Earlier today, I had an unusual and rather in-depth conversation with a good friend of mine about sex.  We talked about everything from the obvious basics to the more sophisticated habits, rituals and desires of our fellow men and women, musing over the roots of their various tastes and beliefs.  Many hours later, I again wound up engaged in yet another sex-based discussion with a different friend entirely.  This talk centered more around sexual orientation rather than the act itself, but still, today’s sexual theme was not lost on me, and it made me wonder at the sudden prominence of the subject of sex.  After all, despite what it may sound like right now, I don’t usually sit around and discuss the various forms of human intimacy with everyone I know.   I don’t even know what inspired the topic in either case, but it got me thinking of how dominant of a force sex really is in our lives, and how important it is in writing.

     For all the years I’ve been writing, sex has never been one of my subjects until recently (except a little erotic poetry, of course).  I wasn’t avoiding the topic really, it’s just that until I began the book I’m working on now, there was never a place for sex.  I’ve been pretty diligent about incorporating all the other factors that make characters feel more human, such as bathing, brushing their teeth, changing their clothes and getting an occassional night’s sleep, but it never occurred to me that perhaps fictional people like having sex, too.  Until now.

     In the book I’m currently working on, it’s as if all the sex-starved characters of fiction’s past are exacting their revenge on me.  In this story, I don’t think a chapter has gone by that someone wasn’t getting skins, knocking boots, doing the horizontal hokey pokey, or at least getting well felt up.  The particularly challenging thing is, in this book, no one is having conventional sex.  The main character is a perverse, sexually deviant murderer, so most of the time, the sex isn’t even consensual, making this especially foreign territory for me.  But I’m learning.

     One thing I’ve determined about fictional sex is that it follows the same basic rules of fictional anything.  In the world of fiction, everything seems to be slightly dramatized. When fictional characters are rich, for example, they are filthy rich.  If they’re depressed, then they’re really tormented… and if they have sex, they have a lot of sex, and if it’s good sex, then it’s got to be mind-bogglingly great sex.  The key, of course, is striking a balance that is believable but also engaging.  If you don’t amp up the intensity of the characters lives and emotions, then you’ve got a story as dull and lifeless as, well… real life, and why would anyone want to read a book about someone whose life is as drab as their own?  But, on the other hand, if you aggrandize your character’s experiences too much, it becomes melodramatic and ultimately alienates the reader.  Regarding sex, striking this balance is an especially challenging feat for me.

     There are other problems also.  I’m finding that writing about sex (especially sex of the deviant variety) is a multi-faceted and precarious thing in that, on one hand, there’s the fear of repulsing and offending your reader, and on the other hand, setting out to do just that. After all, don’t I kind of want to repulse and offend the reader?  And if so, to what degree? 

     Also, there is description.  Just how much detail do we need?  Do we need to know how bad Martha wants it (or in my case, doesn’t want it), and is it important to mention the exact bodily and psychological responses of each character in this situation? 

     Finally, there is word choice.  This one is especially tricky because there are times that the clinical terms for certain acts (or parts of the anatomy) just don’t properly illustrate the mood you’re trying to create.  Which brings us back to the first problem: am I offending the reader? 

     It’s a cyclical and potentially stressful dilemma, writing about sex.  And add to this your mother’s voice (real or imagined) – disapproving and stunned by your foulness – to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty toxic cocktail of troublesome puzzles to contend with.

     For me, the key to overcoming the stumbling block that is sex can be found in two words:  just write.  I can’t stop and think about what the agent, the mother, the sister, the priest, or the produce manager at Wal-Mart is going to think of my book.  If I do that, then I’ll be writing to please other people.  And if I do that… then I’ve lost all integrity and should look into getting a new, tamer passion than writing.  No matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.  The way I see it, I’d garner just as much criticism if I wrote stories about butterflies and dandelions… so I might as well write what feels true to me, because in the end, my own truth is all I have… and honoring that is the only way I know how to sleep with a clear (well… somewhat dirty) conscience.


  1. jrostler says:

    I’m kind of afraid to be first comment on this, but first good post.

    Secondly as far as your serial killer goes. What makes people love and read or watch serial killers is how warped they are from the norm. If you can get inside the monster’s head and see why he wants what he wants, it will be a strange mix of repulsive and entrancing.

    But I think you have to get into his head because otherwise what he is capable of is far too dehumanizing.

  2. Ha ha! I should have known you’d be the first to comment, Joe! But yeah… it’s a difficult thing to write serial killers because you do have to get in their heads… and the world form their eyes isn’t really a pretty place, lol. Thanks for reading, Joe. I think you are right where you should be… keep writing.

  3. Kim Justesen says:

    I certainly hope my voice isn’t one of those that hinders the process!

    Nicely handled – now let me read the chapter!

  4. Linda Bennett says:

    I love books that keep me on the edge of my seat, so to speak. I also love books that put a little scare in you. I am sure that this book Evil Heart is one of those kind of books. I am not easiily offended, but I do understand what you mean.

    A very interesting and insightful blog, I enjoyed reading.

  5. Crista Baker says:

    I don’t think that ultimately overthinking the whole thing is just more stress’ things tend to work out the way they were intended in the end, folllow your heart, it will get you where you are trying to go, while staying true to you…. you’ll get it figured out!

  6. Thanks Crista! …For some much needed words of encouragement. I appreciate you reading and commenting. Keep in touch!

  7. Gabby says:

    Oh I cant wait for this to come out. I don’t care how demented it is. The real world is not always pretty either.

    I agree with what you say about sex and writing about it. You can’t please everyone so be true to yourself. If you do that for me, write from your heart, I will love it because it is real. People need to be more open minded about their literature anyway. No writer ever pleases me or anyone else 100% of the time, just like no regular person does. Don’t censor it for anyone-just write!

    • Thanks, Gabby! That truly is the key and it’s something I try to always do. There comes a time when you just need to follow your gut and that’s what I am trying to do. If it leads me to some unpleasant places, well, then… I guess it will just make for better writing material! Thanks for reading. Much love to you.

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