Friday, 28 May 2010
This is a follow-up to my earlier post about Writing Sex, in which I wondered where to start with the sex scenes I'm going to need in my novel. Since then, I've been writing. A lot. And I've started to narrow down what I need, and what makes it hard.
"Normal" sex is comparatively easy to write. I can give you soft and gentle love scenes in a romantic setting, where the physical side is really subordinate to the emotional content. This is within the realm of my experience.
Much harder, for me, is when the plot requires sex outside of a loving context. In a couple of places, my next book demands sex for its own sake: a purely physical act.
For example, in one of these awkward scenes, my heroine has to go undercover as a concubine... with all that that entails.
Before anyone wonders, this is not gratuitous. There's nothing included in my book to try and shock my readers. When I have sex scenes, it's because they're critical points in the progression of the plot, as well as being important for character development. They're difficult scenes, but in context, they're also essential.
Lack of personal experience isn't the only thing that makes these scenes hard to write. There's a social taboo that surrounds any discussion of sex, which is magnified by graphic description, and magnified yet further if the circumstances are anything but ideal. And writing something in a novel, for anyone to read, feels very much like opening a public debate - without the chance to say "I don't like it either," because that's part of the discomfort, it must be: the worry that by writing something, you'll be seen as in some way condoning it.
I can only begin to imagine how hard it must have been for a writer friend of mine, who has rape as an unavoidable part of her narrative.
Yet I don't feel I can censor my story for the sake of what some people might think. I'm not willing to change my plot just to avoid one or two pages that some readers might find uncomfortable. Besides, however pretentious it may sound to suddenly define myself as an artist, fiction is an art form. The visual arts have crossed all these lines - and more - already, so perhaps I can borrow just a dash of that bravery.
Fiction holds a mirror up to life, and life includes bad sex, sometimes, even if we prefer not to talk about it. These things can't be artificially excluded from stories.
I try to keep this blog approximately PG-rated, so I'm not going to post excerpts, but if you'd be interested in reading and giving feedback in this area then please drop me a line and I'll look into setting up a password-protected page. I will, of course, be happy to return the favour if you have any excerpts you'd like me to read.