Monday, July 27, 2015

Bad Sex in Fiction

If you do much reading beyond the, say, fifth-grade level, you have almost certainly made the acquaintance of that dreaded element of fiction, the sex scene. Ever since human beings first learned to write down their language, whether it was on cave walls, clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, paper, or digital tablets, one standard thing they've tried to record is vivid descriptions of the act of lovemaking. Whether in poetry or prose, in whatever language, sex is a major element of our literature, both high and low.

How many ways can you describe the sexual act? A lot, actually. And not all of them are equally ... uh ... literary. In fact, some of them are so bad that there is actually an annual award presented by Britain's Literary Review for "Bad Sex in Fiction." According to the Literary Review's website,

The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

It's similar to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, except that the Bulwer-Lytton contest is not limited simply to depictions of sex, but of generally overblown and awful writing, and its entries are limited to a single original sentence of any length. Depictions of sex in fiction, as you may know, can go on interminably and be of sufficient ghastliness to make one swear off sex.

The 2014 Bad Sex in Fiction Award went to novelist Ben Okri for a scene in his novel The Age of Magic, for a love scene involving a filmmaker named Lao and his girlfriend, named Mistletoe. I will not share with you the winning scene (because there are children who read this blog), but you can read it for yourself here. His editor was quoted as saying: “Winning the award is fun but a bit undignified, just like sex, assuming you do it properly.”

The shortlist for last year's award featured many other authors, including one of my favorites, Wilbur Smith. Smith writes action-packed adventure stories that brim with historical detail and crackle with vivid writing, and I can't think of a single one of his stories that hasn't included at least one cringe-worthy depiction of sex*. You can check it out for yourself by reading what I think are two of his most exciting novels: The Seventh Scroll and River God. Needless to say, you won't want to read them aloud to your children, unless you are home-schooling them in advanced sex and violence.

So, Dear Readers, share some of your experiences with the rest of us ... what book have you read that contains sex scenes worthy of a Bad Sex in Fiction Award? The 50 Shades Trilogy doesn't count, nor does the new book in the series, Grey, because the overall writing in those is so bad that it's in a class by itself. And the instructions for the IRS form 1040 don't count, either, even though they offer vivid depictions of the screwing of the average taxpayer.

Have a good day. Read something ... stimulating.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I can't help it ... here's an excerpt from the scene in Desert God that earned Wilbur Smith a place on the shortlist: "(the woman's hair) did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them." Oy.


Mike said...

Wow, 11 links. This could be an all day project tracking down all these sexual faux pauxs but I'm up to the task.

BTW, your site didn't update for Monday on my blog list. But me being the smart guy I am came here anyway to find a Monday post. I don't use a reader but people that do probably didn't get notification of your Monday post. You need to add a space somewhere just to change something then update. Check my blog to see if the change in status shows up.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

I had to come to your site directly, it wasn't included in the updates.

It takes proficiency to write a good, female-oriented sex scene. I tried; no luck. It just comes out comical.

How about a Jane Austen-worthy sex scene" Mr. Darcy touched Lizzie's hands while dealing at whist. She actually had unworthy thoughts.

Linda Kay said...

Interesting commentary on the "BAD SEX" issue. I kind of think that writing a scene where sex happens but not describing it graphically makes it more intriguing to the reader. They can put in their own imagination.

Duckbutt said...

When I think of bad sex, I think of some of the beat writers.