Friday, April 30, 2010

When Enough is Enough

I like writing sex scenes--really I do. However, that doesn't mean I think it's particularly easy to do. I know there are people who disagree, but at the risk of repeating myself again (because I know I've already said this several times before) I think it's a whole lot easier to write sex badly than well.  Which is why I was somewhat less than thrilled when one of my editors recently asked me to add and/or expand several sex scenes to my newly contracted book.

Not that I objected, exactly. The book had surprised me by turning out to be a lot more "sweet" than I'd originally intended. I'd written it to adhere to a very specific (and very short) word length, which meant I'd cut out or glossed over a lot more of the story than I would have otherwise. Since that word length limit no longer applied, I was actually pretty happy to be given the chance to rectify the oversights, to expand the book and delve a little deeper into the characters' motivations. But, after three rounds of edits, I think we all (me, my editor and even the characters) had reached our limits. To add even one more scene, at that point, would have been gratuitous. 

In real life, you could maybe get away with something like that. But fiction's not so forgiving. Gratuitous sex in fiction is just plain boring. And there ain't nuthin' sexy 'bout that. 

I am firmly of the opinion that sex, just like any other aspect of fiction, has to move the story forward in some fashion. If it doesn't, it probably doesn't belong in the book. Again, I know there are people who'd disagree with that statement...and I really wish they'd stop writing 'cause I've read some of their stories and they're boring as hell.  

It's not just a matter of numbers, either. There are some amazing books that seem at times to be almost wall to wall sex, but it totally works because that's how the characters interact with each other and you're shown something new about them in every scene. But then I've read other books where the h/h just stop and have sex at the most random places within the story and for no discernible purpose. Well, okay, I guess they sort of have a purpose, but it was by no means a good, solid,  plot-moving, character illuminating, relationship defining purpose. And those are really the only ones that count.   
So what about you? Where do you draw the line? What turns you off about sex in fiction? And, as a reader, what makes you say "enough is enough"?


Kelly Jamieson said...

I totally agree with you PG! I too have read those books that are just sex scenes strung together and they ARE boring. For me there has to be a lot of emotion involved - characters making themselves vulnerable and, as you say, learning something about themselves and each other and moving the relatinship to a different place.

Meg Benjamin said...

There's got to be some buildup, I think. If the characters just go at it because the author (or editor) decided it was time for a sex scene, that's enough to make me toss the book into the return stack. And if the sex scene actually slows the plot down (now? you're going to have sex now??), you just shake your head. Good post!

Debra St. John said...

It can't be all about the sex. There has to be some emotion involved. Some plot outside of the sex. I do like books with sex in them, but it has to be a logical part of the story and the couple's relationship, not just something thrown in for the heck of it!