3/30/10

Writing Tip Tuesday: Handling S~x

I want my book to be appropriate for my potential readers, but my main character is having a problem with a person who is s~xually harassing her. It is driving me crazy trying to figure out how to hint that this problem is happening without it sounding either prudish or too loose with my language. I really like how you handled the swearing situation when it comes to writing and being LDS. PLEASE HELP.


Dealing with s~xual situations in an LDS market is like walking a tightrope. We all have different comfort zones. Personally, I can handle it if characters go into the bedroom and close the door, but I don't want to watch. As for s~xual violence—and I include harassment in that category—I need to know what's going on, but subtle is better.

One of the best ways I've seen this handled is in Josi Kilpack's book, Sheep's Clothing, about an Internet predator who kidnaps a teenage girl. Josi writes, "The first time he touched her..." That's all I needed to know.

Keep in mind that if you're writing the scene in real time with sensory details, it's going to draw the reader in, which will be offensive to some readers. If you have your character tell someone about the it, it allows for some distance between the reader and the event. This is one case where, in my opinion, telling is better than showing.

One thing I do when I'm going through a book that deals with possibly offensive material is to imagine my mother reading it. She's your average LDS Relief Society sister and the target audience for most of the novels I work with. If I think she'd be offended and put it down, I lighten it up.

My best advice is to write your scenes the way you feel it best serves your story. If it's too harsh, your publisher will let you know.

Readers, authors: How do you handle these types of situations? What advice to you have?

6 comments:

Jonathan Langford said...

I like your comment about the editor/publisher letting you know if it's too graphic. In some cases, I think it may be necessary to write what "actually" happened, but then tone it down based on reader and editor responses. I found myself doing that in my book, and it was quite useful. Of course, my book is rather more graphic than what you get in most mainstream Mormon lit, so take that for what it's worth...

Paul West said...

I totally agree with you, LDS Pub. I once wrote a rape scene that I thought was quite compelling. However, I only wrote that the boy started unbuttoning the girl's blouse, then when he went to kiss her, she bit him on the lip, drawing blood, then she got out of the car and walked home.

I now wish I'd kept that scene somehow.

M. Gray said...

I also like your advice to write it how you think it should be told and then your editor/publisher can tone it down if need be. This way the tone and intent of the scene can be captured, and if needed, partially eclipsed by your editor.

That's what I would hope, anyway. Or maybe the publisher would say it's too raunchy to begin with and not sign the writer... but then the editors would get on here and say if the book has merit and we like it, we'll work with the author. So then we're back to square one: I would still write it the way I think it needs to be told.

How's that for circular logic??

Josi said...

Ironically, I didn't have that scene in the book originally, sure that Deseret Book would take it out. They came to me and said what I had was too vague about what happens, could I clarify what was happening without making it offensive? That completely supports what you've said here--write what you feel works, then let them help you adjust it to their specifications. Thanks for the shout out.

Heather B. Moore said...

Write how you think it needs to be told, then send out to several alpha readers and let them know what your target market it. Then you can go from there. Sometimes less is more, especially in fiction. The reader doesn't need to be hit over the head or the obvious stated in great detail. Again, alpha readers are a must! Think of them as your pre-reviewers that aren't going to publish their reviews quite yet.

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I heard this in a book I read. If it doesn't move the plot along then is it really necessary. I think that this applies to all scenes in books like that.