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.
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?