The Knack: How not to write bad sex by Auberon Waugh, founder and judge of the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Prize

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
AVOID BIOLOGICAL descriptions - "then he pushed his cock into me" just doesn't work when you read it.

But don't go the other way and become poetical, talking about someone's "beautiful downy cushion", for example. You may feel it's difficult to write about sex without referring to genitals but it is possible to describe an ecstatic experience without spelling out exactly where the ecstasy is felt.

You are supposed to be describing an enjoyable experience: the following description of two characters having sex from Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry (Jonathan Cape), makes what is meant to be passionate love-making sound decidedly unattractive.

"She pounded my chest, she cut my neck, she gave me a hiding I never recovered from ... We were freezing, gasping and soaked in sweat, spunk and post-office glue."

It's awful. So is this passage from Julie Burchill's novel Married Alive (Orion), "his groin grinding against mine... trying to physically remove, by the famous twist-off method, my breasts from my upper body".

It's absolutely mad! Who ever heard of a famous twist-off method for removing somebody's breasts from their upper body?

Many authors think they have to shove some sex in because that's what readers want. But for a sex scene to really work you need tension and dramatic suspense - by all means go for it, but spend half the book building up to it!

The winner of The Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award 1999 will be announced next Wednesday. `Married Alive' and `A Star Called Henry' have both been shortlisted