Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bad Sex ... In Fiction

When I was in junior high, my best friend and I used to scope out racy romance novels at discount stores and read the introductory passages aloud. At 12 or 13, we didn't have a clue about sex, but we knew overwrought writing when we saw it. I only wish I could remember some of the howlers we unearthed back in the day.

Many a fiction writer/writing coach has talked about the difficulty of writing about sex well. Much like the act itself, it can be a risky enterprise — and there are so many ways it can go wrong. When I encounter a cringe-worthy passage in an otherwise decent book, I tend to skip past it because I'm so embarrassed for the writer, the characters, and myself.

We have the U.K.-based Literary Review to thank for shedding light on this important topic with its annual Bad Sex in Fiction award. According to the Guardian, the award is designed "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it."

These passages were among the 2007 nominees, and they range from "Ew" to "WTF?" My favorite line: "But inter-species sex is illegal."

By the way, the late Norman Mailer won.

8 comments:

downtown guy said...

Erica Jong's written some amazingly bad sex scenes, too. That's the only example I can think of right of fthe top of my head, specifically.

EDP said...

Ooooh, Erica Jong. You're right about her, though part of me wants to give her a pass for being a ground-breaker. The worst offender I can think of is V.C. Andrews, author of those godawful "Flowers in the Attic" books. Terrible!

downtown guy said...

We were talking about those the other day. I never read them, but my buddy Billy did and we were trying to explain the plot to someone else. "So, there are these kids, and they're siblings, see, and they're locked in an attic, and uh, incest..."

EDP said...

Those books are indefensible, and yet, every tween girl I knew at the time (including me) was obsessed with them. The writing is just godawful, to say nothing of the plot. My friend Christina recently sent me a passage, and I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.

Christina said...

"Come cover me with kisses if you love me!" Ah, Flowers in the Attic. Such delicious, delicious cheese.

Years ago I had to read some book of John Updike's when I was in a book club, and the sex scenes there were excruciating as well. I remember that the man's "member" was referred to as a "yam." Hmm.

downtown guy said...

If your dick looks like a yam, you should see a doctor.

H F said...

I think it is difficult for writers to write about sex without revealing too much about what goes on in their own minds, and so it ends up being creepy and you kind of hope you never have to make eye contact with that person. I feel like I would always be singing in my head, "....you're a weirdo....and we all know it....."

EDP said...

Bwahahaha! A yam?! Seriously? That's worse than "manhood."