Monday, October 22, 2012

The birds and the bees and the pens and the pages

It was the most terrifying piece of feedback I have ever received from a beta reader: "They need to fuck."

I don't normally bother to get worked up over other people's writing advice. Writing is an individual sort of thing, and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for the next. Hell, what works for one book doesn't necessarily work for the next. So, I don't outline, but I'm not going to pinch my lips and shake my head when I see other people praising the technique.

But sometimes I see writing advice that doesn't just strike me as not useful for me, but as actually bad. And this post, which suggests that writers should never write about sex, is bad advice.

It's bad advice because basically what it comes down to is "you shouldn't write about sex because writing about sex is hard."

Well, yeah. So is writing a convincing fight scene, a character whose life has been vastly different to your own, and a sestina. Doesn't mean you shouldn't write those things.

Look, stories are made up of people, and people - sit down and get out your smelling salts, please - have sex. They have sex for a lot of different reasons, and in a variety of circumstances and combinations (combinations far beyond that post's stated "long (let's be generous) things entering round holes." - which, yes, is dreadfully unsexy sounding.) They have sex with people they love, and people they hate, and people they shouldn't. Sometimes it's hot. Sometimes it's horrid. 

Sometimes, it's in your story.

And yes, when the characters in your story have sex, sometimes there are compelling reasons for it to be off-page. (The fade to black.) Maybe you're writing in first person, and your pov character wouldn't actually share those details. Maybe you're writing in a genre that requires the fade to black. But there are also reasons to put the sex on the page. 

It can tell the readers something about the characters, or about the situation. It can move the story along. Maybe it is ridiculous, because maybe your characters are ridiculous people, or  because sometimes sex itself is ridiculous. But just because something is ridiculous is no reason not to write it.

Just because something is hard to write well is no excuse not to learn to write it.

I don't find writing sex scenes easy. I mean, I like sex, both in theory and in practice. I like to read a well-done sex scene (and yes, contrary to that article, those things do exist.) I have even read books because I was pretty sure there would be hot sex in them. But it is, for me, hard to write. The invisible judging nuns are in the back of my head.

I mean, even when I'm writing in first person, if I write, say, a particularly brutal murder, most readers are not going to assume that I'm speaking from experience. If I write about something sexy, well, maybe I am.  (And oh, my God, my grandparents read everything I write. They really do.)

The thing is, sometimes your characters need to fuck. (Or screw. Or make love.)

And sometimes you need to write it down.


  1. I love what you said about your grandparents reading your work. I think the idea of family members reading my work really inhibits my writing (in general -- not just sex scenes). I guess you have invisible judging nuns and I have invisible family. Sigh.

  2. I wish I knew something to say that would make it easy to ignore them. For me, it was just finding a story where getting the story right mattered more than whatever people might think. Good luck.

  3. Maybe write a sex scene with the invisible nuns in it ... it'll either scare them away for ever or really get'em involved in the whole process!

    1. Well, there's a challenge - a physical scene involving invisible people!

    2. I dare you! ... POV would have to be entirely inside their heads I suspect. That and furniture moving about.

  4. I had to laugh out loud at the first sentence. For now, I'll simply say, "good luck," and, in a small voice: "have fun?"

    Also, "round holes"? That sounds like one weird, weird article.

    1. It was a weird article. I was hoping it was satire.

      I will take the luck, thank you, and try for the fun as well.