Lessons I have learnt about writing novels - Sex
|Today is not my day in so many ways. However, I did say I would blog about sex and I did write most of this already, so here I am. Today, this blog contains very strong language and sexual references. |
So about sex, or more precisely, writing about sex. I don’t just mean writing about the act. There isn’t a lot of actual sex books anyway. For example, it occurred to me that I cannot remember reading a single book that involved the act of oral sex. If you can think of an instance, I bet no-one got a pubic hair between their teeth. Fact is that many actual "sex scenes" are superfluous to the narrative.
Occasionally you feel short-changed when after two hundred pages of increasing sexual tension, especially when you too have fallen in love with one or other or perhaps both of the characters and finally their eyes meet and finally, finally after two hundred pages they both understand that the feeling, this deep ache, this knot in the stomach, this throbbing tension, is entirely mutual and then – suddenly it’s the next morning, the sun comes up and they’re drinking coffee together.
But most of the time, we can happily fill in the blanks and are only embarrassed by the authors' attempts at erotica. At least I am. Sex in novels shouldn’t need to be at all titillating to the reader, but authors start using slang words for anatomy where there hasn’t been a single slang word in the prose of the book so far, the urgent and spiky language of pornography; [no see, I did put it in here, but then I got scared].
They also resort to terrible clichés, the same uniform version of heterosexual sex we see in films where the male partner always initiates, they always end up on or in a bed, always in a state of complete undress and usually with the female partner on top. This is because in films, we can then see as much as we are allowed to see within a 15 certificate, i.e the breasts. In books this device is entirely pointless, and yet they still do it.
Nobody ever laughs to utters a word at any time between initiation and orgasm. Everyone is beautiful and sex is almost always mutually mind-blowing. Unless they're married, in which case it is awful and the whole affair takes place in the dark.
I know. There are notable exceptions to the rule. I guess I have read a lot of trash. So why is the case? I mean this problem with sex, not my shameful reading habits.
Well, I reckon, that almost every one of us thinks that we are personally, a complete and utter pervert. Either that or we’re a complete freak because we don’t know what the hell other people are going on about. Because nobody’s experience and observation of sex and sexual behaviour is exactly as it is the movies or the books or anywhere else except in real life. And the main reason that this sort of sex, this presumably ordinary experience of sex and sexual behaviour, rarely exists anywhere else is that we’re all too afraid to be seen as complete and utter perverts or frigid or whatever.
And like I say, this just isn’t about the act. This is about everything between the amount of eye contact made between strangers on a bus right through to the actual business. Our awareness of each other as sexual beings even in the absence of any real attraction; casual flirting, intimidation, the games we play with that stuff, the rules we must adhere to all the time with everyone, all this complicated signalling malarkey.
When I write, I find myself feeling extremely self-conscious about all of this, anything vaguely sexual or sensual. Is it normal to think about this or react like that? Would someone feel this way or am I the only person in the whole wide world who ever had that thought? I don’t want to write anything which my readers will find unconvincing. And I certainly don’t want to write anything which is going to deeply offend or disgust anyone, if it turns out I am really wide of the mark.
Lessons I have learnt? Hmm. To be honest, I’m still struggling. In my editing process this is coming up time and time again as an area of difficulty; these bits are either very stilted or they are fine, but so honest and explicit and make me very nervous. I’m not talking about the most bizarre sexual act I can bring to mind, but just ordinary imperfect things going on between ordinary imperfect people. There’s really very little sex in this book.
However, as I have written about before, I very much believe that being honest, truly honest is the most important thing in fiction (rephrase that sentence until it makes sense. There? No, never mind). It is an almost moral responsibility, as well as an artistic one.
My golden rule is not to write these things within twenty-four hours of speaking to one’s mother, one’s grandmother or one’s good friend who is a novice nun. That is perhaps half the battle. It can help to write this stuff when you are tired or perhaps slightly drunk and to try and write it all at once without going over it too many times. Even turning off the computer monitor so one cannot see one's own words until it is all down.
Another thing that helps is to read really good brave fiction. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the best books ever written at all and is unflinching and at times very beautiful about the most inappropriate sexual attraction and obsession one could think of. D H Lawrence does pretty well, although some of his language is very dated now. Sarah Walters also writes very sexy books. I guess one should avoid pornography and erotic literature which is a means to an end, thus not too concerned with realism.
And even now I’m thinking, nah, I should cut those bits out and write it all the way it happens in the movies.