Tuesday, 7 December 2010

10 Rules for Writing about Sex: II

Continued from yesterday...

6. Some words are sexier than others. Sibilant sounds work well - simmer, sizzle, shimmer, sensation. Hard edged words are less good. Khaki. Bitter. Nasty. Write a list of words you find attractive: verbs, nouns, adjectives, whatever. Then weave them into scene.  You can also use your vocabulary to control the pace - long vowel sounds will slow things down (glide, slide) as will multi-syllabic words (voluptuous, sensuous).  Speed the pace up with single syllables and short vowel sounds - quick, fast, hot, NOW!

7. Emotions, emotions, emotions. They say that the most sexually responsive organ in the body is the one between your ears. I can't imagine writing a sex scene without a heavy emotional content - even if that emotion might be anger rather than love. Sex without the emotions becomes a matter of mechanics. Pornographic, rather than sensual. Now, some might say this is the difference between a male and female perspective. They might even point out that nearly all the short lists for the Bad Sex in Fiction award over the past 18 years have been heavily male dominated. I don't agree. Even James Bond, that serial seducer, is emotionally engaged with his partners (in the novels).

8. Foreplay. I read Joe Orton's diaries as a wide-eyed teenager, completely amazed at the casual sex. And I mean casual - he might see a stranger he fancied on the tube, they did a bit of eyeing each other up, then at the next stop they'd get off, nip round a corner, have sex, then go their separate ways. Blimey - casual or what? But when you think about it, he spent quite a long time imagining the casual sex and looking forward to it. It was mental rather than physical foreplay. But mental or physical, you need to have a lead up to your sex. There's nothing unsexier than simply grabbing and shagging, in real life and in fiction.

9. Anticipation is everything. Why do more people book their summer holidays in January than at any other time of year? Because it gives them most of the year to think about their holiday and what's going to happen when it finally arrives. It's been estimated that people get more pleasure from imagining what's going to happen on holiday than they do from the holiday itself - which, let's face it, is pretty much bound to be a let down after all that yearning. In terms of writing about sex, the longer your characters take to get round to doing the deed, the better. It's sometimes referred to as UST - Unrequited Sexual Tension. You can overdo this - I've certainly read novels where I'm saying, oh, just get on with it.

10. Don't write anything you feel uncomfortable with. Write only within your personal comfort zone. Bit like sex itself, really, you can only relax and enjoy it when you're not anxious. Relax, have fun, enjoy yourself.


Julia Crouch said...

But, as a caveat to writing what you are comfortable with, remember that your fictional sex can be just that - fictional. Like Stef Penney not visiting Canada before she wrote The Tenderness of Wolves, you don't have to have done the deed to write about it.

Just remember though to let your parents know that you made it up...

Sarah Duncan said...

LOL! When Adultery for Beginners was first published I had to keep on explaining that it was fiction and not autobiography, that I'd made it all up.