Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Sex Scenes Personal Experience

There's an article on sexuality and writing making the rounds. What I wanted to point at, briefly, was this quote:

Mitzi Szereto, an author and teacher of erotic writing workshops, says writers on her courses are held back when they seek refuge in their own sexual histories: "You wouldn't rely on personal experience for any other kind of fiction writing so why would you when crafting a sex scene? I encourage people to write beyond their own sexual encounters, and when they do, they are less inhibited and more creative." (Article
The italics are mine. You wouldn't? Exactly what genuine place would we write from, then? "Write what you know" of course doesn't mean that all writing needs to be strictly autobiographical, but it must be genuine. It has to come from a direct contact with our inner experience, even if it is a little bit like method acting, in reverse. (In method acting, you meet the character by finding the part of your own experience that resonates with it, and you go to that "place." With writing many times you need to start from that "place" and bring it to the character. Or that's how it has often seemed to work, for me.)

I have also of course found my work becoming increasingly autobiographical as I progress as a writer, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a surprising amount of personal experience that informs even minor details in the construction of a scene. In other words, we can rely on our personal experience without being restricted by it. There is research, there is an "acting" element to writing, and there is experience. All of those things need to come into alignment. And this does mean that our range as authors is somewhat restricted if we want to stay "genuine." I haven't written homosexual men into any stories I've written so far, because I simply can't put myself in the headspace. I can't connect with it because I don't have a point of reference, unless if I'm just to transpose my sexual attraction to women onto men and pretend it is the same, which it is not. It wouldn't be real. I've had characters in my stories where friends served as inspiration for those characters, and I had to go to them for input about how to write something (or in collaborative efforts, just had them write their "own" first draft material themselves.)

In other words, I think this quote misses the point somewhat. You can "write beyond your own sexual encounters," and yet still inform it with personal experience- personal experience of desire, of longing, of fear, of awkwardness, or of whatever it is that a scene is meant to convey. I had to write a sex scene that was intentionally pornographic, that is, it had to be as called for by the story. That may have been the most odd for me not out of lack of experience - personally or professionally - but because I knew some would read it and think I was suddenly falling on overwrought cliche, when it was what was demanded based on the characters involved, in that situation. (It's a sex dream where Lilith first finds Dionysus and seduces him.)

So when writing about sex, whether the intent is supposed to be interesting, arousing, comical, horrifying, or some mixture of all the above, I don't see any reason that one shouldn't do the exact same thing- begin with the impulses within ones self and then change them, put them through the "filter" of the character(s) in question.

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