This week I started working seriously on the second draft of my novel. I’m aware that the story needs a big overhaul, and I’ve a good idea of where I want to go with it. One thing that I’m still torn about, however, is sex. The current manuscript has an awful lot of sex in it. An awful lot of graphic sex.
Sex-in-literature is a tricky subject, and one that’s been much talked of lately. Personally, I enjoy sex in books. Well, let me clarify – I enjoy good sex in books. How often do you find a really well-written, moving, and genuinely sexy sex scene in a novel? In my opinion: not often enough.
The relationship between my characters is founded on sex, which develops into something else, so this aspect of their story is very important. But I worry how this comes across, not only to readers, but to potential agents or publishers. What if I want to write a children’s story? I don’t want to be ‘the woman who writes porn’. The thing is, writing about life and the human condition is the same thing to me as writing about sex. How could it not be? Without sex, we wouldn’t be here.
How to write it?
I think it’s difficult to know where the line is – what is classed as erotica? What strays into pornography? Why are we so concerned about keeping sex a secret anyway? Regardless of my opinion on the writing, it’s brilliant that people feel able to read books with the graphic nature of Fifty Shades in public. Sex should not be a taboo.
One problem is that sex is difficult to write well; it can be a minefield to negotiate corny dialogue, flowery description, and clangers. Clangers are words that act as instant turn-offs when you’re reading them. The problem is of course that they’re different for everyone: if I read the word throbbing, I’m out of there. I remember reading Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan last year and loving it, but I had to turn the page when I reached the sex scenes. I couldn’t even begin to read them, they were almost painfully dreadful, I’d just skip a few pages and hope it was over!
I do think that more people should learn to write sex well. Because when it’s done well it can add an awful lot to a story. Sometimes it doesn’t, and a cut away suits much more, but for my story I know that the sex belongs in there as it’s such a massive element of the characters’ development. I think young readers (I’m talking about mid-late teens) should have access to books that talk about sex in a sensual, yet realistic way. People should be taught that sex is okay. And they should learn that different kinds of sex are okay – like BDSM, and I think novels are a great platform for that.
I’m really interested to know how other people feel about this subject. I have always been firmly behind more openness about sex, and I believe more writers need to be.