Thursday, July 10, 2014

Writing Sex

“I think it could only be a masterpiece of pornography, but not a masterpiece which was pornographic. [. . .] You can get as dirty as you want, but not also excite people because exciting people during the course of a story—exciting them sexually—is changing the subject so completely that you have no more narrative form.”—Orson Welles

Sex stands out prominently whenever inserted into a narrative. It has to be handled with care.

I've read a lot of badly written sex. A lot of sudden, unnecessary, over the top sex that goes on for too long, or is otherwise eye-rolling. This is the case in developing and popular fiction alike. People have sex, and they should have sex, and plenty of it, and sex should be in your writing, but only when pertinent. Too often when writers delve into a sex scene, it seems like a personal fixation rather than an appropriate part of their story. One of those little darlings—a shortcut to get a rise from the reader in place of more substantive content.

This fits into a larger discussion on subject and focus—the question of what a scene or story is “about”—but bad sex is so often a stumbling block it deserves to be taken aside and roughly whipped.

If you're writing an erotic sexventure or if your story features sex as a prominent theme, by all means, oil up and dive in. Unload all the juicy details your little heart desires (Goatboy, you big old shaggy smelly thing). But if your story isn't otherwise erotic, carefully consider the tone you set as well as how much of those moments to actually include on the page. Take a few queues from the world of film. A look, a kiss, and a soft dissolve do wonders in maintaining your narrative and exciting your readers without becoming a distraction.

If you decide to have sex, don't think you're cute and don’t try to be clever. Sex isn't the place for devices like metaphor or analogy. They will always come off as silly. Pet names for private parts are a non-starter. “She guided my little dingy into her watery cave” is a train wreck every time, if you catch my driftwood, by which I mean penis.

That's right, if you're going to be specific, get your terms out and use them. All the good ones are four letters or less, so you have no excuse. They’re easy to type. If you don’t have it in you to plainly write the mechanics of a sexual act, that act has no business in your story. On the other hand, you'll be pleased how far generality—bodies rather than body parts—can take you. “She pulled him against her.” Like that.

Your sex doesn't have to be titillating. Make it uncomfortable. Make it bizarre, a joke, sweet even, if you should be so perverse. But above all, make sure it belongs in the context of the story you are telling, even if it is just a cheap thrill.

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