Exeposé’s sex edition continues with Joshua Rotchelle opinion that there’s nothing sexy about literary sex scenes
Ah, the sex scene. Eagerly thumbed to by some, skimmed past with a horrendous cringe by others, you can guarantee that the vast majority of readers have some kind of opinion on them.
The writing population has just as much trouble getting to grips with the things, as all sorts of awkward but necessary questions come to the fore. Does writing this make my novel trashy? Where is the line between porn and ‘art’? And most overwhelmingly: just how many synonyms or ‘penis’ are there?
Even if you know your poles from your pump-sticks (and I promise you, that is a thing), it can still be difficult to get right. A tough issue, then. So why do people bother? No, really, what does it add?
In my opinion, most stories don’t really need the whole “sex” thing in them. Just because you have a couple of characters smitten with each other doesn’t mean you have to have them bang like bunnies in the glorious technicolor that is your reader’s imagination.
Vague references or having them “slip into the bedroom” amidst a torrent of passionate kisses is not cheating. There is a difference between a cop-out and “sidestepping a whole world of shit.”
If you haven’t figured it out by now, out of those two types from earlier, I am definitely in the rushpast-and-try-not-to-puke category of sex scene readers. As far as I’m concerned, in most books, it just doesn’t work.
However, there is something even worse than a sex scene that doesn’t fit the story, and that’s a sex scene done badly. Put simply, if you’re depicting bedroom antics in your story, you’re writing porn. There’s no nice way to say it, and there’s no excuse either. You can cry “it’s art!” all you want, but someone, somewhere will still masturbate to it. Get over it.
With that in mind, writing porn is just like writing anything else: there can be no half-measures. If you try to half-engage with it and write vague passages with the attitude of “hey, guys, isn’t this lame?” then guess what? It will be lame. Because you are being a lame writer.
That isn’t to say every sex scene has to be a super-explicit orifice exploration orgy: just like other kinds of porn, you can keep it “classy.” The point is, if you’re going to put it in your writing, fully commit to it.
If you need some pointers, do your homework: read some erotic fiction, because for that little passage, that’s what you’re writing.
And I mean erotic fiction, not what grandma keeps in her naughty drawer. Skip over the grey rainbow that’s just hit the cinema, and all of the copycats. There’s a whole bunch of smut out there, but if I had to suggest a starting point, The Story of O is good entry-level stuff.
Some will no doubt baulk at the thought of going out and buying litporn, but frankly, if that’s you, it’s time to commit. If you’re going to write good porn passages, you need to know your stuff, and you need to get over yourself. If you don’t want to, then remember: you don’t have to.
But for crying out loud, don’t try and simultaneously tackle the issue and sidestep it. Because if I end up reading it, I may die of embarrassment on your behalf. And you wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?
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