How to Write Steam/ Smut


Whether you’re a veteran in the game, saving yourself for the perfect moment or simply just haven’t taken the plunge yet, I can assume we all know what sex is.


Sex, no matter where you stand on the scale, is one of the most recognisable and natural acts in the world. From the animal kingdom to humans, engaging in reproductive as well as pleasurable intercourse, is a part of life and at times, is reflected in the stories we read and write.


Before going into the somewhat intelligent portion of this blog, one of the biggest issues we find with sexual content in books aka smut, is the secrecy behind it. Some don’t want to admit they read it (or shock, horror!) actually enjoyed reading it, but I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly okay to read and enjoy smut! It can be even more fun to write it!


Whether it’s romance that features intimacy through a preferred rose tinted lens, or an adult book that features it more “realistically” or even Erotica that focuses more on the sex rather than the plot around it; all smut has merit. There is a point when smut does become filth of course, but we’ll get to that later!


Now, before we continue I can appreciate that there are those who don’t like to include sexual scenes of any kind for personal or professional reasons and prefer to Fade to Black (FTB). This is the technique used where the scene is started, you know what’s about to go down and then we fade to another scene. Considering the title of this, I can only assume writers that use FTB exclusively won’t be in any need of this blog! Just in case there are some reading, this is in no way a preference of one way over the other or discrediting FTB, as there are times when it is used perfectly well. FTB, whether exclusively used or not, is a great way to build tension toward the final act that will be shown, break up what can turn into a smut fest of sexual scenes or be a touching way to keep their private moment exactly that, private. Alongside the FTB preference, there are those who don’t think smut a credible part of literature at all. While there is nothing wrong with any of these perspectives, there is a lot to be said for a well written piece of smut in any genre.


One major thing to be clear on – and to make a distinction between sex scenes and straight up pornographic content – is that good smut isn’t simply about the act itself. It should be about the build-up of feelings/emotions/tensions between characters that have been either: fighting their shared attraction, forced into sexual proximity with someone they’re not meant to want, simply in love or a sexual relationship or are denied being with the person they desire the most. When they are finally able to bring all that pent-up tension together in a sexual way, it creates a burst of energy (behave!) in the reader that is satisfying for the coming together of the couple and their love or attraction within the plot.


So, what makes a good smut scene I hear you ask? Well, depending on what you’re going for; a balance between emotion, intensity and yes, the physical element are probably the most important aspects. An example of not getting this balance right is Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series, that had most of the people I know, confused whether anyone had actually been penetrated. No, we need to know by the end of a smut scene that it has in fact taken place. We’re not children, we don’t want or need an abundance of simile and metaphor about the sensations but rather the physical act itself and all the reactions and feelings about that interaction. This of course is if you are intent on writing the physical scene. References to her racing heart, or his rigid length, are all well and good to lead to a FTB, but if you’re going all the way, we need to know!


There needs to be a sense of finality to a coupling in many ways. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, that the characters have been waiting for since they set their blazing, heated gaze on one another. They both need to want this so desperately that they can’t keep away from each for another second, or they’re simply going to explode! Subsequently, these feelings don’t even always have to be during the first time the couple is together. Maybe the first time was arranged; one was a virgin and too shy to really express their feelings? Now, by later instances, they’re finally able to be as passionate as they want to be? You can have a passionate couple where every connection is a tangle of limbs and heavy breathing. Or, you can have a couple that have been full of yearning that this same intensity is more in the looks, gazes, the too brief touches as they test the waters before taking that final step. Smut essentially, is about the anticipation of it all, rather than the act itself as I’ve said, but when the act is finally happening, there should be a sense of realism. I’m here to officially tell you, that it’s okay to draw upon your own experiences for this – if you have them – because there is nothing wrong with writing what you know or in fact, what you might want.


Romance in any genre is usually built from a fantasy: a billionaire boss falls in love with a hotel maid or a Fae prince falls in love with the beautiful farm girl. No matter what genre, you are writing, the smut that features is usually an idealised version of what is simply a transfer of fluids if we’re being really honest here! We as writers have to jazz up the realistic elements by injecting the fantasy. Whether that’s through intense word use, elaborate fantasy setting or different character types like shifters or faeries etc. the sparkle over the top of the act, is what makes a smut scene work.


From a practical perspective, some good examples of smut scenes can be found in: Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon, A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Fate of Wrath and Flame by K. A. Tucker, Dark Lover by J.R. Ward and Angel’s Blood by Nalini Singh. One thing all of these books have in common are likeable characters and that my friends, is probably the first step towards writing smut: the reader has to care about the two people having sex! There’s no point in reading about the characters you despise – unless the really hot villain is having a fun time – or else the scene can feel shoehorned in for no real reason and become distasteful.


An example of this, where smut is used disastrously and just becomes filth, is Gild by Raven Kennedy, The Fae Chronicles by Amelia Hutchins, A Ruin of Roses by K. F. Breene and Angel by H.P. Mallory. In most if not all of these examples, the smut is used simply as click bait and serves no real purpose other than to shock the reader into thinking that the writer is edgy, when in fact it all comes across extremely vulgar and unwarranted. These books have essentially tried to glamourize abuse and this is something that smut should never do.


I don’t mean to say that there aren’t, shall we say alternative smut books out there that delve into certain kinks that people may find concerning. However, these types of books – I feel anyway – are in a league of their own and should only be read, if this is what you’re into and can see the fun behind, or trust me; you will be offended! There is a space for Reverse Harem, Erotica, BDSM, etc. and they are welcome to whoever wants to read them. However, I don’t think more generic sexual intimacy that we largely read and/or write, should be judged against it.


For those interested, some examples of alternative smut are Morning Glory, Milking Farm by C. M. Nascosta, Blood Crown by Elizabeth Brown & Torri Heat, Den of Vipers by K. A. Knight, and Power of Five by Alex Lidell.Enter at your own risk!


I, of course enjoy a bit of smut as much as the next girl, simply because I do believe there is a time and place for the introduction of sexual interactions. Whether it be the happily ever after kind or the lustful engagement between incredibly hot people kind; sex scenes can add a sense of realism to a story and the characters. They have the same urges and needs as many of us and romance/smut, helps to break up what would otherwise be an endless stream of monotonous and serious actions that only serve to move the story forward, but not necessarily ahead.


In short, smut has to mean something within a story or it becomes filth. There has to be a build up to the action that serves to make the characters happy to have finally reached this stage, and consequently, satisfy the reader. To do this, you need likeable characters who have chemistry from start to finish. Plot dependent, they can’t be seedy or lustful to the point of idiocy, as this will eventually discredit them and the act itself.


The last thing I’ll say about smut is to have fun with it. It doesn’t have to be this daunting thing that will take over your life, as long as it’s coming from an informed and respectful place. You will know in your heart whether something is too vulgar or a bit far-fetched. If there is any doubt, ask questions, find examples; look into what you have found too much to digest and simply do the opposite.


Meet Charlotte Murphy

Charlotte is a British author and Brand Ambassador of The Writer Community. Born and raised in South West London, Charlotte has been reading since she was three years old. Her love of reading eventually morphed into creating her own stories and she has finally taken the leap to releasing her work to the world. After studying English and Creative Writing at Brunel University back in 2007, and working consistently within corporate environments, Charlotte's first three novels - The Antonides Legacy - and its prequel Genesis of Dragons are now available. A project fifteen years in the making, Charlotte hopes that the Legacy books will be able to reach out to an audience who appreciate excitement, simplicity and diversity in their choice of books. In March 2022, Charlotte will release her newest novel (part of a duology) set in the same world as The Antonides Legacy called Wolves of Duty. Pre-order it here.


You can connect with Charlotte on Instagram @charliauthor and listen to her podcast Books 'n' Shit.


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