The notion of sex in fiction is one that has ‘stirred’ authors, especially during the past 100 years.
Of course, sex and its corresponding representation in the literary arts dates back long before that, but it’s within the last century that openly expressed sexuality and sexual situations have been accepted as permissible in the mainstream arts.
Prior to that, only more taboo authors would dare to make room on the page for graphic sexual descriptions. The rest of us, mainstream authors in every genre, found it necessary to rely on metaphors for the sexual act, or, when all else failed, our scenes would simply “fade to black”.
Those days are gone…and while some of us mourn the more genteel half-expressions of sensuality, many authors are grateful for the creative freedoms currently granted.
Within our own beloved Crime genre, we still face the question:
How much is too much?
Our stories primarily involve crime, and the human situations that arise in the wake of criminal acts.
My rule of thumb is simple: If my characters find themselves in an intimate situation, then I, as author, will explore that situation with them.
We are sexual creatures, and a large part of what motivates us to carry out both noble and evil deeds is our innate desire for sexual expression and connection.
Still, many authors find the act of writing about ‘the act’ to be awkward, even, at times, embarrassing. So how does one overcome those inhibitions, and free oneself to express sexuality on the page?
I take my inspiration from our fellow-artists, those who paint, act or sing. I’ve often noticed that the greatest of these, especially actors, are able to tap into a well of commonality that we share. When faced with a role that must convey true intimacy, they immerse themselves fully in that character, his needs, his desires.
So it is when I write about intimacy.
To do justice to the sexuality of my characters, and to touch readers on a meaningful level without resorting to gratuitous pornography, I imagine what my character’s needs and desires might be within a situation,
As writers, unless we are very comfortable with drawing on sensuality, we probably should avoid putting our characters in those situations. On the other hand, like most skills required in our craft, it does help to push ourselves beyond our current ‘comfort zones’.
When I choose to explore that deeply human aspect of my characters, I first step into my character’s heart, and from there I express his or her needs.
Words, as we know, hold great power. When we reach out through the page and touch our readers, there can be no greater intimacy for an author.
Donna is the author of 3 mystery novels: The First Excellence ~ Fa-ling’s Map, Gold And Fishes and The Noon God.
All titles are available in paperback as well as Kindle versions. Her first collection of 5 mysterious short stories titled Sept-Iles and other places is available for Kindle. Her second anthology, titled Knowing Penelope, features brand new sexy & sassy PI Penelope Canon.
“If my characters find themselves in an intimate situation, then I, as author, will explore that situation with them.” well … that just shifts the issue a bit. Let me give an example: there’s hardly a novel where people don’t eat or drink. And we all know we have eventually to get rid of that. But which author goes all the way? Choosing to place a character in an intimate situation does not necessitate to go as far as describing sex, it is completely a cultural thing. The Victorians would not condone it (Thomas Hardy said that the unfavorable reviews about a novel that did no more than let the protagonists have children out of wedlock effectively “silenced him as a novelist”), Donald Duck could only have nephews because “back when” the cartoon industry agreed that outright parent-child families would suggest sexual procreation (Superman had to be an orphan for the same reason etc .etc.). I don’t think that, like the usage of bathrooms, sexual acts do not have to be involved to make a novel complete. It depends on the plot. On the other hand, then, a plot that needs a sexual description for it ti work should not -only on these grounds- be condemned as “pornographic”. And the choice of plot falls under liberty of expression.