by Leonard Bishop
Be careful how many sex scenes you use in the novel, and the type of sex scenes you allow the characters to experience.
Limiting contemporary writers to two or three lusty graphic sex scenes is not censorship or catering to priggish preferences. An uptight morality is not the issue. It is one of craft and function in writing. Merely because publishers and public tastes support sexual license in novels is no reason for a writer to use what is not useful in the novel.
The purpose of the sex scene is to change the lives of characters and their relationships. To cause conflicts, or to resolve them. To reveal depths in character that cannot be revealed through another type of action. In fiction a sexual interval is a situation of physical\emotional\intellectual pressure. It is unique. It is noticeable. It is dramatic.
Unless the writer strains to put the sexual participants through remarkably erotic logistics, what they are doing is only a repetition of what they have done before. “Oh well, the jokers are at it again.”
Readers hurry into becoming involved in all of what the characters are experiencing. Their ambitions, romances, successes and defeats. Their dangers, intrigues, violences, desires, etc. Although the reader escapes into the adventures of the novel, they know it is all make-believe. But when the sex scenes appear, the reader/character relationship changes. The writer is now touching the nervous, real-life depths of the reader.
If the reader’s personal sexual experiences are gratifying, then watching the characters perform is more amusing than arousing. If the reader’s sex life is miserable, then the sexual pleasures of the characters cause resentment. If the sexual unity of the characters is ugly, the reader becomes annoyed for two reasons. First, it mirrors their own sex life. Second, watching people suffer in a natural function is not pleasant.
If characters become extreme and their coupling is a muscle spraining calisthenic, the reader is distressed because they are too lazy or decrepit to duplicate the positions. They can’t find someone to join them in such an unconventional effort. If the sex is bland and without graphic emphasis, then it is mechanical and the reader thinks, “Come on, get on with the story, please.” The writer doesn’t have to invent new types of sex scenes-he must give a newness of meaning to each scene he writes.
Inexperienced writers should realize that the sexual practices, preferences, and performances of the reading public are not lofty or ideal. They are either grim, fearful, incompetent, dark with ignorance, perfunctory, painful with guilt and intimidation, unsanitary and hurried, exploiting and perverse. Only a minor percentage of readers are gratified by their own endeavors in the sexual realm. It is miraculous that humanity has not become an endangered species.
There are more sexual behavior manuals in every library than diet, physical fitness, or home repair books. These guides are sold in the millions. Not because of their effectiveness-but because readers are in constant search of sexual fulfillment, and are incurable hopers.
Readers are not dirty-minded voyeurs who read with one hand and indulge in vicarious sleaze. Most readers read to escape-not to be reminded or accused of what they are escaping from. There is a difference between the erotic and pornographic. Eroticism creates a delight and appreciation for the sensations expressed in your body. Pornography urges you to lunge at the first public object available.
Some Guides for how Sexual Scenes Should Be Used in Novel writing.
(A) They should not startle or be outstanding from the texture of the novel. They should be integral to its content.
(B) For the purpose of humiliating characters (brutality, indifference, etc.).
(C) To have characters manipulate each other through sexual guile, prowess, deceit.
(D) To offer insights into character that cannot be provoked through another, less exciting or dramatic activity.
(E) To provide character-relationship intimacy not achieved before.
(F) To offer inner revelations proving to the characters themselves that they are happily or unhappily mated
(G) For the purposes of duty propagation. “Yes, darling, tonight we begin our family.”
(H) To reveal genuine love.
(I) To overcome the fear of each other.
Whatever type of sex scene is used, if it does not further the story or change relationships, don’t use it. The graphics of sex should be of a secondary interest. It is the emotional\mental reason for having sex that should be explored. After the first subdued or volcanic sexual encounter, allow other sex scenes to happen “off scene”, as references. When another sex scene is vital to the novel, depict it-but again-only because it changes the people and furthers the story.
© 2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published November 30, 1986 the Manhattan Mercury)