British literary magazine, Literary Review, has awarded its Bad Sex in Fiction award to Manil Suri for his comparison of sex and supernovas/superheroes in The City of Devi. I suppose congratulations of some sort should be offered, or commiserations at least.
Having relatively recently become a writer of erotic fiction, I can attest to how difficult it is to write a passably good sex scene. In real life, sex can be awkward and messy, and it certainly can be lustful and animal, yet in fiction we want to portray it as loving and transcendental.
Or do we?
In romantic fiction there is I think a natural desire to write the physical act as filtered through the emotional import, but sex scenes (as opposed to love scenes) serve a variety of purposes, and some of those purposes are to show sex as awkward, base and animal. Sometimes, too, the point is to convey affection, or fun, or reluctance, or differences in status. They can also portray violence, danger, desecration and terrible harm. In fact, sex scenes, like any other scene in a book, can be used in a lot of different ways to tell a story.
Before the award was announced, The Age’s Linda Morris wrote about the award generally, and included some interesting comments from bookseller and erotic writer Krissy Kneen. Kneen points out that context is important in judging whether or not a sex scene is bad. Perhaps the sex is meant to be bad.
But, to be fair, the winners of Literary Reviews’ awards aren’t apparently writing about people having bad sex. The awards are for writers whom the magazine has judge to have poorly described the sex (good, bad or indifferent) that the characters are having. Erotic and romantic fiction are not eligible for the award (I don’t know if that should be ‘eligible for’ or ‘subject to’) – only works of modern ‘literary’ novels are in the running for this dubious accolade.
Perhaps, as John Purcell points out in Morris’s article, the problem is that writers of mainstream fiction are just not used to conveying the erotic and find themselves taken by surprise when they have to write such scenes. Certainly, I did a lot of writing exercises before I felt confident enough to submit explicitly erotic material to my publishers.
Perhaps we should encourage ‘literary’ writers to read more erotica. Or to write less of it.
- I conduct a two hour workshop on writing about Sex and Intimacy. If you’d like to book me for that, visit my Speaking page for details.
- I will be delivering that workshop at Richmond Library (Melbourne) on Sunday 2 February 2014. Keep track of booking details on my Mortal Words blog.
- In the meantime, read my erotic spy thrillers set in Melbourne and Brisbane: Double Edged and Expendable!
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