WARNING: SEXUAL CONTENT AND NAUGHTY WORDS!
With FIFTY SHADES OF GREY such a huge sensation, erotic fiction is the zeitgeist of the day (or is it night?. Not that erotica was ever out of favor per se (I’m sure Erica Jong still outsells George Will), but now more than ever the genre is selling through the roof.
I have never written this form of literature. Not even in an AfterMASH script. Every year some organization comes out with a list of the worst sex scenes in novels and they are excruciatingly uproarious. And it’s sooo easy to fall into that trap. You try to create this turgid mood and be descriptive, but you also try to be original – find new ways to convey sexual acts. Which can lead to a passage like this:
From Ed King by David Guterson:
"In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn't take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch."
Yikes! And major authors are not immune from writing truly klutzy sex scenes. The great John Updike:
She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin. He had wanted to cry out, sitting up as if jolted by electricity as the spurts, the deep throbs rooted in his asshole, continued, but he didn't know what name to call her. 'Mrs Rougement' was the name he had always known her by.
I’m not sure if I could write one of these passages without a voice in the back of my head saying, “This is the Springtime for Hitler of sex scenes.”
Several renown romance writers read this blog. Somehow they know how to walk that fine line between erotica and Letters to HUSTLER. So some questions to them (and you):
How do you avoid cliches?
Is it possible to write a sexy novel without using the word throbbing at least once?
Comedy writers rarely laugh at what they’ve written. Do romance writers get turned on by their work?
Do editors give you a lot of notes? If this was television, you’d be getting notes like, “Do we like him when he chains her naked to his car?” “Instead of an ice cube, could she use a cold pack?”
Do you need to get in the mood? With my training in television where we're always up against a deadline, I’ve learned to just sit down and crank it out. Can you do that with erotica? Can you drop off the dog to the groomer, pick up the cleaning, come home, empty the dishwasher, then sit down and write TROPIC OF CANCER?
At what point do you realize that imagery is not your friend?
What do you think of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY?
But it’s definitely an art. A good sex scene can get you really aroused. More than just watching porn, written material taps into your imagination and can heighten the experience. Unfortunately, if not written well, you’re left with this.
Here are a few more samples of scenes that make me laugh, cringe, and worry I couldn’t write any better:
From Sashenka, by Simon Montefiore:
His hands pulled her dress off her shoulders and he buried his face in her neck, then her hair, scooping up between her legs. He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. 'The blue veins are divine,' he whispered. And in that moment, a lifetime of unease about this ugly feature of her body was replaced with satisfaction. He licked them, circling her nipples hungrily. Then he disappeared up her skirt.
From To Love, Honour and Betray, by Kathy Lette
I kissed his mouth ravenously, devouring his neck, earlobes, chest. He broke free with muscular ease, unhooked my bra with composed expertise, found my nipple and flicked his tongue back and forth until it went hard. His towel fell away. Sebastian's erect member was so big I mistook it for some sort of monument in the centre of a town.
And finally, from another not-too-shabby writer, Paul Theroux:
'Baby.' She took my head in both hands and guided it downward, between her fragrant thighs. 'Yoni puja - pray, pray at my portal.' She was holding my head, murmuring 'Pray,' and I did so, beseeching her with my mouth and tongue, my licking a primitive form of language in a simple prayer. It had always worked before, a language she had taught me herself, the warm muffled tongue.