Friday, 4 March 2011


SEX - always an interesting topic and a challenge to write, I agree. For me, of contemporary writers, Alan Hollinghurst does it well in The Line of Beauty( though I dont have a copy of the book to hand as I am in Buenos Aires at the moment); Ian Mckewan too - in a very different way, capturing the awkwardness of it in On Chesil Beach. In my own writing I learned a difficult lesson the hard way .My novel Sweeping Up the Village is essentially centred around the development of an affair between my protagonist and the other main character; plenty of opportunity for writing about sex very early drafts last year, when I started to think about the development of this main relationship in my novel I wrote lots of (very bad) sex scenes, most of which nolonger exist or have been completey transformed in their re writing. The key is for me comes back to show and tell - its important that I include some sex scenes to describe the passion and the physicality, after all here are two lovers engaged in an intimate relationship and I want to bring the reader in and up close to share their turn ons and their pleasure of it. BUT... and here is the caveat, its about how much detail and what to leave out as much as what to put in. And it also depends on what the scene is doing in terms of showing the reader(I agree with Emma on this) ; is it early raw animal attraction or naked lust? Is it an emotional tension eg a shift - from being just sex to something more(love, obsession, uncertainity) or is the sex incidental to the overall purpose of the scene , and just needs a passing mention.Like in everyday ordinary life sex happens but its what signifcance is attached to it and by whom and what are the consequences of it happening that matter to me as a stortyteller. Its about quality not quantity- like most things. I am finding myself often using the close third person POV from one characters perspective for most of the scene , to so build up of tension and then I often finish the scene with a shift to the other characters perspective ( but again in close third person POV, as this is the style I am utilizing for this project) - just for a paragraph or even only a couple of lines, so as to underline/emphasize the impact of what has just occured in the scene on the other character(usually my protagonist).The consequence in other words is more what I am after , when I think about writing sex.

I've just remembered another couple of good reads for examples of the art and skill of writing sex and dare I say it the 'L' word. Both novels I would absolutely recommend also because they are both fabulously good reads.

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
oh yes, and there are passages also in After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell which do it for me very well too.Hope this helps!

Bren Gosling


  1. I wrote a few hundred words in reply to this interesting posting yesterday but blogger decided to crash as I submitted it.

    In the meantime I've written a very long related post on my blog ( based on having read Arianne Cohen's 'Sex Diaries Project'.

    My point was that 'less is more' is probably partly to do with the vocabulary available to properly describe sex between the characters than with any basic principle that readers don't like reading much about explicit sex -- because there's overwhelming evidence that readers DO like reading about sex, very much. The point is they don't like talking about why they enjoy it -- especially not in creative writing workshops.

    I think Faulks on Fiction mentioned 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' recently -- and that's a great example of the interest that can be aroused. However, Lawrence's prose also shows the limits of language.

    One issue is of the physical effect that good writing has on the reader. A gripping thriller or horror story will release adrenaline and the reader's heart will beat faster. A well-written sex scene in a novel will quite possibly engender a similar, if milder, physical effect in the reader (and the writer) to that which it is imagined the characters are experiencing. A guest on Faulks on Fiction put it bluntly about Madame Bovery when he said Flaubert spent half his time writing the book with an erection.

    However, no-one is going to come into a workshop on a novel-writing course and say to someone -- 'your writing made me feel really horny'. It's much easier to use a sort of embarrassed politeness to dwell on the technical details of the writing -- but what you want to know as the writer is whether this emotional intensity and intimacy is being felt by the reader.

    Most of my novel will have no sex -- the characters will slowly gravitate towards each other until the attraction becomes inevitable. But I think I'll owe to the reader not to pull my punches when it's required. The whole novel (and I guess this is also the case with yours too) is about two people who come to find each other irristible -- and I don't think you can build the novel up to a point where they disappear into a bedroom and the door closes behind them.

    I do worry a bit about how varied the sex should be. For example, I might think my characters would have anal sex but is this something I should make explicit or perhaps just hint?

  2. Thats funny since as a gay man its I would say that the main(penetrative) option! Dont make it a big deal,I would say..just say it how it is for your its a big deal for them then make it so in your writing - if not- dont. Its the characterisation that matter, I think Mike.Thanks for making your comment to my posting. Likewise I have commented on yours about this subject which I also found intersting.

    Bren Gosling

  3. Yes. I think perhaps gay men possibly have a wider range of experience to draw from in some respects.

    I'm still thinking through how I want to represent this but I have two women who are competing with each other -- and I think variety of sexual experience is going to be a part of this. There are lots of complicated options but, possibly the same as in any relationship regardless of sexual orientation, there might be an element of 'if you say you're with me then I'll do this for you'. And, of course, this might be no guarantee of success -- they might overplay their hand.

    It's all quite fascinating material and, I think, really appropriate for a novel.

  4. Speaking of showing taboos, I'm currently writing a scene about urinating in public.