Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I HATE SEX! Writing About it, That is...

Guest Post by Ellen Byron

Of course I don’t hate sex. But I do hate writing about it, or writing romantic scenes in general. It takes me forever to craft verbiage that’s remotely passable and not a total cliché. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated toward writing cozy mysteries. I’m spared coming up with creative ways to describe sexual contact and human genitalia. To be honest, it’s not easy for me to read that stuff, either. A friend and I once did an Amazon.com “Look inside” for Fifty Shades of Gray, and I literally recoiled. Well, first because E.L. James actually used the expression “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” – seriously, E.L.? Was there ever a time when anyone on the planet sounded cool saying that? - but mostly because I could not stomach the graphic details. I might as well have been a tween going, “Eeewwwww… gross!”

I don’t know why I’m so stunted in this aspect of my writing ability. Maybe it’s because I developed an obsession with Victorian literature in middle school. While other kids passed around The Godfather and whispered “Page 24,” where a salacious scene lurked, I was swooning over Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything hotter than Cathy and Heathcliff’s tortured passion.

Speaking of torture, in my quest to overcome this aversion to a crucial literary element, I actually took an online class titled “Sex on the Page,” offered through Sisters in Crime’s Guppy sub-group. The class was laid out beautifully; each online class covered one of “The Twelve Stages of Intimacy.” Again, I’m being totally honest when I say that I cringed just reading the lecture topics. Topics ranged from “Hand to Body” (okay, I can handle that) to “Mouth to Mouth” (um, getting uncomfortable) to “Genital to Genital” (eeewwww, gross!!).While other participants enthusiastically shared their sexy homework assignments, I hung back in the virtual corner of the classroom like a shy spinster. I could not seem to get past describing any couple as “locked in a passionate embrace.”

I’m currently mulling over the storyline for a third book in my Cajun Country series and it looks like this is the one where my protagonist, Maggie, will finally get-it-on, do-the-deed, have-sex, make-love – see? All bad! – with her boyfriend. I’m months away from starting an actual outline, yet I’m already agonizing over how I can make consummating a relationship fresh and well-written.

So once again, I reference my chosen genre. The unofficial cozy rules are that they must be devoid of graphic language, violence, and sex. Phew! But I’m not completely off the hook; my protagonist does need to have physical contact with her boyfriend. So my task will be creating the romance of that moment, and then discreetly closing the bedroom door, or the door of wherever they bump uglies (See? Terrible!). I’m committed to writing the best scene possible. But I can’t promise that my characters won’t end up “locked in a passionate embrace.”

Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen by the Library Journal as Debut Mystery of the Month. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland, and she’s the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. Visit her online at www.ellenbyron.com.

14 comments:

Albert Tucher said...

I write hardboiled crime fiction about a prostitute named Diana Andrews. I'm pretty much locked into writing about sex, and I had to get over any reluctance. My Ahah! moment came when I was reading about some tongue-in-cheek award for bad sex writing. I realized that every sex scene is somebody's idea of the worst ever written. The insight was liberating.

A total lack of shame also helps.

laurie Stevens said...

I have a friend that writes romance. Whoa. I never read it until she wrote it and I blushed on every page. And believe me, I'm no shy sex-writer. Just a shy sex-reader. Good post, Ellen!

Susi M. Nonnemacher said...

I am in the same boat. I don't like to read anything too graphic, and I write cozies with romance rather than romantic suspense in part because I don't want to write the sex scenes. I am so glad to hear it is not just me!

Michele Drier said...

My mysteries are traditional, not cozy, but all sex is pretty much off the page. Some necking, clothes taken off and strewn around, and when it comes down to the clinch, it's language like "We were still in a kiss as he waltzed me backward toward the bedroom."
My paranormal romances are more specific. I use those things that I think are erogenous or erotic...him barefoot, the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up on his forearms.
I don't like to read explicit sex and I'm not comfortable writing it, but some of my street team members would like to see it. Don't think it's going to happen.

Connie Archer said...

Great post, Ellen! If it's any help, my lines were cut by my editor and they were pretty (I thought) bland. The morning after, my heroine reminisces ". . . his lovemaking was passionate and tender." Red pencil!!!Uh oh.

Diana Belchase said...

Totally sympathize, Ellen. Great post!

Barbara Monajem said...

I sympathize! Most of my published books have sex scenes. I try to make them reflect the characters' emotions, but it's hard to do well, and to tell the truth, the whole process gets really old after a while. It's like having a car chase in every book -- how will I make this one different??

The thing is, some of the most romantic books I've read DON'T have explicit sex in them. It's really not necessary. I don't mind sex scenes, but I would much rather be carried away by the emotions of the characters. I don't need to see what happens behind closed doors.

Ellen Byron said...

I'm not alone! YAY!

And I'm a big fan of behind closed doors.

Nancy Silverman said...

I'm a big one for fade to black when it comes to explicit sex scenes. I once took a class at UCLA on writing the sex scene. While a lot of them were pretty erotic - read that requiring a cold shower - I've found putting my characters in humorous, close but not quite, sexual encounters equally as memorable with readers.

Sheila Connolly said...

I can't do it. My characters touch a lot, hug, kiss, lay a reassuring hand on a shoulder, etc., etc., and then they go to bed and close the door. And suddenly it's the next morning. "Last night was wonderful, darling!" (Or to quote Peter Wimsey, "Tu m'enivres.")

Kaye George said...

I mostly leave sex off the page, but when I do put some in, it's always funny. To me, sex on the page is usually hilarious, unless it's so sleazy and trite that it's embarrassing. But sex IS funny, when you think about it. Ridiculous contortions, funny facial expressions, sounds like zoo animals make. Anyway, that's the only way I can write it, and that's seldom. Great post!

Martin Roy Hill said...

Good post, Ellen. I'm a door closer myself. Kiss-kiss, a little petting, then lights out and close the door. The only sex scene I've ever written involved an antagonist, a serial killer, who in a flash back rapes then kills his own mother. It was very difficult to write and the only reason I did was because my research showed it was a plausible background for a serial killer. But still, "Eeeewwww."

Keenan Powell said...

Other people's sexual experiences are as interesting to me as their bowel movements. When the obligatory sex scene comes on my TV screen, I go get a cup of coffee. If it turns up in something I'm ready, I speed read through it and am less likely to buy that writer again.

Sally Carpenter said...

I'm with you, Ellen. Sex scenes in books are usually so full of clichés (one best selling book actually had "the waves crashed about her" and the couple wasn't on the ocean) that they're dopey. I also dislike what I call "page 44 sex." That's when the characters meet each other for the first time in chapter one and by page 44 or so are hot and steamy. Whatever happened to romance and wooing? The most erotic movie I've seen is "Strictly Ballroom" where the characters keep their clothes on and express their passion through dancing. I write cozies and the sex is, so far, non-existent.