Sex, Relationships and Balance in Fiction
I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of sex in fiction. There are a lot of reasons for that, and no, 50 Shades isn’t even close to being one of them. Surprisingly, the whole debate about New Adult is on my list. But the biggest reason is my own writing.
I make no secret of the fact that I don’t write YA fiction. It’s not any bias or anything against YA. That’s just not quite where my ideas go or what I tend to want to explore when I’m writing. What I don’t often say is that my stories quite often include sex to some extent, the novels more so than the shorter works. I’m not trying to hide it, but I don’t bring it up most of the time because to me, it seems obvious that stories about adult relationships should include sex. I believe that it’s a normal natural part of the relationship, so exploring that in fiction always feels natural as well.
But the question I’ve been pondering lately is how much to include. In both the Mirrors of Bershan and Necromantic trilogies, it was there, but not in anything I might call an excessive amount. It was how much the story needed. That, to me, is always the key, how much is needed. Like any other plot element, the sex should be part of the story, not there purely to titillate, but also as a vehicle for the story, part of the way the plot progresses. I’ve read books where it was put in for what felt to me like the wrong reasons, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. I’ve talked to enough others to know that I’m not the only one who notices when it’s shoehorned in.
So, why is this coming up now? Because Unmasked contains a significantly greater amount. I’m not talking about the book suddenly being erotica, but it’s definitely a bigger part of the story. I’ve considered toning it down some, but every time I do, it feels wrong, like I’m being dishonest to the story I’m telling. Because it is part of the story, make no mistake. Unmasked is very much about power and relationship dynamics, and sex is part of how that’s being expressed. There’s more to the book than just sex, other ways I’m exploring the dynamics between the two main characters, but that’s the most important one, for a lot of reasons, including the effect it has on Cayle. He is and will forever be changed by both the act and the emotional content that goes along with it for him.
As in all things, I consider balance a fluid thing, never the simple 50/50 split that would make things simpler (although 50% of the book being sex would actually require me to put more in than I already have, I think). So I’m trying to figure out if I’ve achieved the right balance here. I’d like to think I have. I’ve certainly avoided it becoming long, detailed descriptions of each act. But I’m still not sure. Maybe I’m just being hard on myself again, and I’ll find on going back for edits that I did better than I thought. There are other elements to the plot, as I mentioned, and it will tone down on its own in many ways after the first book. This, of course, gives me another headache, in the form of reader expectations. Assuming the book turns out well and the audience doesn’t walk away thinking “Ick,” how will they react when there’s much less of it in the subsequent books? Maybe they’ll be disappointed, having expected more after Unmasked, or maybe they’ll be happy to see things return to a more normal (for me) level. I suspect I’ll find out at some point, because I do intend to publish this book when it’s ready.
It’s no wonder I haven’t slept well the last couple of nights, looking at all this stuff I have going around in my head. No, none of this concern is going to keep me from writing the first draft as I conceived it. I’m trying to keep it in the back of my mind and not worry about it too much, yet it keeps tugging at my thoughts. And, of course, in my case, there’s the added dimension of reader opinions and expectations regarding sex in Fantasy/Sci-Fi, but that would have to be a whole other post, as it’s a big debate on its own. Hmm, maybe I should make notes for that one.
So, I guess my question is, what does everyone else thing about the subject (not limited to my own books) of sex in adult fiction? Expectations, dislikes, disappointments, any thoughts you might have.