Into The Unknown (aka No Sex Please, I’m British)

Writing what you know only gets you so far, and unless you’re writing a memoir, that’s not very far at all. All fiction involves, by definition, making stuff up: getting into the heads and lives of people who are not quite like yourself and then translating what you find onto the page.

Some writers love research. They are never happier than in the library, interviewing and shadowing other people, and generally immersing themselves in the lives they want to write about, and that’s great for them. It’s not for me; I find research slow and laborious; I find myself struggling to remember everything I’ve learned, and struggling to convert it into useful story. This is one of the reasons I tend to write reasonably close to home; realistic fiction instead of the epic fantasy or historical worlds of some of my friends and idols.

But whether you write close to home or years and light-years away, there are always details about which we need to know a little more. One of the subjects that can be a small but important element of that, is relationships and sex. However wild and crazy one’s youth (and my parents read this, so let’s just agree “not and not”), when one has been straight-forwardly married for a while, one’s memory and experience of such things tends to be limited.

And whilst one can get information vicariously, through friends and books, sex tends to be a subject people don’t like to talk about in anything but the broadest terms, and relationships tend to be presented with a gloss too. But good fiction often requires variety and realism – even if we stay away from explicit Shades of Grey / Harlequin / Mills and Boon -type writing, we may need to conjure happy and unhappy relationships, cheating or exploitation, fantasies and arguments. We need to demonstrate not just what happened, but how it felt and impacted the characters afterwards.

A friend recently told me about the Casual Sex Project. Before you fret, don’t worry, it doesn’t require participation. This is a website where real people, anonymously post real experiences of sex outside a romantic relationship. It’s eye-opening, occasionally eye-popping, and very graphic, so not for those of a prudish or sensitive disposition (and not for your work laptop / internet connection).

If you’re looking to write, even allude to, a character’s sexual experience that’s beyond your own – it’s an interesting resource. And much less cringe-worthy than asking your Facebook friends if they would help you describe what it feels like to have an affair / screw the teacher / sleep with your best friend’s boyfriend while she’s asleep in the same bed / whatever.

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