Tuesday, February 13, 2007

51,016 Words

So many books that I've read have been ruined by badly executed sex scenes. The sad thing is that even if I enjoyed the rest of the story, it's those awful, laughable, cringe-making phrases that tend to stick in the memory. So how DO you write a sex scene without letting yourself down by using any of the following words?

- aroused, stiffened, engorged, tumescent, hard, soft, wet, creamy, crotch, caress, embrace, manhood, member, cock, etc. (and the equivalents for the female characters of course)

I'm not really sure but I'm about to have a go anyway. I hereby take the following additional and most solemn vow: in no book will I ever cause one character to christen, or speak directly to, another's genitalia (unless I am deliberately going for laughs). Perhaps I should make a proper list of the things I must try to avoid - these to be my commandments for ever more.

1. as above
2. I will not describe the exact fabric, colour and cut of my characters' clothing - it soon becomes dated and besides, it is annoying.
3. I will not moon over the handsomeness/prettiness of my characters. I will not compare their eyes to deep pools of water or flashing jewels.
4. I will not make my characters deliver speeches on my behalf, for the purposes of proliferating my political or other opinions - it's always obvious and again, it is annoying.
5. I will not use ridiculously obscure words that will send readers off hunting for their dictionaries, just to show how clever I am - I will use the words that fit, short or long.
6. I will not bring in half a dozen different regional accents because I have no other way of differentiating the personalities of my peripheral characters.
7. I will not hang my entire plot on an obscure and long-forgotten character/conversation that occurred in chapter three. Likewise I will not reveal additional knowledge in the final unveiling, that wasn't in the story and the reader could have no way of guessing.
8. I will not twist just for the sake of it.
9. I will not give my characters all the flowery (or otherwise OTT) names that I didn't dare saddle my children with: Arabella, Florianne, Violetta, Troy.
10. I will not fear cliche, no matter what some critics may write. In descriptive passages, yes, it can be just plain lazy but cliche is how people speak to each other, it is a valuable cultural shorthand and can be more real, in dialogue, than its tortured avoidance ever could.


I've been reading The Lovely Bones because I'd heard things that suggested to me that it might be similar to what I'm trying to do. I wanted to make sure that I found out in time so that I could steer myself away from my intended path if necessary. I needn't have worried. I'm enjoying the book but it isn't too similar to mine, for a start, Amelia isn't looking down on everyone from heaven or anywhere else - her influence is definitely felt by the surviving characters but the only place she lives on is in their memories of her. In fact it isn't the memory of what Amelia did or didn't do that's the point, it's really much more about how those events made the other characters feel about themselves.
Having written that and re-read it I'm actually beginning to think it could equally apply to The Lovely Bones. Well, the setting and the timeframe are both different and, although Amelia may have been killed by someone she knew, she never saw them coming so there's no element of her watching her murderer escape like there is in Alice Sebold's book. I'll have to finish reading it before I can really comment I suppose, I'm still 3/4 of the way through.
The thing I do find heartening about it though, something I had worried about, is that it's success shows that an adult audience will read a book predominantly about teenagers (as long as there's more to it than 300 pages of pubescent whining and fumbling behind the bike sheds).

Love A


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