Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sex Rules

So, how do you like it?

Many of us don’t consciously invest time in thinking about what makes for good fictional sex, unless we’re writers. Yet we all know it when we read it.

And we sure know what turns us off.

When I started writing Suspicious Circumstances I had a “no sex” rule.

Because I’m a prude. But we all know that. Even if I am still thinking about some loose ends from Friday’s post on oral sex.

Okay, we all probably know I’ve gotten over the “no sex” rule.

Seriously, though? For some reason, you can write the most horrific murders and people say you’re a bit fixated on certain criminals like Picton or Bundy. You can write a male character (or female) and people tell you you really understand the gender and that the character reads real. Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

But you write sex and it’s, “So that’s what you’re into.”

For me, it goes beyond that. It’s also about the fact that I really don’t like reading sex scenes.


Maybe in romance and erotica it has a really important role in the story. Okay, in romance and erotica sex almost certainly is crucial. But I don’t read those kind of books.

But in the mystery genre, I don’t find sex to be nearly as critical. And often, the sex is like the choice between having salad or fries with that. It’s just the side dish – not what you came in for.

Now, I’ve borrowed some examples from PJ Parrish’s blog archives from November 17, 2005. The post was about bad sex.

My post is about the rules for writing good sex.

1. Have good sex.

Okay, okay, we writers put ourselves into all sorts of positions in our fiction – doing things we’d never do, like raping or maiming or murdering someone. But for the love of good sex people, if you feel the need to sneak a peek in your character’s bedroom, this is something to research first. Because I highly doubt even the most vivid imagination isn’t going to compensate for experience here.

2. Lose the imagery.

(Quoted from PJ’s post)
"The wind thrust between her legs, its icy blast displaced by solid warmth as he covered her like a dog. The thing inside her jerked and threshed, a rising salmon, plunging home to spawn. "Yes!" she shouted, relishing the scarlet pain in her knees as he kept grinding them against the barnacled surface of the groyne."
From Dreams, Demons and Desires by Wendy Perriam (Peter Owen)

There is absolutely nothing about the thought of having sex with a salmon that I find even remotely appealing. Fish are slimy and scaly and stinky. This is why I never dated reptiles.

3. Think for a second. 99% of the time, do you really want to make someone laugh during sex?

“His hand reached through the armhole of her halter-neck top and pulled it to one side to expose her breast. She let out an involuntary gasp as his tongue flicked the aroused nipple and his left hand caressed the other through the flimsy material. The double breast stroke had always been a winner for Jo..."
From Fourplay by Jane Moore (Orion)

I mean, come on. The double breast stroke? I’m groaning, and don’t mistake that for pleasurable moans.

4. Lose the technical terms.

From yet another source of enlightenment I’ve found for you all.

“First, the male mounts from the rear for sexual intercourse. He approaches from the rear, places his weight on her back, and engages. The technical term for this is lordosis.
The position of her limbs makes it possible for her to support his weight during intercourse without a lot of effort. Her limbs don't impede intercourse…
The effort she must expend in intercourse is also reduced (remember how important her effort is biologically). She need only stand still and let him do the work.”

So, any of you guys hot and bothered? Personally, that read a little stale to me. I mean, it isn’t like assembling a stereo, people! (And if you check out the link, you’ll know I’ve misled you slightly.)

5. Have a point.

Look, pure and simple, it depends what kind of writer you are, but for the books I like to read, the sex – like anything else – should mean something. I don’t like gratuitous violence just for the sake of some blood. I don’t like finding out the life history of someone if it isn’t relevant to the plot or the series – I can handle info introduced that will be more relevant in a future book, but not just stuff that has no bearing on anything.

Same with sex. You shouldn’t just put it in to put it in. In writing or otherwise. You have to do something with it. You don’t just stick it in and say, “There it is! Tada!”

Getting slightly back to the purpose, though, often the sex is an interruption. The one good example I always turn to in a mystery where the sex actually mattered to the story is Knots and Crosses. One specific position generates a memory that connects to the case. So it was both tasteful, and essential to the unfolding of the plot.

6. Touch your reader.

The reason why some people, IMHO, write bad sex is that they focus on the wrong things. It might also explain why some people have bad sex for all I know.

Sex is about more than the act. It’s about the emotions.

The reason those excerpts (and all the other ones PJ Parrish posted) make me groan, gag or laugh, is because they objectify sex. Nobody wants to say, “He thrust his penis in…” So it’s now a salmon plunging or some shit like that.

They’ve evaded the technical approach by using imagery, and it just doesn’t work. Not for me anyway. Horsefucking might be popular on some other blogs but that’s not really how I want to think about any moment of intimacy I have or will ever experience.

I mean, isn’t that why people think there’s something slightly perverted about dildos and vibrators? Because on some level, the majority of us know that good sex is about more than the mechanics of the act, but also about how you feel, about having meaning?

And the idea that someone wants to be intimate with you? I read those “bad sex” excerpts on PJ’s blog and didn’t want to have sex with anyone. Not the characters (not that I ever think about having sex with a fictional character, but I have seen that as the topic of a forum discussion) and certainly not the writers. Not even the editors or publishers. What the hell were they on, anyway?

When two characters finally get together I’m not inclined to think, “He’s finally getting some.” I’m more inclined to think, “Aw, geesh, it’s about time they were happy.”

Call me a sentimental schmuck. And may all the men step up now and tell me that I’m being a complete woman for saying so and no guy thinks that when they read, or otherwise.

But this is just my opinion on it. And if you’ve got some other suggestions or disagree, I’d love to hear about it.

Newfie Lubricant

Way down in the out ports of Newfoundland, Murph's old lady had been pregnant for some time and now the time had come. He brought her to the doctor and the doctor began to deliver the baby.

She had a little boy, and the doctor looked over at Murphy and said, "Hey, Murph! You just had you a son! Ain't dat grand!!"

Murph got excited by this, but just then the doctor spoke up and said, "Hold on! We ain't finished yet!"

The doctor then delivered a little girl. He said, "Hey, Murph! You got you a daughter!!!! She a pretty lil ting, too...."

Murph got kind of puzzled by this and then the doctor said, "Hold on, we still ain't got done yet!"

The doctor then delivered another boy and said, "Murph, you just had yourself another boy!"

Murph said to the doctor, "Doc, what caused all of dem babies?" The doctor said, "You never know Murph, it was probably something that happened during conception." Murph said, "Ah yeah, during conception"

When Murph and his wife went home with their three children, he sat down with his wife and said, "Mama, you remember dat night that we ran out of Vaseline and we had to use dat dere 3-in-1 Oil."

She said, "Yeah, I remember dat night."

Murph said, "I'll tell you, bye, it's a fookin' good ting we didn't use dat WD-40!!"

Should I carry on with Tuesday Tips and talk about something writing related? Maybe if people have topics or questions, they can email me so I know what would be helpful. Otherwise, it’s whatever I’m thinking about that you get stuck with.

But then, that’s no different from any other day, is it?


Boy Kim said...

You're a sentimental schmuck.

James Goodman said...

For me, it depends on the book I'm reading. If, as you mentioned, the sex serves a purpose then I pay attention to the details, if it's gratuitous (and I'm not reading erotica or a romance), chances are by the second or third time the go to the well, I scan through when the panting starts.

James Goodman said...

Oh, and what Kim said...


Bernita said...

"You just don't stick it in and say, "There it is! Tada!"

You intended that didn't you?
Bad sex writing is like bad sex?

Sandra Ruttan said...

So we have a man who doesn't like it overdone either!

Now, Kim and James, I'm a sentimental schmuck? So what you're saying is all you think is, "Wahoo, he's getting some?"

Bernita, whatever do you mean? I'm sure I don't understand. I intended what?

Otis said...

Personally, I love a gratuitous salmon. And don't spare the butter.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, there's a whole new sex topic! Bedroom foods.

So, butter? Never really thought of that one...

JamesO said...

You're always guaranteed a good laugh over at Sandra's place. Great joke, even if it is a bit cruel on Newfoundland - where else can you spend a night in Dildo, after all?

As for sex in writing, I agree that in most books (erotica excepted, where it's kind of a given) it's largely unnecessary. That's not to say your characters can't be getting it away all over the place, but as in a lot of the art of writing, less is more. You rarely need to describe the act, just find an interesting way of saying that it has occurred (or is about to occur.)

I don't want to sound too prurient, but it should be possible to create a sexually charged atmosphere in a scene you're writing (to emphasise a growing chemistry between two characters, for instance) without resorting to a technical manual.

On the other hand, we go to great lengths to choreograph fight scenes, or lovingly describe eviscerated corpses and the way the light glints on blood and gristle, so why do we get so het up about detailed carnality?

As for salmon - best cold smoked over oak, served with a little ground black pepper and olive oil (lemon is optional - depends how good the salmon is). A good dram of single malt on the side. Heaven.

And no thrusting required.

Boy Kim said...

Not saying or thinking anything.

Just doing as I was told.

Which, as you know, is how I like it.

JamesO said...

Never seen Last Tango in Paris then?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Good Boy Kim, good boy. Nice to see Trace let you out of the corner.

James, I haven't seen LTIP.

And one thing in mysteries is that a fight scene might actually matter - the how of someone being killed or assaulted might make the different in the physical results that caused death, so it might be necessary to determine who is guilty.

The funniest thing to me, in my reading, was last summer reading A Good Day To Die. I don't read romance or erotica, don't watch anything remotely close...

I'd forgotten some men make the first move with a hand on the knee. How sad is that?

"Where else can you spend a night in Dildo?"

I DO NOT need to type what I'm thinking, do I? But then, if I don't say it, surely BK will...

My new mantra is SEX: No fish required.

Boy Kim said...

I've walked around all afternoon with a hand on my knee... and still no offers.

You're right. That's sad.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Sex with a gratuitous salmon?

That's just twisted, even if you live in BC.

Trace said...

Aaaaw man! You read my entire book which has like 5 graphic sex scenes in it! I feel like I forced you to watch when you didn't want to!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, the statement that I don't really like reading sex scenes is a generalization.

I usually don't. But occasionally they're both educational and generate some ideas.

Trace said...

Aiyght. But you can skip them in the future if'n ya wanna :) Cuz I'll be sending you the second Leah book at some point for your insight.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Which is when I'll be saying, "Dear God Trace! Take a cold shower!"

Trace said...


M. G. Tarquini said...

I write great sex scenes. Be nice if somebody other than the Bunions got to read them someday.

Erik Ivan James said...

This is a good post Samdra. It stands straight in the hole.:)

Boy Kim said...

Damn, even for a sub, 7000 hits is a lot to take.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Share them with your husband, Mindy!

Erik, stands? Is that all?

Boy Kim, people think I got tattoos. I keep telling them it's just from the beatings.

M. G. Tarquini said...

He already reads them.

Boy Kim said...

Weird, cos I tell my workmates that I get my bruises cos I'm clumsy and keep bumping into things.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Totally in agreement with you on the side-dish metaphor. I prefer a damn good main meal, without mixing too many different flavours.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Daniel. I'm more of a meat and potatoes person myself.

And Boy Kim, the hand on the knee? You really are sad. I'm snickering but restraining myself from typing what I really want to say...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh....LOL...I'm still stuck on the WD40!!!! ROFLOL

Boy Kim said...

Snickering's good. But don't restrain. Say it.