Meh. I had a point to make here and then I got all rambley. Sue me.
I was running around Facebook today and there’s a group there that is talking about how to balance out sex and violence in their books. Mostly it’s a lot of people just talking about what they do in their own writing or what they like or don’t like. It’s kind of funny really – there’s an awful lot of people that don’t like sex *or* violence. Or just writing it maybe. So then I have to wonder…is it really that they don’t like reading/writing it, or is it that they just don’t know how to? (Admittedly this is a group of mystery/suspense writers, so there may be a bit of a bias here)
For myself, I think I can read or write either – in whatever amounts are required for the story. Note that that doesn’t mean gratuitous. Sex for the sake of sex is usually boring. Same thing for the buckets of blood and the decapitations. I will agree that sometimes too much description can take away the fun from the reader. Sometimes I *really* don’t want to know about every thrust, grunt or Hail Mary, but it really does depend on the genre. If I pick up an erotic romance, yeah – I figure there damn well better be a shitload of sex going on in there – why else would I be reading it? On the other hand, if it’s not…then does the sex need to be there? Does it add or take away from the story, or distract the reader? Obviously it’s going to depend on the book.
One could argue that both acts are natural. Sex for certain, and violence, as much as we may hate to admit it – well, it comes pretty naturally to a lot of people too. Does that mean we shouldn’t write about it? One author pointed out that she didn’t like books about serial killers – the world is a pretty sick place as it is, so why should we glorify it by writing about it? (But without them, there would be no Silence of the Lambs…”You will tell me when those lambs stop screaming, won’t you Clarice?”)
I don’t know how to answer that, but you could probably use that argument for just about any gruesome subject in books – rape, torture, slavery, sodomy, murder – there are thousands of fabulous books out there that all contain elements of these things, and the best one are the ones that make you react. They are part of the world and therefore, they needs to be dealt with – and reading and writing about it is one way of doing that.
Such a scene doesn’t even have to be described in massive detail. Sometimes it’s the little things – the human things – that really make it stand out. I think I read Stephen King’s Pet Semetary about 15 years ago, maybe 20…and to be honest, I don’t remember all that much of it, but there was one part where the little boy gets hit by a truck and dies. The *only* detail I remember about that scene is when the father is racing up the road to find the boy and stumbles across the kid’s Star Wars Yoda sneaker. That one little detail has haunted the shit out of me for years and I couldn’t tell you why. SK could have just said, “red Addias” or “black Nike” or whatever, but he was so specific – what would a kid wear? Between being a mom now and having mr myn give me a tour of the car graveyard behind the station, it really strikes home for me.
The car graveyard, btw – is full of wrecked cars from fatal accidents. It’s awful and chilling and I think everyone should visit one. It’s like you get to see that one split second of what a person’s life was just before they died – from the dirty magazines in the back seat, to the sunglasses, the CDs, the baby dolls, the spilled coffee and yes, the shoes. In one case, the flip flops were just sitting there, still resting on the gas pedal.
My point here is that it really is about the little things. Too much description and it becomes numbing. How much blood can you read about, really? How many sex scenes happen before you just start skipping them? If such things aren’t necessary – if they don’t pull the story along, then don’t write them. On the other hand, don’t cheat the reader out of a potentially pivotal moment by skipping out either. Copping out by having the room “fade to black” sucks. Give me a good visceral punch to the gut any day and I’m a happy reader. The devil, as they say, is definitely in the details.