Today’s guest post is brought to us by Gillian Harrison, formerly of writing blog Ink Paper Pen. Gill asks the serious question, just how do you write about sex and death, those topics we normally like to keep beneath the sheets?
“The woman was last seen standing on the Perth City platform, talking to a man dressed in blue. Ten minutes later she lay dead on the track, hit by the 6am train to Fremantle.”
Our writing prompt is shoved along with a series of questions: Who is the man dressed in blue? A lover? Why did she not see the train coming? Did she see the train coming? How will you tell the story? Third Person? First Person Intrusion?
The timer is set at fifteen minutes. Ready, set, write…
WB Yeats once said that only two subjects are of interest to the serious mind: sex and death. This writing prompt serves up both; death with a hint of sex. But my pen hovers above a blank page and I wonder – where is my (serious) mind?
I don’t think about the real woman, the one that died this very morning, less than a kilometre from where we now write. Unconcerned with the truth and fueled by Arnotts assorted biscuits, we speculate, we create fiction from reality because this is what writers do.
This is what writers try to do.
I stumble along my writing journey at the best of times but now the path is foggy. Death has darkened the road ahead and sex is a damn big pothole.
This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled on sex and death. Two weeks ago, I sensed a character’s need for a bit of bedroom action. But I pushed the sex scene away. If you should ever need an excuse, “I’ve got a headache” works as well for not writing about sex as it does for not having sex.
But I’m getting it… Good writing holds a mirror up to the world and the best writers stare beyond the reflection. Ignore the death and sex and the reflection lacks life’s richness.
So how do I get serious with Yeat’s subjects? How do I write Big?
“Research!” scream the creative writing guides. Research marks the difference between the bare scaffolding of an idea and the finished product. But how far do I go? Especially when it comes to sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Years ago, while living in Edinburgh, a particularly gruesome murder hit the headlines. First on the scene, before detectives, medical crews and news reporters arrived UK crime writer, Ian Rankin. Apparently, Rankin haunts the scenes of real life crimes regularly. Research like this comes with the job. Makes sense, right?
I know writers live the life they write. Charles Bukowski composed novels through a drunken daze. Henry Miller combined fiction with his real life sexual exploits. But whiskey, promiscuity and police tape doesn’t gel well with the life of a part-time working, mother of two children under five. Fitting in a weekly Yoga class and a load of hand washing is challenging enough.
Like anything I suspect the answer lies in “just doing it”. Just write it. Create it. And, just read it too. Read what scares you. John Irving, author of The Cider House Rules says “reading [Melville] encouraged me to write about what I most feared, or what I hope never happens to me or anyone I love.”
Death. Sex. Childbirth (The Guardian’s Alison Mercer adds Childbirth to Yeat’s Serious List.). I’m not afraid, but I am ripe. Beyond being the blood and guts of your writing, the Big Stuff breathes life into literature, it dirties your story up.
I am ready to get dirty. I just need to figure out how.
Do you write about life’s messy stuff, normally hidden beneath a sheet? How?