I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently. Turns out when a good half of a novel got written when you were sixteen, you want to change more than a few things after graduating with a masters in writing fiction. Although, oddly enough, the sex scenes needed very little adjustment.
So during this editing process it can be easy to stare into the void a little too deep and end up questioning every decision you ever made in your life because you used the wrong kind of there there. It’s times like these you need to remember that you aren’t a terrible writer, mistakes happen, and Fifty Shades of Grey exists. If after remembering that you don’t hurl yourself off a cliff because oh god that book got published then you’re doing okay.
It’s important to have standards, really. You want to try your best to present a coherent narrative that won’t inadvertently scar and horrify the masses.
Funnily enough, I’m not referencing 50 Shades again there. I’m talking about a book that came out a while ago that floated in, briefly shook my faith in the written word, and then floated away again.
Does anyone remember List of the Lost by Morrissey? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. I’d put it out of my mind. It helps that I haven’t read it. Never will, either.
So then how, you ask, could I know it was a terrible, terrible thing to inflict on the reading public?
Because all you really need to know about that book is probably its most famous paragraph. Just to warn you, he won a bad sex award for its absolute awfulness. So before you go venturing off to google to find this abomination, be prepared.
Me, I’m not going to retype the whole thing for you. I’d need to boil my fingers after.
But! I will talk about certain phrases that come back to me in my nightmares.
“Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled”
I tried a few times to picture this. Aside from the obvious horror of picturing a woman’s breasts becoming mobile in a way that would enable a barrel-roll to happen, I speculate as to the positioning required to think that would be a good descriptor. In the scene they’re barrel-rolling over some dude’s ‘howling’ mouth – possibly howling in terror at what he’s witnessing – so I picture her sort of bodily rolling over him and just happening to scrape his mouth with her boobs as they go flying overhead.
That’s still not the worst part.
He uses the phrase ‘bulbous salutation’ to describe his erection.
Revolting? Yes, of course. Still not the worst part, though.
No, the worst part is him describing what that erection is doing.
“smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body”
So again, either it detaches – another possible explanation for him ‘howling’ – or he gets up and starts prodding this woman all over her body with his erection. It does specify every muscle. So he’s slapping around her calves at some point before awkwardly angling himself to ‘smack’ the back of her knees. At this point the barrel-rolling almost makes sense as a move, since poor Eliza is probably fighting him to get into a position where sex could happen.
He’s busy acquainting his ‘bulbous salutation’ with her shoulder blades and she goes barrel-rolling around to beg for some actual erotic touching.
Now wait a minute, you might be thinking.
Actually you’re probably thinking ‘I never needed to know this, please stop, I beg you’.
Anyway! You might be thinking I can’t be speculating about how none of this is leading to a satisfying sexual encounter. After all, ‘every muscle’ includes the obvious one, right? I have some bad news.
“smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone”.
Yeah, that’s going to make the sex a touch difficult. Although maybe Eliza’s dodging a bullet there because I’m not sure anyone wants to get smacked in their ‘otherwise central zone’. Their O.C.Z., if you will.
I really hope you won’t because that’s terrible.
It’s at this point I really want to go back in time to my sixteen year old self as she’s writing surprisingly tasteful sex scenes, pat her on the shoulder and say, “Don’t worry, kid. Turns out people who’ve presumably had sex don’t know how to write it, either.”
No matter what mistakes you make while writing, remember to assure yourself that at least you don’t have breasts and erections departing their owners’ bodies.
Unless you’re into that.
What? There’s a genre for everything.