Monday, April 6, 2009

Let's talk about sex.

Specifically, sex in literature. Because seriously: What the hell.

This is going to be one of my "not quite appropriate for dinner table conversation" posts. Enjoy.

There is a lot of crappy sex to be read these days. A lot of it. To the point that it often warrants a drinking game. A drinking game in which you take the alcohol in sips rather than shots, because anything more would result in alcohol poisoning.

Quite frankly, it annoys the piss out of me. Those scenes(tm) are not easy to write, not by any means, but a lot of writers don't seem to bother putting the effort in to make them worth reading. You can't just throw a couple of naked bodies on a page, use some bad words, and suddenly have a scene worth reading.

I am by no means an authority on the subject of writing those scenes(tm), but I do know a bad one when I see it, and I think I have a pretty good grasp (*snicker*) on how to write them. So, as both a writer and a reader, I present to you my:

(Or, "how I came to terms with my pet peeves by way of blogging")
  1. Develop an allergy to flowers. If you feel the need to describe anything as "blossoming", "flowering", "petals", or a "stem"...stop right now. I don't care if flowers are the sex organs of horticulture. If I want to read about that, I will take up gardening. Stop it. And so help me, if you make any reference relating to what happens when you blow on a damned dandelion, I will personally make your life hell.
  2. Just. Say. It. Stop writing scenes that basically sound like "she touched know...his...his *whispers* thing." If you can't say it, you can't play with it. But by the same token...
  3. Paging Dr. Cockblock. The other extreme when it comes to being embarrassed is to use completely dry (ouch), sterile, technical terms for body parts. Not sexy, folks. Really. Imagine if you were reading a medical textbook and suddenly found a few phrases written in breathy, hyperventilating, romance-novel-style prose. Jarring? Out of place? I think we understand each other. But there is still one other extreme...
  4. Do you write to your mother with that keyboard? Okay, it seems that if you're not embarrassed to write those scenes(tm), and you're comfortable enough to move past sterile, technical terms, then you have the same delusions of grandeur of a teenager who's lost his virginity and now considers himself God's gift to women. As such, you go overboard on the raunch, using vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity, the kind of language that would make Penthouse reject a letter because it's too racy. Be confident, but seriously, you don't have to use every raunchy or obscene term on the planet. Nothing kills a scene faster than having the literary equivalent of a third grader running in and screaming "ZOMG! The writer said a naughty word!!"
  5. Sexual =/= Sexy. Just because it's a dirty word or phrase does not make it sexy. In fact, some of them are downright gross. If it would turn you off to hear your significant other say it, chances are it's going to turn a goodly portion of your reader off too.
  6. Don't exaggerate the size of your fish. Save the cartoonish proportions and overblown dimensions for stories about fishing. And so help me God, if you're not referring to chocolate sauce, please don't use the word "gallons". Just...don't.
  7. When in doubt, don't. If you really don't think you're comfortable describing something, just don't. That doesn't mean you should only write about things you do, things you have done, etc., but it should be something you're at least comfortable discussing on this level. If you decide, for some unearthly reason, to write a character that's into BDSM, but you personally have an aversion to black leather that borders on phobic, just...don't. Your reader will know.
  8. Your mom will read it. Get over it. One of the biggest fears I hear from people who try to write those scenes(tm) is that they're afraid their mother (or aunt, or grandmother, or pastor, or whatever) will read it. Honestly: Get over it, or don't write it. The whole idea of writing is to be read. Hell, my mom is probably reading this blog entry right this very second (hi Mom!). Fear of being read by anyone will cripple your writing. You have to write honestly. If graphic, detailed sex is part of your story, if it's true to what your characters would do in that situation, write it, and write it right. If you can't handle writing it in detail, find a way to bow out gracefully, close the bedroom door, and let the characters do their thang in private. But don't let me, the reader, hear you in the background muttering "oh God, what if my MOM reads this???" Because when you do that...I can hear you. Trust me.
  9. Stop Waxing Poetic. People, seriously. Dialogue is fine during those scenes(tm). It really is. But if your hero suddenly starts off on some romantic soliloquy during a moment when no red-blooded male would even be able to say the word "soliloquy", your heroine had better punch him in the mouth and tell him to STFU, because that's what I want to do. Real. People. Don't. Do. That. Save the Shakespeare for the long walk on the beach and the sunset. Simple, short, clipped phrases. Seriously.
  10. Kill Your Thesaurus. Really. Set it on fire. Tear it to shreds. Sacrifice it to the deity of your choice. But make it go away. Only you can prevent stupid euphemisms, and the only way to do it is to duct tape your damned thesaurus shut and never use it again. Use plain, simple, direct terms, arranged into prose that is actually pleasing to the eye and the ear, and let the actions, reactions, feelings, and emotions speak for themselves.
This doesn't even get into the finer points of writing those scenes(tm), but it should illustrate some of the things that make such scenes fall flat (in a bad way) in a lot of romance/erotica novels out there.

There. I am now stepping off of my soapbox. Go forth, my loyal blog minions, and write filth that is actually worth reading for reasons besides proving one's drinking prowess in a game of "do a shot every time they use the word 'manhood'".

And one final parting thought:

Think of the kittens, folks. Think of the kittens.


  1. Great list, Lori. :)

    Also, loving teh kitteh!

  2. omg! the kitty!!! roflmao!!!! that is awesome. good list.

  3. LOVE the kitty, and don't forget to add that "those scenes" should NOT last for five or ten pages.

    I'm also sick of heroines who explode at the slightest touch on their hoo-hoo. *LOL* I mean, most women need a little more of a "helping hand" in that department. I'd rather read a "real" scene where there's something I can relate to than a scene that looks like it came out of a teenager's fantasy.

  4. Tymber,

    I'm with you except for the "not lasting 5-10 pages". As with any scene, it needs to last as long as it takes to...well...get the job done. I have some sex scenes that are over 3,000 words. One is 5,000. It depends on what the scene is supposed to accomplish, how much detail I want to show, etc. For of those scenes, 1 page is too much...for others, 10 is not enough.

    It just depends on the scene. :)

    Otherwise, I'm totally with you.

  5. Love the kitten and the idea behind it!


  6. HA! Loved the post and will share this link to the masses.

  7. Wow, what a great list! I'm definitely going to keep that in mind. And, probably make some revisions. LOL