Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Revising the Novel - The Difficult Sex Scene

No one can deny it, sex sells.

Most mainstream fiction today will have at least one romantic interlude. How far that goes towards an actual sex scene is, of course, up to the discretion of the writer. And it raises some interesting questions.

Some writers may relish the thought of writing a sex scene. I'm not talking erotica here, but mainstream fiction. Writing a sex scene can in some ways be liberating. A chance to explore fantasies, dreams, ideas that you'd never have the chance, or inclination, to explore in real life. A chance to let the hair (and pants) down and get animal.

For others, the sex scene is the absolute hardest scene to write. The constant editor sitting on your shoulder screams and moans with each word you put to paper. What if your mother reads this? What if my colleagues at work or the writing club read this? Will they think I'm strange? A pervert? A sex maniac? Doubts, worries and fears can rage into the brain like never before when it comes to writing about sex. In many ways, Freud was right about this baby. We got hang-ups on top of hang-ups.

But no matter what your own personal opinions of sex may be, if you're to be a successful mainstream fiction writer (I include the genre of thrillers, like my medical thriller, as mainstream fiction) at some point in time, the subject of sex will come up. And like it or not, it's a river that must be crossed.

I read somewhere in a list of things to do to break writer's block (which I don't believe in, by the way) that one way to ditch the block is to write a sex scene. That writer's opinion was that sex is fun and fun to write about. So if you're stuck, then darn it, take the clothes off your character, throw in a good bottle of wine and have them go at it. While I applaud the thought, I personally take the opposite opinion. I think sex is hard to write about. Not because of my Freudian repression, but because it's hard to avoid cliche.

So let's talk about sex. (Cue Salt and Peppa here)

1) Avoid cliche - It's not always easy to bring a fresh approach to sex (on paper, not in the bedroom. That's your own business and you won't find advice here.) We've all read or seen the extreme cliched version of a sex scene from smutty romance novels. There's a great scene near the beginning of the wonderful movie 10 Things I Hate About You (Heath Ledger's first film) were our heroine is called to the principle's office for discipline. Rather than reprimanding her, the principle is much more involved in writing her novel and it's steamy sex scene. The scene ends with our heroine suggesting the term "pulsating member," for our word-bare principle who's been struggling to find another juicy metaphor for penis.

That just ain't gonna work in most mainstream fiction.

In my writing group, there's a lot of sex going around (now, now. I mean in the writing, not the group.) It's been fun to watch each writer's varying approach to writing about sex, and believe me, the approaches are as varied as I'm sure the authors are in the bedroom. We'll talk about those approaches in the next few posts as well as more things to avoid and included in your sex scenes.

And always avoid the pulsating member.

As always, your comments, thoughts and suggestions about sex (writing about it) are always welcome.

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