Saturday, February 16, 2019

Characters and Relationships

The topic for this month’s round robin is an opinion on love, sex, and relationships in books. What seems acceptable? Is it necessary in a story? And what goes too far?

For me, the relationship between characters is a huge component in both my reading and writing. Relationships come in many types of rapport, often nuanced between accord and discord. I think it is one of the keys to a good story. These relationships include family or friend, acquaintance or stranger, and involve a wide range of human emotions and reactions.

In most romance novels it is the developing relationship between a couple that makes the story, and this opens many paths to sexual encounters. In other genres, it is the past and present relationships between friends and family and how they affect the main character's purpose and agenda that develops the story, although romance and sex show up in them, too. In all stories, the main characters' relationships, good or bad, help develop a story. It is how these relationships move the story's ultimate purpose that counts. That is why I enjoy reading and writing, no matter what the genre is.

For thousands of years, going all the way back to Babylonia and probably longer than that, explicit sex or sexual innuendo has attracted readers, mostly in verse. It just wasn’t published as today's stories are, so the sexual act in writing has always been prevalent. Now the genre of erotica takes sex in all directions.

Another thing that has developed is a new awareness of human sexuality. Today sex isn’t just labeled heterosexual or homosexual, but can also include asexual, bisexual, or pansexual. Any of which can lead to a scene in a story although sexual encounters don't necessary mean love. A reader just needs to choose a favorite type and read.

This emerging attitude has had an influence on storytelling in the last few decades. For many years most major publishers or romance like Harlequin avoided any sex scenes other than kissing in their novels. Now they seem to prefer publishing stories with very explicit sex scenes. But mainstream had other values. The Group by Mary McCarthy, published in 1933, was a best seller in America but banned in other countries for its objectionable content.

What goes too far? It doesn’t seem like anything goes too far. Readers can find almost any type of sex on the Internet through various publishers. Most are loving sexual scenes. Some are not. I often wonder about what the readers/viewers take away from some degrading or abusive scenes written for the seeming pleasure of the reader, not their abhorrence.

I’ve read many types of sexual scenes, but surprisingly don’t seem too proficient at writing them, so usually leave implied encounters rather than explicit ones. In reading, my personal preference is no graphic depictions of rape or vicious sexual encounters of any type or those that degrade one partner or the other. Sometimes sex scenes just bore me, too, especially when such a scene doesn’t do anything to move the plot forward. It often appears to me as nothing more than a gratuitous inclusion. On the other hand, I know this is my preference. I do not make judgments on what anyone else likes to write or read. 

Please read the following authors' posts on this topic:

Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham 
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Marci Baun 
Dr. Bob Rich

Diane Bator


  1. As you'll have noted, the first image on my blog agrees with your comment that awareness of our sexuality has been around since the beginning of human history. I also agree that some of the stuff in print today leaves me wondering where the enjoyment is and some is so graphic, and lacking in story line that it's just not my cup of tea. But there are times when closing the door to the bedroom leaves the reader out of some important emotions, growth, struggle etc. In my soon to be published novel, Worry Stone, which is set at the start of the sexual revolution and early in the women's lib movement, and my heroine is eager to lose her virginity. My hero has been, for a couple reasons, holding out. In this short clip I show his struggle and if I hadn't included it, the reader would not experience his conflict or his capitulation.

    "Cam clung desperately to shreds of self-control that were unraveling at the speed of light. Sandy was driving him out of his fucking mind. He’d never been so turned on in his life. He felt dangerously reckless. He wanted to take her and to hell with the consequences. But she was an innocent. A virgin, for God’s sake! He couldn’t. He shouldn’t. He gasped for air. Grasped at restraint. Tried in vain not to envision the perfect shape of her breasts. Or the warm heavy feel of them in his palms. Need raged insistently in his groin while reason fought for control.
    Then Sandy fumbled at his waistband and unzipped his jeans, shocking him into immobility. Before he could react, she touched him. Jesus, God! I can’t . . . We can’t . . . Her hand closed around him. Lust fizzed up with the inexorable determination of beer being poured into a glass. He was lost and he knew it. Shoulda stopped long before it got this far. Shoulda never closed the fucking door! Jesus, that feels good!

  2. Yes, good excerpt. It involves body response and emotions.

  3. I like your point about sexual innuendo which can be smarmy or smart - depends on the characters. The more graphic sex scenes are, the less I enjoy them as they seem disconnected.

  4. Rhobin, I think your point toward the end encapsulates the issue: whatever is in the book needs to advance the story: plot development, character change, whatever.