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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Let's read about sex...

The sisters that comprise mystery writer P. J. Parrish discuss why male mystery writers seem to suck at writing sex scenes. It is an interesting phenomenon how macho writers who don't even blanch when presenting nauseatingly graphic violence suddenly become shrinking violets when they get a man and woman together in an intimate moment. As a romance writer, I can confess that writing a sexual or even a vaguely erotic scene takes a lot of finessing. To be too bold is to abut pornography and yet to be terse with descriptions will leave the reader lacking. Finding a happy medium is tricky indeed.

So what do the sisters have to say about male authors' attempt at the "shaking and quaking" men and women do (my term - made it up; pass it on):

"They turn trite and sentimental. Or they become boring and flaccid. And they get as self-conscious as pimply prom dates. Crime writers can meet murder head on and not flinch, can even render death poetic. But faced with having to describe copulation -- especially in the context of, gasp! relationships -- they can turn out the most dreadful, unbelievable, embarrassing treacle."

Then they cite the most obvious example presented by Tom Wolfe in I Am Charlotte Simmons (note that this passage won the 2004 Bad Sex Award in Fiction):

"But the hand was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns -- oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest -- no, the hand was cupping her entire right -- Now!"

I agree with them; the passage is godawful and deserved its award. Even so, at least Wolfe tried to address the sex. Oftentimes, writers just basically avoid it, or mention it in passing, which I think in most cases is a major cop-out. Case in point: Janet Evanovich had been building up a sensual, steamy chemistry between her protagonist bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, and Ranger, her partner in crime-busting, who also happens to be the epitome of a hot alpha male. Beginning with book four or five, the chemistry slowly began building in each subsequent book, with Ranger alluding to a take-no-prisoners showdown between him and Stephanie, an erotic promise of steamy lovemaking that would combust all over the pages. Didn't happen. Actually, if you skipped the one paragraph that comprised their eventual coupling, you missed the whole culmination that had taken five or six books to build. This reader was sorely disappointed and concluded that the very talented Evanovich simply wasn't comfortable getting too graphic with the shaking and quaking.

Obviously, this sex problem isn't just a male thing. And yet, many male authors do tend to freeze up when faced with the dynamics of presenting a realistic and erotic love scene. The difficulty may be that the words used to depict "the act" have been oft-used to the point they have become trite and treacly. Yet, it is the duty of the artist to take the stale and overused and rework it into something fresh and evocative for the reader. It is just too easy to close the door and resume at the point of afterglow, and the writer is in effect closing the door on his audience, and making assumptions that they cannot handle the tricky but very adult issue of sex.

So, final question: do most male mystery writers suck at sex? Hmm, gonna have to do some research on that one.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 11/15/2005 05:56:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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