Friday Night Lights: what I learnt about writing a sex scene from watching football

I just finished watching all five seasons of this little show called Friday Night Lights. It took me one week. It’s probably just because I’m still all mixed up in the joy of it, but right now it’s my favourite damn tv show ever.

I’ll probably have a bit to say about it, if you’ll bear with me.

But today I just wanted to focus on a specific thing: The Football. I know nothing about American football. I’m not a hugely sporty person. But the matches in this show are one hundred percent riveting.

I realised why, half way through season three (I know, it took me a while). Our beloved quarterback, Matt, who was never meant to be a superstar but has grown beyond what he thought he could be since the limelight was forced onto him, is being edged out by a much younger kid with a killer arm. The team he’s given everything to, the coach who means everything to him, are under pressure to replace him.

It doesn’t help that the new kid’s dad makes you want to hit him every time he opens his mouth.

So they’re playing an important game, and alternating between quarterbacks. Then the new kid starts winning the game, and he gets Matt’s plays. It is devastating, nail-biting stuff. I was leaping up and down willing Matt over the touchdown line.

It’s obvious, but it took that game for me to really get it: the personal drama of the characters develops throughout the game. For the best dramatic effect – and maybe it’s no coincidence that game brought it home to me – something intensely personal is at stake, and depends entirely on the outcome of the game. But no matter how obvious or subtle, life-changing or thematic the stake is, every player goes in there to win or lose something.

Jenny Crusie says a sex scene is like an argument; someone wins, and someone loses. I’ve always loved that approach, and we all know that unless the sex moves the story forward, you have no business putting it in your book.

The football matches of Friday Night Lights have given me much clearer ideas about how this is done. There should be big, personal stakes. Each player should go in with a clear idea of what they intend to achieve, knowing they are going to battle with someone who has a contradictory set of objectives. It should take something, to win.

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About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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3 Responses to Friday Night Lights: what I learnt about writing a sex scene from watching football

  1. jasminefrompakistan says:

    Writing a sex scene is a bit like writing a combat scene, yes, in the sense that it’s only interesting as an element of characterization. The exception would be if you’re writing porn, yeah?
    I don’t think you are. In literary fiction anyhow, the sex is second place to understanding the character, which then defines the kind of sex that character has.

    • anna cowan says:

      hey Jasmine,

      I only just saw your comment in my spam filter – but as you have no weird spelling mistakes and aren’t calling me a genius for my genius ideas, i’m gonna guess you’re not spamming me 🙂 I think you’re spot on – any scene like a fight/game/sex has to be character-first if it’s part of a character-based story.

  2. jasminefrompakistan says:

    Thanks for outing me from the world of spam.
    It was rubbish in there.

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