How Far?

Good morning, Friends, Romans, and/or Countrymen!

I don’t need your ears, but your eyes and your thoughts. You can have both back when I’m done with them.

I have a quick question, which is mostly for my writerly friends, but those of you who are strictly readerly can jump in with your thoughts, too, please and thank you.

The question is about sex. Yes, I know where babies come from. My question is, how do you decide how much is too much?

Not that I’m dealing with this right now in anything that I’m writing. Nope, no sir. Just a question. There is nothing happening in anyone’s kitchen and/or bedroom right now.

I’ve pretty much settled this for myself, both in my YA and adult writing. I’m just wondering how you decide for your work. Do yo write what you’re comfortable with, and if your readers feel like you teased them for X number of pages (or books in a series, heaven help us), that’s just too bad? Do you let your intended audience’s age dictate, or expectations based on your genre? Or is it entirely dictated by the story and characters, and you adjust your own wants or comfort level to that?

Are you more comfortable with the chaste kiss and fade to black, a little more before we cut to a montage of trains entering tunnels, volcanoes erupting, etc.? A tasteful description of the whole she-bang, or full-on “insert tab A into slot B” descriptions?

Readers, what forms your expectations for what you’ll get in a story? Do books usually live up to expectations, or have you ever been shocked by too much or extremely disappointed with not enough?

We’ll talk more about this another day, and I’ll share my own theories, but I want your thoughts first.  🙂


About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with six cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. View all posts by Kate Sparkes

14 responses to “How Far?

  • robsparkes2013

    Interesting post. Well, I’m British, so we’ll leave it at that ‘ey chaps! Only joking of course, we’re far more liberal over here now, and we’ve lost a bit of the comedy that the carry-on films tainted it with.
    I have just had to tackle this myself though, the “when to stop writing” part, and I think, like always, it depends on context. In my own particular story, all we needed to know was that the characters had grown closer to one another, so I felt all it would take was a kind of “she looked to the bedroom door,” sort of thing. But if your character is a serial bed-hopper, and that is part of their character, then perhaps we need to hear more. Perhaps we need to know just how much they are into it all. I think that the mistake would come from just writing a sex scene because you wanted a sex scene.
    Perhaps I’m just too scared to tackle it myself though.

  • Kira Lyn Blue

    Intriguing question. As much as I unrepentantly enjoy book smut, I have to confess to having never written a sex scene. None of my character relationships have gotten that far, and when they do I’m still undecided as to how detailed I’ll make it.

    As a reader, I agree with Rob, it depends on the context. If I’m reading a romance novel and the sex scene is only a page or 2 long, I’m going to be disappointed. Then again, I don’t want detailed sex scenes every other chapter either. I’m not reading only for the nookie, darnit.

    In fantasy and urban fantasy, it depends on how important the romance is to the overall book or series as to how detailed I expect the sex scenes to be. Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series is the fade to black type, which I found disappointing but it works with the tone she’s setting for her novels which is mostly stark and ominous. Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles gives the reader minimal details almost as an afterthought. Also disappointing, but then again have you met the Morrigan? Two words: death goddess. I think if your books are going to contain explicit sex, you need to somehow “warn” your readers fairly early on so you don’t surprise anyone in a bad way. Otherwise, write what fits with your characters and the tone you want to set.

    • katemsparkes

      Interesting. As far as “warning” goes, do you think the level of description offered for other things (fighting, violence, gore, heck, even food) is a fair indicator of what you can expect from a sex scene? Are you more disappointed if you get a lot of information on everything else but this is skimmed over? Yes, I’m asking for my post on this, because it’s something I’ve thought about. 🙂

      Are there any books you think have done it well, that haven’t disappointed you as a reader?

  • Jae

    It’s probably a balance between what you’re comfortable with and what’s appropriate for the story. It also depends on how wide of an audience you want. If description gets gratuitous you may drive readers away who would screech, “I ain’t readin’ no p*rn book.” On the other hand, depending on your story, that may be exactly what readers are looking for.

    Personally, I think in this day and age we tell too much. One of my film professors always touted the virtue of sexual tension. He said sexual tension can drive a TV series for years, the audience always wondering, “Hey, when ARE those two going to get together?” Obviously there’s a balance. It probably also comes back to how comfortable you, yourself, are in writing those scenes. I’m both uncomfortable with and I think not capable of doing those scenes justice, so I tend to avoid them (and also tend to stick to MG/YA).

    It probably just goes back to the age old question of, “Am I showing this much to be shocking or because it’s actually necessary to the story?” (i.e. I got turned off by the Walking Dead and occasionally Bones when it seemed like they were being gross for the sake of being gross.) I do think there should be at least some left to the imagination. Balance, again.

  • Jack Woe

    For me, it depends a lot on the story and how the sex fits in. Sometimes it’s worth it.

    While I enjoy writing sex scenes, I’d rather put them on one of the free story sites than taint a horror story with it – which is what I prefer to write these days.

    As a reader, I pretty much don’t care about sex scenes unless they feel censored or forced. I have seen movies where the “sex scene” felt forced; I just could not imagine anyone have sex under these exact circumstances. On the other hand, when the story merits it, the scene must not feel censored or it just feels too prudish.

    An example where a sex scene can work, in horror or action, is where it underlines the characters’ fears of death and how they deal with. None of that needs to be explicitly told in the story though.

    In romances (which I don’t read generally) I also feel cheated if the sex scenes aren’t “hot enough.”

    I also like it when the characters’ sexual preferences comes through. I don’t mean straight vs. something else; just that not all of us want the same things in our sex lives and this is well worth showing if there is a sex scene in the first place.

    As a writer, I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile to give the reader a choice. Have the sex scene in separate chapters which the reader can skip. This might be easy in e-books, but I’m not sure how to pull it off in print; maybe give the reader the page numbers of the next and previous chapter at the start of one?

    • katemsparkes

      That’s an interesting idea. Like an enhanced e-book, with alternate/extended scenes for those who want them. For print books, you’d almost have to do a separate short story that goes back and fills in the blanks, but then distribution would be an issue. I think it would probably just have to be an e-book thing.

  • Michelle Proulx

    For YA, I’d probably write the lead-up to the sexy times, and then stop short of them actually taking any clothes off – fade to black, return when they’re waking up afterwards in the glow of their new love or whatever. Adult writing … depends on the genre. Romance, definitely “insert A into B”. But if the story isn’t a pure romance, you can get away with being more vague about it, definitely.

  • L. Marie

    I write middle grade, so I avoid sex scenes. 🙂 But as a reader of adult books and YA, I still prefer a well written scene. Graceling by Kristin Cashore had scenes along the “fade to black” lines (YA fantasy). I’m probably in the minority here when I say that I don’t need a diagram of who did what and how many times somebody did X. I’m more moved by the slow build-up of the attraction: sparks flying when so-and-so touches so-and-so’s arm; the look given–message received. But that’s just me.

    • katemsparkes

      As the parent of an almost-middle-grade reader, I’d like to thank you for that. 🙂

      And yes, sexual tension is a great thing in a book. Really, sex is a release of tension, so you have to be careful about where you put that in the book (as in, you need some other tension to keep pulling the reader along). As long as that tension is still there, the reader still has to keep going. MWA-HA-HA!!!

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