Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sex in Novels: Your Thoughts

Yeah, I could have chosen a sexier title for today's post, but I'm putting all my creativity elsewhere right now. And not just into finding pictures like the one on the left!

In my last round of online reviews for On Falcon's Wings, I noticed several readers chiming in about the amount of sex in the novel. I have never really thought that I write truly detailed or even provocative sex scenes; they do nothing for me. One of my best writer buddies has always said she finds them tasteful. Is she lying to me? Fess up, writing bud; you know who you are. However, another writerly friend does love scenes that leave me needing a cigarette afterward. And I don't even smoke.

When there is a romance involved in the storytelling, I like to include lots of sexual tension, whether between the estranged lovers as in this book, or the couple in a pre-arranged marriage who will become passionate lovers, as in Sultana. My approach to including sex in any novel is never to be gratuitous or to write scenes according a specific formula, as in, "And they should have sex for the first time on page 163."

Also, while I write historical novels, some people assume that they are historical romance because of the interactions between my protagonists. Nothing against historical romance; I cut my proverbial reading teeth on the likes of Heather Graham, Johannna Lindsey, Betrice Small, but uh, I don't write historical romance. My characters always have rocky starts as in historical romance, but a happy ending is never certain. When my characters fall in love, I make them work for it. Sorry, but I do love to torture my creations. Makes the ending much more fulfilling or perhaps bittersweet, but more importantly, I want readers to feel all the difficulties have been worthwhile.

To me, detailing sex in a novel should be the natural outcome of the intense relationships that have been built in the preceding pages. Love scenes, like any other scene, should feel natural. It should make perfect sense that the characters would find themselves together in such a way. While I understand that some readers shy away from the details, if I've spent all that time building up the tension, showing the budding love as it evolves between two characters, should I really just close the door on the sex scene to follow? As a reader, I'd feel cheated of something if a writer did that me. But what do I know?

So, you tell me. Feel free to leave your comments, or if you don't want to go into detail, just take the poll below.     

Do you read detailed sex scenes in novels?


ann simon said...

Fist, I thought you had just the right about of sexual detail in Sultana. That is, it never stopped the flow of the story, and it did add to the character development. In my own writing, I have very little sexual detail. Love scenes for me are on more of a 1950s-movie level: lots of inuendo, much left to the imagination. I think any sex scene I wrote would be contrived because I would be uncomfortable with it. Can I put the words together? Of course. In my own book, would it add to the character development? No.

Alison said...

My vote was "Depends on the level of detail" but it should be, Depends on the level of interest I have in the couple. Which, in Sultana, was a LOT - because of what you described in the blog - Fatima and her husband had to work for that love. I grew to care about them both. They were flawed characters. They were real to me. So, I cared about their love life.

Lisa Yarde said...

Ann, Alison, thanks for the feedback.

I agree with you, Ann; a lot the emotion conveyed in a love scene has to do with the author's own comfort level. Especially with the words. I cringe at the more crude words used in erotica (yes, I may swear like a sailor at times, but even I won't say certain words) but even the right word sounds too technical. I find it easier to focus on emotional responses, not what goes where.

Alison, thanks for what you said about Fatima and Faraj. I spent a lot of time building them up to that great love affair, which, of course I am now shredding to bloody pulp in the sequel. Again, it's about building up to the scene - if I didn't try to do a good job of showing how their love grows, it probably wouldn't matter for the next book that it all falls to pieces. This is why I love writing. Love it!

Lisa Yarde said...

Forgot to add that I did stop reading a lot of hist romance because of how two authors handled sex details.

Waaay back in the early 90s, one author built up the sexual tension to the point where the hero explicitly raped the heroine! No, I'm not kidding; this was the tail end of the "rape as seduction" days in romance. That scene stopped me from ever reading anything of hers again. The other author I stopped reading because there were only so many times a woman, or her daughter or daughters in-law could end up in detailed, bizarre sex positions in a harem. So, lest anyone think I don't understand the reaction to detailed sex, it's not true.

S.L. Stevens said...

I voted that it depends on the detail. I don't mind if it's tasteful. But at the same time I don't want it to take over the book.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks, Sam, I'm aware of one that was billed as a historical for my review group, but was really erotica.

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