Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How much is too much?

Blechta at the controls.

I will be attending the Bloody Words conference here in Toronto in just a few weeks and the panel I've been assigned to is "Sex and Violence". You know where this panel is going to go right away, hence the title of this week's blog entry.

With Type M's earlier discussion about James Patterson, we've already delved into the topic of violence. Most of us seemed to feel that his writing went too close to (and probably over) the edge.

But what about sex in crime fiction stories?

My feeling with both sex and violence in any story is that what the writer puts in must be true to the paradigms that are set up in the beginning of the story. It would be pretty hard to swallow if an ax murderer walked into an English garden party and began hacking up the guests. That wouldn't be the case if the story was about a crack house in the Bronx.

I'll get off the fence right now and say that I find a bit of sex in a book to be quite, um, titillating -- but again, it has to be true to the story's set up.

I've tried to do this in my own writing. Some of my books have rather explicit sex and with others it's pretty much "Let's just draw the curtains here; you all know what's going to happen".

The reasons for this are the characters themselves. Some of them would tell you all about it. That's the way they are; maybe a bit in your face sometimes, but the sorts of persons who would tell you all about their latest conquest. Other characters are much more private, and while they wouldn't lie to you about getting it on with someone, they certainly wouldn't give you the "gory details", either. At best, they'd feel it was none of your business. At worst, they'd be too embarrassed.

Just like real people (hopefully).

Now, I expect a full and frank discussion from everyone reading this entry. If nothing else, I would like to collect your thoughts to share with those participating in and attending the panel I'm on.

(By the way, why don't you take this opportunity to join us? Visit for more info! Vicki Delany will also be attending.)

Thanks for wading in!


Vicki Delany said...

I considered writing a romance novel at some point. My eldest daughter's face crinkled up in disgust and she said "I'm not going to read a sex scene written by my mother!" And that was the end of that. Know your audience, I guess.

Rick Blechta said...

Oh come on, Vicki! Of course any child is going to say that of their parent.

But what do you think of my question? How do your tastes run? How far should the envelope be pushed, in what you write, in what you read?

Those are the things I'd like to find out for my panel!

Charles benoit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles benoit said...

Thanks Rick! I wasn't sure what I was going to write about and now I know.

Donis Casey said...

I absolutely agree that it all depends on the tone of the book and the character(s) therein. I always put quite a bit of sex into my earlier (unpublished) books - and it's always interesting to try and be specific, a bit titillating, as you said, natural, and yet not pornographic. Specific sex would be jarring in the Edwardian era family-oriented series I'm doing now. It would seem unnatural to write a sexless gritty, noir book though, wouldn't it?

Donis Casey said...

P.S. I wouldn't care to read a sex scene written by my mother. Or my daughter, either! My sister might be able to show me a thing or two, however.

Rick Blechta said...

One more thing I'd like to add:

Why is it that violence seems to be more acceptable to what seems to be the majority of people?

Or am I just imagining that based on television, the movies and many books

NL Gassert said...

Sex (like violence) has its place. I think it’s a wonderful “show don’t tell” tool, because it’s so very personal for our characters. But the how and why of it needs to fit within the framework of the book and characters (era, atmosphere/mood, genre, plot, etc.).

I enjoy a well done sex scene if it is correctly placed. (And I have a lot of fun writing them.)

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Rick, movie ratings make a person think violence is more acceptable than sex, that's for sure. I find the ratings to be pretty fluid, but male frontal nudity still gets a movie an R, doesn't it? And I'd sure rather have my kids see a naked guy than see a clothed one blown to pieces. This is a moot point now, because my sons are at the stage where they wouldn't read any sex scene I wrote.

Rick Blechta said...


Apparently there is a law on the books in the States that says it is illegal to show a mail erection that's more than 45 degrees up! Obviously, this is completely ignored by the porn industry (My wife assures me she's seen erections that are well above even 60 degrees!)

In any event, the movie industry and lawmakers have seemingly has decided that male penis' are not to be shown on screen unless you immediately want an "X" rating. Female genitalia is another matter since I've seen that (although the camera doesn't dwell on it) in many R movies. Male buns seem to be quite acceptible even in PG movies.

But I'm with you on the fact that blowing people to smithereens is more than acceptible, while sex is verbotten!

Movies generally treat extreme violence in much the same way as cozies treat murder: it's basically something that's glossed over.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Say, has anyone been watching the cable TV show "Huff"? Speaking of male nudity, romance, sex, conflict, mystery, etc...The show is excellent. It's about an affable, sympathetic psychiatrist and his family, which has its troubles. I don't watch much TV, but got onto this via a friend's recommendation. We get the episodes through Netflix.

Charles benoit said...

We accept more violence in our books than sex because it's fiction and we read fiction to take us to places we don't know. In real life, few of us (hopefully) encounter extreme violence any time in our lives - how many dead bodies have YOU discovered? But most, probably all, engage in some form of sex on a regular basis. And no description of sex is ever as good as the real thing.