Many years ago I wrote an amusing and eyebrow-raising short piece of prose called My Parents Will See This. It was in answer to an exercise someone set on a forum about how people have a mistaken view of writers. Although many laughed and were possibly slightly scandalised by my offering, there was a lot of truth in it. People DO look at something an author has written and raise an eyebrow or two; maybe they even whisper behind said author’s back. Or, these days, get up in their face.
My first published novel was a gay fantasy romance. I wrote it because the idea nagged at me. I had no other agenda in mind other than I had chosen a publisher I wanted to write for, and I had found the perfect idea to fit them. Even if I hadn’t a publisher in mind, I would have written the story. It bugged me, kept me awake, distracted me, begged. The only way to get this story out of my head was to write it down.
The publisher I had chosen produced erotic romance. I knew the story had to be explicit. Talk about a jump in the deep end. My first full-length novel and I made it not only explicit but at heart a gay romance. Try explaining that to the relatives.
Writing anything in the least sexual is probably the most difficult to contend with. People will come to peculiar conclusions. The romance genre has expanded in recent years to include cross-genre writing from paranormal through to erotica and even BDSM. Some writers have experience in some of these categories, but not all. So how does a writer ‘write’ a BDSM story without being involved in the life? How does a straight woman write a gay romance?
Research. The writer reads. The writer asks questions. The writer studies how other writers are doing it. The writer dissects a book he or she enjoyed in that genre, and although I’ve mentioned explicit content here as a prime example, these basics apply to any work. It never ceases to amaze me people can get so fired up over sexual content, yet those same folks won’t say a word against the latest horror novel or film. Some do, of course. I’d like to protest and claim no one approaches the crime or thriller writer and asks them where they hide the dead bodies, but they probably do. Crime or horror writers get asked as many peculiar questions as erotica authors. I know they have asked King how he sleeps at night and he has apparently answered, “Very well, thank you.” Still sex seems to receive the highest negativity. What two consenting adults do isn’t okay, but a ski-masked killer hacking up young virgins is? Many an erotic romance writer shakes a head over this—just not one they’ve decapitated.
Sex is another part of the human condition, same as death, same as fear, or joy, any other experience or emotion. Writing sexual content does not mean the author spends the weekend trying out the latest ‘toys’ for review or even as research. It does not mean the writer is a nymphomaniac. Not all erotica writers wear corsets on the weekends. A roundabout way to get to my point.
BE TRUE TO THE STORY.
It doesn’t matter what you are writing, IMHO the writer needs to be true to the content. If the story needs sex, then consider in what context. Same for anything explicit—there shouldn’t be gratuitous sex, same as there shouldn’t be gratuitous gore. What counts as gratuitous is another argument. The quick answer is everything in a book has to propel the story. Everything a character experiences must change that character. If writing for an erotic romance publisher, the writer has to include sex so the trick would be to come up with an idea that allows sex to occur, but includes the other elements of story and plot. Another genre might approach this from the other direction—the story may require sex and the author will include it only if needed, but if writing for a market that requires such content, it’s the writer’s job to work it in as part of the storytelling. The same with horror. The writer knows it’s necessary to scare the audience.
There are distinct styles required for different books, and various markets, and if the author wants to write for them he or she must accept this. Don’t worry who will read it. No one need read it until the author is ready to put the story out there. Even then it can always go out under a pen-name, although be aware this does not guarantee anonymity, especially these days.
I’m saying, don’t be afraid—if you want to write, you can’t be—and that applies to whatever the author is writing. Maybe it’s not a sexual scene. Maybe a character needs to die horribly. The writer just knows his or her mother will be terribly turned off by it, even sickened. Who and what should the author be loyal to? The parent? The story? One could say the writer should be true to the reader, but before that the writer needs to be true to the writer. Put into a story everything it requires, regardless of what others might think. No more, but definitely no less.
Not convinced? Try it. If the writer is lucky enough and has found the right genre and the right voice to work with, that’s wonderful. If not, then write something with all those worries and barriers in place. Then write it again with those barriers lowered. No one need see it. See if that changes the outcome. I know it did for me.