Writing About “Ahem”

Someone just sent me an email suggesting I look at a BBC article on writing about “ahem.” (His words.) Okay, it was my brother, so he’s forgiven for being a bit too discreet. The suggestion probably has to do with a remark I made once about writing erotica, and he and my sister-in-law dared me to do it. I told them I would. But after I finish my WIP, and after I finish my graphic novel, and after . . .

Oddly enough, I really am considering it — by now you know I like a challenge. The thing that’s weird about my considering it (okay, one of the weird things — there are many strangenesses, including the simple fact that I am considering it) is that each of my books has less sex in it than the last. For Light Bringer, which will be published in the late spring of 2010, I completely forgot to include a sex scene — or rather, the story didn’t demand it, so I didn’t include one. My first book, a poor deformed — unacknowledged — creature I have hidden away in the dark recesses of my closet, is so full of sex scenes that it wouldn’t take much to turn it into an erotic novel.

There seems to be two thoughts about writing erotica. One, that the story should hold together even if there wasn’t any sex; and two, that the sex must be such an integral part of the story that it will fall apart without the sex. I subscribe to the second theory because it holds true for any sex scene — it must be a scene rather than simply a depiction of sex. This means the scene must advance the story, tell us more about the characters, show us how having sex changed the hero, or show a change in the relationship between the participants. So many authors seem to have the attitude that they need to arbitrarily insert a sex scene into the story, but such scenes need to be written in response to the demands of the story, not just because “it’s time to insert a sex scene”. 

One comment appended to the BBC article was written by Alexander from Durham. He says: I never know what most sex scenes are trying to achieve in books (and in other media, come to that). It’s hard to tell if they’re going for an emotional response from the reader or just arousal. I think the problem is that the reader doesn’t know either and ends up reading the scene and trying to take the wrong thing from it. And he’s exactly right. The reason the reader doesn’t know what the sex scene is trying to achieve is that the author doesn’t know. 

The article about “ahem” asked: Is it Difficult to Write Well About Sex? I tend to think it isn’t, as long as the authors know what they are trying to accomplish with the sex scene. Once authors know their goal, they can write the scene with that goal in mind. On the other hand, maybe sex is difficult to write well. John Littel just won the “bad sex in fiction” prize. That there is such a literary award speaks for itself.