All across the country, people are asking, "Why didn't Scooter Libby take Susie Bright's erotic writing advice before he wrote his dirty novel?"
I know, I know— the damage is done. Now when The New Yorker reviews his torrid oeuvre, they can be cruel:
While one critic deemed [Libby's] The Apprentice reminiscent of Rembrandt, certain passages can better be described as reminiscent of Penthouse Forum.
Ouch. That was so unnecessary. I'm listed, after all. When you're the Vice President's Chief of Staff, don't you owe it to yourself to have the very best counsel?
To start with, Scooter could use a good spanking with a hardcover edition of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. His most grievous challenge lies in composition and command of the English language.
We should've smelled a rat when Libby first wrote that note to Judy Miller that sounded like a Harlequin blurb:
Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work— and life.
I have to admit, that caught my attention. Those lines are near lavender with Bronté-itis. I thought, "Those two must be carrying on a platonic infatuation— if they were fucking, he wouldn't be this overt. Either that, or the man is in love with the sound of his own voice."
Well, if you can't get a decent book doctor the first time 'round, you can always learn from your mistakes. Let's do a "clinic" on where Scooter went wrong. I'm going to use my book, How to Write a Dirty Story, as our textbook.
He could feel her heart beneath his hands. He moved his hands slowly lower still and she arched her back to help him and her lower leg came against his. He held her breasts in his hands. Oddly, he thought, the lower one might be larger. . . . One of her breasts now hung loosely in his hand near his face and he knew not how best to touch her.
This passage violates one of my cardinal rules, outlined on p. 130 of HTWDS:
Love Scenes Are Not Operating Instructions
Erotic scenes are acts of passion. You don't want to reduce body parts to a running diagram of measurements and traffic signals:
"Licking my way three inches up her left knee, I felt her ejaculate splatter my right cheek."
This unerotic attention to the wrong details is what is known as "mechanical" sex writing, and you want to rid yourself of the neurosis at its first showing.
Lesson Number Two (p. 83):
A Great Erotic Story Never Succumbs to Clichés
So much nonsense is circulated about what is "sexy," that writers will often hide their own preferences behind superficial hype, or resort to genre chestnuts that are worn to the nub.
Treacly romances marketed to the female audience are a popular erotic disaster area, closely followed by literary lechery— the leering expectation that, by simply repeating a woman's measurements over and over again, some orgasmic effect will be achieved.
The fact is, most tits-and-ass storytellers (aside from a few true lingerie fetishists) are a bunch of prudes. They love to scream "big tits" in a crowded theater, but you'll never find them actually doing it in a dark matinee.
Sound like someone we know?
I place a lot of the blame at the hands of Libby's editors. What were they thinking? Did he threaten to put them on an Enemies List if they corrected a single typo? Many of his novel's errors are outrageous.
He could feel her heart beneath his hands. Cliché. Every one must be removed. Clichés can only used at the ecstatic height of a novel's climax, when you have the reader by the short hairs. That's a very small window.
He moved his hands slowly lower still and she arched her back to help him and her lower leg came against his. Two 'Lower's' in one dreadful run-on sentence? No way. Plus that awful 'arched back' cliché. You don't end sentences with 'against his,' or any other prepositional phrase, more than once a year. Scooter is advised to read Hemingway, and repeat after me: SUBJECT. VERB. OBJECT.
He held her breasts in his hands.The most clear, arousing sentence in the entire book. Look at the structure— No adverbs, no bullshit, a clear action and presence. This is how the Anglo-Saxon language works.
Oddly, he thought, the lower one might be larger... Huh? Breasts don't hang one on top of the other. Don't confuse us; you're supposed to be building a climax.
One of her breasts now hung loosely in
his hand near his face and he knew not how best to touch her. Rewrite!! The woman's poor breast sounds like liver on a meat hook— and then we're subjected to his stab at Olde English!
What the fuck? Is this what Libby plans to say at the indictment trial: "I'm afraid, Mr. Fitzgerald, I know not how to answer your question."
Scooter's novel is riddled with sins. Run-on sentences, exhausting exposition, and a refusal to use dialog when it should have been required. It's interesting how people's writing styles reflect on their character, isn't it?
I have a "good writing begets good character" theory. People who learn to write well commit themselves to the truth, to a fair appraisal. It is the most bracing mirror. You must have honor and humility to be convincing— but you have to put the story and its characters above your own petty interests. You have to serve the truth; serve the narrative with integrity and realism. If you can live as well as your best prose, you have something to be proud of.
Hey, I just used my ending-propositional-phrase for the year! It was worth it.