2011 Winter Fiction Panel discussion

Tuesday: Writing About Sex

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message 1: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 11 comments Mod
This was suggested as a topic, and I'm actually quite curious about it as well. I was once in a film class in which the teacher told us that sex in cinema was cyclical; in the 80s, for instance, there was a sex scene in nearly every important movie, but by the 90s, only Adrian Lynne was making them. Is the same true in fiction? And how do you decide when a sex scene is appropriate and when it's best replaced by an ellipses or some other break?

As a jumping off point, please have a look at Susan Minot's Huffington Post piece on writing about sex: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-m...

To broaden the subject a bit, are there other subjects that are equally difficult or tricky to write? What about violence, which we, as Americans, seem strangely more tolerant of?

message 2: by Renee (last edited Feb 08, 2011 04:01PM) (new)

Renee Somwell (renee_somwell) | 1 comments Like everything else, it depends on what you want to evoke.

If you want to evoke romance or intimacy, ellipses or breaks are more appropriate. If you start to dive into the more descriptive, you're going to start to sexually arouse your reader. Depending on your goal, this may or not be desirable.

And I think this leads into to your deeper question about sex vs. violence. Descriptive writing about violence can invoke a much larger spectrum of feelings: dread, excitement, fear, nausea, and sadness depending on the context.

Since pornography is defined as anything with a primary purpose to sexually arose, almost all descriptive, blow-by-blow writing about sex is definitionally pornographic. I think that's the reason most writers stay away from it, and has less to do with the implied link to the appropriateness of sex vs. violence in everyday life.

message 3: by Mary (new)

Mary (glickman) | 16 comments I don't find violence difficult to write about at all and I've never swung a punch outside a boxing class nor shot a gun outside a range. I trap and release bugs when they invade my space. I don't think we are as tolerant of violence as we are desensitized to dramatic expressions of violence in film, music, and prose, not to mention the daily news.Of all of these, violent situations in prose are probably the least visceral in effect precisely because we're so accustomed to experiencing vicarious violence at a closer sensual range than prose affords. And yet violence is one of the most useful tools we have to create tension. When we write about either the effects of a violent act, or about the threat of a violent act, or even the pleasure of planning a violent act, we open up worlds of opportunity to inform character, expand incident, underscore theme. I can't imagine writing something without any violence in it. Now humour is hard. It comes off best when we're not really trying for it. Nothing screeches against the ear like forced humour. . .

message 4: by Bathsheba (new)

Bathsheba Monk (bathshebamonk) | 1 comments The first time I wrote a sex scene, a good friend who read it asked me if ever had sex, then bought a couple of bottles of wine and invited some other women over to tell me how it's done. I've had writing-sex-scene performance anxiety since then. I guess it's a female thing, but I find the sexiest scenes are those that aren't consummated in detail. If they are, I lose interest in the characters, maybe because--what else is there to know about a person once you know that?

message 5: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Alther | 12 comments I think sex is the most powerful drive that humans experience, maybe even more powerful than the need for food. So I think it's important to include it when you invent characters, or they end up pretty bloodless. But I agree with Xox that one's attitude toward sex alters with age.

message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan Straight | 6 comments As a single mother of three beautiful daughters (21, 19 and 15) we talk about guys a lot, but since we judge the world according to strange Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen and Toni Morrison standards (often saying things like, "He could be her Laurie, but without the piano" or "She thinks she's all Pemberly but she's really Lucas Lodge" or "She's doing the secondhand lonely thing," we're strangely left alone by men, except the middle daughter. No one ever looks at me, given the three kids and various nephews and nieces here. So when I write fiction about sex, it's an odd way to work in my head. In the last two books, sex was a kind of currency. A Million Nightingales made me write about forced sex, rape and slavery, and the idea that sex could be a false front for a man who was gay. In Take One Candle, the narrator was raped as a college freshman, and that's the most graphic sex scene I've ever written - it was scary to write, and scary to read aloud. I felt strange about my daughters seeing it. The fellow student crosses the line between consensual sex and rape because he suspects she's of mixed race, and it's a pivotal scene because she's pregnant and didn't know until after the assault.
Then toward the end, I wrote what I thought was a tender, sensual scene because my black women friends and I joke about wanting a guy who looks like the actor Michael Ealy to show up in my fiction - so he did. (He's Tea Cake in the movie version of Their Eyes Were Watching God.)
That was fun to write. I'm not going to lie.

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