20 Nov 2015

Writing Shadows and Sex

As hitherto mentioned, yours truly is engaged in writing the Ark. It is a substantial endeavour, as any novel inevitably is—particularly one that falls into three genres: Sci-Fi, fantasy, and romance.

However, none of this is to say that I have forgotten my duties here on the Magical Realm—as some of my readers have already reminded me. Thus, the topic of this post is one concerning the writing process. Having completed the first part of the novel—entitled Love—and being occupied with the second part (Life) I feel it necessary to address the topic which I’ve covered previously, albeit with updated and extended detail.

To put it far fewer words: I’m going to talk a little about sex.

Oh, Dear…

In my previous polemic on the matter, I wrote of how sex was a powerfully taboo subject to discuss—in books, and outside of them. I’ve already covered some of the causes; our society’s contradictory attitude being one (we seem unable to speak of it, and yet able to speak only of it) along with, perhaps, a natural human aversion to discussing deeply personal matters.

However, today I am not concerned with this; today, my concern is rather more simple: how to write sex.

It is already an open secret that the Ark contains a sex scene (which is currently under hot debate by various readers). Why? Well, the answer to that is something I’ve already hinted at: sex is an important part of romantic relationships. It can make or break a relationship. And of course—it provides an excellent opportunity to explore the character’s thoughts and relations.

On a purely literary perspective, sex is an important key aspect. Any romance novel worth its salt will feature some form of sex; for without it, such tales would be deeply dissatisfying and incomplete.

But how, oh how, is one to write them?

Shadows

A truth of all writing is that it is often concerned with what I call the shadows of things. Consider the following analogy: suppose you were a conductor in an orchestra. What do you do? Do you attempt to manhandle and strong-arm the musicians; do you force the melody from their lips and their instruments?

Of course not. What you do is direct—you are there to guide them to the melody you know, but ultimately they achieve it through their own powers.

Writing is much like that. A writer cannot attempt to photographically imprint the tale on the reader’s mind; that is the purlieu of the film medium. What a writer does is create the shadows of things, and allow the reader to imagine the rest.

Take the example of character description. One can attempt to describe every minute detail; every blemish, the exact colour of their hair, their precise height and build and bearing—and any half-competent writer can do this just fine.

But a master writer knows better. A master writer can create a more vivid picture using a flash of green eye, a touch of white dress; a contour of a strong shoulder.

And so, you ask: are sex scenes much the same? As is often the case, my answer is cryptic: yes and no.

A Tricky Matter, Indeed

Writing a sex scene ultimately requires one to strike a particular balance. Too little detail and the characters’ true relationship will remain obscured; too much and you may not capture the true essence of their relationship at all. And that’s not even jumping into the murky matter of ‘Oh, but what would the readers want…?’

Allow me to put it unkindly: a writer’s primary concern is not for their readers’ sensibilities. It is for their tale. There, shoot me.

Anyway: let us get back to the matter at heart. How much detail is too little or too much? The answer to that ultimately depends somewhat on the tale itself. In my previous novel, the Necromancer, a high level of detail for a number of scenes gave it a particular quality—a phantasmagoria of Winter magic and the dark whisper of the Necromancer’s dead:

He sits in his throne room. Its floor is black marble, polished by the blood of the fallen: it reflects the Necromancer’s face, emblazoning it in horror. Windows stretching high unto the ceiling fill the room with grey, monotonous light.

At the centre, lies the throne.

Carved from trees long extinct, adorned by gargoyles in vicious form, the throne is pale compared to the being that rests on top.

But sex, alas, is a tricky matter. Attempt to describe everything the characters feel, and elucidate on the precise anatomical details of their intercourse, and, well—you may end up lecturing the reader on the workings of the human anatomy. But fail to give the reader some juicy details, and… disappointment will inevitably follow.

You may be able to guess that this question is one I have not yet found an answer to. Or, rather, I know the principle but may not, perhaps, have the practice in order.

Anyway: I must leave you now. I hope the above has been informative and fascinating. Now I need take my own advice; the Ark doesn’t write itself, after all…

PS: I have decided to release one more chapter of the Ark, along with an edited draft. Keep following.

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