Does a good novel need good sex? Some clearly do. Where would Lady Chatterley’s Lover be sans sex? Could 50 Shades of Grey work without any fornication? But for others, I do wonder if the sex has been added as a bit of an afterthought, an add-on to make an otherwise deadly chapter somewhat more interesting. I didn’t really want any sex in my novel, because I’m not sure how to write about it (and the results of typing ‘how to write a good sex scene’ in the browser tell me I am not alone). I find most written scenes are too biological, too crude, too metaphorical (usually flowery, velvety and bad) or just too wrong. But in case I need a good sex scene further down the line, I thought it would be worthwhile doing some research. I have learned a number of useful lessons about sex today:
My definition of amazing is not shared
Any website that has ‘amazing’ in the title will disappoint. This is another way of saying an outpouring of four letter words and clichéd similes.
Laughter is better than sex
I alighted upon 25 Humpalicious steps for writing your first sex scenes the name piqued my interest. Delilah S Dawson takes the aspiring novelist through the process of writing good sex, but in a highly entertaining and amusing way. Don’t do it in Starbucks and drink a bottle of wine before tackling the keyboard are both excellent tips I feel.
I don’t want to be pilloried by the Literary Review and be short-listed for the Bad Sex in Fiction award.
This is what Jonathan Beckman wrote about Wilbur Smith:
“Wilbur Smith is a hardy perennial of these awards and his new novel, Desert God, does not fail to deliver. He offers grammatical and anatomical pedantry – ‘Her body was hairless. Her pudenda were also entirely devoid of hair’ – and a gloriously orotund definition of sex: ‘the brief conjoining of the flesh that ends too soon in a puny muscular spasm, sparse reward for the man who renders up his seed, or for the woman who accepts it into her womb’.”
Jonathan Beckman is one of the funniest writers around
Here he is again, this time on the 2014 Man Booker Prize winner:
“At the head of the pack romps Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of this year’s Booker Prize. Those judges evidently felt the book’s other merits outweighed a pair of highly wrought sex scenes. We selected one between Amy and Dorrigo: ‘Hands found flesh; flesh, flesh. He felt the improbable weight of her eyelash with his own; he kissed the slight, rose-coloured trench that remained from her knicker elastic, running around her belly like the equator line circling the world.’ Mention of the equator, as one of our judges pointed out, leaves the reader with the impression that Amy is obese on a planetary scale. At this point, a slobbering dog appears, bearing in his mouth a ‘twitching fairy penguin’, leading to a rapid diminishing of desire on Dorrigo’s part. Penguins might be all the rage this Christmas, but Flanagan’s seems too leadenly symbolic.”
Avoid lists beginning ‘100 words to describe …
There is an extraordinary number of website lists that are a compilation of words and sentences to help the writer scribe the seamless scene. They amount to a jumbo Roget’s T, with the words classified by characteristic rather than class and the writer just has to pick’n’mix. I found a list of ‘useful verbs for sex scenes’, which unsurprisingly contained the usual suspects like ‘throb’, ‘moan’ and ‘groan’, but rather more surprising was the inclusion of the word ‘stun’. I’m still working this one out.
Call me old fashioned …
I think my sex scenes will be more of the Barbara Cartland ‘he took her hand and closed the bedroom door’ variety.
Secret Kingdoms from Beyond the Realms of Euphoria by Galahad