Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sexual Hangups


I'ver heard it said that if sex enters a relationship too early all other important developments in that relationship come to a screeching halt, a rubber-burning, ten yards of B.F Goodrich on the pavement, halt.

Consumed by consumation, the couple never explore those necessary and vital questions such as: does he put the seat down, how he puts on a roll of toilet paper, whether she can boil water, or will she look like her mother in ten years.

Even less important items such as politics, religion, the screwy uncle in the local asylum, four previous children by different mothers, his IRS file, her rap sheet, the unexplained deaths in her family, or that room she is forbidden to enter, seem to get ignored.

Because of sex.

Being of a chaste and Victorian mind-set and with limited experience, I'm only going by hearsay, of course.

However, I've found an inconvenient parallel in my latest book which leads me to believe the idle wisdom of this prohibitory warning has basis in fact.

Of course I never wrote about real sex before - previous efforts along the novel line, those pages stuffed - not under the bed - but in some box in the attic - were pristine of any truly carnal activity.
Suggestive, maybe, but certainly not en flagrante. Oh no, not at all.

And the plot behaved in those books. I was able to take the characters by the scruff of their necks and they stuck to their knitting - so to speak.

Now, you may know that in this Damie Tempest series, my plot is predicated along three lines: forays into the past, present day danger, and the developing relationship between Damie and John - both who have baggage.

Believe me, there are a lot of nuances to be explored between them, some unexpected and non-conventional nuances.
They are mature people.
Some things can't be healed - they can only be accommodated and negotiated. The pair of them are not adjustible twenty-somethings.

And here, at the beginning of Book Three, all the two of them want to do is leap into bed, bushes or any convenient and not necessarily horizontal surface and have at it.

Terrorists? All he can think about is...
Time slips? All she can think about is...

I must take a firm hand here or the plot is going to disintegrate into pure porn.

BTW: a really good essay on writing sex can be found at Knight Errant.

34 comments:

Savannah Jordan said...

Sex. I never thought I would write it. Honestly. Look at me now. *puts down mirror in shame*

The consumate act can enrich the characters, the story, bead sweat upon your reader's brow, but IMHO it should never over take the plot.

No matter how badly the characters want it. Not everybody get's what they want. And, "Some things can't be healed..."

Bernita said...

~sniggers~
Am going to have to be stern with them, Savannah, I know.

Erik Ivan James said...

I agree with Savannah that sex should "never take over the plot". However, sex can certainly be used as a strong catalyst to plot development or, maybe more importantly, the plot's direction.
You've said a bunch of reasons here in your post.

Bernita said...

That's very true, Erik.
Sex should be more than a scene inserted along the lines of "Hokay, we did missionary, next time it will be her on top" sort of thing.
Sex should reflect a growing relationship and uncover attitudes, back story, foreshadowing, all sorts of things.

Dennie McDonald said...

Welcome to this side of the bed post B -

:-)

Carla said...

May be no bad thing from a marketing point of view anyway. Isn't erotica supposed to be the latest trend?

If you think the sex scenes are starting to overwhelm the plot, have you tried writing them anyway - let the characters have their way all they like - and then cutting the scenes out of the final draft? Or drastically reducing the amount of detail? (The reader will likely fill in the rest, if they're involved with the story and characters). Dorothy Dunnett's 'sex scenes' in King Hereafter consist of two or three sentences or a snatch of dialogue but convey worlds about Thorfinn and Groa and their relationship. That way all the relationship building, character development etc stays in because you've written all the scenes and explored it, but the final result can't be accused of being porn. Not that I expect yours would be, in any case.
Just a thought.

Bernita said...

A very useful thought, Carla. Thank you.
Steaming pages were clogging up my monitor. That would certainly help clear the condensation.

~sigh~
If it were only bedposts, Dennie, it might restrict them, unfortunately...

archer said...

if sex enters a relationship too early all other important developments in that relationship come to a screeching halt

Look, babe, that is just SOOOOO not true. A man and a woman have got to, you know, like, get to KNOW each other that way as soon as possible 'cause otherwise, it's like, the gorilla in the room that gets in the way of a REAL relationship.

Bernita said...

Um, Archer...very studly POV...but I HAVE heard that line before...

Dennie McDonald said...

Just the other day a fellow writer told me of a line (Sorry I cannot find the e-mail and cannot remember who it was) that is looking for just sex - they didn't care about the plot - I think perfered there wasn't one. And I know another publisher that wants absolutley no sex ...

Just write what you write and you can always find a place for it after. I know some people write with a target in mind - I just write the story and worry about the other stuff later (but we have discussed before the fact that I am weird!)

kmfrontain said...

Sorry, Archer, got to disagree there. The gorilla got in the way of my having a true life partner on more occasions than I can count, but with my second husband, who is my current one, we waited until after marriage, and we were both of us over thirty, both experienced, and both committed to learning who each of us were as people. And that was twelve and a half years ago. I still like him as a person, still love him as a man, and the sex is still damned good. And I believe it's because we made it clear that sex was secondary to every other common ground we had in the relationship.

Studies have already proven that most relationships go flat after three to four years because the hormones from the "gorilla" just sort of fizzle away. The sexual freedom of our modern society has proven that relationship staying power doesn't come from sex, as born out by the divorce rate. So the gorilla should be ignored, ignored, ignored, if you don't have a handle on who you are as a person, or what you ultimately need to be happy.

And Bernita, that's why the Victorian attitude of going into marriage without experience and knowledge sucked, because a woman really didn't get to know what she wanted and liked before she was expected to love, honour, and obey.

And I never made that vow, btw. Love and honour, yes. Obey, no. Discuss, yes. Blind obedience, f--- off. ;-)

But back to writing, I agree that plot takes precedence over sexual content. Always. That said, I also know that the erotica market wants a lot of sexual content, and some of it has plot that can be described as just a basic scenario for sex to take place in. Some of it is pure stroke fiction, but couched in a lot of love and hope for a relationship with a lot of future staying power (despite the randy gorilla). Personally, I don't like reading the stroke fiction types. I go for plot every time, because it makes the sex more erotic, and plot, therefore, is always about those things that truly make or break a relationship. It's hardly ever just because of sex.

Bernita said...

Not weird at all, Dennie.
Sex is a natural and inevitable part of this plot.
I just have to avoid a totally sensual bonk-fest - which might get old pretty quick.

Bernita said...

Thank you, KM!
As always, you bring an acute perception and keen analysis to a discussion.
When I refer to a Victorian mind-set, though,especially regarding myself, I'm thinking in terms of Miss Marple, ie. a mind like a sink - not shocked or surprised by anything humans do.

kmfrontain said...

Oh, that mindset. Very good. Stand corrected. :D

Robyn said...

It seems to me that sex scenes in most romances are there not necessarily to titillate but to provide a place to explore more basic emotions. Emotion drives the scene, not libido.

I've also heard it said that the 2 POV sex scene allows readers to experience both the male and female side of their nature.

Bernita said...

At the risk of playing with semantics here, Robyn, I could argue that libido or need is an emotion, sometimes a selfish one, sometimes not.
However, I agree that a sex scene can and usually does reveal or explore certain aspects of characters or relationships that can't really be covered without them.

Savannah Jordan said...

KM~

I just have to say, "And I never made that vow, btw. Love and honour, yes. Obey, no. Discuss, yes. Blind obedience, f--- off. ;-)"... AMEN to that, sister!!

Bernita said...

Thought that archaic contractual term had been removed long ago...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

"...if sex enters a relationship too early all other important developments in that relationship come to a screeching halt"

Archer...IMHO...you are sooooo wrong. I write Christian fiction, and the tolerance for sex scenes is 0. But yet I've read some very "energetic" books.

"...I just have to avoid a totally sensual bonk-fest - which might get old pretty quick." You're right Bernita....It's like the TV shows where you know there is chemistry between two people but they never quite get to it...it keeps you comin' back to see if they do!

Bernita said...

Am counting on that sexual suspense, Bonnie, to lead from book one to book two.

Gabriele C. said...

*glares at Idamantes and Vinicius*

Get out of that bath. Now.

archer said...

So the gorilla should be ignored, ignored, ignored, if you don't have a handle on who you are as a person, or what you ultimately need to be happy.

Ohhh wohoa whoa whoahhhh

Sometimes the gorilla grabs you by the thr-o-o-o-oa
t

and flings you up into the blue-oooooooooooo

That's what happens to me bay beeeeeee

When I think about you-oooooooooooo

One look at them baybe blues

And he's KING KONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG..

Bernita said...

Oh, Gabriele!

Archer, ARCHER!...you've overdosed on viagra again!

Rick said...

Characters gotta do what they gotta do. Making them not do something is as artificial as making them do something they wouldn't naturally do.

As Carla said, you can always close the bedroom curtains in revision

Bernita said...

Yes, Rick, you and Carla offer what is probably the best solution.
One can always lift the passages and possibly use them elsewhere.
Someone said recently, when in doubt what do do next, throw in an explosion.
Problem is I already did that.
So it's either nookery in the rookery or keep them so busy they don't have the opportunity.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Somebody...catch Archer before he gets out into traffic...LOL

Carla said...

"Someone said recently, when in doubt what do do next, throw in an explosion."

Not an option for me in pre-gunpowder days :-) But a close relative of Bernard Cornwell's comment that whenever he thinks his story is getting a bit lame he just wheels on 30,000 Frenchmen and mows them down.

I usually have loads of unused scenes left over, but because they were written, they're in the surviving parts of the story in spirit somehow, even if not in words. Does that make any sense?

kmfrontain said...

No, no, don't catch Archer. He's too fun for a cage. ;-) Let 'im loose.

kmfrontain said...

Carla, that made perfect sense. And it was hilarious and true at once. I have to wash my computer screen now, because I spit on it laughing about mowing down the French men. That was cute.

And true! Man, I can't recall how many times I've twisted a plot just to shake the crap out of my characters. Big explosion? Make the world crack in half. Yup. That's me.

Bernita said...

Makes perfect sense, Carla, one has to visualize the whole world even if one only describes part of it in the end.
I'm just going to have to bite the bullet.

I just settled down after chortling over Gabriele's comment and you thrown in 30,000 Frenchmen!
As Bonnie would say "pictures!"

Bonnie Calhoun said...

"Word pictures!"...LOL!

For The Trees said...

NOW you've done it! Gone and messed up my mind all the way around!

I gotta put SEX in it? Lordy, I'm still trying to get the mental gynmastics figured out!!

Oh, well, there's always rewrites...

Bernita said...

No, Forrest dear.
This was not a direction, though "sex sells" they say.
I'm trying to keep some of it out.
So, yes, there's always re-writes.

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