Writing About Sex. Ugh.
So, Expat Bitches is going to have lots of sex in it. Sorry mum.
The story is told in five parts from the point of view of five different women, and for each of them I’m delving into different aspects of women’ sexuality. Natasha has body image issues and isn’t at all comfortable with sexy time. Lauren is promiscuous and sleeps with half of her husband’s rugby team. Steph’s in a sexless marriage. Cassie’s married but in lust with a family friend, and Xanthe is freshly divorced and questioning her sexuality.
Intimate scenes are going to be unavoidable. They’ve presented me with a challenge that I’m finding amusing: what makes a good sex scene? How much detail do I go into? Do I leave the reader at the bedroom door (or nightclub toilet stall door in Lauren’s case) or do I drag them in and make them watch? Do I leave it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks? Or do I titillate with some well-chosen verbs and nouns?
There are awards for the worst sex scenes in books. The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award aims to “honour[ed] an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.” What works for one reader might be gross or boring to another. When these scenes are bad, they can be so, so bad. Romance and erotica have their own convention and subgrenres to follow and cliches to be avoided, but in literary and commercial fiction it’s just as hard to strike the right tone.
Neither Wye River or The Endangered Islands get into the sex lives of their characters beyond some passing references. My short stories haven’t wandered into this territory either. The literary fiction and commercial fiction I read don’t tend to get sexy much either. Recently, Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story flung me a moment here and there, TC Boyle’s The Terranauts has a bit of clumsy fumbling and grappling, but what I have in mind takes it up a level. Not Fifty Shades level, but, you know, something that might make you cross your legs and scan for over-the-shoulder readers if you’re on public transport.
So, I’ve got to widen my reading for the next little while. I don’t even know what books have the kind of scene detail I’m envisaging for my characters. Outlander? I’ve got a couple of pals who don’t mind a saucy read. There are some interesting conversations about to be had, girlfriends. Thanks to a Twitter book recommendation shoutout to @romancewriters and @RWaus, I’m also going to get a few craft books that the professionals suggest. My winter reading list just got very…warm.