The literary award no one wants has again been bestowed: The Bad Sex in Fiction award. From the UK Guardian:
Alastair Campbell’s depiction of a gauche sexual encounter in his debut novel All in the Mind has won him a place on the shortlist for the literary world’s most dreaded honour: the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction award.
Campbell would join luminaries including Tom Wolfe, AA Gill, Sebastian Faulks and Melvyn Bragg if he wins the award – a plaster foot – on November 25 at London’s aptly named In and Out club. Run by the Literary Review, the bad sex awards were set up by Auberon Waugh “with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels”.
We’re a Rated PG sort of blog; therefore, we can’t reprint the atrocities in full, but HERE is a link for those who made the shortlist.
First of all, and this is a with a big dollop of IMO, I’m no big fan of literary police arbitrating what passes for “tasteful” erotic scenes and what doesn’t. But I did giggle at some of the entries, which at best seemed campy, and at worst were like something out of a Bulwer- Lytton entry.
After reading the shortlist, I dissected where the authors went off the rails. [WARNING — sexually graphic descriptions below the jump]
1. Weird and intrusive dialogue:
He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. ‘The blue veins are divine,’ he whispered. — Simon Montefiore
‘You are so moist down there.‘ — Ann Allestree
2. Having overwrought emotional passages go on and on. And on . . .
Jim ached with her nakedness. His arms and legs were as lifeless as fallen branches. He understood that love was a power and force of a different order from anything else beneath the sky, and could demolish not merely family relations or notions of right and wrong but also what was real and what was not. Jim’s world had been knocked a little out of its axis, and would not be restored. — James Buchan
3. Bizarre analogies
His chest was the size of a South American country. — Kathy Lette
He moves on to my ears, a kiss that makes my nipples stand erect, and me emit little moans that drown out to my own ears the loud, distracting sound of Cumberbatch swiping dock leaves and tearing nettles and long grasses very close to the rickety stoop. — Rachel Johnson
4. Passages of what those in the romance genre call “purple prose”
Light billowed out of her, and warmth in damp gusts as if from a garden after a rainstorm. She did not seem to be a woman, but something altogether stronger and sweeter. — James Buchan
For tips on how to avoid these literary carnal sins, I turned to my go-to book on craft, Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Therese interviewed Dave King HERE). They advocate the “less is more” approach:
When it comes to handling sex scenes, the last thing you want is to seem to be working hard to achieve your effects. The subtler stylistic approach will nearly always be the more professional looking choice. This means you’ll want to avoid heavy breathing, whether it’s the type appropriate to novels with titles like Love’s Helpless Fury or Motel Lust . . . (p. 204)
What if you write in a genre like romance where explicit sex is as much a major narrative convention as magic is to the fantasy genre? Browne and King don’t have much use for graphic passages, but they do say if you have to write it, make them as effortless and sophisticated as possible. In other words, if you have an impulse to write a line about “light billowing out of her”, and she’s not Galadrial or a lighthouse, maybe dial back the hyperbole and go with something less over-the-top. The last thing you want your reader to do is laugh at your love scenes.
Have you run across unintentionally laughable sex scenes lately? What makes you splutter or roll your eyes? What do you do to make your love scenes more sophisticated?
Image by Darkbutterfly6.