too! I’m not familiar with the Beegie Adair Trio, but I did see Bobby Short at the Carlyle many years ago doing his I love Cole Porter cabaret act. He blew me away.

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      • Rita Henuber says:

        Google her. old styl jazz trio. oh! I just realized she lives in TN I think out side of Nashville. would LOVE to see her in person. OH! MY! I goodled her and she’s playing in Nashville while we are there.

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  9. Christine Ashworth says:

    Hope,

    I’m definitely with you on the music. When I’m having problems with a sex/love scene, though, it’s usually because it’s come out of nowhere – the lead in to the scene hasn’t been prepped well enough.

    Once I do the proper prep work, getting the words on the page seem to go much easier and the headache disappears.

    For love scenes, I’m a movie score person. The score (not the soundtrack) to Twilight. Lord of the Rings, all three movies. Hero. Ooh, and The Red Violin. All great for love scenes – no words to get in the way of the words in your fingers. If you know what I mean, lol!

    And I do love country music – funny enough, I listen to that when I’m not writing, for inspiration. There are so many stories in country music it’s insane!

    Great blog!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      You’re SO right about that, Christine….it’s the emotional context that gets you past the Tab A, slot B problem. I always write love scenes out of the emotional momentum of some big turn in the relationship.

      If an editor ever asked me to “just add another love scene somewhere,” that’s when I’d be in trouble.

      Sherry Thomas said something about this on a blog somewhere…about how her books have 3 or 4 big turning points, and that’s why they have 3 or 4 love scenes. She also said she makes sure that having sex always CREATES MORE TROUBLE for the h & h (except for the HEA, presumably). Great advice!

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  10. Hmm … I love music, but I don’t consciously choose songs to listen to when I’m writing. In fact, I find I write the raciest sex scenes when I’m sitting at Starbucks or B&N. (Maybe that means I’m a closet exhibitionist?)

    I think Christine has a point, though. The problem scenes are scenes that just don’t quite belong รขโ‚ฌโ€ Tab A, Slot B … they just don’t click. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  11. Elise Hayes says:

    Huh, I’ve never tried writing to music before. But I must say, I may have to give this a try, since writing truly individual, emotionally pivotal sex scenes is usually excruciatingly hard for me. A precious few have just come to me–and I’ve happily jotted them down when that has occurred–but most of the time, these scenes are among the hardest I write.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Elise,

      I’m right there with you. Even when the set up is perfect, I feel like the scene itself needs to have more than just the body parts. And that’s just hard. (For me anyway).

      I think, for me, the music is like those collages people do to get into their characters. I’m a musician, so my aural senses are keen, and nothing connects with my emotions more than music — just about any kind. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. Jen says:

    I’ll add a couple to your list:

    “Let’s Make A Night To Remember” by Bryan Adams
    “Secret” by Maroon 5

    I agree that music helps me “get there” when I’m writing a love scene. It helps me imagine what it might be like in my head…what my H&H could say to one another, what they may be feeling, etc. Music is definitely my muse.

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  13. Hope, just had to add another comment, since I’m actually working on the ah-hem scene in progress. I can’t leave out Carole King’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. Perfect when my heroine has trust issues and she’s not sure this is the right thing to do, but she’s helpless to do anything else; she’s in love, she just hasn’t quite realized how deep she’s in it.

    Back to the salt mines… ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Glad to hear that your h & h are getting it together. My h & h seem to be perpetually stalled at the local diner having a conversation about nothing at all….

      … And this is supposed to be the set up for the moment when they get horizontal. Proving that not only do I have problems writing sex scenes I have problems writing the prelude to the sex scenes.

      *sigh*

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  14. Adele Dubois says:

    I write erotic romance full-time. Though I don’t listen to music while I write my books, a good thunderstorm is great for the muse while creating a sex scene!

    Best–Adele Dubois

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      For me, rainstorms are great. Something very primal/instinctive about wanting to get into a small, warm, intimate space with warm skin, out of the rain.

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  15. Shea Berkley says:

    I’m a movie score person. I can’t write when music with words is going. I’m distractable. Wave something shiny in front of me and I can’t not look. Same goes for music. Play an amazing song and I’ve got to sing along. I haven’t developed the ability to sing and write at the same time. I put it on the same level as carrying on a conversation while reading. Can’t do it, but it’d be cool if I could.

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  16. Great post, Hope. A question I’ve had for a while. I can see I’m going to spend hours checking out these suggestions. And then writing the dreaded love scene.

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  17. Hope,

    What a great post. I’m a Motown kinda girl. Give me some Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye and their songs make the juices flow… ah, writing juices.

    But like you, love scenes are hard for me to write, so I don’t have many of them.

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  18. Elisa Beatty says:

    A couple more suggestions: the very sweet “Kiss Me” by Brand New Glory. For lush, historical romance: the main theme from “Out of Africa” and the main theme from “The English Patient.”

    Call me peculiar, but Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance” would work for a less soft and gauzy sort of love scene.

    “Candy” by One Eskimo. “Never Forget You” by the Noisettes.

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  19. CJ Chase says:

    I’m a classical type person when it comes to writing. Some favs:

    Vaugh Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
    Beethoven #7, second movement
    Holst’s The Planets: Jupiter
    Barber’s Adagio for Strings
    Brahms’ Symphony #1, first movement
    Doyle’s St. Crispin”s Day from the soundtrack to Henry V
    Anything Vivaldi, Bach, etc.

    And pretty much whatever’s playing on the XM classical stations. (We have satellite radio in the kitchen, and I often work at the table.)

    Of course, most of my books have been historicals, so maybe that has something to do with it. Or maybe I write historicals because I was born into the wrong time period?

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      CJ

      I actually listen to a lot of classical when I’m at work. Bach seems to keep me focused:

      The Brandenberg Concertos
      The Violin Concertos
      The Well-Tempered Klavier
      Das Kantenwerk

      All faves especially if I’m working with numbers at the day job.

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  20. Hope Ramsay says:

    To Everyone who has posted a comment — and provided playlists — my thanks.

    I see some iTunes downloading in my future.

    Thank you all for making my first blog here so much fun.

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  21. Kate Welsh says:

    Great subject. I always write to music but I’ve never been one of those people who can put song to singer or even remember titles so bear with me. For me one of the sexy songs is ever is “Afternoon Delight”. “Lady in Red” is great if the couple is married and coming out on the good side of trouble.

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  22. Liz Talley says:

    I don’t really know. Hmmm… I don’t listen to music when I write so I’ve never really thought about it.

    This is going to drive me crazy for the next few days ’cause I’m totally going to dwell on it.

    Off the top of my head for sex scenes (don’t laugh), I always think of Rick Springfield’s “Affair of the Heart.” All that shaking and sinking teeth in his skin. I also like Trisha Yearwood a lot. Some of hers are sensual and poignant. For sheer romance, I like jazz. I love Miles Davis’ slower stuff and John Coltrane.

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  23. […] works for some writers. Author Hope Ramsayย has a “music to write sex scenes playlist” on her iPod to spur imagination. Maybe it […]

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