Monday, 23 July 2012

Flustered, frantic…frustrated

Ever noticed how many words starting with f can be connected to sex?

In my previous post I intended to blog about the difficulty I was having writing sex/love scenes, particularly from the first person POV. I also mentioned that I thought the problem lay in the fact that I was too old to be getting hot under the collar. For all you pedants out there that was, of course, the wrong metaphor, but in my opinion it worked well to indicate arousal. 

Since that post I’ve written another sex/love scene and I’ve had time to reflect further on the writing of them, and I can tell you one thing: it gets easier. I didn’t think I’d ever be saying that. What doesn’t get any easier is thinking up new ways to describe arousal. My own guideline here is keep it simple, tell it like it is rather than use flowery language. The other thing I've noticed is that I avoid naming the genitalia; I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I think you can guess from the above that I’m not one for sex in novels. Generally I prefer novels without them. I’m coy, I suppose. Old-fashioned. But sometimes a novel has to have intimacy because you can’t imagine the characters not having sex.  Wuthering Heights published in 1847 is an example of this.  

In addition, sex helps the reader to better understand the depth of feeling between characters (see WH again). Often you can get away with this by implying that they had sex without giving any particulars, as in:  She holds out her hand to him and he takes it without hesitation, and she gently tugs him into the room. End of story. Or chapter. 

(Small bit of advice. Be wary of writing: She holds out her hand to him, gently tugs him into the room, and closes the door. This makes your reader feel shut out, excluded, as if the writer is in on the sex act but has elected not to share it with the reader. By leaving the door open, so to speak, you allow the reader to imagine their own version of the act, if that’s what they wish. It’s up to the reader. But this way you give them a choice.)
Although I haven’t set my work-in-progress in a specific time frame, I mention mobile phones, so it's set within the previous twenty years or so and you therefore can't imagine the characters not having sex. And because I was a reluctant voyeur I asked my good friend, Andrea, for her opinion. She told me to play it by ear, to see how it felt when I was at the point where sex would come in to the narrative. If it felt right to be including it, I should write it. If it felt forced or awkward, then I should leave it out. 

Regardless of how difficult it’s been to get it down on paper and of my own (coy) opinion, I can report that the sex feels right, that I would be shirking my writerly duty if I did not include it. So there. 

Image courtesy of
Two things have occurred to me here, why do I feel I have to justify myself? And does this have anything to do with the success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey? Discuss.

Just for the record here’s a list of words starting with f that can be connected to sex: flushed, flesh, flirt, floozy, fornicate, foreskin, flux, frenetic, Freudian, frigid, frisson, fulfil, fruity, froth, full-frontal, fumble, fusion, frenzy, faggot, familiarity, femme fatale, fanny, fertile – who would have thought there’d be so many?  (And yes I haven’t mentioned the familiar f word. Some things need to be left to your imagination. )

Thursday, 12 July 2012

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” - Andrew A. Rooney

My intention for this blog was not what follows. I was going to write about the difficulty I am having writing love scenes in the first person, as compared to writing them from the third person’s viewpoint. She kissed him; her blood pounded through her veins. I think the problem lies in the fact that I am too old to be imagining myself getting hot under the collar. I saw him look at my mouth; I wanted to kiss him, too.

Anyway, I will come back to that. Another day. That is banal to what follows. Because I witnessed a scene yesterday afternoon which greatly distressed me. But let me start at the beginning.

My daughter fosters kittens. (You can go here to read more.) 

Our dog with two foster kittens. I think they were called Neptune and Titan.

She’s been doing this for over a year, and she has my fullest admiration. Not only is she devoting time and money to these little creatures, but she goes through the trauma of having to say goodbye to them when they are strong and old enough to be offered up for adoption. I think she’s lost count of how many kittens she’s been a good mum to, but it must be over 20 by now.

Yesterday afternoon I gave her a lift to the vet (who works from home) to pick up her latest charge after a routine de-sexing.  I waited in the car.  As she went to lift the latch on the gate it was obvious someone was coming through from the other side, so she stood back. First a man came through. He was probably in his fifties, with long, greying hair untidily pushed behind his ears. Then, after some hesitation, a dog appeared. It looked like a Labrador, but it was moving slowly and it was hard to tell whether it was moving slowly because it was old or because it was in such pain. And then behind the dog was a woman. As a writer I’m supposed to be observant, but I can’t remember much about her because once I saw the dog everything else went out of my mind. 

A big chunk of the dog's fur and skin, probably six inches by eight inches, was missing from the upper thigh of its back leg, so that all the flesh was exposed and I could actually see the pink leg muscle working as it shuffled forward. Then there was another big and raw rectangular area of flesh missing from its back, above its tail.  Around its neck were puncture marks as if something had had it by the throat.

The trio made its way to the 4x4 that was parked in front of me, and the man opened the boot and spread out a blanket. He looked at the dog and the dog looked up at him, and then with considerable care he lifted the dog into the boot. With effort, the dog lay down on its good side and put its head on its paws. The man closed the boot. The woman got into the front seat. Nobody said anything. They drove away.

It was the expression in the dog’s eyes that made me draw breath and brought a lump to my throat. The pain in the eyes, but also – in the midst of what the dog must have been feeling – subservience. And trust. Trust.

Before they drove away I wondered if I should get out and say something. How can you do this? What are you thinking? But the Loved One is always telling me not to get involved, and the other thing was I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter.

When she came out, carrying her still-very-groggy little kitten, she told me a bit more. The dog had apparently been in an accident. The vet didn’t say, but my daughter said it looked like it involved machinery rather than a car crash. She also told me that the vet was very distressed; he said he’d never seen anything like it in all his 40 years of practice. He’d told the owners that the dog ought to be euthanized but they’d refused. And he told my daughter there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t force them to do the right thing. 

And then I regretted not getting out of the car. And not saying something. Anything

I was ashamed of myself.