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Sex and Grammar (1 Viewer)

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
How grammatical is your sex scene? (I know, odd concept). Or, do you think grammar and punctuation might change with type of scene?

A "sex" scene is grammatically interesting because it usually is just a collection of events

His finger running up her thigh
His lips on her neck
her feeling excitement

Adding one essentially meaningless word creates a proper clause.

His finger is running up her thigh

Adding a meaningless and lets the two clauses fit together as a perfectly grammatical sentence.

His finger is running up her thigh, and his lips are on her neck.

Contrast that to the ungrammatical:

His finger running up her thigh, his lips on her neck.

An actual "sex scene" from the book I was reading last weekend. This falls in between -- I could rewrite it more grammatically or less grammatically; you could try to understand the grammar, but I think it's easier to understand just as events.

I looked up at him, stayed with him, although I felt sleepy and slow, as if I were half a beat behind as he was surging. There was pleasure in the heat of him against me and then in me, pleasure in his pleasure, and over it all, this blanketed feeling of saftey, as if he were storming all round me but I was lying quietly in the eye,moving with him, painlessly alive and present.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
A "sex" scene is grammatically interesting because it usually is just a collection of events.

I would never write a sex scene that way. My angel says that sex is ten percent friction and ninety percent imagination, with which I agree on the whole. I prefer to write about the perceptions in the participant's minds rather than the physical events alone. It is true that one can just describe the events and let the reader provide the imagination, but it is more thorough to invite the reader to share in the full experience rather than reliving their own. In that case grammar takes it normal form. One can move to a different style of writing in any scene if it is done smoothly, but I don't see that it is characteristic of sex scenes in particular. Sex is just a part of life, so such scenes are best integrated into the normal writing rather than placed beyond it with unusual grammar. The latter gives the impression that the writer is almost apologising for mentioning the subject at all.
 

Book Cook

Senior Member
You can make it all grammatical and have the same effect. Ungrammatical sentences should be used extremely sparingly. This modern fad of throwing grammar out the window and claiming it to be for effect is worrying. Writers are becoming lazy and are looking for excuses to justify their laziness.

You don't need to connect your dependent clauses if you're enumerating actions. For example (and you could add a preceding clause of your choice here if this one is not up your alley):

- She shivered at his finger running up her thigh, his lips touching her neck, his breath warming her skin etc. etc.

Also, your third ungrammatical example can easily be rectified:

- His finger runs (is running) up her thing; his lips are on her neck. (a semicolon works wonders with run-ons.)

It is much neater to use correct grammar. The ungrammatical part made nothing more powerful or evocative, but quite on the contrary.

I would like to be able to remember a few instances where I came across effective ungrammatical usages, but I cannot. I think Hemingway used some in his minimalist approach, though don't take my word for it. But it was used for a reason, for noticeable effect. It happened once, maybe twice in a novel--if at all.

What I'm trying to say is for you not to eschew grammar in the hopes of accomplishing some profound effect that grammar doesn't allow for. Grammar is not as restrictive as you may think. If you master grammar to the extent that it becomes your second nature, you'll find exactly how malleable, expressive, and nonrestrictive it can be.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I find both sentence fragments and run-ons are great for effect. Using either of them in an intimate scene makes perfect sense, to me.

They're best, though (in my opinion) when used sparingly, so their rare appearances have more of an impact.

Also, I find it helps to keep the rhythm of the words in mind, in relation to the feeling you're trying to evoke in the reader. Sentence fragments give a choppy, staccato feel to the reading. Run-ons create more of a breathless, tumbling rush.

Apply them appropriately. :encouragement:
 

per se

Senior Member
I agree with JustRob and Book Cook. Sex is no reason to abandon grammar. Grammar is the reader's guide to understanding the events being described. It should be seamless and invisible, unnoticed unless there is a misstep. You should never have to make a choice between understanding grammar or understanding events.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
While I see no justification for disregarding grammar in the narrative I evidently think that it works in dialogue. The following is a draft scene from the incomplete rewrite of my novel. This actually is part of a physical sex scene but (perhaps somewhat unrealistically) they talk through it, at least part of the way, but I've cut it short here. For reasons that I won't explain they are trying to merge their minds as well as their bodies in a sort of Vulcan mind-meld, or "mind-weld" as the young man calls it. They make reference to many of the things that living together implies, so are simultaneously coming to terms with what it would mean to share their lives fully. Feel free to comment on the effectiveness of the piece. I think it illustrates what the OP is suggesting in terms of listing events even though they are imaginary ones here.

The girl speaks first. By the way, the young man is a bit too eager, shall we say.

You need a mantra – no, we need a mantra, something to distract you, to hold you back and at the same time to bind us together, something more than you cutting my nails.’
What, you mean your mind to my mind, that sort of thing.’
No, it has to have more commitment than that, just like the intimacy of you cutting my nails in fact. Imagine trimming all my nails properly for me. Your scissors to my nails, that sort of thing.’
Your hairbrush to my hair, you mean.’
Yes, keep it going. Your toothpaste to my toothbrush.’
Your scented soap to my body.’
Try to avoid thinking about bodies for now. It won’t help you. Your razor to my bathroom.’
Your legs to my razor. No wonder it’s blunt. No, I think I’m still besotted. Your iron to my shirts.’
Your socks to my washing-machine. No, it won’t work if we don’t give it much more commitment.’
Your dents to my car. Is that enough commitment then?’
Yes, but I blame that wall. Your winestains to my best dress.’
It was an accident when I fell head over heels – in love with you. Your invitation to my darts night.’
Your invitation to my bath night.’
You’re spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Your face to my pillow.’
You’ll have to draw me a diagram for that one. Your objections to my secret lover.’
Your secret phone calls to my best friend.’
Your tolerance to my shortcomings.’
Your agreement to my superiority.’
Your gullibility to my deceptions.’
But you’re the answer to my prayers.’
And you’re the end to my wits.’
Your stature to my height.’
Your weight to my argument.’
Your confession to my sins.’
‘Your collusion to my wrongdoings.’
Your food to my table.’
Your drink to my lips.’
Your phone charges to my account.’
Your wealth to my purchases.’
Your frugality to my poverty.’
Your generosity to my extravagance.’
Your warmth to my bed.’
Your heat to my passion.’
Your fuel to my fire.’
Your fire to my heart.’
Your heart to my heart.’
Your body to my body.’
Your all to my existence.’
You’re everything to my being.’
Our being to – gether.’
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
From last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel:

She can hear the bombers when they are three miles away. A mounting static. The hum inside a seashell.

When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent: no engines, no voices, no clatter. No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles. Not even gulls. Just a high tide, one block away and six stories below, lapping at the base of the city walls.

And something else.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr​

One could argue that the passage is full of grammatical mistakes. "Fragment! Fragment! Fragment! The author even begins a sentence with a coordinating conjunction! Oh, the errors! Where's my red pen?"

But fiction writing isn't essay writing. Sometimes it's okay to bend the rules—especially if, by doing so, the author creates more effective, immersive prose.
 

TKent

Retired Chief Media Manager
I personally am quite fond of writers using fragments for impact. To me:

His finger running up her thigh. His lips on her neck.

is a completely different effect than:

His finger is running up her thigh, and his lips are on her neck. OR even: His finger is running up her thigh; his lips are on her neck.

In the first, I can almost imagine a halting of the sentences as if breathless. The last 2 versions, while grammatically correct, don't have the same impact to me.

Granted, overuse of any literary device can be distracting. But sometimes not :)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
(Sexual)
"You're so beautiful."

I say, softly, "Thoughts like that could get you far."

He smirks. "How far?"

I don't answer. Really far.

His fingers running down my side to my hip, half-tickling my skin, exciting me . . . his lips on my neck . . . his naked body pressed against my naked body . . . his other hand softly touching my breast . . . my attention is on his hand, waiting in nervous anticipation for it to excite me, forgetting to breathe . . . he touches my nipple, I gasp . . . his other hand -- I forgot about it -- is moving up my leg . . . he keeps fondling my breast . . . I'm losing track of where my feelings are coming from . . . his mouth on my lips, softly nibbling on the bottom of my lip . . . fingers caressing my thigh . . . doing something with my lip that feels so wonderful, he --

I sit up straight. "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO MY LIPS?"

He sits up, puzzled. "Um, I was sucking on your top lip? Was that the wrong thing to do?"

"No. It was PERFECT. WONDERFUL. Do it again." I lie back down in bed.


I want to try to respond. You could rewrite that long paragraph with ordinary, "correct" grammar to contain (roughly) the same information. If you think of a book as presenting information, then they would be the same. I don't think of a book that way; I can't even imagine creating the same feel with normal correct grammar.

"I sit up straight." is a turn in the story. It's strongly marked by the change grammar. If you write the long paragraph in normal grammar, you don't get a sudden, obvious turn.

Hey, sex scenes are all different. In this particular scene, the content was a swirl of images and thoughts and feelings. The PaG fit that content really well, right? (Or, of course, PaG helped create that content, but I think PaG is supposed to do that.)

I worked hard on the PaG of that long paragraph, trying to get the feel I wanted. The idea that I might be lazy to write ungrammatically is incorrect -- to give another example, I have probably spent 30 minutes trying to improve on the PaG of "Later?"
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I find both sentence fragments and run-ons are great for effect. Using either of them in an intimate scene makes perfect sense, to me.

They're best, though (in my opinion) when used sparingly, so their rare appearances have more of an impact.

Also, I find it helps to keep the rhythm of the words in mind, in relation to the feeling you're trying to evoke in the reader. Sentence fragments give a choppy, staccato feel to the reading. Run-ons create more of a breathless, tumbling rush.

Apply them appropriately. :encouragement:

Yes! I have two almost identical scenes (nonsexual). One uses periods to separate events to give a feeling of pin-point focused concentration. The other separates the events with commas, to give kind of a blurred, multiple-things-happening-at-once feel.

Ellipses also give a different feel. They seem to slow things down and imply time passing. Dashes also give a different effect, but I can't pin it down.

After dinner, I try to study -- I can't, I'm too horny -- I try to masturbate -- that doesn't work -- so I go to a basketball game at DeMoire.


 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
"I sit up straight." is a turn in the story. It's strongly marked by the change grammar. If you write the long paragraph in normal grammar, you don't get a sudden, obvious turn.
It's true—that style shift definitely broke the mood. A neat effect. Nicely done! :encouragement:
 
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EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Now, please now, only now, not anything else only this now, and where are you and where am I and where is the other one, and not why not ever why, only this now; and on and always please then always now, always now, for now always one now; one only one, there is no other one but one now, one, going now, rising now, wailing now, leaving now, wheeling now, soaring now, away now, all the way now, all of all the way now; one and one is one, is one, is one, is one, is still one, is still one, is one descendingly, is one softly, is one longingly, is one kindly, is one happily, is one in goodness, is one to cherish, is one now on earth with elbows against the cut and slept-on branches of the pine tree with the smell of the pine boughs and the night; to earth conclusively now, and with the morning of the day to come.

As sex scenes go, a little abstract for me! But I like the enthusiasm. I am pretty sure that isn't grammatical. If you even look for a grammatical structure, I think you're missing the point. One sentence too.

Anyway, historical interlude. In books and on the website, there is surprisingly good agreement on the rules of grammar. If that's what people mean by writing grammatically -- following those rules -- I understand. If you mean something different, you need to explain.

I think Hemingway used some in his minimalist approach, though don't take my word for it. But it was used for a reason, for noticeable effect. It happened once, maybe twice in a novel--if at all.

The first sentence of The Old Man and the Sea is two independent clauses, which is -- by the rules -- supposed to be connected with a comma and coordinating conjunction. Hemingway left out the comma, making his sentence grammatically incorrect. I agree with Book Cook that Hemingway had a good reason, it created an effect, and I would rate it as a brilliant choice.

But it's incessant, throughout the whole book. This construct appears in the 3rd sentence, the 4th sentence, and sentences 7 and 10. The sentences that don't have this construction are single clauses or there is a modifier accidentally putting a comma where it belongs. It gives the book a great, unique feel.

It's a common construction nowadays. If you want to say that some sentences seem jarring, and some don't even though they might be technically ungrammatical, I know what you mean. They might have been jarring at one time, but they aren't now.

And the sex-scene of course was Hemingway. Ugh, it was an audience-loser. A little more sexy:

He runs his hands up her smooth sides -- she gives a tiny jump at his initial touch -- and beneath the inside-out shirt. He stretches the fabric and lifts. Her head pops free. She's laughing in little out-of-breath gasps. Her bra is plain white cotton. He holds her by the waist and kisses between her breasts as she unbuckles his belt and pops the button on his slacks.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Her bra is plain white cotton

IF you think of your erotic scene as pieces, it's useful to think about the pieces. Um, that's advice for writing content. I think King really meant:

He sees her plain white cotton bra.

That's just as stiff. In his limited third person he could have just had a fragment:

Her plain white cotton bra.

That's what he should have written. If he wouldn't have minded being ungrammatical, I think it works better as two pieces:

Her bra, plain white cotton.

And once that is done, it's easier to add more pieces. Thinking about this for a long time:

Her bra, plain white cotton, he approves.

I am not sure what the plain white cotton bra is supposed to tell us about him or her, but he approves kind of does both.

Anyway, you can think about improving your pieces no matter what the grammar; writing just pieces seems to make it easier to add more.
 

Lincoln

Senior Member
I'm firmly in the camp of "writers can do whatever they want for effect." Breaking the rules if part of the art. But ... when people break too many rules too often, the overall piece does start to look suspect.
 

Jay Greenstein

Senior Member
His finger running up her thigh
It's not a matter of grammer, it's that you're using prosaic language in an emotional situation.

What in the hell is wrong with: his finger left a trail of fire on her thigh?

What's wrong with, the warmth of his touch on her thigh made thought impossible? Emotion, not plumbing.

We deal in emotion not fact. We're trying to make our readers experience the scene in real-time as the protagonist.
I looked up at him, stayed with him, although I felt sleepy and slow, as if I were half a beat behind as he was surging. There was pleasure in the heat of him against me and then in me, pleasure in his pleasure, and over it all, this blanketed feeling of saftey, as if he were storming all round me but I was lying quietly in the eye,moving with him, painlessly alive and present.
This is a report. The narrator—not the protagonist—is explaining how it felt at the time. That is very different from being on the scene in real-time, in the moment the protagonist calls now.

Maybe I'm bragging, but to illustrate my point, here's a short excerpt from, A Chance Encounter. In it Delia is finally saying yes, and has agreed to a massage, to remove her nervousness before going further—or at least that's what she thinks she's agreed to:
“Good,” he said, pulling up on her sweatshirt. She lifted from the futon, to make it easier, then helped him pull it over her head and place it aside. She was committed.

For a moment they remained that way, she trying to breathe calmly, while the voice of Miss Caution shouted, What in the hell are you doing? Then his hands touched her back, sending a shiver through her body. He trailed gentle fingertips from nape to crease, sending electric shocks through her that were like nothing she’d ever known. In response, Miss Caution whispered a quiet Oh-my-God, in defeat, and vanished.

“Twitchy, aren’t we?” He did it a second time and brought an even greater response.

“… Yes. My God, what are you doing?”

“Mmm? Exploring.” He leaned forward, and once more began at her neck and trailed to her waistband, melting her inside and causing her to suck in her breath till she thought she would pop like an over-inflated balloon.

“And tasting,” he added. “So far I like it, by the way.”

My God, that was his tongue! She breathed, deliberately, then did it again, before saying, “Thank you.” It seemed more ladylike than demanding he repeat his action, immediately.
 

Book Cook

Senior Member
He runs his hands up her smooth sides -- she gives a tiny jump at his initial touch -- and beneath the inside-out shirt. He stretches the fabric and lifts. Her head pops free. She's laughing in little out-of-breath gasps. Her bra is plain white cotton. He holds her by the waist and kisses between her breasts as she unbuckles his belt and pops the button on his slacks.


@Emma -- This excerpt is grammatically correct. And it seems it is from "Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King.


 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
What in the hell is wrong with: his finger left a trail of fire on her thigh?
It's poetic, though a tad overwritten, in my opinion. The main problem with it, though: crack open a dozen or so Romance/Erotica novels, and you'll likely see this exact wording (or at least similar wording) in many of those books.

Everywhere I look, it seems: incendiary fingers caressing trembling thighs. :D

Jay Greenstein said:
What's wrong with, the warmth of his touch on her thigh made thought impossible?
To be nitpick-y: Don't tell me his touch made her thought impossible; show me her struggling to think. :encouragement:

Jay Greenstein said:
We deal in emotion not fact. We're trying to make our readers experience the scene in real-time as the protagonist.
Personally, I agree with you, being a fan of Swain's teachings myself. But I also believe there's more than one way to skin a cat. One of my favorite things about fiction is the varying ways in which authors express themselves.

If we all wrote with the same logic, the same styles, and/or the same rhythms, everything would blend together into one homogenous blob, and the thrill of reading (for me, anyway) would be gone.

Jay Greenstein said:
For a moment they remained that way, she trying to breathe calmly, while the voice of Miss Caution shouted, What in the hell are you doing? Then his hands touched her back, sending a shiver through her body. He trailed gentle fingertips from nape to crease, sending electric shocks through her that were like nothing she’d ever known. In response, Miss Caution whispered a quiet Oh-my-God, in defeat, and vanished.
I enjoyed the personification of her anxiety/concern there. Miss Caution's voice ringing in her mind. Good stuff.

Jay Greenstein said:
melting her inside and causing her to suck in her breath till she thought she would pop like an over-inflated balloon.
Just want to point out: here, you can omit "causing her to." Simply say she sucked in her breath. The reader will appreciate seeing the cause and effect—no explanation needed.

Actually, I find writers rarely, if ever, need the word "causing" at all—at least in this kind of usage.

He lost his grip, causing the hammer to fall.
Can be rewritten as: He lost his grip, and the hammer fell.

She flipped her purse over, causing the contents to spill out across the table.
Can be rewritten as: She flipped her purse over. The contents spilled out across the table.

And so on. :encouragement:
 
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Jay Greenstein

Senior Member
The main problem with it, though: crack open a dozen or so Romance/Erotica novels, and you'll likely see this exact wording (or at least similar wording) in many of those books.
And we wouldn't want a romantic scene sound like a...uhh...romantic scene. :unconscious:
 
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