Writer’s Craft # 95 – When it Comes to Sex in Literature, I’m Not a Prude, But…
Ira Nayman is a Canadian political and social satirist whose Web site, Les Pages aux Folles, just turned 10. That’s not the funny part. He has three collections of humourous speculative fiction journalism in print and a novel – Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) – coming out March, 2013 from Elsewhen Press. That’s not the funny part, either. In his spare time, he earned a PhD in Communications. Comic genius!
So. You have manoeuvred your characters into the bedroom and now they are about to consummate their relationship. How should you proceed? I would suggest you follow the example of films of the 1940s: close the door to the bedroom on the reader before anything too serious happens and pick up the narrative the next day. “But,” you cry, “my readers are expecting a portrayal of human sexuality. I owe it to them!”
Let them use their imaginations.
Depictions of human sexuality in literature are almost always awful. There is a reason that there is an award for worst sex scene in a novel, but not for best sex scene in a novel. Worse, there is a reason why some of our most distinguished authors have won the award for worst sex scene. It is almost impossible to do well.
There are a couple of approaches an author can take to writing a sex scene. One approach is to try to literally describe the sex act. Unfortunately, a literal description of sex is about as arousing as instructions for a model car kit: “Simply place Tab A into Slot B. Repeat until glue appears.”
As bad as this seems, there are only so many ways you can describe long (let’s be generous) things entering round holes. Thus, the majority of writers use metaphors to describe the various body parts involved in sex, as well as the uses to which they are put. “Alain stroked Evalinda’s train tunnel until it gushed hot, sweet chicken noodle soup.”
The literal approach to sex makes the act look ridiculous; the metaphoric approach to sex makes the writer look ridiculous. Best not to go there. “Oh,” you insist, “but I’m a good enough writer to overcome this problem.” Oh. Okay, then. Go there if you must. And, who knows? Your writing might even be worthy of an award…