I’ve just joined Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, and fortunately just in time to do a ‘first Wednesday’ posting. Check the link for details on this group, and how to join.
I got the idea for this post from Jacqui Murray’s posting on writing about love. The hang-up for me is writing about the physical manifestation of love, or to put it mildly, sex. This is a problem, really, because I do a mystery series about an unmarried private detective who has a live-in girlfriend, who also happens to be relatively attractive to the opposite sex.
There are, therefore, times and scenes when sex would be appropriate, but whenever I come to one of those points in a story, my fingers seem to freeze. I’m not a prude, I’ll have you know. But, I do have some regular readers who I know would be shocked, and perhaps even offended, if my finger should slip and I became too graphic.
I’ve wrestled with this problem over 17 books in the series; on occasion straying a bit into the slightly detailed description of the act, sometimes just alluding to it with euphemistic language, and sometimes having an entire story without one amorous encounter.
After a long time of experimenting, I’ve finally hit on a way to handle the delicate aspects of relations between characters in my stories; one that I hope works. Firstly, I don’t include a sex scene in a story unless it is germane to the particular story; either to show the developing relationship between characters, or is somehow related to the events of the story. An example of the last is, a character’s motive for murder might be that the victim once sexually assaulted, jilted, or cheated on her.
Once I’ve decided that sex should be a part of the story, the next challenge is how to handle it. Unless you’re writing a romance or porn novel, a blow-by-blow description is, in my view, inappropriate. I find, rather, that a description of the actions characters take in the early stage of a seduction (conversation, eye contact, etc.) sets the scene, and when the characters finally head for the bedroom, like the old movies from the 1950s, you can fade the scene out – most readers will know what’s coming next. This has the added benefit of allowing readers to use their imaginations, which is a plus for your writing.
This way of handling physical relations might not work for everyone. I have to confess that I’m of a generation that grew up in a more inhibited era than kids of today, so my way is comfortable for me. If you happen to be the bodice-ripping, bosom-heaving type who loves to write long, steamy encounters that are the mainstay of romance novels, more power to you.
As for me, excuse me while I turn out the lights. I’ll see you in the morning. (lap dissolve to crashing waves, then fade to black)