Occasionally there is a need for sex or violence in the given narrative that you are writing. These scenes can be fraught; what is the dividing line between titillation and storytelling? Today I’m going to give my two cents on this topic.
“printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
I’d add that explicit violence can serve as a sort of porn as well.
Alright, when dealing with extremes in human behavior, I prefer to use a light touch. What do I mean by this. Well, sometimes the allusion is more powerful than a stark description of a given course of events; I’m a believer in allowing the reader to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks. When I get specific, there’s a reason to be graphic.
A lot of what I write is military science fiction so I tend to deal more with violence and death than romance and sex, but the latter topic does come up from time to time. In both cases I try to be careful.
In the case of violence I do my best to relate the action as realistically as possible, without embellishment or glorification. I think there’s more impact to your work this way, I think the reader tires of umpteen scenes of blood splashing all over the place. This is violence porn.
A great example of porn literature was a series that was a common sight at garage sales when I was a kid. I won’t name the series of books but I read a few of them and it was one mob hit after another, whole platoons of innocents being gunned down and then the righteous revenge of the good-guy serial killer who took revenge.
With relish, every possible way to die was explored, the relentless and mysteriously immune protagonist killed, and killed, and killed some more. And oh yeah, he always got the girl, and this was described in depth as well.
It was a classic case of crossing Mars and Eros, with every bullet tracked and every orgasm chronicled.
There IS a market for this type of thing, and whoever wrote the series probably made a boatload of money and retired early.
Well, maybe I’m a puritan, but this ain’t my cup of tea.
First, it’s probably pretty unhealthy to want to watch all this dying mixed in with sex. I wonder if they found a bunch of these at some real serial killer’s house.
Second, it’s bad storytelling. Why. Allow me to explain. Come up with a formula (each book was pretty much the same). Drape a change of scenery upon it. There are two red buttons. One says KILLING, and the other says SEX. Mash them over and over again in the story until the reader has either thrown the book away, or they are salivating for more. The author doesn’t care, because he made his buck.
Finally, this stuff is straight-up porn. The story is a veneer, the violence and the sex are not plot points, they are THE point. There’s a difference. There’s no story to be had, and there is close to zero realism. The protagonist is robot-like, his sexual conquests are cartoonish, objectified dolls, and his devilish victims are bad-guy cardboard cut-outs.
Porn, as opposed to a story.
Of course, the novels I’ve described above are themselves a cartoon and an extreme. They have been out of print for many years (I hope), but frequently during the course of writing my own material I wonder if I’ve gone too far with some scenes, or what the proper balance should be when writing a disturbing or tough passage.
Lately there was a discussion I was a part of involving the beta read of a friend’s book; some bad guys were about to be hung and there was a small debate as to whether to show the hanging or not.
I sided with the author that it wasn’t necessary; enough violence had been depicted earlier in the scene and showing the act of hanging would have been too much. Titillation versus storytelling. In the end it was enough to show the gallows to the reader and leave it at that; they could fill in the blanks.
In my own work recently there was a sex scene; there was dialogue between the two characters of a sexual nature. Specifically they discussed whether the male should use protection in the form of a condom; I included this bit of dialogue to illustrate that the man chose not to because he could have cared less about the woman for reasons that were clear in the passage.
So, specific sexual talk or acts for a reason, and violence with a purpose. In my opinion, this is what separates an adult themed story from porn.
It’s kind of like an old-fashioned farm. Everything has to have a purpose, or it gets cut. When it comes to human extremes, this holds doubly.
That’s my two cents.