Monday, October 18, 2010

No more sex?

Photo by kainr
The Guardian is claiming that sex is out of fashion in literary works. Now, I agree that it's very difficult to write well about sex and I've already talked about that here, here and here.

It's not that I've got anything against writing about sex in theory, it's just that in practice it can often end up sounding rather silly. I tend to take the same view as Hilary Mantel:
If you can make your reader's imagination work, that is much more powerful than saying, he put his hand here and she put her hand there. That just makes the reader think, are these people contortionists and could I get into that position?
If, as Martin Amis claims, it's impossible for a novelist to write about real sex, then that would let me off the hook. I'm not entirely convinced though. What do you think?

11 COMMENTS:

Old Kitty said...

What a very interesting article - thank you for the link!! I've not really noticed the lack of good sex in contemporary books - guess maybe that's cos I tend to read Terry Pratchett novels! LOL!

But seriously - I hope that writers continue to include sex in all its glory whether readers find it badly written or not!! :-)

Take care
x

fairyhedgehog said...

Oh, Kitty, you can't beat Terry Pratchett! And somehow I've never felt the lack of sex in his novels.

Scarlet Blue said...

I've noticed that it's not written about so much any more... it'll come back.
I think I got most of my sex education from my aunt's mucky books - back then I was fascinated... these days I often skip the sex scenes, unless they are well written.
Sx

fairyhedgehog said...

Scarlet, I had to laugh! I remember searching out the "dirty bits" in books when I was young. Now I know how it's done I'm not so keen unless it's really well written. And I'm definitely not into the "put tab A into slot B" stuff!

Talli Roland said...

If it's appropriate - i.e., adds to the character or plot - then I say add it in. But if it's just gratuitous, I think it's rather silly. I can't write sex to save myself, so I don't even try!

fairyhedgehog said...

Talli, I have seen it done well in some books but for me that normally means that it was showing character or relevant in some way.

I don't like it when it's the bedroom equivalent of: "She lifted the fork to her mouth and inserted the chicken. It tasted bland and chewy. She masticated firmly and then swallowed and reached for a forkful of broccoli."

mynfel said...

Hmmm. It's an interesting article, but I will point out there's a difference between literary writing vs genre writing (i.e. romance). There can be a lot of sex in romance books and not all of it is well written...but a lot of it is.

More to the point, I think smut scenes can be difficult to write - but mostly because the audience tends to be pretty jaded these days. After all, it's hard to put a literary spin on an act that is shown in all its glory in the average music video. As a writer, it's hard to compete with that.

I also think that whether you find a sex scene in a book good or bad can also depend on your tastes. Some readers like detail...and some don't. It's all very subjective. I write what I like to read - I give enough detail that there isn't any doubt as to what is going on, but I don't have a camera up inside the woman's hoo hah, either.

Different strokes and all that. :)

SillyBoy said...

I do find it hard to write sex at all well. Aside from anything else, I seem to prematurely run out of vocabulary that nestles comfortably in the stylistic cleavage between biology textbook, urinal graffiti, and distressingly abused metaphor. Better to cut away and fade to black than risk doing it badly. Besides, I find it a lot more fun to come up with subtle or playful ways to suggest that the sex is about to happen / is happening / has just happened.

The closest I've come to writing sex was when a couple of my characters deviated from the plot to engage in some nocturnal outdoor foreplay. I had to send in some shadowy voyeurs to interrupt them before the main event.

fairyhedgehog said...

mynfel, I suppose all any of us can do is to write the kind of scenes we'd like to read and hope that other people out there share our tastes!

SillyBoy, it is extremely difficult but maybe one day I'll have the skills to do it. I laughed at your necessary voyeurs.

BrightenedBoy said...

I'm actually facing this dilemma myself. I've decided to leave pretty much everything to the reader's imagination.

fairyhedgehog said...

BB, that can work very well!

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