Valentine’s Special: Writing About Sex

February 15, 2011

Humans are sexual beings.  Noticing, flirting, and kissing usually happen before the act of making love.   All these precursors will usually give more insight into a character than graphic descriptions of carnal groping (unless, of course, your genre is erotica).  The level of detail needed will depend on why the sex scene is in your work.  What is the objective?  Character development?  Is a sexual encounter crucial to your plot?  If so, how much should you reveal? 

Below are two very different examples of sex scenes, the first illustrates the use of sex in character development, the second in plotting.

In Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, she handled the issue of her aging (seventy year old man) protagonist’s lust for a young girl (Pear Blossom) as follows:

“When it was done, this love of his age astonished him more than any of his lusts before, for with all his love for Pear Blossom he did not seize upon her as he had seized upon others he had known.”    

Contrast this to Stephen King’s Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger when Roland couples with the oracle to gain insight into his fate:

The shadow swung over him… There was a sudden ecstasy broken only by a galaxy of pain as faint and bright as ancient stars gone red with collapse.”

Note that in both of these examples the writer was true to the world the character lives in.  My rule of thumb about sexual description is to write only what is needed to further the story.  With sex, more often than not, less is more.   Just like with violence, it’s best to avoid slipping into the realm of gratuitous.


Excessive Celebration Was Not Meet With the Officials

February 8, 2011

English is an ever evolving language.  It is for that reason that this title probably doesn’t make sense to you.  The title is a blend of old and new English — combine the two and this header makes perfect sense—taken at face value, the words seem nonsensical.  Let’s start by examining excessive celebration. 

As I watched the Superbowl yesterday, I was surprised to hear the announcers discussing the excessive celebration penalty.  Unbeknownst to me, a player who exhibits certain enthusiastic behaviors could cause a 15 yard loss for their team.  Our friends joked about the term off and on throughout the game and so after the final pass was thrown and the Packers marched to victory and our friends had left, the question still lingered in my brain:  Why had the NFL decided a new term needed to be developed specifically for this rule?  Why not use the good old-fashioned descriptor of show-boating?  Did excessive celebration sound more politically correct?  Was there some aspect of the definition of show-boating that didn’t fit?

A quick search on Google (www.answers.com/topic/showboat), gave me the information I needed.  The term showboat first appeared in about 1869 and was coined to describe waterborne theaters that provided stage, opera and even circus performances on the vessels.  The term show-boating appeared about 1951 and means to show off or behave ostentatiously.  This seems like an apt description.  I decided to see if I could find the actual NFL guideline.  The best I could come up with was a 1984 rule that has had further definitions added in recent years.  The original 1984 text read:

 Section 3: UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT

Article I: There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship…

So why don’t announcers cite the rule?  Maybe my original hunch was right.  Perhaps it’s just not politically correct to call a professional NFL player unsportsmanlike. 

Now, for the second part of the title:  was not meet.   This term comes from the novel “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.  The term is used to describe an action that is not acceptable behavior.  For example, in Chapter 26, the narrator Wang Lung says:

He called chairs from the town to carry them, for it was not meet that they walk to the place of burial…

Language is an amazing tool, an art form in and of itself.  Whether you say:  Unsportsmanlike Conduct Was Not Acceptable To the Officials or Excessive Celebration Was Not Meet With the Officials, given the proper context the words can relay the same message.   

It seems appropriate that Pearl S. Buck, in a lecture at  the Stockholm Concert Hall in  Sweden on December 12, 1938 said:

“No, happily for the Chinese novel, it was not considered by the scholars as literature. Happily, too, for the novelist! Man and book, they were free from the criticisms of those scholars and their requirements of art, their techniques of expression and their talk of literary significances and all that discussion of what is and is not art, as if art were an absolute and not the changing thing it is, fluctuating even within decades!”

Indeed, Ms. Buck, tis not only the art that fluctuates, but the language with which it is delivered.