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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » A Sex Question

   
Author Topic: A Sex Question
Albatross
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How much detail should one go into when one is writing a seduction? My story involves a seduction and a relationship that explores the pitfalls of sexuality, especially for a young woman. I am unsure how to tell her tale. Would it be appropriate to describe how various actions add to both her pleasure and guilt? How they tie her to a relationship that is becoming increasingly unhealthy? How much detail should I go into? Or how could I hint at things that draw her further from innocence? In my concept of the story, certain actions she allows or participates in draw her further into a situation that is most hazardous for her (making up the bulk of her conflict). Yet I do not wish to unnecessarily offend my readers. How do I write about such things in a way that is both delicate and honest? I'd like my readers to feel both the tingle of seduction and the entrapment that is a consequence of the relationship. Any ideas for me? Thanks in advance for your help!
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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Do this. On a sheet of notebook paper write down one or two sentences that are the seed of your story. Your focus. If the sexual aspect of her behavior is a key point to your story, (a springboard that causes other events in the story to occur) then you should spend time intergrating that into the plot. If it is important, but not a part of the main focus, then you can place it more to the side.
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Survivor
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We had a fairly substantial discussion on this subject a while back, Human Sexuality in writing. You can check that out to see a number of my comments, as well as a comment or two from other people that were around then.
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Dazgul
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I think that it depends entirely on the genre and the target audience you are writing to. What genre is your tale?
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Danzig
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It depends. I take it that you are not writing truely erotic literature. (I define this as something that you are supposed to have to be 18 to be able to get.) If you are, then there isn't much I could say here that would fit within the bounds of decency.

If, however, I am correct and you are merely writing a normal seduction, then it gets even harder. There are several positions that are not generally used. (AFAIK, I usually only read sci-fi, fantasy, or cyberpunk.) I would suggest merely having a character allude to it. (i.e. "I've never had it that way" or something) Even that probably stretches the boundaries of some people.

If she or her partner(s) have a fetish that is not too grotesque, that might add to the tone. (To use an example from a mainstream book, one of the characters had a stocking fetish. (Of course, sex was not the point of the book.))

Personally, I like it when authors are accurate. If you like dropping hints, that's fine. But please use the real word, not a euphemism, whether it is more polite than normal or downright obscene. You might be able to get away with obscenity if someone likes talking dirty (or being talked to dirty) but even then, keep it strictly in dialogue. If you use words like c**k or c**t in nondialogue, it stops being a real romance and becomes poorly written erotic literature. Also, I'm not going to go into much detail on a forum intended for all ages, but be anatomically/physiologically accurate as well. Keep certain parts within the realm of believability, and don't make people have "happy feelings" in situations that wouldn't give them one. Since you are a serious writer, I don't think you will do this, but it can't hurt.


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Albatross
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Thank you, everyone. I think I know the frame of mind I need to be in when I write those particular scenes now. I really don't need to go into a lot of gory detail, but I appreciate Danzig's advice on not hiding what is really going on. By the way, this is all happening in a fantasy setting, for those of you who wanted to know. The real story is about the relationship, but sexual interaction is integral to that relationship. Again, thanks for the advice and support. I hope to write something better and more transcendent than your average sex scene or romantic novel seduction. Your tips will be uppermost in my mind (and referenced often, I'm sure) while I write.
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Survivor
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Just a tip, er, for the fantasy premise, that kind of relates to Jack's topic about traditional settings for fantasy.

Remember, that in traditional societies, sex is not likely to be taken quite the same way that it is in our own. Sex is intimate, mysterious, and very private. When it does happen, the POV character from that society is unlikely to have much experience, and is apt to think of the particular acts with astonishing levels of imprecision. In many primitive and traditional societies, sex normally proceeds on instinct (yes, humans have instincts that tell them how to have sex). This means that unless your character is one of a minority of very powerful, generally evil people, sex will "just happen" without a lot of clinical examination. If a character thinks a lot about sex at all, it's more likely that the moral implications or relationship issues will come to the fore. In planning out a seduction, the conscious thought is likely to end once his hand gets inside her dress.

This all seems very strange to people that have been raised to think about sex in great detail, but for most of human history, the vast majority of people "just did it" the way that "nature intended", or, more accurately, the way their instincts told them to do it. Which means that if your fantasy is not set in modern or near future times, or in a decadent court setting, it is both acceptable and far more realistic to use imprecise and general "euphemisms" in depicting sex, because it more accurately (yes, more, not less, accurately) depicts the actual experience of a society not openly enamoured of sexual awareness.

Just thought I'd mention that, since it does apply to fantasy.


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Albatross
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Right - it's the moral implications and relationship issues I really want to examine. The way pleasure can make a naive person feel deeply indebted to a lover, the confusion when other interactions outside of sexual ones are not loving and intense, the way she is afraid of herself - the power of the pleasure and the fear of being discovered/becoming less pure, the fear of having the lover leave should she not continue to please him...These things which enter a relationship along with the sexual element.
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Dazgul
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I also feel that humour is a marvellous way to go. Humourous accounts of sex mollify even your most sober readers who would normally shout 'obscene' at any chronicling of human inter body fluid transfer. Sex also really is very funny when you come to think about it.
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Survivor
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Um, I would tend to disagree, strongly, with that last post. Sex may or may not be funny to think about, but if you write about it that way you will offend and alienate even readers that would normally hardly be prudish about the subject.

That last comment was so off target, I'm having trouble reconciling it as a meaningful statement. Maybe Dazless is joking .


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, Dazgul does have a point though.

As, I believe G B Shaw is supposed to have said:

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh or they will kill you.


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Survivor
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We must be talking about different subjects here. I have no idea what is being said...some sort of computer induced aphasia, perhaps.
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srhowen
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Many submissions guide lines state no gratouitous<sp> sex. I think when writing about sex you need to keep that in mind. Am I just putting this in here so it will sell or does the reader need to know this much detail to further the story.

A good book on the subject is called, The Joy of Writing Sex, by Elizabeth Benedict. It's available from Story Press.

Shawn


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Goober
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Interesting title. Also, along those lines, only write it if it is neccesary to the story. Otherwise, just let people know it happened and be done with it. In fact, its usually a good idea to write most stuff only if it is neccesary, or else you will have a book with lots of pointless asides. That just gets boring. And while sex may sell, if its not important, it just cheapens the value for some reason. Just look at those romance novels. How many are considered good literature yet how many are also sold all the time? Lots.
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Survivor
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Nobody even picked up on my funny "Dazless" joke
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AJS
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I agree with everything Goober said. The last thing (in my opinion) anyone needs is a bunch of mechanical details about sex. They will offend many people and bore others, and the few who hunger for them probably won't buy your books because of them (unless its a Harlequin Romance}. Besides, it sounds like you are aiming to describe her emotional conflict. In that case, it would occupy her mind all the time. Have this show through her EVERYDAY ACTIONS, this would do infinitely more than a few squeals of delight/dread as the act is done. Don't have time stop while two characters have sex + romance + second thoughts. Tie this into the rest of the story. Show her dread increase with each night, but don't stop the war (or whatever) that is going on.
In my opinion, the best and least offensive way to involve sex in a story is to use only before and after scenes. This way the cheap pornographic elements are avoided, and there is still plenty of time to throw all those thoughts and feelings into the mix.

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Dazgul
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I feel I must explain myself after the passionate response Survivor made to my humour suggestion. I said this because many people have insecurities with respect to sexuality. Describing the fumbles and mishaps of a character as they attempt to have sex often is very endearing. John Irving does this quite frequently. Of course it has to be done well, and the sex still has to be directly related to the action of the tale. I also would add that perhaps humour is the way I choose to represent sexuality very often because my own experiences have bordered on the farcical.
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Survivor
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Well, I still don't understand what you could possibly be talking about. Making light of a character's sexual experience....

I just don't see how that could make anyone more accepting of the portrayal of sexuality.


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jparadise
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Well, not to be a disagreeable newbie, but I disagree .

In my -ever- so humble opinion, I think a healthy sex life has to have a dose of humor
in it. Sex is an inherently ridiculous act - one inserts Tab A into Slot B, repeating the action until a minor nuclear explosion mutually detonates in the tab/slot juncture; with this event, the eyes roll back into the head, numerous sounds are emitted (some of which are -truly- amusing) and the Gentleman falls asleep five to seven minutes later whilst the Lady drums her fingers on his quiescent torso...

In literature (both 'good' and 'bad' (I'm still not sure which camp DH Lawrence falls into)), sex is ordinarily treated with one of two brushes: the airbrush ("She moaned softly into his chest as they rocked together") or the splatterbrush ("'Oh, baby, **** me,' she cried as she ****** his **** **** ******."). Both tend to create unrealism - the first, in an attempt to make sex into art, glosses over the warts and bumps that make humans human; the second, in an attempt to make sex into raunch, dehumanizes the participants and leaves the reader with nothing more than a guilty uncomfortableness in the shorts.

As with many things other than sex, humor is the great leveler - properly implemented, it can allow for elements of grace, love, tenderness and all the higher aspirations of the act, while revealing the humanity of the participants in a way that leaves the reader feeling like he's observed something natural, not staged for the "camera."

--
e.g.,

His arms quivered with the effort of holding himself above her. "How do they -do- this in the movies?" he wondered. "Granted, I'm new to all this, but I can do fifty pushups in a minute and a half!"

She wriggled beneath him, suddenly stiffened. The fatigue in his quaking biceps was forgotten as she emitted a sound that may well have reminded literate neighbors - or those who'd watched -Dead Poet's Society- - of RW Emerson's barbaric YAWP!.

--

Granted, this isn't art. Whaddya want, I wrote it in two minutes . But I hope it in some small way illustrated my point?

-j

[This message has been edited by jparadise (edited August 15, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by jparadise (edited August 15, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by jparadise (edited August 15, 2000).]


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jackonus
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This will be trite, but I do think that sex has to have some relevance to the story. And, once that relevance is established, the depth and detail of the description should also bear some relation to progressing the story as well.

My personal preference is to leave it understood, without a lot of description. Mainly, that's because I find most of the descriptions laughable, inadequate, or just plain silly. Let the reader who "knows already" imagine whatever they will. The reader who doesn't know (and face it, many readers of sci fi and fantasy are still hoping for their first sexual encounter) can still imagine, for what it matters to the story.

So, what's wrong with just having people wake up together "having taken their relationship to a new level."?

By the way, I suppose this sounds rather prudish, but frankly I think it's more a matter of what works. There are few things that have been so poorly portrayed as the sexual liaisons of fictional characters.

And, if you want to inject humor, that's great (if it fits the story, of course). The humorous possibilities are endless, as has been pointed out. Having the couple (assuming only two are required for whatever species you are writing about ...) collapse in laughter is a good way to end the scene.

"I'd invite you to my place, but all the good benches are gone by now."

"I'll give you half-an-hour to stop whatever it is you're doing."

"I'm surprised no-one's come up with a way to sell this yet."



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Survivor
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In other words, realistic portrayals of sexual acts, from the points of view of the characters involved, will invariably contain recognition of the basic incongruity of the act itself?

And yet, just as there are some people that are almost never struck by the incongruities of causing death (however one does it, it's a very strange process) to a human being, particularly the way that humans tend to resist being killed most when it's too late to do anything to save themselves, or the oddity that the cessation of consciousness caused by neural failure (typically caused by neurotoxic poisoning-usually CO2-or by gross electrical or physical trauma of the brain) should be so different from the continuation of consciousness, so there are people that just don't tend to think of sex as something to laugh about.

I sometimes find death funny in concept, but more often I find it a serious matter.

(can you imagine Card writing 'A Thousand Deaths' as though each of the deaths was amusing?)


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Survivor
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Actually, I can. I just don't know that many people could fail to be offended if he did...
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jackonus
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Actually, the two most offensive things I've run across lately are:

1) a Guy who sent his daughter's body to the taxidermist and now dresses her up every day and takes her stuffed body with him in public.

and

2) A german "scientist" / artist who has developed a method of embalming with plastic then disecting for public display (at art museums) the splayed out corpses of actual human beings.

I used to think the bizarros who made skull candles with skulls purchased from scientific supply houses were sick, but these two reallyl take the cake.

Ah well, Survivor, I'm not sure what to say in response to your post. I didn't necessarily mean that all sexual situations in novels should have an air of levity about them. My emphasis is more on leaving it to the imagination of the reader. I like a bit of sexual levity, if it advances the story, just as I think sex itself should only be presented if it advances the story.


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Survivor
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Yeah, some things should be glossed in writing, they really should.
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srhowen
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I must be a sicko then----I live in Germany and went to see the human exhibit. It wasn't gross and no worse than a gray's anatomy book in 3d. You stood there with your own hand on your stomach going, oh my that is how I look. They were much less gross than the Egyptian mummies with their ritacused (my spelling is terrible) grins and sometimes tortured looking bodies.

If you want gross and disgusting look in an EMT/Paramedic manual. Yikes!

Now the one about the daughter’s body that's a gross display of denial on the father's part----sad because he cannot accept her death and so she still lives for him.

Now as to sex--I don't find it gross in any of its many portrayals. Funny at times yes---hey try making out in a Corvette with a guy that's almost 7 feet tall---talk about funny! We laughed our butts off.

But I do think it has to be relevant to the story---and it can be tender, but I think it should be real in what ever form your characters are. I hate the Gone With the Wind scenes. They over glorify a natural act to the point of most people I know almost laughing.

If you need it to advance the story go with it, I think the age when you added sex just to sell are gone--at least I hope so.

Shawn

[This message has been edited by srhowen (edited August 17, 2000).]


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Albatross
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I've written a scene. O my. I can't believe I am writing like this. Just barely hinting at the physical details, focusing on my heroine's feelings, is the sexiest thing I have ever written/read. It scares me that I could write something that turns me on. I had to go tackle my husband afterward (I think he's glad I decided to be a writer!). It was really really hot. Why does the story that is asking me to tell it have to involve this stuff?! It's exciting, embarrassing, crazy, and scary all at the same time. I want to hide my face yet at the same time I'm rather proud of myself. Is it okay to actually write about these sorts of feelings? *blush*
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srhowen
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YES

IMHO anyway. Putting feeling into writing is what it is about. If you make the reader cry or laugh or tackle their mate, then you have accomplished what a writer should do. Again in MHO.

In a lot of my stories the underlying tension is sexual---it has offended people---even wihtout the details but I think you have to tell your story the way that your characters want you to. Writing is for the writer I think first and formost. For me if I don't write I am very hard to live with.

And you are not alone, my husband often says with a grinn "hmm so what were you writing about today?"

Shawn


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Survivor
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Feelings is what it's all about, anyway. And I don't think that there's anything improper about writing about them.
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jackonus
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Agreed. You go girl! If your writing doesn't affect you, who will it affect?

As for the german exhibit, I'll admit to succumbing to the initial shock of it. Still is it art? There's a purpose for Gray's Anatomy and EMT manuals and the like. They are there to train people who need to know that stuff in order to treat human ailment. Artists use them because depicting the human form is a difficult thing and understanding anatomy helps.

What the German guy has done is bring this alll to the fore as an art form. It was titilating and horrifying and in the modern sense of what art is for, I guess he's a success. I have seen enough morbid crap in my life, however, and prefer to surround myself with beauty when I can get it. Just a personal preference, I know, so don't get me wrong here. In my earlier days I might have been among the throngs to go visit this exhibit and I would no doubt have found it fascinating. I'm no longer able to handle the things I used to, and that's more my loss than something I think ought to be imposed on the rest of the populace.

As for mummies, there's something less bothersome about studying a dead body that's centuries old but why that should be is beyond my ken. Looking at the disected body of my contemporaries is something that I just can't stomach and, more importantly, don't want to.

But hey, whatever floats your boat!


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srhowen
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Well I don't know that it floated my boat...I'd rather look at Boris Vallejo’s art work, than that. But I think it had its place.

Funny thing is that when I was younger I would have thought it was gross and not gone. I have two grown kids ages 22 and 23 and a 2 yr old grandson, I also have a 12yr old and a 6yr old girl. I think as I've gotten older, into the 40 something range, I am more tolerant of other peoples expressions of just about anything. Maybe some of that comes from living in Europe, a lot of things are tolerated here that are not in the states. Prime time TV here has sex that would make most Americans think they hit the Playboy channel by mistake.

Anyway, I think that maybe saying it is art is off base---not art---I saw it more in the lines of a museum exhibit. The one I would not go and see was the one in France that depicted serial killers and their victims---in wax; but that just grossed me out and that was considered art as well. Ok so maybe there are people that like that kinda stuff---I will tolerate it---I do not believe in censoring things---but ask me to go--no thank you!

The same with writing---I think anyone should be able to write about anything and not have to worry of censorship. So if you want to write about sex or death, do so. I just saw another great book from Writers Digest---they started a new elements of fiction series---this one is on scenes called Scenes and it offers little mini workshops asking what you want the reader to do when they read your scene. It gives examples of what the reader might do, i.e. go to a movie with a friend, jump in a cold swimming pool/jump on their mate, call an old boyfriend. Then it rates the type of scene—in this case it was rating sex scenes. I ordered it. Not because of the sex stuff---but it addresses all types of scenes the same way and I thought it would be a useful tool in gauging how a reader will react to what I’ve written.

Shawn
Just a note; if anyone is curious what I look like---I have an author's page at Wild Child Magazine—www.wildchildpublishing.com The first part of a serial story there as well this month. Both under then name SRHowen.



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Dazgul
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We are all arrogant perverts! Observe the posts which have the most messages.

A bit of me -- Which sound naughty, and is entirely a message board about talking about yourslef

Role Call -- similarly self indulgent

A sex question -- there it is. Confirmed.
We're arrogant perverts every one.


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Survivor
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Hey!

Take that back about Roll Call!


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WileyKat
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Um.

I tend to think that one should try and avoid writing about the actual act itself. All the stuff up to it - if you were writing a traditional seduction then the dinner, the drink, the walk along the promenade, even the question at the door, but not really much further. Why? Because more than 90% of such scenes turn out to be lame. As a previous reply has it, they don't portray anything realistic, they don't really invoke any emotion that's useful to most stories.
Even stories that are supposed to be about sex (i.e. erotica) are actually better when the sex act is kept to a minimum. It just isn't good reading.

Regards

Robert


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Hey, welcome to the fold, WileyKat.
It's really good to see a new face around here!


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jackonus
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Yes! Welcome. It's nice to see some of the people from the general forum over here in the much exalted WRITER'S forum.

I agree on the sex thing. I wonder if I've become a prude, but really I think it's the quality of the writing when sex scenes do appear that has convinced me that discretion is the better course.

I was thinking, though, part of my preference for a little humor in it all probably comes from those smart romantic comedies of the 30's & 40's. I mean, watch a Thin Man movie (ignoring the inordinate amount of alcohol those people seemed to consume) and tell me that's not a GREAT love story. The sex was not existent in terms of on screen torid action, but the CHEMISTRY was amazing. If a love scene can be written with that sort of charge, it has my vote.

Nowadays, we just get the two thinnest Hollywood bodies with faces attached and let them poke at each other for 90 minutes, and then submit it all for an Oscar. Boring!

Maybe my libido needs an overhaul. ?


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Hmmm, sex onscreen and in writing...not exactly the same thing, but I can see there being a relationship.

I think humor is more a point of the relationship side of things, more than something that you want to use as a method of portrayal. In other words, there is a great difference between portraying someone as having a sense of humor and portraying them as a walking (or ****ing) joke. It's one of those things...just a matter of taste, I suppose.

I guess that's where we run into a problem. Because taste isn't isolated from perception. When we find something distastful, it colors our perception of what is being portrayed.

A sculpture of the human body, or the anatomical sketches of Da Vinchi, are technically less accurate than an actual corpse filleted and covered in plastic. But the act of doing that conveys contempt for the body, even hatred. The act of mummification, while strange to use, can be seen as a affirmation of life after death, while the lines of Da Vinchi's drawings communicate a sense of appreciation.

When we portray sexuality, we are acting upon it, and upon the way that our audience percieves it. Do we present it as a contemptable act? Do we make it a subject for mockery? Or do we communicate some form of respect or care, even dignity and reverence?

The most accurate portrayal has to be true the the point of view in which it is portrayed. I made the point above about people in less sophisticated societies. Less detail is more accurate, sometimes. And a lot of detail? It communicates concern and interest primarially in the details mentioned. Are we portraying a character as being mostly interested in positions and techniques? Or is the character more concerned with emotion, passion, trust? Does the character think mostly of how to best accomplish pleasures? Or is relationship and togetherness more important?

What we concentrate on in our portrayal is what the audience will percieve as the driving motivation of the character. When we make the climactic moment the resolution to stand together against all difficulties, a decision made while driving home from a disastrous evening and sealed with a forgiving word and a kiss, it has a dramatically different impact from portraying the climactic moment as the discovery that this sexual relationship can produce a fifteen minute orgasm.

I personally feel, when I see sex portrayed that way, that the artist is making the point that the sex is the foundation, if the sex weren't so good, or if there were another pleasure that was better, the relationship would naturally end. Not that such a portrayal is necessarially inaccurate. Many a relationship is all about taking pleasure where it can be found. But I don't think that all relationships should be portrayed in that light.

Card occasionally writes erotic scenes (more than I am ever likely to write, anyway). And the eroticism is never just for the sake of eroticism. It communicates that the characters feel passion, or that they care about each other enough to really give something, the pleasure is given as a token of affection, and the affection is the thing that is commented on, not the details of the token. It is symbolic of something greater and more important than the physical details of what is happening.

Ah well. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is nothing more noteworthy than the physical details. Perhaps a man's worth as a romantic partner is a simple measurement of inches length by inches circumferance by endurance. Perhaps a woman' worth is nothing more than two main points and a tight fit. Perhaps it all really is a big joke...


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