Put down that book

Put down that book

Wotcher!

So it’s been a while, hasn’t it? How have you been? Recently settled back into my little Canadian dwelling after a long, wonderful and exhausting trip to Europe, it seems to me that this rainy day is perfect for a new blog post.

Shall we talk a bit about writing? I’d like that.

Now, I love a good book. One of my favourite activities is to wander around Waterstones and pluck random novels from the shelves. Every reader has their own little ritual for picking a book. Some will look at the blurb on the back. Some go for prize-winning works. Some get recommendations from friends. Maybe some of you like to judge them by their covers, shame on you.

Here’s my personal method, feel free to test it.

First I look at the blurb. Is it snappy? Is the plot appealing to me? Good. Then I open it at page one and read the first two or three paragraphs. If I find myself reading the whole page and then some, that book is mine!

Finally I open it somewhere in the middle and once again, read a few paragraphs. This is because the opening of a novel is not always reflective of the entirety of the writing. Is the dialogue any good? How does the style hold throughout? This is important because there are quite a few, shall we say, grammatical choices that will make me put down a book and never ever ever ever pick it up again.

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Let us review some of those, because why the hell not?

Bland narration

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There is a stereotype in the writing world that first person is for young adults. There are first person young adult novels, absolutely, of course, sure. But there is also Irvine Welsh. Present tense storytelling suffers from the same stereotype. But once again, give Irvine Welsh a try. His are some pretty fucking brilliant first person, present tense novels.

But.

More often than not you open a first person novel and it feels like the usual third person narrator is for some reason speaking in first person. You cannot, repeat, cannot approach a first person narrative in the same way you would a third person narrative. They are completely different and require two very different states of mind from the author. When you are writing in first person, your narrator isn’t some mystical entity (unless it is). It’s a person. A living, breathing human being (unless it’s not).

You need to be an actor. You are the character. You’re a fifty-year-old working-class lorry driver with a kind heart and simple style. Would you describe your partner like a painter would describe a sunset? Doubtful. You are brushing your teeth after a long day at work. Would you stop and describe your wavy dark hair and piercing green eyes in front of the bathroom mirror? No, you would not.

Besides, it is so much fun to just be a character, act like them, talk like them. Go ahead and enjoy it. If you do, there’s a good chance your readers will too.

 

Over-the-top punctuation

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Ellipsis followed by exclamation mark does not… create surprise! It is not… punchy! Mainly, it’s just… aggravating!

That is not how you create suspense in a scene. Don’t you see how it doesn’t make any sense? Suspense should build through content and emotions. This is a gimmick. Get rid of it.

Please also get rid of this!! And how about leaving this in the trash?! In fact, even a single exclamation point, used by a third person narrator, is cringe-worthy. “Then he discovered that, standing next to her, was his father!” Why are you attracting attention to yourself? You are not a character, you are not part of this story, make yourself scarce, for God’s sakes!!

Here’s a confession. I put down The Catcher in the Rye and never took it up again. Want to know why? Because it kept telling me how to pronounce every single sentence. Italics are acceptable if, and I would argue only if, the sentence could mean two different things, depending on the inflection. Otherwise, keep your italics for titles and foreign language words.

Yes, style is important. Yes, experimenting is fine. But please do make sure it actually improves the immersion. Stories are meant to be captivating, to draw you in. Aggressive punctuation pulls you out. Just do the math.

 

Forced feelings

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Okay so I’m just going to come out and say it. Twilight. The Twilight series is a great example of that, but it is not the only one.

You’ve seen this happen. The main girl and the main guy are madly in love and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. “But Gwen, love just happens, there is no why!” Shut it, stop, don’t. People who don’t have fun together, don’t laugh together, don’t share deep thoughts, don’t allow themselves to be silly in front of each other, people who don’t like each other are not in a strong forever relationship. If they hadn’t tragically and stupidly died, I would have given Romeo and Juliet about a month together. Love at first sight? Please. I think what you mean is lust at first sight. And you can’t write a good romance on lust alone. When I read about a romance, I want to be reading about a friendship.

This also goes for other feelings. Hate. Jealousy. Guilt. Shame. Don’t force your characters to feel things because you want them to. Create the believable circumstances in which they will organically come to feel the feels. They will thank you for it. Or they won’t. Don’t pressure them.

 

So here you have a nice little top three of what will make me put down a book. What are your personal pet peeves? How about sharing with the rest of the group?

Laters!

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3 tips for writing a good sex scene

3 tips for writing a good sex scene

Wotcher!

Here I am, back in writer mode with a writing-themed post for you guys. As the title probably suggests, there is going to be mature talk going on around here, so there. Ye be warned.

As an asexual writer, I get asked – okay, so I don’t get asked personally, but I see a lot of asexual writers getting asked and I’m right there reading the conversation and feeling way involved and all – how one approaches sex scenes when one doesn’t have that instinctive pull towards sexual activity in the first place.
So I thought I’d try to clarify some stuff for you guys and give you a glimpse into my own relationship to sex scenes in the media, as an asexual person and as a fiction writer.

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I think there is an assumption out there that sex scenes exist solely for sexual people to get off on them. Surely asexual people are excluded from the intended audience. We must be repulsed, or at the very least bored, the second clothes start flying off. That’s just not true. There is no universal taste, in anything, for any group of people. Really. Just like not all gay men are obsessed with Judy Garland, not all asexual people crinkle up their noses at sexual content. I know I don’t.

I write sex scenes. In fact I’ve written quite a few of them. It’s not a chore and it doesn’t make me cringe or blush or want the earth to open up and swallow me.

There are many reasons why I might enjoy a particular sex scene.

It’s well-written.
It fits the story.
It makes me feel close to the characters involved.
It’s exciting.

Oh don’t give me that look.
Sexual content can be exciting even for asexual readers/viewers. Here’s how I like to explain that one to bewildered, shocked friends. The reason erotic content can turn me on is because I’m able to tap into the characters’ feelings and sensations. It doesn’t mean I’m attracted to either/any of them. In the same way, I have never wanted to go bungee jumping. But if a character in a movie or book has always wanted to go bungee jumping and finally gets to experience it, I will feel their joy and elation as they jump and I will be very enthusiastic about this whole bungee jumping experience.

You know.

Bungee jumping.

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On the flip side, it is also quite frequent for me to roll my eyes loudly – that’s right – at sex scenes. That is because sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, it ends up being tasteless, boring, useless or all three.
So I thought I’d conjure up a little list for you, because who doesn’t like a little list?

These are my top three tips for writing sex scenes.

1. It’s not a sex scene. It’s a scene.

If one lazy Sunday afternoon, you find yourself writing a sex scene into your story because well you have to have a sex scene in there somewhere, right, then please… pretty please… can you not?

It is perfectly okay to fast forward to the next day, or the next morning, or the next shower. Not in a “it’s icky and taboo and we shouldn’t show it” way. I trust you know that’s not what I’m saying at all. No, just in the same way that you wouldn’t show your character going to the restroom unless something important or relevant was going to happen in the bathroom stall.

When you’re writing a sex scene, you’re not just writing about the sex. You’re writing a scene that adds something to your book. Maybe your character is going to call out the wrong name and it’s going to trigger a whole lot of awkwardness. Maybe it’s your hero’s first time and that’s what the story is all about. It doesn’t even need to be that big – hahaha, shut up. Maybe your character is a little bit lost in life right now and they’re trying to find something reassuring to cling to. Maybe your couple is in love and you want to express their connection through sex, among other things.

The point is, unlike in real life, sex in a story is always about more than just sex. You want to make sure it is, and you want to know what’s really going on there. Being in control of that will also allow you to figure out the tone and conflict of the scene. Because yes, even a sex scene deserves tone and conflict and all that good stuff that makes stories great.

In conclusion: there is nothing more annoying than two or more characters having sex just because the writer wants them to have sex.

2. Leave euphemisms in the trash where they belong.

Repeat after me, class.
Vaginas are for sex. Dark caves are for speleology.
Penises are for sex. And peeing. Love sticks are for… hell I don’t know.

You get my drift. Euphemisms belong in crappy romance novels and I’m not even going to put an “unless” here. Oh wait! Unless your goal is to make the reader laugh out loud in the middle of the train station. Then go right ahead. Knock yourself out.

Otherwise, please use your words. You actual words. If your characters are fucking, why not say fuck? It’s a good word. It’s short and to the point. And it’s rude, which is always fun. Go on then, don’t be scared. Fuck.

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3. Don’t slip out of character.

If you are telling a story, you have most likely spent a lot of time figuring out the perfect point of view to tell it from. If you haven’t, then you possibly have more urgent stuff to deal with than how to write a sex scene.

Don’t throw all that hard work away as soon as the clothes come off. If, say, Tania is your main character, let her tell the story. She’s in there, she’s living it. She probably has very personal, funny, sad, interesting stuff to say about it. It feels a certain way because it’s her and, say, Chloe.

Sex is between specific people and it’s different every time. Make it special. Make it specific. Make it personal.

 


 
Those are my top three tips to you, and myself, for writing interesting, well-rounded, useful sex scenes. Of course I’m always interested to know what you think, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts. How about sharing your favourite sex scene? Or giving me some of your top tips?