Monday, August 27, 2012

Anything but That

I think it’s safe to say most writers are avid readers. It’s definitely true for me and the small group of writers I’m acquainted with. Before I realized I wanted to be a writer, I just loved to read. Now that I’m both a writer and a reader, I find that reading other novels, including those not in my own genre, helps perfect my craft.

Since investing in an electronic reading device not too long ago, I’ve done quite a bit of reading. Most of the books in my library are either romance or contain an element of romance. Not only do I write in this genre, but it’s one of my favorites to read, provided it’s not a historical romance. Only one author has ever been able to interest me in a historical romance, and that has more to do with supporting the author than being interested in the genre.

As I’m sure you can imagine many romance novels contain sex scenes. Some are more graphic than others. Some are downright amusing. Some just curl my toes and not in a good way. Of late, I’ve noticed what seems to be a trend of self censorship in some of these novels, which can be identified in just two words: her sex

I’ve run into a rash of stories where the woman’s vagina is being referred to as “her sex”. This trend isn’t confined to conservative novels either. It’s even crossed over into the erotica genre. Since when did writers develop a fear of putting a name to the female anatomy? I say the female anatomy because I’ve seen it there most, but it’s popped up a few times when referring to men. I have to say, I find it a little funny that an author will throw out every name under the sun for the penis, but confines her description of the vagina to “her sex”.

Although I chuckle, I can understand how easy it is to censor your work. The first novel I published, Letters from Linc, contained quite a few sex scenes. While no one seemed to find them vulgar, the frequency with which the characters had sex left some readers unsettled. When it was brought directly to my attention, I defended myself and explained it was expected for the characters to be going at it frequently. Not only were they newlyweds, but they’d spent the first few months of their marriage on different continents. After I broke it down like that, most people understood, but it changed my approach to sex scenes. In the follow up novel, After All These Years, I was a lot more cautious with not only how often the characters copulated but how I described it.

For writers who aren’t comfortable with or have never written sex scenes, it can be a daunting task to produce something that doesn’t smack of sex manual. What I mean by smacking of sex manual is a basic description of the act akin to what you’d find in a step by step guide. Readers don’t want us to say the man inserted his penis into her vagina. What we should say is the mystery. To me, it’s dependent upon the characters themselves.

The problem is many writers, including me at times, have a difficult time separating author from character. After my dad and my grandma proudly showed off my second novel, Extraordinary Will, it made me rethink my descriptions of sex scenes. I became even more self conscious when my dad admitted skipping over the scenes in my stories because as he put it ‘fathers don’t like to admit their little girls know about such things’. 

What’s a writer to do then? Here’s what I do. First, I write my first draft the way I want it. If I want to say he rammed his cock into her dripping folds of flesh as if it was the last time he’d fuck her then I say it. Not only does it allow me to get the vulgarity out of my system, but it keeps me from getting hung up on the scene and being unable to proceed. Second, I try to get out of my own head. When I write, I’m no longer Trish. I’m the protagonist. That means I want to say things she’d say and describe them as she’d describe them. If she’s a virginal girl who’s never missed a Sunday of church in her life, she’s not likely to say cunt unless there’s a wild streak in her that I’ve taken time to develop so as not to shock readers when it happens. If my protagonist is male, you can bet I never say penis. I’ve yet to meet a man, except maybe a doctor speaking in a clinical setting, who refers to his penis as a penis. Third, I pretend my family and friends are never going to read it. I always find it easier to share my work with strangers who have no emotional investment in me, which includes the sex scenes. Oddly enough, when I omit or provide tamer versions of sex scenes, a large chunk of my readers beg me to turn up the heat in the future chapters.

To other writers I’ll offer one more suggestion. If you’re not comfortable writing sex scene then don’t. Gloss it over, hint at it, skip it, but please for the love of Pete do not use the phrase “her sex” or “his sex” unless you mean her sex life was good or his sex life was lacking since getting married six months ago. Anything but that!

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