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Alexis Hall on writing sex scenes and not putting “heat levels” into hierarchies

Alexis Hall on writing sex scenes and not putting “heat levels” into hierarchies

In almost exactly a week (at time of writing), the rerelease of my book For Real will hit bookstores. I’m super excited about this, partly because I’m always super excited when I have a book out but especially in this case because these rereleases have given me the wonderful opportunity to share my books with a whole new group of readers.

And with For Real, that’s actually going to be a bit interesting.

If you’ve heard of me at all (and if you haven’t: Hi! My name’s Alexis, I write things!) it’s probably through Boyfriend Material, which was the book that brought me to the attention of a slightly-bigger-than-was-normal-for-me-at-the-time audience back around 2020-ish. But prior to 2020, far and away my most successful book was For Real, and now it’s getting a rerelease, a whole new generation of readers are going to be learning what my existing readers discovered in 2020, which is that For Real and Boyfriend Material are very different books.

Although actually—and spoiler, this is sort of the thrust of this article—they aren’t particularly. They’re both queer romance novels about two men with very different emotional needs who find each other. They both touch on a lot of the core themes I circle back to again and again like family and identity and finding yourself within the context of an endlessly scrutinising society.

Buuuut one of them has closed door sex scenes and the other has a bit with an anal hook and a lemon meringue pie.

This confuses a lot of people.

It’s true that some writers prefer to stick to a specific “heat level”, be that level “frequent, on-page and kinky” or “sparse, off-page and vanilla” but I just don’t really think about sex in those terms. I’m very averse to putting things in hierarchies (which is probably why I never really got on with office jobs) and in a similar way I don’t like how “heat levels” as they are commonly understood put different sexual acts into a kind of internet tier list.

Kissing? Anybody can do that, D

Spanking? Kinky but not imaginative. Mid B at best.

Analingus? That has a mouth and a bum involved. Top of S.

I mean maybe it’s just me but I feel like that approach carries a lot of assumptions we might want to be interrogating?

Ultimately I try to write sex scenes the way I try to write any scene. I want the characters to act the way those characters would act. I want the narration to keep to the voice I’ve established for the narrator. I want to be either advancing the plot or developing the characters or, ideally, both. Sometimes that means somebody gets tied up and whipped. Sometimes it means the door closes and the chapter ends. But neither the whip nor the door are the point.

Or to put it another way, for me, sex is about the same thing books are about: it’s about people. And For Real happens to be about the sorts of people that happen to have an anal hook lying around.

For Real is out in paperback now, published by Sourcebooks Casablanca

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  • I’ll never get over humanity’s need to categorize and label everything. I love that you never know what you’ll get when you start an Alexis Hall book – it makes reading just that much more interesting. He can do “fade to black” so beautifully that you don’t miss the details. He can also make an anal hook and a lemon meringue pie so romantic that you want to go bake one immediately. …the pie, that is

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