Monday, 11 May 2009

Guest Blog - The Secret Life of Sex Writing - by Anne Brooke


Let’s get the biggie out of the way first (as it were): I love writing sex. Yes, I admit it. It’s one of the high points of my writing life. Even when I’m not writing about sex, I’m thinking about writing it. It’s part of all my novels, and some of my poems and short stories. Even when no sex takes place.


To my mind this is simply part of being human. We’re all physical and sexual (or at least with the capacity for being sexual) people, and including that aspect of our lives within literature is a celebration of being alive and of being who we are.


Not that you’ll find sex on every single one of the pages of my novels. You won’t. Not by a long way, though I do like to think that my darker writing nonetheless remains erotic in nature. My characters are, after all, physical beings within their world. In fact, one reviewer mentioned the lack of described regular sexual activity in A Dangerous Man (Flame Books, 2007) as a negative point, bearing in mind that my main character has been a part-time prostitute.


And it’s here that the essential balance of sex writing must be considered. Above all else, sex is character. It’s not there (primarily) to titillate. It’s there to reveal. If sex is doing its job properly, it should reveal character in a way that nothing else can. TIP: If something else at that point can reveal your character better than a sex scene, then DON’T WRITE THE SEX SCENE – write the “something else”. It should also reveal the relationships of the characters involved in the sex scene to each other in a deeper way. (NB The previous tip also applies here). Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally – where it counts. Good sex writing shows the people you’re writing about being themselves most clearly and most closely – and that kind of intimacy with a character is what the reader – and the writer – wants.


A case in point is this: in my upcoming mystery novel, The Bones of Summer (Dreamspinner Press, late 2009), my main character Craig starts a relationship with Paul from Maloney’s Law (PD Publishing, 2008). In the midst of everything else that happens to them, it’s natural for them to have sex – it’s new and exciting for them and a way of getting to know each other, as well as being a way for the reader to understand them and something about their pasts more fully. I hope it works, and I’m reassured that my first editor, Sara Maitland from The Literary Consultancy, noted that: you handle the sex so well – open and realistic without being excessively “in your face.” That said, however, when I was going through it again prior to submission to my publisher, I removed one section of erotic writing as it neither deepened the sense of character nor moved the story forward. Nice sex, maybe, but verging on the pornographic and I therefore didn’t need it. The scene is more true to itself without it: more balanced, more human, more real. If you ever read it, I hope you’ll think so too.


Because good sex writing isn’t porn. It’s not about what the bits look like and where they go. It’s about the people to whom those bits belong and how they feel and think and change. Recently, a colleague at work joked with me about how she “couldn’t write porn like you do” and I was very much taken aback and really rather hurt by her assumption. I know for a fact that she’s never read any of my published novels (nor any of the drafts either!) and I hope that, if she ever does, that assumption will be changed. I’m not even sure that what I write can be classed as erotic fiction in its truest form. It’s fiction about people who have sex only where it fits their character and the story. Much like life really. Enjoy.



An Essex girl at heart, Anne now lives in Surrey and is a successful author of novels, short stories and poetry - do visit her website and blog at:
http://www.annebrooke.com/
http://annebrooke.blogspot.com/


38 comments:

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Interesting post, thanks Anne. It's lovely to hear you say how much you enjoy writing sex - often people seem to find it difficult. And you make a great point about sex being there to reveal and deepen character rather than as titillation.
(Tee hee - I love the placing of Sam's post - 'Does Size Really Matter?' immediately after this one!)
All the very best for your recent novel - may sales be super-orgasmically good!

Anne Brooke said...

Ooh, thanks, Susie - glad you liked the post. And super-orgasmically good sounds great!

:))

Axxx

Roderic Vincent said...

Hi Anne, thanks for a fascinating blog; you've got me thinking about sex (for a change).

I guess part of the challenge is that if you write - X and Y had sex - then we already pretty much know what you mean. It's a cliche act and has something in common with every single time some other couple did the same. Maybe it's even a cliche act for X and Y: they've been doing that together for twenty years. So the writer has to pick out something unique in what this particular act means for X or for Y or what it says about the relationship between them or what it does to X or to Y, and the writing needs to find a unique way to convey that. On one writing holiday we used made-up words for all the bits and bobs, which led to some fascinating and daring writing.

Sarah Fox said...

I have to imagine that no-one I know will ever read my sex scenes - and then I'm hot to trot.

By the way, my word verification to post this comment was 'undis'!

Isabelle Rowan said...

Great post! It is really interesting to see how people feel about writing sex scenes. I will admit I still frown a lot while typing them!

Samantha Tonge said...

Ithink Rod just gave us a Math's lesson:)

I really enjoy writing sex scenes and they always cure writer's block. Having said that, the only novel of mine with graphic activity was my first - since then i've concentrated more on the run-up to the actual event and then left the rest to the readers' imagination. I think that suits my style better.

It is hard (no pun intended) and i guffaw now at my early efforts.

Still, my husband always enjoyed editing them!

Great post, Anne!

Samantha Tonge said...

Yikes, ignore the punctuation in that first line.

Bernadette said...

A really interesting post. Thank you. I've always balked at writing sex scenes and haven't really liked the ones I have written. There just seemed to be something 'wrong' with them. I think your post helps me to see what that is.

Gillian McDade said...

Interesting blog, Anne! And I love the pic :)

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Really interesting post Anne. Its made me focus on the fact that I've been ignoring the one sex scene in the novel I'm writing. I know its tucked in there in one of the early chapters and I KNOW I have to return to it but I''m physically cringing at the thought!
Have decided that when I dare to return there....I'll read this post and one of your scenes from your books - then I'll get down and dirty. F

Derek Thompson said...

An interesting discussion. Like Samantha I wrote a 'nots & bolts' sex scene in my first novel but sound in the sequel that I could say more about them with their interaction before and afterwards. Perhaps we hold back as writers because we are inevitably drawing on some part of ourselves to produce authentic intimacy, be it physical or emotional? But good writing is always authentic and intimate. By the way, my word verification was 'heading'. For my next trick...

Nik Perring said...

Good post, Anne.

Samantha Tonge said...

LOL, Sarah and Derek - wish my words were verified:)

CarolineG said...

Fascinating post, Anne! But I must say, not having to write about sex is one of the reason I write for children! I'm far too English and repressed for my own good...

Gary Wilson said...

Not wanting to go off topic but I wonder, do we find scenes of violence easier to write than sex scenes?

I admit I do.

It seems that descriptions of people in the act of love are still tip-toed around more than people in the act of detroying each other.

I still think our society accepts and tolerates violence in ways that sex never would be.

Which is a shame. Sex can be fun!

Samantha Tonge said...

I think i enjoy writing sex and violence in equal measure, Gary. After about a year of writing it clicked with me why there is so much sex and violence on telly - not so much because the viewers want it, but because that's what writers like producing!

Only in short bursts for me though. I like the emotional highs and the dynamic action involved (although not always with the sex!) And there has to always be appropriate motivation.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks for this lovely post, Anne. I am absolute rubbish at writing sex so it's as well that I write for the Woman's Weekly!

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

Great post, Anne. You say here, "If sex is doing its job properly, it should reveal character in a way that nothing else can." That's so true that it deserves repeating.

Also I think the mark of a really good writer is one has the instinct, as you did, to take something out because it's not improving the story. That's such a hard thing to do sometimes, but it pays off.

emmadarwin said...

Excellent post, Anne. I like writing sex too, and I find the problems are much the same as any other kind of writing, only the pitfalls on either side of the true path are deeper, and the path itself is narrower. As well as not putting a sex scene in unless it's the best way to say what you want to say, I find the mistake many aspiring writers make is to write the whole (I nearly said blow-by-blow, but I won't) damn scene, from beginning to end. Whereas, of course, you actually only need the significant moments and aspects of it. That way, also, you avoid porn, while driving the narrative forward, and revealing character even more effectively.

Anne Brooke said...

Goodness me, thanks for the response on this one - I must admit that (even though I'm from Essex - say no more!!) I was a little anxious! Lots of really interesting stuff here - maybe we should start a sex writing group!!??

I do agree about the violent scenes too - I enjoy writing them as well, though it is strange that no-one ever asks me if I've killed someone or seen someone killed (I haven't!) - but they do always ask about the sex. About which my lips are sealed, naturally ...

:))

Hugs galore

Axxx

Vicki said...

Great article, Anne. You sum up sex writing beautifully:

"Because good sex writing isn’t porn. It’s not about what the bits look like and where they go. It’s about the people to whom those bits belong and how they feel and think and change."Vicki xx

Rosy T said...

Only just found this - but a really interesting take on the topic, Anne. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anne - a very interesting and thought provoking post - agree with Vicki and OB - those two quotes are 'cut out and keep' for the writing board.

Sarah

Caroline R said...

Great post, Anne - thanks for being a guest blogger on Strictly, and I'm really looking forward to your next book!

Anne Brooke said...

Thanks again! And special thanks to Caroline for allowing me to visit. I don't get out much (as it were) here in the shires ...

:)

Axxx

cherys said...

I've always steered well clear of writing sex scenes - a bit of a fumble, maybe, but the act itself - it seems so difficult to write well. But your advice is brilliant, Anne. As character revelation, the scene isn't reduced to the mechanics or degree of eroticism the scene creates. It simply tells us more about the people, and that stays interesting whatever they're up to. Feels like I've learned something important here.

Great post. Thanks Anne.

Anne Brooke said...

Thanks so much, Cherys - glad it was useful!

:))

Axxx

debutnovelist said...

Ann
Great post (sorry I'm late catching up!)I think it articulates how I feel about writing sex scenes although I had never worked it out. Despite my unpublished state, my readers and critics are more unanimous in their praise of my sex scenes than anything else. I certainly enjoy writing them and agree they are a great antidote to writer's block. What's worrying me is that I'm about to embark on a new novel (historical) and at this point can't imagine sex will feature signifcantly. For me that's a scarey proposition!

Anne Brooke said...

Well you never know - I don't see why historical characters can't have sex too - go for it!

:))

Axxx

Laura Essendine said...

Can't write a book without a sex scene in it although my characters always play for laughs.

After all, it can be quite a giggle sometimes.

Great post

Laura Essendine
The Accidental Guru Blog

Good sex said...

Hi Anne, very nice post. And I totally agree, good sex writing isn't porn. Very much like a good love scene in a move isn't porn either. In many ways good sex writing is far more difficult than just writing what goes where for the reasons you mentioned. Same for the movies. If it's a good scene it can be more provocative and arousing than simply porn. Keep up the good work!

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nikperring.com said...

Is there any way I can unsubscribe to this post please? I've about had my fill of sex spammers jamming my inbox - and I can't mark them as spam because I want to still receive notifications from your good selves...

Or, could you just stop allowing comments on this post?

Annielaural leFaye said...

thank you, Anne - you've clearly stated precisely what I had hoped was so...sex scenes gives the reader an opportunity to realize who a character is at a particular point in the story..I also love that you enjoy including the intimacy of life in your manuscripts.
annielaural

monaza said...

I wonderd from reading gene can morph into a writing one? All my family are voracious readers.