Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sex and The Story

Debby, rambling on the sex topic. It takes a lot to get me to stamp my foot. I know, Rick, you were just making a point, but it got me thinking that perhaps I should stamp more often. My initial reaction to someone telling me to add a graphic sex scene to my novel would probably be contemplative. Who asked, and why—that kind of stuff. And if I thought it would enhance the story, I’d do it. Within my own limits and tastes, of course.

I’m going to go off on a tangent, which should (I think) lead back to sex. How much do you find your writing is a process of self-discovery? What pushes your buttons? All our tastes differ somewhat, but we all have to make some decisions and discoveries about our personal limits. This has to spill over into our work, doesn’t it?

For example, our characters need to be pushed to commit to a course of action. Sacrifices are made, just like in real life. It’s hard to control other people, so what deeds galvanize others to make choices? Why do some women stay in bad marriages, and others, in similar situations, escape and then go on to exact a variety of paybacks? What children rebel against their parents and why? And how? Who kills and why—and what are the repercussions of the act? And do we read to discover what possibilities are out there?

Which leads back to sex, hooray. I squirm when scenes get so graphic that I could be reading a medical text. Emotional impact is more exciting than the physical parts. All the authors whose sex scenes I admire focus on longing, loss, striving, hope, joy, and fear. It’s what makes me care about the people in the story.

It’s been a long time, and I need to go back and reread, but I always thought Hemingway did a great job with sex. Though some of them were anti-sex scenes, and the more I thought about them, the more interesting I found the writing. Diana Gabaldon does good sex scenes, too. She makes readers long for relationships like the ones her characters have. Isn’t that part of the attraction for romance stories?

Same with violence—if there’s a long and vivid description of blood, body parts, and gore, it better have a direct bearing on the story. Real life probably gives the worst examples possible, and real perpetrators’ actions may have no anchor in reality, but I don’t think that gives us good fiction. A writer friend once pointed out to me that there’s a big difference between truth and believability.

Which reminds me of a story. I was on a panel a week or two ago at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival with a U.S. Treasury Agent, an investigative reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser, and a true-crime author. The reporter talked about an unsolved murder that happened years ago, and how local law enforcement has kept the head of the victim frozen for future analysis. Meanwhile, they charge the victim’s father a monthly storage fee. Could you put that in a story?

Which reminds me of Charles’s wonderful Moliere quote (see comments). And my figurative foot stamping. Are we allowed to say, “Oops, that was a mistake.”? Especially when priorities change, let alone perceptions of reality. And truth. Oh, and justice—did I mention that? Oh hell, just give me a good story.


NL Gassert said...

I was asked to expand a violent scene in my first book. I knew submitting the book that I had shortchanged a somewhat critical scene because I was personally uncomfortable with family violence. Of course, my editor spotted the problem. He knew it would be important to show what happened and not gloss it over. I had a difficult time writing the scene, I think I cringed the entire time I worked on it, but in this particular case, less wasn’t more.

suszen said...

Good to read about this article and even I am asking you to expand a violent scene in my first book.