You know that awkward moment when you’re a good way into the story, the characters feel like your family members, they’re interacting with each other like there’s no tomorrow, and then… BOOM. They’re going to have to sleep together.
I’ve talked about this cheeky little conundrum before (this post) but as a writer I think I’ve changed from my previous stance. I’m much more willing to tackle the old in/out’s but there is still a nugget of uncomfortableness when it comes to coming. However, an interesting interview with Julian Barnes may provide a reason for this.
Julian mentions the fear that the reader in someway will think that the writing is derived from personal experience, and this inhibits the writing and prevents true honesty. I think this could be right.
He mentions a conversation that he had with Kingsley Amis once in the eighties. Amis abandoned a novel that had a homosexual character in it because, ‘the chaps at the club may think I’m queer.’
If all writing is based on the personal experience of the writer then this a valid point. Although an author doesn’t have to experience what it’s like to be gay if they’re not, there is still a link between describing the feelings of that character and the feelings that have been honestly felt by the writer. For example, if you’ve never been depressed in real-life then how could you hope to describe depression with authenticity in a book.
Feelings are the lifeblood of your characters. Good writing is able to evoke those feelings in the reader. To accurately describe those feelings, it must mean that the author must have felt them at some point. A good method actor will remember certain emotional states so that they can access them when needed later. It’s the same thing.
As an author, we write so much from personal experience that when it comes to a sex scene we automatically put ourselves in that situation. Writing about a pseudo-self getting jiggy with it is about as appealing to most people as sticking pins in their eyes. So we avoid it, usually with humour.
Barnes makes the point that the refuge for any writer is bad sex. It’s somewhat easier to write about things going wrong because you then have license to be funny. This provides objectivity and then you’re away. But to meet good sex head on, to show in the pages a meaningful connection between two people that love each other for that moment, is really hard. (excuse the pun)
How does it not sound like a cliché, or hammed up, or over the top, or false? What words do you use that will not make the reader giggle? I can think of about fifty words for both the male and female genitalia and every single one of them makes me laugh. Even the dodgy erotic fiction that is prevalent these days talks about ‘long shafts of manhood’ and ‘velvet lined caverns’.
Maybe because I’m British, I’m born with a human defect for expressing the deepest of emotions but I don’t think there can be a good sex scene written down that talks about it graphically. The better writers are cleverly able to sidestep the nookie but still give the reader the implication.
Have you ever read a good sex scene that felt natural to you rather than funny, or cheesy? Cheesy sex…? now that does sound funny.