My Own Personal Grey

The Expurgated Bits


I’m not known for writing sex scenes. I hate them, actually. I am not very good at them. I’d rather write action or description, or dialog, or even bridges (which are deadly) than sex.

My sex scenes are either too prim or they go straight to porno. Honest sex is hard, because it has to expose the emotional motives for the act as well as being well-balanced in action and description with the right degree of delicacy or explicitness. It’s where a lot of sexually explicit stories fall down for me: the sex scenes don’t have the same feel as the rest of the story, or the actions of the characters during sex (or sex with that person/thing) don’t make sense. (Or it seems like something the writer threw in because the outline said “sex scene here.”) Violence doesn’t have this problem: it truly is mechanical and bound by physical laws. Motivation and aftermath complicate violence, but they can be removed from the physical description of the act and layered in at some other place. Violence can still be badly written, but the reasons are not the same. Writing sex, at least for me, is really hard to do right.

You should see the original version of the sex scene in Underground. It’s just plain bad. Not dirty; bad.

A local Mystery writer once told me “Don’t leave out the sex! When you write about real life, you have to leave the real bits in, and real people have sex.” While this is true, I don’t think you need to put the scene in if it doesn’t move the story or character development forward. Sex for the sake of sex, just like violence, or technical details, or in-jokes and linguistic cleverness just for themselves, is pointless.

There are a lot of real life things we don’t include in writing. We don’t mention every trip to the bathroom, or every minute the characters spend sitting in traffic, or watching TV in the evening, or having their hair cut, or doing the laundry…. Not only are those moments boring, but they may just be Too Much. If it doesn’t do something for the story, leave it out.

Now, it’s not that my characters aren’t having sex (or all those other things); they are. And I hope I’m a good enough writer that my readers know there’s a full life going on for those characters out of view behind the stage of the immediate plot. That’s part of the measure of good writing: building believable characters who bring the aura of a real life with them into the story. And it’s part of the reason I’m not as creeped out by the idea of fanfic as some of my friends. If I’ve done a really good job implying the depth and reality of my characters, my readers should be able to imagine what they might be up to on some other day, in some other place. And that’s where fanfic becomes a compliment to the writer, not an imposition on their work; you’ve given the reader a deep enough and true enough picture of the character and their world, that the unseen details of a life can be imagined painted in by someone else.

Now, I don’t necessarily want to be shown these stories–if there are any. Not only may I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to wave the “copyright infringement” penalty flag, but I may be sadly disappointed in the way readers interpret or force the characters. If, for instance, I should find a story featuring Harper screwing Edward, that would definitely make me scowl. Didn’t I make it clear enough that she can’t think of vampires as humans? And since she’s really a bit straitlaced on the sexual front, she’s not going to be tearing it off with the paranormals. But is she boffing Quinton’s brains out? Yes, every chance she gets! Is there something a bit weird going on between the various vampires? Oh, you can pretty well bet on that. Ben and Mara are plainly doing the nasty when they have time–they didn’t make Brian out of twigs and clay you know.

Upon occasion, I write out the scenes that never show up. Most of them actually aren’t sex, but other strange situations or backstory that help me understand the characters better. A few of them do show up–some of Harper’s scenes with her mother in Vanished came out of “what would ever motivate Harper to change her opinion of her mother? What would make her call Veronica ‘mom’?” Many will probably never make it into a book and most really don’t need to.

And then there are the problems of vampire bites, ghost sex, magical compulsions, and tap-dancing zombies. Just to name a few….

Eventually, I suppose I’ll get around to posting some of the actual expurgations and deleted scenes on the website, but for now, I’m just thinking. Are you?