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05:42 pm: Racy or Sweet?
The age-old conundrum of how much sex include in one’s writing raises its head again as I prepare to dive into the new series.
 
The issue never came up in the Prospero Books. Miranda needs to be a virgin to maintain her power. So, I was able to ignore the whole issue (though there are a few disgusting descriptions in Hell that I wonder, from time to time, if I should tone down a bit.)
 
The current project has no such safety valve, as many of the characters will marry/go to bed with/have children with many of the other characters, many of the scenes would naturally take place in the bedroom.
 
Personally, I don’t mind sex scenes, if they are an integral part of the story (not gratuitous). They are not often done what I think of as ‘right’ (any sex scene I have to flip past because I’m bored isn’t done right,) but when they are, I enjoy them. And I like writing sex scenes because, sadly, I have discovered I am good at them. However, talent is not necessarily a justification. If a fellow discovered he had a talent for thievery or slitting throats, I would not want him to make use of it!
 
To date, I have never written an erotic scene that I showed to anyone except my husband. This seemed proper to me. I wouldn’t do that stuff with anyone but my husband, so I shouldn’t take about it in such a graphic fashion with anyone else either.
 
At one point, I thought about trying to publish erotica, but I decided against this. My main thought here was that to be good erotica, a story must push taboo limits. Well, there is no taboo left out there nowadays that I would want to contribute to pushing! I don’t mind telling my husband a story about something that’s rather risqué, but I would not want one person out there to think that something that is now forbidden is okay because I made it appealing in a story!

So, detailed, explicit erotica is out.

On the other hand, I have run sex scenes in roleplaying games for friends. As a rule, the scene was not explicit; the emotional reactions rather than the actual events being described. (“She seems very pleased with you” or “He doesn’t seem to really be paying attention to you,” kind of thing.)

But, for a good romance, there has to be at least a bit of specific description because a large part of the drama comes in how far the girl allows the man to go, and it is hard to describe this without specific descriptions of the part of the body that has been accosted. (as in “His hand slid onto her bare knee. She jumped, alarmed.”)
 
So, the question comes, how specific should I be in the books?
 
Pro and Con:
 
On one hand, we are talking about a series called THE CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN; so theoretically, I should be able to get away with a lot. Also, modern fantasy seems to have a lot of graphic sex, so up until about a year ago, I had been looking forward to writing quite a few graphic sex scenes.
 
But a number of things have happened in the last year to make me think that even though sex sells, and is currently popular, it also restricts readership. One begins to lose more descent readers, younger readers, etc.
 
Also, I’ve realized that scenes that seem perfectly cute when read by a decent mind can seem quite tawdry if interpreted outside their proper context. It’s been quite instructive to see how people have reacted to some of the scenes in John’s Chaos books…which ones they took to be offensive and how much of the offensive parts they included verbatim in their reviews.
 
So, I thought I might scale back the amount of sex  in the series…to imply rather than describe scene where the particulars of the encounter were not important to the plot
 
But, now I wonder if this is enough. Should I try to cut out sex scenes entirely? Shall I make them poetic rather than explicit?  I’m just not sure.
 
I thought of leaving out sex all together, but that I don’t think that will work. There is just too much that happens in bedroom scenes, and too much of the story is about the characters trying to decide their standards (how far to go…in a variety of areas of life) for that to make sense. (After all, what is the point of having the characters struggle to resist corruption if no one is corrupting them?)
 
Besides, I like such scenes if they are done right. So where to draw the line?  
 
Guess I’ll have to pray about it.
 


(Ironically, John wrote a similar subject today: ) 


Comments

From:automatthew
Date:July 5th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
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You could do as Neal Stephenson does: describe the scenes explicitly, but make them so icky that no one could possibly titillated.
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 5th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)

icky

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Well...that is a very good description of what a dearly hope NOT to do...

Guess, we can put that at the 'far side' so to speak.
From:secularhermites
Date:July 6th, 2007 12:41 am (UTC)
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I vote for poetic, implied or veiled :)
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From:starshipcat
Date:July 6th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
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Count me in as a second vote.

I remember a song I often heard and enjoyed as a young child, in my childish innocence, understanding only the literal meanings of the words. Being of a sf/fantasy bent, I understood the fireworks in afternoon as being visible because they were magical in some way.

Imagine my astonishment when, many years later, a friend clued me in to the fact that the song is actually a poetic description of a couple having sex. Now that I'm a happily married woman, I can listen closely to it and understand each of the metaphors. Nowhere does it become crude, but yes, it is a profoundly erotic song -- far more so for me than any of the crude descriptions of casual intercourse with "ho's" I hear booming from far too many stereos in cars I pass. Those either turn my stomach or get my back up.
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 6th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)

Fireworks in the afternoon

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That is neat! I suspect that level of subtlety is beyond my skill in a novel, but I like the idea, the mood implied.

I'll have to mull over that.
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From:catholicteacher
Date:July 6th, 2007 07:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Fireworks in the afternoon

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I have dealt with this, (in the context of music,) off and on as a teacher. It is not so much the matter that is unsatisfactory but the presentation. Contemprorary hip-hop, for example, has vulgar language and is very dehumanizing in its manner of describing human relations and relationships. The crooners, big band music, and the hit parade had songs about love and anticipation, and never left the beloved out of the picture.

There is also something to be said for poetry and implication. Entendre is really candy for the witty. I caught myself while writing the statement above and realized that DON GIOVANI is an excellent support for some of the arguments porvided above rather what I have said here. Don Juan is famously dehumanizing, but Mozart managed to make the account of hundreds of lovers scandalous and ammusing at the same time. Don Giovani is proud of his conquests, cannot see women as people and believes himself so clever, but we disaprove of him even while we laugh at the song.
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From:catholicteacher
Date:July 7th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)

Re: Beyond your skill

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Jagi,
You have spent years refining your craft because you believe that it is a skill not a talent. You have learned how to identify issues of writing quality like making a believable male and how to tell when the effort is worth it to write like a woman or not. I am sure that you will tackle this question with the same keen analysis that you do all other aspects of you writing and work on it until you have developed the skill to your satisfaction.

My suggestions are to do research and pray, the way you always do. Good sources to research are old songs: Sinatra, opera, jazz, etc. and poetry. Read lots of love poetry: the Brownings, Shakespeare, Chaucer, specific Beaudelaire, you and carbonelle know who even better than I do.
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 7th, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Beyond your skill

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I've been working on that very problem this week. I bought some highlighters and have been going through some romances trying to identify exactly what it is that causes the Romantic Effect.

Previously, I discovered that knowing how to seduce a guy is not the same as knowing how to write it well. What does on in the head of the girl is not what makes the reader find the scene attractive.

So far, I've determined that arguing is good (I love arguing scenes) and that one must describe qualities about the hero that are qualities that seem attractive. But I think there is more to it I haven't figured out yet.

(Incidentally, most romance heroes are either Kestrel -- the cold brooding guy who is uninterested in women -- or Hyperion/Orlando -- men who have a million women and never take one seriously. I explained this to John who replied that he had not known this and just stumbled onto these architypes by chance. ;-)
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From:3secondfish
Date:July 6th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
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I third this. :)

It seems more clever to have a tiered meaning, like how all those Looney Tunes cartoons sound a lot more racy now that you're all grown up and understand the double-entendres. The more innocent readership will take the words at their romantic face value, and those so inclined can read a little more into what the characters are up to when they dash off-stage for some privacy. No need to "do it like they do on the Discovery Channel." :P

Can I add you to my friends list?
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 6th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
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>Can I add you to my friends list?

Oh, certainly!

I am reminded of the old Batman show. I laughed at it at age 5, but I knew my parents were laughing at stuff I couldn't understant.

This whole subject is interesting, because I really don't know what I'm going to decide. Most likely, I will reevaluate scene by scene.

I do know that I will not do anything nearly so graphic as I would have done before the Anita Blake books betrayed me, so to speak. ;-) And I know that there are some scenes that can be veered away from that will be.

The question is what to do with the many scenes that take place in bedrooms.

In the original roleplaying game that the books will be based on, one very important scene took place with the main character in her lingerie tied to a bed in a cabin in the middle of the wilderness somewhere. Nothing sexual happened. The main character was not scared. The characters talked and parted ways. (I don't recall if he eventually let her go, or she got out herself, but she had half a dozen ways of getting free in the long run, so it wasn't really an important point.)

Years ago, I would have thought this was a rather innocent scene. Having seen people's responses to John's Orphans of Chaos, however, I'm not not sure now if I want to put that scene in. On one hand, it really fits the situation, and I thought it made the speech the guy gave more poignant -- a speech that makes a big difference to the main character for the rest of her life. On the other hand, I've discovered that what seems rather innocent to me has all these darker overtones to others.

To put it slightly differently...if I could be assured of having the effect of a 1940's serial, I'd keep it...but the whole S&M movement seems to have perverted images that previously were merely amusingly provocative into something gross.

Difficult question.
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From:saintjoi
Date:July 6th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
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One of my favorite writers of all time, Madeleine L'Engle, discusses this in one of her books (I forget which one, but it's one of the non-fiction ones)

She made the interesting argument that the reason she doesn't really write sex scenes is because she finds it useless: if the reader hasn't had sex, no amount of description will be adequate; if the reader has had sex, they know what the author is talking about without much description at all.

I'm still not sure if this is entirely correct, but it was an interesting observation.
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 6th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
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That's very interesting.

Has anyone read the Kushiel's Dart books? I ask only because I've heard that while these are filled with bondage and dominance and submissive stuff, there is no actual sex and all the sex scenes stop at the bedroom door (so to speak.) I'm mildly curious about this...but not so curious as to want to read one.
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From:catholicteacher
Date:July 7th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)

J Carey's Kushiel books

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I have read the first trilogy and part of the first book in the following series, (I assume it will be a trilogy, most are.) Ms. Carey writes well. She is good at intrigue and has a very well devoloped world, history and culture. Her characterization is deep, thorough and consistent. Her female POV character is solid. You would probably find that she suffers the same deficiency as Jennifer Roberson in that you can tell her male characters are written by a woman. She has set up a very twisty, high-angst condition for her male hero in the new series. That said, her world in this series is ultra-sensualistic and the society encourages people to do whatever bizaro stuff floats thier boats as long as it's done in the name of love...which just goes to show how little people understand the difference between pleasure and love. When it comes to theme and content in her books, some will like it for the exact same reasons that others hate it and some people will like her books in spite of it.

Do not believe anyone who tells you that there is no real sex in these books. The first 150-200 pages of the series are a detailed account of the training and early career of a specialized prostitute/spy. It could be used as a fornication how-to manual for any so inclined. It seems to work because the reader is immersed in a fictional culture that treats this as immportant. All the characters and the prevailing culture treat sex as essential to the point where almost all the action in society revolves around the bedroom. Where you have certain bedroom scenes that are pivital to your plot, almost ALL of hers must be there. The main character is collecting information from clients during her appointments. Perhaps the reason someone gave you the impression that there are no real sex scenes is because the heroine's specialty is as a submissive: she has a supernatural ability to find sexual pleasure in pain, thus most of her clients are sadists and often don't actually have sex with her.

I liked the intrigue and adventure parts; she did that well. The sex scenes were frequent but not boring, however, I find that I don't really like spending so much of my time with people who think so much and so poorly* about sex. And her books are long, so you spend A LOT of time with the people in her books.

*I say the characters think poorly about sex because the psychologies and philosophies exercised in the books are weak and unhealthy. (I don't know if it is praise to the author or a quality of me as a reader that I found so much philosophy in the books available blto critique.)
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 7th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)

Re: J Carey's Kushiel books

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The comments that I had heard was that it was all about sex, but there was no actual sex described. The speaker was a guy. In retrospect, I suspect that he may have meant that it lacked some particular graphic quality that erotica might have that romances, even racy once lack. Not sure, though, as I did not question him in depths.

I have mixed feelings toward the Kusiel books. On one hand, I just feel I don't want to read them. They glorify something that should not be glorified. On the other hand, having once spent an entire year of my life playing (roleplaying) a courtesan, I kind of envy the author because I think it would be great fun to write such a book.

I may someday. If I find myself with time on my hands, I may write up the side story of my courtesan character -- and that book, of course, would be seeped in sex -- only because I thought the resolution of the story was so poignant and the lesson, in the long run, that her lifestyle was in fact miserable, so clear, that it would make a good story. But I will only do that series if, after praying a lot, it seems to me that it will have some moral value in the end. Otherwise, I'll merely feel slightly sad that all these other women are getting away with writing courtesan stories. ;-)
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From:catholicteacher
Date:July 7th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)

Re: J Carey's Kushiel books

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There are many well written books in the world. Don't feel like you are missing anything essential if you read these. I had far more free time when I read them and worked in a bookstore. I picked up a lot of stuff that I would not read now.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 6th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
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"Close the bedroom door", if you understand what I mean. Let the reader guess at the rest. For one thing, this approach has the advantage of ensuring that no reader is exposed to more or less than he already knows (as his imagination will supply the scene as needed). If there is some sort of important plot point that occurs during the proceedings, mention that, of course- but that doesn't mean we need to see more than that.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 7th, 2007 04:10 am (UTC)

YES!!

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This is something I was looking for a way to post over on John's blog, but got sidetracked.

One of the scariest moves I have ever seen is the first Alien movie. The funny thing is that after the little monster eats its way out of its host, it vanishes and isn't actually seen very much until the end. There are images of people turning corners and screaming - a double set of teeth and some drool - and then it cuts away. Terrified the life out of me in the theater! What I imagined happening was far worse than what a director would have put there. That rattled my cage for months and still sends shivers up my 43 year old spine when I think of the first time I saw it as a teen.

In the same way and only after I stopped reading any adult fiction for a good number of years, I discovered that my imagination is actually much more powerful than the words of any author in the romance/sex department. I began to appreciate its absence in the books I did allow myself to read. I learned that I will pour all the romance in my heart into the characters and have no need for graphic descriptions.

Thinking about it, I've never read a good book and said afterward, "Gee, if only it had more graphic sex scenes." But I have said to my husband numerous times (once I began reading adult & what now passes for youth fiction again), "This would have been a *great* book if the author hadn't spent so much time trying to make me feel like a peeping tom."

- Ave
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 7th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)

Re: YES!!

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That's something I think about a good deal. I notice that when the sex becomes too blatant, it makes me cring...not because of moral objections but because it stops being erotic and just seems crass...failing to produce the intended affect.

Implying can go so much farther than explicit!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 7th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)

Re: YES!!

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"Implying can go so much farther.."

Yes, like the people in the late 1960's who were terribly upset when they saw, before commercial break, Captain James T Kirk snogging a rather hot alien woman, and after commercial break saw him fully clothed, simply pulling one of his boots up while sitting on her bed. The audience didn't have to be shown anything! Their adult imaginations did the rest.

I was a baby at the time and only saw reruns, but my dad said that TV stations around the country received a good number of angry phone calls about that scene when it originally aired.

- Ave

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From:jordan179
Date:July 7th, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)

Re: YES!!

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The aspect of erotic love that it is best to be explicit about, if you wish to be explicit about it, are the emotions of the people involved. Act-by-act physical descriptions work as pornography but are otherwise jarring -- they slow down the story unless it's meant as porn. Note that it is possible (though not always necessary) to write a highly romantic, even erotic scene in which nobody does anything physical beyond hand-holding and meaningful looks, and I could point out some of the scenes I mean with a little research into Austen, Dickens or Trollope. Even when doing bedroom scenes, hinting can be more effective than explicit description, if you're doing romance or character development.
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From:carbonelle
Date:July 7th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)

"Hitchcocking" the Sex

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The ladies (and gentlemen?) who voted for using implication and tension (and perhaps a touch of misdirection) are on to something.

I would add that if you accurately convey what the characters are feeling, the actual gorey biological details are, even if done effectively, at best merely gilding the lily. At worst, they're part of what your husband called the "filthing down" of society. Speaking of which, I may just repost my "lies breathed through silver" essay--I think there's a good deal of fraud going on in these modern author's claims to realism.)

One of the sexiest books I've read recently are the vampire stories by Stephanie Meyer: Twilight and New Moon, and I can, with confidence, recommend these books to bright 8th-grade readers.

On the downside, I have read at least one editrix of a paranormal romance line state categorically that she won't touch submissions that lack ***cue outrageous French accent***"zhe haaht, haaht sex"***/French***.
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From:arhyalon
Date:July 8th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)

Re: "Hitchcocking" the Sex

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Interesting. I was on a panel at Balticon where the other members spent much of the time complaining about TWILIGHT. They were offended that a modern book would show a girl who waited to be rescued and was not allowed to be agressive in the romance.

I don't know anything else about the book, but I kept thinking that it was hardly a bad thing to tell girls not to make the first move.
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From:carbonelle
Date:July 9th, 2007 11:35 pm (UTC)

Re: "Hitchcocking" the Sex

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Heh.

That's not what the publishing numbers for the book read. I can't keep Twilight on on the shelves.
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