Ciaran Willis, Screen Editor, gives his essential guide to writing sex scenes…
The Bad Sex in Fiction award was created in 1993 in order to draw attention to the poor quality of writing about sex. I suppose it’s not a prize writers necessarily want to win; but a prize is a prize I say. So I’m going to be your purveyor of bad sex writing. Giving you the low-down on the low – brow. Get ready for a bumpy ride. Here’s how to win:
1) Write about premature ejaculation
“What oyster-cinder-beggar-common whore
Didst thou e’er fail in all thy life before?”
This is a bit unfair, really. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, hasn’t actually won the bad sex award, being a poet from the 17th Century. But he did write one of the best poems ever about premature ejaculation: ‘The Imperfect Enjoyment.’ Notably in the poem the narrator berates his penis, rather lengthily, over the way it has let him down when he needs it most (with a nice girl, not a whore). I like how he casts his penis as a villain, addressing it as a character removed from himself (“The rakehell villain shrinks and hides his head”). Blank verse and a blank aim.
2) Use abstract space metaphors
“We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.” Manil Suri, The City of Devil.
Manil Suri is really embracing the astronomy metaphor here, and kudos to her. I like the idea of being a sexual superhero. The batman of the bedroom, perhaps. Plus, is there a pun in ‘streak’? Anyway, the real stroke of genius is the notion of statisticians rejoicing. It’s so removed from the carnality of sex. Tremendous. Of course, I’m always making statisticians rejoice. The world over.
3) Use soft cheeses
“Reaching behind me, I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it. She tasted almost as she had the day I took the drop of milk on my finger.” Jonathan Grimwood, The Last Banquet.
Yes, as I always say, people don’t utilise soft cheeses enough when writing about sex. Here’s a prime example of how one can really add to the texture of a sex scene by adding one. It really adds a carnal feeling, highlighting as well the woman’s femininity and maternity. Of course the more dairy the better. That’s what I always say. Really milk those sex scenes people!
4) Really explore your fruit metaphors
“I moved up her mouth, which smelled of ripe melon. Not the wound-red watermelon, but the pale-green variety I had bought in Naples once, and which had grown, so I was told, on the wild coast of Barbaria.” Rupert Thomson, Secrecy.
Here’s a great example of how you can use sex as a way to explore your more interesting relationship with fruit. Sex is just a way to ponder the character’s complex history with the watermelon. I like how he really gets bogged down in the semantics of the watermelon variety. This is sex through the lens of a green-grocer. Fruity stuff.
Ciaran Willis, Print Screen Editor
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