Monday, 6 December 2010

10 Rules for Writing about Sex: I

I seem to considered a bit of an expert on writing about sex - I've had several media requests recently for my thoughts on the topic - so I thought I'd share my rules with you too.

1. No named body parts. What do you call your sexual bits and pieces? There are the correct anatomical terms, which you might use in front of the doctor and if you were giving some sex education to your child, and then there are all the others. There are the ones you use with your friends, the ones you use with your lover, the ones you use for swearing, the ones that you use to yourself. They all might be different. What I can guarantee is that there is no term for any sexual body part that won't have someone going, yuck, how twee, or yuck, how crude. Much, much, much easier to avoid using body parts in writing, except for bits we all agree to use the same names for - arms, legs, hands, fingers.

2. No maps. You're not giving directions on how to get to a friend's house without using the A30. We don't need to know you turn left at the letter box after the pub. Any attempts to describe what is going where is asking for a reader to leave the story to try to work out what is going on....he put his left hand on her right thigh, she slid her right hand round the small of his back, his right hand clutched her left shoulder. It's asking for someone to try to emulate it at home, a sort of DIY Twister. Diagrams should also be avoided.

3. No metaphors or similes. It's all too easy to go horribly wrong. Cue Rowan Somerville who won the 2010 Bad Sex in Fiction award for The Shape of You which contains metaphors such as

"Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her".

Molly Ringle won the Bulwer-Lytton Prize in 2010 (for a deliberately badly written opening paragraph) with the following:

" For the first month of Ricard and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss - a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Metaphor and simile are doomed; what seemed a neat idea when it was just you and the laptop, will seem hilarious in print. The exception is when you are deliberately writing about bad sex. Then use all the gerbil imagery you like.

4. Stick in the present. We're writing about good sex here, and with good sex you don't do much thinking about what has happened in the past, or is going to happen in the future. With good sex you're thinking about nothing other than the immediate present. All conscious thought goes out of your head, and you only think about what is happening right now. (I think this is one of the reasons metaphors don't work; they're too conscious.) Concentrate on the sensations happening NOW - taste, touch, sound, smell, sight.

5. Get up close and personal. Remember that your characters are really close to each other physically (one assumes) so only describe visuals that are close up. My near sight's not that good, so for me it's all a bit bleary. Be 100% in your viewpoint character's head, let us see what they see, feel what they feel. The more in their head you are, the more chance the reader will be there too.

Part II tomorrow....

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