Thursday, 17 September 2009

Writing about sex


How do you feel about writing about sex (if indeed you write about it at all)? The thought came to me last night, when I came across the following mind-boggling passage in an otherwise highly readable novel: "God help me, Paris," he said raspily. "I just had to be inside you." This joyous coupling ends thus: "He was still kissing her when she came, so that her soft cries were released into this mouth." Hmm.

Why is it that it's so hard to write well about sex? I tend not to do it at all, or very little, simply because I don't particularly want to. How do others feel? And have you come across any similarly odd accounts of sexual congress, or even good ones?

I just thought I'd ask.

15 comments:

Aliya Whiteley said...

I quite enjoy writing the old sex scenes. It's a bit like playing with Meccano, in a way, working out which bit goes where.

Neil said...

How wonderfully romantic, Ms Whiteley.

Len Tyler said...

In The Herring Seller's Apprentice my (crime writer) narrator comments that he doesn't do sex scenes, though he does add that he thinks his sales would be better if he did. Personally I agree though that sex badly written about tends to be pretty awful. In my current work in progress the only sex scene ends "dot, dot, dot" well before they reach the bedroom. With regard to good literary sex, I'd be happy to nominate D H Lawrence, but clearly I also need to go back and re-read Aliya. Now I know why I always liked Meccano ...

David Isaak said...

Love writing sex scenes, because they are so difficult to write well. (I had a few posts on this on my blog way back when.) Even when they aren't embarassingly overblown, I think most sex scenes suffer from precitability and a lack of the real awkwardness. Awkwardness can be overlooked in the heat of passion, but too many writers banish it, and you'd think their lovers were part of an elite ballet corps.

I might add that violence is difficult to do with much originality as well, and for many of the same reasons. But readers tend to be less critical of cliched, overwritten passages of violence. I'm not sure why.

Frances Garrood said...

I take what you say about the ballet corps thing, David.You're so right. With my Relate (relationship counsellor, in case you're not familiar with this organisation) hat on, I am astonished at the success of random literary couplings. From the instant mutual attraction to the simultaneous orgasms, they lack any reality. I have counselled many hundreds of couples, and very very few have ever experienced the kind of sex described in novels. Maybe that's why I'm cynical...

Faye L. Booth said...

As you might have guessed, i'm fine with writing about it. It's when I can no longer avoid my family reading what I've written that I break out in a rash.

I couldn't let this topic slip by without relaying an anecdote from the time Aliya, Alis and I met in Cambridge for a book group thing. We were having coffee in the bookshop's cafe beforehand, and the conversation turned to this very subject. As I produce the most sexually explicit novels out of the three of us, we ended up discussing the sexual content in my work. "Yes, you do good sex," Alis admitted, before wondering whether she'd worded that sentiment in the best possible way. Then we all laughed like teenagers.

Alis said...

"..readers tend to be less critical of cliched, overwritten passages of violence. I'm not sure why."
Maybe because most of the population have at least a passing acquaintance with sex but few (fortunately) have the same experience of violence.
I remember endlessly telling my sons when they were young that the violence they saw in films (people being hit with objects especially) wasn't real and that if you really hit somebody like that not only would they not continue to fight, they probably wouldn't even continue to live... They really don't want to hear from me how extremely unrealistic most film sex is!!

David Isaak said...

Frances and Alis: For sure.

Comedian Gary Shandling often claimed he was going to write a sex manual some day. He planned to title it, "Ouch, You're On My Hair."

Frances Garrood said...

David - alternative title:"was that it"?

Sheila said...

Anyone can write about sex, afterall the act never change. However, writing about sex that can stimulate the mind and body does require vivid imagination, creativity, appropriate expressions and of course having a good active sex life that involve orgasm at the end does have an effect. I enjoy writing about sex and maybe on second thought, could perhaps have earn a good part time living from it.

Ros Browne said...

I wouldn't know how to begin to write about sex. I'm not embarrassed, but if it wasn't for sex, none of us would be here. I don't think there's any need to be explicit. The "dot dot dot" kind is like radio; much more effective.
The pictures are better.

Ros Browne

Faye L. Booth said...

Who said anything about needing to be explicit, Ros...?

* grins *

6p00e54eced2e18833 said...

The best-written sex in a novel is the sex which takes place in the reader's head. Which is why less is usually more.

And then all (hah! all!) you have to do is obey the rules for writing any other scene (with appropriate sniggers for doubles-entendres): narrative drive, character-in-action, get in late and get out early.

Aliya Whiteley said...

I'm not sure why sex is always seen as separate from character, plot etc. A well-written sex scene illuminates the understanding of a novel, surely?

I realise this doesn't happen often. But people don't climb Everest often. I'm not sure it should therefore be ruled out as a waste of time.

Tim Stretton said...

I've never written a sex scene in Aliya's Meccano sense, although I did once do one where the viewpoint character is concealed under the bed while the copulants get it on...

The "what goes where" stuff is very rarely done well (and the piece Frances quotes is particularly egregious).

It's possible to write a good sex scene, but probably not involving mutual orgasm (and hey, if you have personal experience, why aren't you doing it instead of writing about it...)