Let me open with two confessions: 1) When I reach a sex scene in a novel I’m reading, I usually skip past it. 2) When writing fiction myself, I usually find some way to avoid writing a sex scene, even though such a scene can often be important to the plot.
There. I said it.
I don’t think of myself as a prude. Frankly, I blame childhood conditioning. As readers of my literary travel memoir know, my mother was an aspiring romance novelist when I was a teenager. I was happy to read her prose, but not so happy when I hit the sex scenes. It’s a bit disturbing to enter the erotic mind of one’s mother when one is just figuring out one’s own sexuality. (Shudder.)
It also seems that some writers will throw in a sex scene simply for the scintillation, or because it’s part of a well-established genre formula. When I watched the Netflix series Altered Carbon, I thought that was the case in a scene in which the protagonist sleeps with the wife of the murder suspect. It seemed very hardboiled detective tripe, like a Dashiell Hammett novel. I’m now reading the novel that series was based on, however, and I’m impressed by how author Richard Morgan used the scene to give the reader valuable insights on this futuristic culture, from organically produced stimulants to the psychological impacts of living hundreds of years. It was also erotic, but more importantly it helped drive the plot and reader understanding.
Thus my WIP, an urban fantasy novel in which the first draft is technically 2/3 of the way done, except I keep going back and rewriting earlier scenes. I believe I’m about to do that again. There are two points in the draft so far where a sex scene would have been a natural plot element, but I blipped by them, implying some activity (or not) without showing it. Aren’t we supposed to show, not tell? Morgan’s writing, and that of others, has me realizing I need to let go of that traumatized fifteen year old and write the scenes the WIP’s plot is clearly calling for.
Wish me luck. (Shudder.)