I’ve been pondering censorship, and what it means to be authentic to our characters when they commit sexual acts which might lead to censorship. Where does one draw the line when it comes to deciding what is ‘appropriate’ for publication? How slippery does the slope get once that line is marked? For material considered appropriate today may be deemed worthy of a banning or a burning tomorrow.
Like most things, offending material is largely subjective. Some readers take orgies in stride while others flinch at the baring of a shoulder. Editors – and the government – have the power to deem what is ‘appropriate’ for publication – or not. One of the beautiful things about America is that, for the most part, we have freedom to write what we wish – and editors have the right to publish what they want.
But that’s external censorship. What about internal censorship?
Sex is one place where are characters are naked – literally and figuratively. Sure, the myriad acts of sex are interesting – how to do it, with whom, in what positions – but what is really important is what lies underneath: a character’s motivation, his emotional reactions, history, hurts, joys. A character’s hang-ups and desires get writ between the sheets, and her insecurities and ego. Sex is often about power, conveyed in the positions taken, who initiates, who accedes, who orgasms. Thus, the importance of a sex scene in all genres – even erotica*-- is not in the sex, but in what the sexual act means to the characters and how they respond.
It’s our job as writers to get to these nuanced levels, get beyond the physical descriptions only.
It’s rather a squeamish endeavor to write sex scenes; they elicit all of our own fears and misgivings. Well writing about sex does that to me. The prude in me quavers when I write ‘cock’ or ‘fuck’ (even now, I almost wrote the ‘c’ and ‘f’ words). But, it is rather inauthentic of us to dance around sex with blinders and bathrobes on if our character has a sexual life, and it’s one central or important to the story. It’s disingenuous for us to pretend our characters are not sexual, to not write about their sexual lives in a way they would not describe it. In other words, we should not internally censor our words to be inauthentic to our characters’ intentions and voice.
I struggled with this in deciding to post the prior post (The House that Tien Built), and then in further discussion with a fellow writer whom I consider a friend. Yes, the scene is graphic, but I am so proud of this excerpt from PURE – I got honest with my character’s feelings and voice. This was a most difficult scene to write – I’ve spent hours on it – but felt, at last, this was Ben’s story. I have no regrets posting.
So tell me – where do you draw the line when it comes to writing about sex? About violence?
*erotica is NOT necessarily pornography, which is an entire different kettle of worms and not of interest in this post.