Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Make Me Do It

 First of all, let me say I have nothing against a well-written love scene, and I do mean love scene, not sex scene. However, I draw the line at gratuitous sex and don't care for erotica. I just don't see what titillation has to do with story.

Like every other element of writing a story, sex, violence, or colorful language should serve a purpose. For example, in Play It Again, Sam, I have a love scene that is a very important part of the story and the growth of the character. Sam is single after 25 years of marriage and the whole dating scene has changed. She is not sure about recreational sex. So when the love scene happens it is because she has worked though many issues. It's not just there because romance readers expect it.

When One Small Victory was first published by Five Star, my editor there kept wanting me to let the central character, Jenny, do more than kiss the man she was attracted to. Problem was, Steve was the detective she was working for as a confidential informant, so there was a professional boundary that couldn't be crossed. Plus, she was an emotional mess, grieving for her son who had just been killed, and she didn't see sex as some sort of balm for her pain.

I firmly believed that going in the direction the editor wanted, even by adding a kiss here and there like she suggested, was not going to be true to the story or the characters, so I did not follow her suggestion in that area.

BTW, she really is a very good editor, and her edits improved the book in many ways. What I didn't know as we were going through the editing process is that Five Star planned to release the book as a romantic suspense. The title on the cover simply said, One Small Victory, a novel by Maryann Miller, so I had no idea it was going to be released in a category.

I was a bit dismayed when I found out. Not that I have anything against category fiction. However, I knew that fans of romantic suspense were going to be disappointed.  In most romantic suspense, the romance is as important as the suspense, and that just wasn't happening in this story. To change it, just to satisfy that expectation would have been a huge mistake. There were just too many reasons for these two characters not to act on their attraction at the time. Some readers have asked if there is going to be a sequel, where maybe they do more than kiss, but I don't know. Right now it seems better to me to let each reader imagine what is down the road for Jenny and Steve.

Have you ever added sexual elements to a story to meet the expectations of readers? Have you been pressured by an editor to add sex or violence to a story because that is what sells?


 Posted by Maryann Miller, who has been on both sides of the editing table and appreciates a good editor. Her next book, Open Season, will be released in December and can be pre-ordered HERE  Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. 

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  1. I'm so glad you didn't push your characters into bed to satisfy an editor or a genre. But does this imply that all characters must be moral people who live pristine lives and never make a mistake? What reader past the age of 12 (or even younger) is going to relate to that scenario and keep reading?

    On the other hand, a lot of wonderful authors grip their readers without graphic sex scenes. How? By learning their craft and becoming experts in their ability to paint incredible (and realistic) word pictures. Of course, they must also be astute observers of human behavior because it's often a character's faults or challenges that endear him/her to a reader (not his prowess in the bedroom).

    Excellent post, Maryann!

  2. Interesting post. I agree that sex scenes often works best when they fit into the development of the story. But sometimes sex scenes are nice just by themselves if well written >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  3. > I just don't see what titillation has to do with story.

    I entirely agree with you. I stopped reading a series I'd enjoyed because the author insisted on stopping the action to have sex. She tried to wrap sex into the story, but it didn't work for me.

    I'm glad you held out, and I hope it didn't hurt your sales.

  4. It's too bad they didn't tell you the genre they planned to release it as. Not that you should have changed to fit their ideas for it, but you could have addressed it with them. If it's not what you feel comfortable writing or feel fits the book, then you shouldn't have to do it.

  5. Linda, my characters make plenty of mistakes. LOL In my next book which is coming out in January, Open Season, one of the central characters gets involved sexually and discovers later in the story that it might have been a mistake.

  6. Loved the post. I love love scenes. Sex scenes are boring. Throbbing and pulsing body parts remind me of ants on a picnic- inevitable and annoying.

  7. Sounds like you've made it to the enviable level as a writer at which you know which advice to take and which advice to resist--and why! VERY interesting that your holding back on the romance left your readers wanting more; if you had completely fulfilled their expectations in that book, you'd have no pull toward a sequel.

    I did have an agent suggest some sex in a novel being re-issued in 2011 by Echelon Press, SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING. When I told my writers' group the agent wanted Connie to have sex with Darrel (the bad guy), they all, all at once, went, "EWWWWWWWWWWW!" So that didn't happen, I'm happy to say. lol!

    Marian Allen

  8. I know you can't submit a manuscript to certain lines unless the required amount of sex scenes are in them.

    I don't write many sex scenes. Mine are more the love scene variety. I don't go into a lot of detail about body parts.

    I believe in only writing what you feel comfortable about writing.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. My character, Peri, and her boyfriend Skip have sex. Heaving, throbbing, body parts are not mentioned. They have it and like it - do you need any more detail than that?

    One of my friends actually complained that my book needed more sex scenes. Um, no. Peri deserves some privacy.

  10. KK, you cracked me up with the comparison to ants.

  11. I enjoyed reading this. I am of a similar mind. What I've discovered as I've become an older reader is that if I am deeply engrossed in the story the sex scenes are just debris I have to step over. I don't need them to enjoy the story. I don't really want them.

    A great story doesn't need a prop. That doesn't mean I don't read books that have sex scenes in them or that other people shouldn't write them. It means I can usually skip five to eight pages of text from the point when the buttons pop off to the moment they get dressed. What happens in between is pretty cut and dried. I want to know how the story ends.

  12. Morgan, write a post about what presses require sex scenes. Would be good information for our readers.

  13. I am at a point with a finished ms where I wondered if more sexual detail was important. This goes a long way in answering that question. Thank you.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author


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