There are so many things to learn in order to create hot BDSM scenes. There’s technique with ropes or paddles or knives or exotic electrical toys. There are communication skills for reading your partner, communicating your desires, and setting the mood. There’s cultivating the confidence and emotional maturity that it takes to go deep and play hard without losing your shit.
But the one key insight that’s most important of all for being able to have scenes that consistently knock it out of the park is understanding what a scene fundamentally is. A scene isn’t the toys you use. It isn’t orgasms. It isn’t what you’re wearing. The real essence of what scene is isn’t even the activities that you partake in while you’re doing it: the spanking and the sucking and the growled commands. All of those things can be pieces of a scene, but they don’t get to the heart of it. Most of us who’ve been doing this kinky shit for more than a little while can think of times when we’ve had all the right toys and the right clothes and flawless technique but still, mysteriously, the scene fell flat. When that happens, often what’s missing is that the scene isn’t telling a good story.
At heart, what scenes really are is stories. They are stories that we and our partners tell one another. Sometimes the story is detailed or scripted, like when we’re playing out a specific fantasy about a naughty schoolboy being spanked and the story we’re telling calls for exactly the right outfit or the right words or actions that echo deep in our libido. Often the story is more thematic or improvisational. It can even be entirely nonverbal, but it’s still a story—a story about how powerful or powerless we are, about how much we can take or how little we deserve, about how degraded or cherished or stern or desirable we are. All of the implements and the techniques and the costumes are just props that help us tell those stories, and the way to have the best, most memorable and most satisfying scenes is to make sure that they have all the elements of a good story.
Good stories have good characters. In a scene, good use of character comes from understanding how everyone involved wants to think and feel about themselves as part of the scene. If you’re being beaten, do you want to be the tough, stoic, disciplined submissive who can take it and make your partner proud? Do you want to be the sobbing wretch begging for it to stop? Do you want to be the insatiable painslut begging for more? If you’re tying someone up do you want it to be a lighthearted, goofy experience? A demanding display of technical skill? A seduction? Start by knowing who you and your partner(s) are in this story.
A good story begins by setting the scene and making a contract with its audience about what kind of story it’s going to be. It usually doesn’t spell out exactly how everything is going to turn out (that would kind of ruin the suspense), but it lays out enough information about what’s going on for the audience to get on board with the story.
In a scene, exposition means establishing a shared understanding of generally what kind of scene this is going to be, so that everyone can get into character and start getting excited for what’s going to happen. Often, this comes in the form of threats and promises. “I’m going to whip you `till you squeal” establishes the action of the scene (whipping), the tone (cruel) and the intended climax (squealing). In scenes that involve a lot of surprise (mystery stories) there may be very little exposition, but we at least establish that there is going to be a surprise and let our partners start getting worked up wondering what the surprise is going to be. Nonverbal exposition might consist of carefully and ritualistically laying out the implements that you intend to use.
A good story builds. It starts milder and grows in intensity and tension, toward some climactic moment. A good scene builds too, and one of the most common ways that I see scenes flop is when someone is aimlessly cycling through different implements, intensities and activities—more focused on using everything in the toybag than on creating an experience that goes somewhere.
The most obvious example of building up is in impact play, where the hits generally get harder over the course of a scene. But the same idea applies to building erotic energy in a sexual scene, or more and more degrading commands issued in a humiliation scene, or nearing the completion of some task in a service scene.
Pacing is key to rising action. If you have a sense of how far you are from your climax, you want to pace yourself so that the tension can grow at an accelerating rate right up until that climax. What you want to avoid is trying to create a climactic moment when you haven’t yet built up to it, reaching an unsustainable level of tension before you’re ready to create the climax of the scene or, worst of all, letting time pass in which tension isn’t building. Excitement either rises or falls; it doesn’t sit still. So if you aren’t building the action, the energy of your scene will be draining away.
In longer scenes, it can work beautifully to work in mini-climaxes where you build to some peak, release some (but not all) of the tension, and then build to an even higher one.
A good story has a moment when all that tension it’s been building bursts. In a scene, the climax is the moment of greatest intensity. It’s the most vicious blow or the final needle or the orgasm. To have a good climax, everyone needs to know that this is the climax, so that they can know to release all that tension. Usually it’s best to make it clear well in advance that the climax is coming. Instead of just beating someone harder and harder and then stopping, tell them: “Now you will take ten more, harder than before! Count them down as I give them to you, and thank me for each one.”
Delivering the hardest blow of the beating and then immediately dropping the cane and going to watch cartoons can be jarring, and leave the scene feeling incomplete. A good story has some action continues for a little while past the climax, unraveling the tension left unresolved by the climax. In a scene, leave some space after your climax to wind down. I don’t mean aftercare; that’s later. This is taking the ropes off, giving the area you’ve savagely caned some gentler smacks, or ordering your servant in the cleaning up from the dinner they’ve just served. For some scenes, sex serves as falling action rather than the climax.
Now comes the aftercare. A good story ends with a resolution wherein normalcy is restored. In a scene, this often consists of cuddles and reassurances that all involved are good, worthy and loved. That isn’t the only kind of resolution to a scene. Some scenes end with the bottom being ordered to clean up the equipment, as a reminder of their place. Some bottoms need to be given space to return to normal on their own, so resolution might be being left bloody and crying in the bathtub. The important thing is being conscious of everyone’s need to tie a bow on their experience and return to less elevated, non-scene state—and then doing what works for everyone involved.
Understanding that narrative structure will do more for creating excellent scenes than even the sexiest latex corset.
Understand them well enough, and you don’t even necessarily need to follow them any more. Many of the truly great stories break some or all of the rules of storytelling, and many truly great scenes do as well. But in both cases that greatness tends to appear when people know the rules, have practiced following them, and then break them consciously, with a clear idea of what they’re trying to accomplish in breaking them.
So learn the rules, then break the rule, but never lose sight of the story.