Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Secret Life of Sex Writing

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/

This article first appeared on the excellent Strictly Writing blog back in May 2009.

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

10 comments on “The Secret Life of Sex Writing

  1. Lisa
    November 5, 2012

    I love this article, Anne. Even though I first read it a few years ago, it has really stayed with me and it fundamentally changed the way I thought about sex scenes in books. The following paragraph is something I’ve considered when writing my own novels (and reading others for this site):

    “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.”

    I think this is absolutely fascinating and, er, bang on.

  2. Hilary
    November 5, 2012

    I too found this piece very revealing for me as a reader. I have never stopped to think about the reason why I find a sex scene in a book satisfying and right, or gratuitous and wrong, but this helps, hugely! This is a great start to our Erotica Week – thank you, Anne!

  3. kirstyjane
    November 5, 2012

    I really enjoyed this article and found it enlightening — and useful! Really, ahem, hit the spot.

  4. Hazel Osmond
    November 5, 2012

    Interesting. Thank you

  5. Jackie
    November 5, 2012

    Like Hilary, this made me reflect on my experiences as a reader & I bet I’ll pay more attention to the way sex scenes are blended into books from now on. I mean, in a different way. 😉 I never realized that authors could be using them (or not) to expand the characters.
    You are such a thoughtful author and one with great insight into why you do the things you do.

  6. annebrooke
    November 5, 2012

    Gosh, don’t I look young in that photo! Many thanks, all – glad you enjoyed the piece 🙂

  7. Sam
    November 5, 2012

    I love that you started by telling us how much you love writing sex then proceeded to consider all the occasions when a writer should not include a sex scene. Enlightening and thought provoking. Great job, Anne!

  8. Moira
    November 5, 2012

    Great article, Anne. Like Hilary I’d never stopped before to ask myself why some sex scenes seem so wrong … and you’re right – it’s because they’re not there for any good narrative reason … And here was me thinking I was just an old prude. 😀

  9. Stevie Carroll
    November 6, 2012

    Great piece. I may have to come back to it when I get to the sex scenes in the WiP I’m editing to make sure the scenes are doing their job effectively.

  10. annebrooke
    November 6, 2012

    Many thanks, all – glad it’s useful! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on November 5, 2012 by in Articles, Entries by Anne, Erotica.

Categories

Archive

Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.

Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • %d bloggers like this: