Sex is one of the hardest subjects for many writers. It can be hard enough to talk about; we tend to make jokes, be evasive, fall into cliché descriptions. We love the subject but we don’t always love talking about it. Writing about it, in detail, is even harder. It’s easy to sound too vulgar or too prudish. It’s common to feel too vulnerable, writing about something that regardless how great or fantastical or fictional your other writing may be, people will assume is your personal history or your fantasies. We can write science fiction, murder mysteries, gory thrillers and no one will assume you are a murderer but if you write a salacious sex steam, all your family and friends and readers immediately imagine you, the author, in bed (or elsewhere!)
Another difficult subject to write about is sports. This sounds unbelievable because there is sports writing everywhere, every day. However, in sports writing, as in writing about sex, you have to convey passion and doing that is tough. How many different ways can you describe a throw, a pass, a kick, a basket? It is often the same in writing about sex: the components are the same, every time. Kissing, touching, tugging, removing clothes. It’s all quite predictable! And with sex, we know exactly how it will end. Even in sports, the reader mostly knows the final results of the game but wants to feel the excitement again in reading about it.
It takes skill to infuse words with life, momentum and energy. It takes talent to do that again and again, as sportswriters do, while making it sound original and fresh.
The sexual conquest and the athletic competition are similar in that they are in some ways, always the same, made of all the same parts and predictable in the components of which they are made. And yet, each time we participants and observers get caught up in the action, filled with anticipation as if we didn’t know how each would end. In sex, the finale is the orgasm. In sports there is a winner and a loser or a tie. It’s always the same.
What makes us as observers, readers and participants able to get excited each time is not only the physical, chemical responses we have to the adrenaline and dopamine but more importantly, our emotional investment. This is where the writing can make a difference. This is where the art and craft of writing makes one story stand out over another.
“He threw the ball to his teammate who caught it and scored,” is like; “He inserted his penis into her, thrusting until he came.”
It’s generic. Any excitement we feel is not from the words themselves but from the memories they may evoke, briefly in our imaginations.
What gets us invested in both sports and books is to feel an intimacy with the players (characters). What does this win mean to them? What do they have to lose? To gain?
Sports writing always begins with a description of the athlete, where he came from, where he trained, injuries, setbacks, achievements. This isn’t simply babble to fill air time before the game, it is a strategic attempt to build a sense of intimacy, to invest the viewer in the athlete’s struggles and to import a sense that “this game means something special.” In other words, the commentators are building the case that something is at stake for the athlete. The fan, who feels a connection with the athlete will then feel personally invested in the stakes of the game, the stakes of the players, the outcome. This is how one builds loyalty.
In a book, character development is about building an intimacy between the reader and the characters. We hear about their childhoods, their disappointments, their past, not to simply to build a vibrant picture of them but to understand what the character has at stake in the story. Why is this story important? Why is this character caught up in these events, these relationships? What does this character have to lose or gain? If we do not become emotionally invested in the outcome of events for the characters, we will not care much for the story or the writing.
To make your characters relatable, which increases a reader’s ability to invest emotionally in their concerns, they need to experience a full range of emotions; have a variety of needs and wants. Sex is a desire and experience all adults share. The corresponding emotions that accompany the desire for sex; such as rejection, embarrassment, shame, excitement, passion, are all part of the human condition. To create a full character, you must understand their sexual drives and wants and fears.
A sex scene, imbued with each character’s wants and fears is going to take on a greater level of sensuality and passion than one that is purely descriptive where we do not understand the motivations of the character. As with sports, the moves are largely the same, from play to play, game to game and bed to bed. But what is at stake and how the writer conveys it, is the difference between writing that describes and writing that moves.