Written Sex

Again, something interesting via Chad Orzel, who comments on a matter that at one point was the subject of a long discussion over at Making Light. Written sex scenes are very hard to do well, and in many books I cringe at how badly they’re handled. If one skips writing the scene too squeamishly, one gets the sense that the author is somehow invading the narrative, censoring the actions of the characters. The zealous avoider takes something from the narrative. And yet, the all-too-common reaction among younger writers, including those who infest Creative Writing Departments, is to err too far in the opposite, getting into the nitty gritty details. Both ruin the scene and taint the book.

I don’t have any answers for this subject: of my current writing projects, one is a letter from one lover to another and so the descriptions need not be implicit, since they were both there; in the other, there’s no sex scene at all; and in a third, my verse piece about the Taiping Rebellion, the subject is handled only by using a translation of an actual poem that the leader of the rebellion penned as instructions to his palace (harem) women. I can offer one example for the best instances of written sex I’ve run across: one is in Bruce Sterling’s Distraction, where the down-to-earth unsexiness of it somehow ramps up the scene, adding both comedy and honesty to it. And then there’s the hilarious scene near the end of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, where the main character and the heroine have a rather underwhelming and hilarious encounter.

Oh, and while I can’t speak for everything, I’ve never see a piece of fan-fiction that wasn’t so badly written that it wasn’t worth paying even for the electricity used to download it.

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