Monday, March 9, 2009

It's A Fine Line Between Sexual And Sensual

Howdy do.

For those of you who have been following my blog for the past month or so, you've heard me bitch about me getting slammed online and in the real world over the content of my book, Shades of Love.

Among the many accusations that have been flung at me (and there have been many), one that has bugged me the most, has been the accusation that I write porn.

Granted, some of the intimate scenes that appear in the book were somewhat on the explicit side. But that doesn't mean I write porn. What I write is what I consider to be adult fiction. However, after spending the last several months reading a few romances, a few blogs and some personal corresponding with friends, I do realize that what I wrote for sex scenes could be misconstrued as hardcore.

I came to this realization that what I wrote was too explicit when a good friend of mine told me that she had problems reconciling what I wrote in the book and stories that she has read of mine, with the person she's friends with, and that my writing made her feel a little uncomfortable. I was starting to come to this conclusion already, which was based on what I read by other authors and the thoughtful opinions of others on the various blogs that I follow, most notably Rule of Three and Razored Zen.

The last thing I wanted to do with my writing is to make people feel uncomfortable while reading, and I think that's what I did with my book. I'm not knocking my book, because overall I think it was a well written piece of prose. But there are things I could have done to it in order to make it more palatable and thus, one less accusation that could be thrown at me.

The one major thing I could have done, was to tidy up the sex scenes (read: tone it down a couple of notches), and not throw so many of them in.

As the title of the post goes, it's a very fine line between sexual (read: hardcore) and sensual (read: softcore). I'm really trying to tone down the explicitness of the moment when I write, so that it comes out more like this (a dream sequence), instead of coming out like this (opening paragraph). Last one isn't a very good example, but you get the basic idea.

Secondly, I'm working very hard of not throwing in a sex scene for the sake of throwing in a sex scene, but instead, throwing one in that helps move the plot/story along. I think that was a major complaint that people were making, in that it had way too much gratuitous sex in the story. I realize now that whenever I did get stuck at certain points, I threw in a gratuitous sex scene. It did get the job done, in as much that it helped me get unstuck but in hindsight, I probably could have done a little better with it.

Finally, I think that the way I've been venting in my writing for the past three years should be changed. Some people vent in different ways, either with anger, violence or biting humor in their writings.

Me, I vent with sex. And as you can see by this post, I crossed that fine line between tasteful and tasteless. So I think it's about time I started listening to other opinions/criticisms and temper my writing so as to bring it back from that misconstrued (but highly understandable) accusation that I write porn.

I don't write porn and I'm gonna damn well start proving to people that I don't.


  1. A reader's interpretation of what is acceptable in a sex scene is very subjective. I can understand your frustration at critics who dismiss those scenes as pornographic in nature. I give you credit for adding those sensual elements to your story. I would be too afraid to even try and venture in that arena for my writing. I think you're right to constructively use any criticism as an opportunity to fine tune a scene or two.

  2. Yes, a reader's interpretation of what's acceptable is very subjective. What bothered me the most about those accusations that I write porn, is that the people who made them, never confronted me directly about it. Instead, I found about it (at least at work), through the very sudden disinterest in what I wrote. I had drummed up some interest in what I wrote and had potential buyes lined up, but after a few people bought it and read it, they made their feelings very well known about it.

    Suffice to say, some unnecessary static was brought down on me and other people who where kind enough to help me with my book.

    I'm not closed minded by any means, and I welcome any and all kinds of critique, but I just wish that if people didn't like what I wrote, they tell me directly instead of anonymously (especially in the chat rooms).

  3. Either scene that you share is appropriate depending on the audience and style of the material. There is certainly a hardcore element to the graphic description, and I could see that somone who read a bunch of those graphic types of scenes might interpret the story as hardcore material.

    The thing is, there's no reason really why something can't be both pornographic and worthwhile as literature. People do have graphic sex. In practice, though, it usually doesn't work out that way because graphic material is typically used to titilate or arouse.

  4. True.

    But it seems with the way that I write, it has a tendency to go to the extreme.

    I think that I've been having better luck as of late in toning down the graphic content of my writing. It's still there in all of its natural element, just not as offensive (for lack of a better term).

    I guess you can say that I'm still trying to find that happy medium in what I write. I like using sex as a plot device, so I might as well make work it the best way I know how.

  5. Well I haven't read your book Georgie so I can't comment but I think you've done yourself proud by taking the criticism on the chin and now working to make yourself a better writer - and like I'm doing as a relative novice - experimenting to find what works best for you.

    Well of course all criticism is subjective and there's no pleasing everyone but when people whom I trust/repect have commented on what I've written I found that 99% of the time it turned out to be something I'd already felt a little edgy about - sometimes something just as simple as an adjective that wasn't quite right.

    As for sex in a novel - there isn't any in mine but if I felt the need for it I would write it - afterall it is an essential part of our lives - I'd rather read it than have those silly "They closed the door behind them" scenes!

    Sounds to me that your first novel has been a huge learning curve (as has mine) and the second will be the better for it. Keep writing!

  6. My first one has definitely been a huge learning curve. Most of the positive feedback that I've gotten has been that the story moved along quite well (with both plots, I believe).

    The negative has been the graphic sex scenes. Like I stated in the post, two good friends of mine had problems reconciling the stuff I write with the person that they know.

    I have tried to work at becoming a better writer. Simply by doing this blog has helped me tremendously. Find other blogs that are writing related has been a godsend for me, as I want my blog and my writing to be in the same neighborhood as the people that I've grown to admire here.

    As for the sex.....well, I'll be touching on that in another post.

    But I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that with the second novel I'm writing, the graphic sex has been toned down considerably. It's not as blatant and some instances, not even there or just a shade on the suggestively risque side.

    But like the title of the comment bubble says "go on, give me your best shot. I can take it."

    Not only have I been taking it on the chin, but I've been dropped to the ground as well. But just like a Timex, I take a licking and keep on ticking.

  7. First, I’ve read Shades of Love and see no problems with the passages you wrote. Second, friends and family never get it. My story “Blubber” won second place in the lastest OOTG issue and was nominated by well known authors Anthony Neill Smith and Victor Gischler. The story in part concerns a hooker doing her thing. None of my non-writing friends congratulated me on the story and my sister seemed concerned in how I could come up with material like that! A few years ago it would have bothered me but now I just chalk it up to they don’t get it and probably never will.

  8. Does this mean none of you have ever read any Laurell K Hamilton?

  9. David: thanks again. I think that you're right for the most part on family and friends not getting it.

    Believe it or not, my wife hasn't read my book beyond the first couple of pages (she is very much a non-reader, which for the moment, I'm very grateful for), and honestly, I'm not sure what I would do if she offered an opinion on it.

    I have a relative who is lawyer/writer who has read a couple of rough drafts I've shown him who didn't find a problem with what I wrote. Matter of fact, he thought it had a kind of smokey jazz club appeal to it.

    Still, it does bother me to a small extent that people think I write porn. I'm sure the further I progress, the less it'll bother me.

    However, I'll still watch what I send along to my non-writing friends, at least until they can reconcile me the writer with me the person.

    Mad Cat Lady: Who is Laurell K Hamilton?


    Bestselling American Author in the Fantasy genre. Ask anybody who thinks your stories pornographic to read the Merry Gentry Series before making up their mind. She is not regarded as 'porn' by the booksellers and general public.

    I will observe female writers write sex scence differently to men. There is a lot more adjectives thrown in. A woman writer will write about what it feels like and a male writer will write what physical actions are taking place.

    I have noted that females will find the straight 'this is what is happening' more confronting than if it were written from the 'oh she felt like she was breaking into a million pieces' language.

    I am probably not making any sense what so ever -lol.

  11. Actually, you're making a ton of sense.

    I haven't read that much soft/hard stuff, but the few titles that I've read, I think I would have to agree with your observation about men vs. female in regards to writing sex scenes.

    The two books that I read by Karen Siplin were very much of the "what it feels like" when it came to the couple of sexual situations within the books.

    I did read some adult westerns back in the day and they were much written in the way that most men (including myself) write.

    Thanks for the link.

  12. It sounds like this was a very good learning experience. What's the next book you plan to publish?

  13. This is proving a very interesting conversation and although I'm not really well read in "saucy" fiction I think Mad Cat is totally correct just through my observations of life - women tend to make love with their minds and men with their dangly bits! It's my belief we are,in fact entirely different species - we just both happen to have 2 legs. (Nothing personal to you menfolk out there just a Mrs T observation.)

    As you aware Georgie I've been experimenting with my writing. Primarily I write humorous stuff, but I've also written poetry, some serious pieces, some pseudo academic and recently some short stories. Your post a few weeks back about writing in the second person finally got me off my butt and me write something in it which actually I was rather pleased with as not only was it in the second person but entirely different from what I'd written before. I've been thinking about having a bash at writing something a little "hot" too (not any of my recipes as you know they're pretty disastrous)and now I think I will. There's a big market for that kinda writing out there and I'm no prude!

    (Ps - I hear Playboy pays very well.)

  14. J-Marie: Hi and I'm glad you stopped by for a visit.

    It was/has been a very good learnng experience for me. If anything, it proves that I can get a reaction out of people with what I write.

    As for my next book, I've been re-writing about a half dozen short stories that I plan on tying together with a Twilight Zone type of story. It's tenatively titled "Life is a Highway" and you can follow the progress of it in my blog, as I write about the why's and how to's of writing the book.

    Jane: First of all, I'm flattered that one of my posts was able to inspire you to try something different. It's not too often that I have that effect on people nowadays.

    It has been an interesting conversation, hasn't it? I find if you bring up certain topics (like sex) in general conversation, it does peak the curiousity of the other participants.

    I like writing about sex in all it's wonderful forms. And I like making people use their imagination while they're reading my stories.

    Graphic or sensual, it's what I feel comfortable writing (and talking) in.

  15. Georgie, it is a Big Person who can admit to needing or wanting change.

    Your book seemed heavy on sex, yes, anad violence but that's where your head was at the time. It's not to say it was bad.

    But we are all in a process, ever-changing. And I honor your process.

    P.S. The playground jpeg up above? That is how I pictured the playscape near the first of your book. Did you?

  16. Thanks for your honest critique. I realize now that I could have tone things down quite a bit and yet still keep that dash of randiness (there's a word you don't hear much of) in it.

    Yes the violence was over the top as well. But what I was trying to do at the time, was to convey a certain amount of toxicity that was in the relationship. Will have to work on that as well, because the unfortunate thing is this: that is about the norm when I write any kind of violence into my stories. Because that bothers me, I try to avoid writing any kind of major violence into my stories.

    As for the playground, no. The image I had in my head at the time, was a small town green that is situated in the northwestern part of my state (Litchefield/Goshen area). This green is actually used for all kinds of things in the spring and summer, from weddings to political protests. It doesn't have a swingset that I can recall, but it does have a gazebo.

  17. A Twilight Zone type of story? I like the sound of that! I'll be waiting!

  18. Thanks.

    Wanted to ask, did you like the copy that you borrowed?

  19. Well George, speaking of trolls... I've come full circle on Topix. I actually started as a troll, barging onto threads, bashing people and writing obnoxious insults just to shock people. I still remember when I finally wrote my first actual post with real content, and now? Well, I was on that legtrap thread and couldn't even be bothered to come up with real arguments so, like the distant past, I started trashing them and leaving them all ranting and enraged. (Heavy sigh) I feel washed up on the forums. Bummer.


  20. Join the club.

    Right now, I decided to drop my posting to at least once a week.

    I was getting error messages for the past couple of days, so basically, I'm gonna post only from the library on the weekends. Let their computers get messed up by Topix's screwed up website instead of mine.

  21. Error messages? Like a virus?

    I think I'm with you on taking a break for awhile. Semi-retirement. I really just can't find the energy to work up a good argument and I've covered everything anyway. I've got a few things I want to get accomplished and my daughter is starting..get this..little league this Saturday.

    I'll be stopping by your blogs though.


  22. Please do.

    Also feel free to drop me an e-mail to let me know how things are going. I really do want to hook up somewhere in the near future.

  23. You know Georgie, no two people are going to write the same way on any given topic or general plotline. That's what's so great about creativity, so just keep dancing to your own drum, while perhaps keeping an ear out for feedback. That's what I do in my songs -- I might present a song at a critique session of my peers and take in all they have to say but in the end it is I who decides what I want to leave in or take out. And you go, guy. Just keep writing!

  24. While that may be true, it still doesn't make it easier to accept certain criticisms about my writing.

    Marching to the beat of my own drum has always been my preferred way of doing things. I do feel comfortable with the way that I write, and in the end, as you say, that's all that really matters.

  25. Okay, I didn't read what any of these comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating someone...

    First: I think most writing worth reading will stir up some controversy. So, yay for that!

    Second: Isn't a writer writing Fiction kind of like an actor acting a scene. I feel like criticizing you for writing sex scenes that people who really know you have a hard time reading/differentiating you and the person you are creating. I love when I hate an actor for some work they did because I'm all uncomfortable with how GREAT THEY PORTRAYED A CHARACTER.

    I don't know, I guess I want to say, stay true to yourself and don't lose the passion over others people's level of comfort.

    I also want to say that anyone that can write fiction at all is talented in my books!!!

  26. First up, thanks for stopping by and making a comment. It's greatly appreciated.

    That said, I will agree with your first point that any writing worth reading will stir up controversy.

    Most of my writing hasn't stirred up much controversy. This book has, but mostly it's been confined to the chat rooms. There are people there who only know me from online, who did buy the book and enjoyed it immensely. And they were the type people that I would of been expecting to be offended (deeply religious/spiritual, but incredibly open minded)

    As for the second point, it will take some getting used to. Again, people who know me only from the online world don't have much a problem with what I write. They only know me from what I've shown in the past couple of years.

    It's my friends from the real world that will take some getting used to. When you spend a lot of time with people, to the point that your families have hooked up on occasion, it can be very difficult to show that other side to them.

    As for the passion, that is something that I'll never lose. If anything, it's grown to the point where I started a second blog because I found a new outlet for my creativity.

    As for the final comment, I feel the same way. Anyone that can write fiction, and write it well, is #1 in my book.


Go on, give me your best shot. I can take it. If I couldn't, I wouldn't have created this wonderful little blog that you decided to grace with your presence today.

About that comment moderation thingy: While yes, it does say up above I can take it, I only use it to prevent the occasional miscreant from leaving thoughtless and/or clueless comments.

So remember, all of your comments are greatly appreciated and all answers will be given that personal touch that you come to expect and enjoy.

G. B. Miller

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