Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Worth Repeating

Ever since breaking down and joining the e-reading wave, I’ve read more books than ever before, partly because the books are right there at my fingertips and partly because the e-reader has made books more affordable.

If you were to pick up my Nook, you might be surprised by the number of erotica novels I own. This is another one of those wonderful things about e-readers. It gives readers the chance to discreetly purchase books they might have passed on when shopping in the brick and mortar bookstore. However, my interest in erotica is mostly academic. Good writers love to read. It makes us better writers.

No, this isn’t the female version of:  ‘I buy Playboy to read the articles’. My writing has benefited from reading erotica. That is, if you like a good sex scene. If you’re more conservative then you’d disagree, and that’s okay. Not everyone likes a good sex scene.

The other day, a friend and I were talking about a series she’s reading on her Nook and she admitted the graphic sex scenes made her blush, but they also kept her reading. Just as a good sex scene will keep a person reading, a bad one will make them want to want to throw their e-reader across the room. Okay, maybe the reaction won’t be that extreme given how pricey e-readers can be, but you get the idea.

Recently, I had the urge to chuck my Nook at the wall when I was reading a wonderful contemporary romance novel and came across a badly described sex scene. Throughout most of the scene, the writer seemed to be dancing around what was happening. Still we got the gist. Then it happened. The writer took the plunge and named a part of the male anatomy, and that’s when I rolled my eyes and almost vomited. Not because she was too graphic, but because she made me so uncomfortable with how clearly inhibited she was.

What did the writer do that made me want to claw my eyes out? She described the male character’s testicles as his jewels. I’m not kidding. His jewels! I wanted to run from the room screaming because I knew exactly disease the writer was suffering from. The writer wanted her characters to be intimate, but she couldn’t let go of her own hang ups. She let her personal feelings become those of her characters. 

I don’t blame this or any other writer for this shortcoming. It’s easy to self-censor. We’re sitting at the computer writing some really raunchy scene when our grandma’s face pops into our minds. We imagine Grandma reading it and demanding an explanation while reminding us she’ll never be able to show her face in church again thanks to us. It doesn’t have to be Grandma’s influence. It could be the kids or the parents or anyone else whose opinion we value. Some of us just never learned how to write a good sex scene because of our religion, morals, or any other thing. Some of us just don’t realize that we need to separate our feelings from that of our characters.

If your characters are the kind who would have a steamy encounter in a public restroom then I assure you they’re probably going to use the language that goes along with it.  If your main guy is a womanizing bastard, he’s most likely going to be more believable telling a woman to suck his cock than to please give him oral sex if you know what I mean.

If that doesn’t sound like a tactic you’re comfortable employing then I’d suggest you avoid the steamy scenes altogether. If it’s important that your readers know your characters had sex then you should either just tell us or simply imply it.  If you say the characters kissed passionately and then the man swept the woman into his arms and carried her to bed, we’ll assume. That assumption will be cemented if they wake up in the same bed the next morning. Then we’ll know they had sex and you won’t have to go through the agony of describing it.

If you must describe it though, and you’re just not good at it but want to be, then read the sex scenes of your fellow writers. I for one drew a huge amount of inspiration in this area from contemporary romance author Erin Nicholas. That woman not only knows how to write a page turner, but she can craft a sex scene that doesn’t make me cringe with its clinical verbiage. By reading her work, along with others including and up to erotica authors, I became more comfortable with writing sex scenes and my work improved because of it.

Right now you may be thinking this sounds like a familiar rant. Yes, I’ve discussed this before, but given the fact that bad sex in novels is still running rampant, it was worth repeating. For those of you who don’t know, there is an award handed out by The Literary Review for Bad Sex in Fiction. Clearly, I’m not the only one taking notice of this problem! I just hope that’s one award I don’t win.

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