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