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A Sport And A Pastime

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The other month when I reviewed Sex In The System I wrote:

It is often suggested that sex is hard to write. Certainly sex scenes are easily mocked once stripped of context but generally that old advice “write what you know” holds true and most people know their sexual fantasies very well indeed.

I was specifically of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award and their tendency, as one MetaFilter commenter puts it, towards “institutionally poor joke detection”. Well, it is that time of the year again and extracts of the whole shortlist are available so you can make up your own mind. The Roth clearly is very bad but are we really meant to believe Cave or Littell don’t know exactly what they are doing?

The BBC jumped on the bandwagon today – a little late but admittedly not as late as me – to ask is it difficult to write well about sex? To which the answer surely is “no more than anything else.” Taking the contrary view is a reviewer called Melissa Katsoulis:

If I was writing a novel, I wouldn’t attempt to write it except in the most Victorian and prim way, because it’s awful. It’s a cliche, but the moments of genuine frisson in books are when hardly anything happens. When you have a dream about someone you fancy, it’s because they sat down next to you on the bus or something, not because you were at it, hammer and tongs. Either be suggestive or funny, but trying to do the nuts and bolts isn’t going to work.

Prim as a Victorian, eh? Chick-lit novelist Sarah Duncan is equally squeamish in the Guardian:

In the middle of sex I’m not thinking, ooh he’s just thrust his throbbing organ against my front bottom, so why should a character? Instead of writing about actions, I concentrate on the responses, how it feels both mentally and physically. Get into the head of the character and you can create the illusion that yes, this is real, this is happening to you the reader. I write mainly for women readers, and speaking for my sex I think we like being seduced. We don’t want bedroom antics shoved in our faces, literally or metaphorically. We like a little delicacy, a little subtlety.

The comments to that article pretty much immediately start listing good sex scenes so it is well worth a butcher’s. James Salter does, of course, feature prominently.

Written by Martin

30 November 2009 at 22:13

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Get Off

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Jeff Vandermeer sets out his six rules for writing sex scenes. I am stumped by rule three though:

(3) Don’t use offensive or stupid terms. Several words leap to mind that are either offensive or stupid in the context of a sex scene. You should know what they are, and I’m not going to repeat them here. Just be aware of your terminology, because if you make a mistake or use something inappropriate to the context, your sex scene will either turn people off or annoy them. Terminology should not bring the reader out of the story.

I’m just not sure what these offensive or stupid words are. Vaginal sludge, perhaps? I wish Vandermeer had been a bit more explicit because the context of every sex scene is different and there aren’t any words I can think that need a blanket ban from the bedroom. My teasing notwithstanding, that Jim Younger quote actually works in the context of his ridiculously over the top novel.

In the comments to his post Vandermeer is seeking the best and worst sex scenes. As always, I nominated James Salter for the best. A Sport And A Pastime is generally considered to be his erotic novel but Light Ages is even hotter.

Written by Martin

12 March 2009 at 15:05

Pirate Jenny

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Half way through High John The Conqueror Jim Younger makes a bold stab at a nomination for the Bad Sex In Fiction Award:

Jenny dragged me to the floor and rammed my head between her legs. I licked but my mouth was dry. No matter, she was wet enough for both of us. I drank greedy for five minutes or so while she wailed and bucked, arching her back and pounding my hurdies with her heels. By now hot-dog Geordie was a straining greyhound in the slips. Jenny flung me up and around until goo-gam Geordie was gooming her tonsils. Jenny was a sucking tornado, turning me inside out. I stuck my finger full-length in her arsehole and nearly had a stroke when she bite me, but it did the trick. We came together, rolling over, and I thumped my head on the wall. Jenny spat out Geordie like he was gristle she’d found in a pie. I peeled my face off her quim and sat up on her belly, facing her, but I couldn’t see as my eyelids were stuck together with vaginal sludge. I blinked into the light – diver surfacing – and watched poor wee Geordie dump a few smears of egg white flecked with blood in Jenny’s belly button.

Alas the judges ignored his contribution.

Written by Martin

1 March 2009 at 11:11

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