What Does Seduction Look Like?

Photo © 2009 Carsten Tolkmit CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(Click here for the original image.)

Max, a young writer, asks:

I am writing a story and need a visual description for a female “seductive” (if you know what I mean) antagonist. Or should I even describe her? I’ve seen that done well. This is actually one of my deeper characters.

Hi, Max. The easiest answer I can think to give is: Think of what you like to see in a woman. Then write it down.

I know that sounds simplistic, and it is. But each of us, to some extent, has pre-programmed into him the building blocks for sexual attraction. So the first step is probably to ask yourself, “What would make me feel and think and act the way I want my protagonist to feel and think and act?”

With most writers, this is where writing begins, inside. You empathize with your characters, tap into that part of yourself that feels and acts the same way they do, so that you can understand their story.

But while you’re doing this, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Description is an action verb. (Okay, description is actually a noun, but bear with me.) What the seductress does and says is more important than how she looks. A picture is worth a thousand words. Or as writers say, “Show; don’t tell.”

  • A story comes from character action, not fictional molecules and light rays. Remember the First and Second Laws of Character Action. Start with your characters’ needs, and determine how they use their resources to act to meet those needs.

  • Use all your senses. Description is not only visual! How does her voice sound? How does she smell? Do you feel a breath of air across your face as she passes? Growing up with television, we tend to see stories in terms of the visual. But breaking that mold is one of the easiest ways to add spice to your descriptions.

  • It may be about sex, but that’s not where you need to focus. Writing an evil seductress is similar to writing a sex scene. We think of her as using sex-appeal to achieve an end, but we can’t ever actually say that. We can’t say that she’s sexy. And we can’t describe the conflict that results. We must feel it instead.

  • Focus on the characters. How does she make the protagonist feel? What does he think? What does he want? And how do those create conflict inside of his mind? What changes are in store for him if he chooses one path or the other?

  • For more information… Explore the truth behind the fiction. Research human sensuality to add to your idea-base. Read non-fiction. Watch non-fiction. Use Google. Research the obvious. If you have NetFlix, check out a documentary called The Science of Sex Appeal for more ideas. (Resist the temptation to infuse your descriptions with scientific explanations. That’s a different—though important—topic.) But don’t pay attention so much to the scientists; pay attention to the ordinary people they interview for the documentary and to those they recruit as guinea pigs for their experiments. In general, a healthy diet of non-fiction is one of the best sources of nourishment to feed your fiction writing.

Well, Max, I hope that’s enough to give you some ideas.

I also hope it’s not so much that it overwhelms you. Remember that this story does not need to be the end-all and be-all of your writing career, wherever that career takes you. I know there’s a lot there. But I didn’t put together this list as a set of requirements that your story must meet. No writer can ever meet every requirement every potential reader has, anyhow. You have to meet the requirements that you yourself feel are important. So think of this list as more of a menu of ingredients: choose the ones that intrigue you, and experiment with them, and grow through the experience.

Keep writing!




4 responses to “What Does Seduction Look Like?”

  1. Max Avatar

    This helps me a lot because I wanted advice on how to portray this character without saying outright “she’s hot” and this gives me just that. I am still writing the story. I’m working on subplots and themes at the moment, now that the characters are fleshed out. Thank you for the post!

  2. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Wonderful! Best of luck with your story. -TimK

  3. Charlotte Abel Avatar

    Wonderful post, Tim. As a writer of Young Adult romance, I strive to portray sexual situations as honestly as possible without fading to black or skipping the more intimate scenes completely. Focusing on the characters’ thoughts and emotions is the only way I was able to meet the needs of “Enchantment’s” plot and keep it YA appropriate (appropriate according to me, anyway).

    I was struggling with a particularly intimate scene and was ready to just cut to the morning after (aka “Breaking Dawn”) when I found and read your post “Writing Interesting Sex Scenes.”

    Thanks to your timely advice, I was able to write that scene with all the passion and tenderness it (and my readers) deserve.

    If the early reviews for “Enchantment” are any indication, I’d have to say “we” nailed it. I’m including you in that “we” because it was your article that gave me the courage to write what was in my heart.

  4. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Thanks so much for your comment, Charlotte. It feels wonderful to know that someone is finding my ramblings here useful. Hope to read your book someday. -TimK

    BTW, I’m checking out your blog now, and Enchantment.

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