Monday, April 28, 2014

X = X-Rated Scenes Are Not Necessary

Really. Really really. Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past 40 years, you’ve heard the phrase, “Sex sells.” That may be true, but many writers take it one step further and add the converse: “Lack of sex doesn’t sell.” This is simply not true.

No one would argue that Dr. Seuss books should have had explicit scenes to be a commercial success, because they’re kids’ books. However, just because a book’s target audience includes adults doesn’t mean it has to include what is politely called “adult content.” There are a great number of books out there with zero sex, and they sell just fine and are enjoyed by many.

The New Adult classification is suffering from the “sex sells” philosophy. According to the official word on the street (or the Internet), New Adult fiction is defined by having protagonists in the 18-25 age range. Nothing is added to this definition that requires sexual situations, and yet those who write NA fiction are becoming frustrated by the assumption that these books should always include sex, or a certain amount of foul language. Writers who don’t include sex in their NA books complain that all New Adult books are automatically categorized as a sub-genre of Romance, whether the books have romance or not. 

And let’s face it. For every twenty authors who write sex scenes into their books, only one of them might—might—write something that doesn’t sound stupid, awkward, unattainable, or just plain uncomfortable. Between the stilted dialogue and odd descriptions of body parts, there’s nothing that’s un-sexier.

83 comments:

  1. What most people really mean by sex sells is misogyny sells. It may not be quite as true of authors as of filmmakers, but most sex scenes are created for the male gaze.
    I don't mind a well-written scene if it fits with the rest of the story and isn't just gratuitous, but when it's an obligatory "gotta have a sex scene" scene, it's just boring and awkward.

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    1. I'm not so sure this is always the case. Yes, of course most sex in movies is meant for men. And in male-oriented books like spy thrillers (Bond comes to mind), the same is true. But I've seen a lot of erotica which is designated for women, and it always seems to sell like hotcakes. Witness 50 Shades of Grey... written by a woman, for women, and now they're making a movie out of it (ironically, it's only rated R. But, in agreement with your comment above, I'm betting that the majority of the audience will actually end up being male). Basically, what I'm saying is that women read porn too, LOL.

      As for the obligatory "gotta have a sex scene"... well, I hate that too. A lot. "Boring and awkward" pretty much sums it up. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of an engaging book, but then being made so uncomfortable that you wonder whether you should continue. Yuck.

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    2. I read an article once about sex in movies and books, and how the appeal is a separate thing for each gender. Men, overall, tend to be aroused more by what they see, whereas women tend to be aroused more by what they read. Hence, the popularity of romance novels or erotica among women, with men more content overall to see a pair of boobs flouncing across the big screen.

      Not being a man, I can't vouch for that end of things (my husband said the idea made sense to him, though), but as a woman I can tell you the written word is powerful when used to manipulate emotions.

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  2. Totally agree with you on this one, Lynda... I have read friends' stories, gotten totally engaged, and then out pops the sex scene... yikes. How do I tell them that it's basically ick? That's an awkward conversation, if ever there is one...

    A big problem I see with a lot of sex scenes is that the author put them in there for self-entertainment. They add literally nothing to the plot, but readers can tell that the author is working out his/her own kink onto the characters. Can you say "yuck"?

    "Fade to black..." is my favorite way of dealing with this sort of situation. Unless something extreme happens, like the heroine trying to kill the hero mid-act, describing a sex scene adds no real value to a story.

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    1. I've read that same sentiment in book reviews, H.C.: that many a superfluous sex scene has only been written for the author's itch-scratching, as in the case of a particular kink. Readers aren't stupid; they will notice when a scene doesn't belong, and will typically complain about it.

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    2. Yes, I can personally vouch that it's often the case (authors need to "kill those darlings," seriously). That's part of why I refuse to review erotica on my site... there are other reasons, but the worry about the quality of the plotting in erotica (**if** there even is a plot at all) is one of my main concerns.

      I'm assuming that you have similar reasons for refusing to edit erotica. :)

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    3. Do you mean I have to go back and edit out all my sex scenes?

      Bugger.

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  3. I agree. As a matter of fact I wrote a couple of sex scenes into Blood and Steel. I later cut them out and guess what? The plot did not need to be rewritten. So they were definately unnecessary. And as for Hollywood, I am surprised they are not making cat movies...

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    1. There's your litmus test: has the plot changed by the removal of that scene? If the answer is "no," then the next step would be to ask why it was in there in the first place.

      Ohh, Hollywood...

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    2. I write PG-13 in most instances. Sometimes R for violence, slicing off a head or two or 150 will do that. But there no real need for x-rated in anything but Smutty Romances (a little bias showing through) Any story can be told with out everybody running around humping anything that moves and even a few things that don't.

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    3. It's the "few things that don't" that cause the most worry.

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  4. This is obviously a personal choice for the author. I will say that any scene in your book should be written well and believable for those characters. To me, genre is nothing more than marketing and I think the whole idea of NA is kind of funny. It is true though, I have seen a review that said a book wasn't NA because there was not more sex scenes. Kind of ridiculous.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. You're right, Brandon, in that NA is an odd duck. The idea that twenty-somethings only want to read about other twenty-somethings is ridiculous. I like good books, period. It doesn't matter whether the characters are teens or a bunch of old ladies. And the "needs more sex" idea of NA is equally ridiculous. Is that all people in their twenties do or think about? I'd like to think they have a least one other interest. Maybe even two.

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    2. Jim Butcher handles these scenes well. He builds to them and they are not in every book. Patricia Briggs does a good job as well. The link between the two is they use it sparingly. To write a sex scene for sales is a set up for a bad book.

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    3. If you have to add a sex scene to get your book to sell then take up another profession like video rentals.

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  5. That's why I don't write scenes like that in my books! Besides, I would embarrass myself. I barely managed a kiss in my second book.

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    1. Right on! As every author pores over the details of his epic P-in-V scene, he or she should never lose sight of the fact that the first reader will always be his or her mother...

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    2. One of the reasons I don't edit erotica is because I want to be able to recommend anything I've edited to most people I know. I can't imagine my pastor reading some of that and knowing not only have I read it, but I've made sure it sounds real enough. Goodness!

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    3. I've yet to find where it would make sense to insert such a scene into any of my novels. To put in such a scene, just for the sake of increased sales, would just come off as fake.

      And who wants to have it faked? Talk about an ego deflation!

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    4. "I can't imagine my pastor reading some of that and knowing not only have I read it, but I've made sure it sounds real enough. Goodness!"

      Lynda: I've read this book about this freelance assassin, but apart from the violence and the gore, there's hardly any sex in it.
      Pastor: I can't get off on violence, Lynda. Please recommend something smutty to me.

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    5. Martyn . . . I have no words . . .

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    6. So I gave your pastor my unfinished story Captain Smegma and the Tranny from the Sewer of Sorrows and he's been nagging me ever since about finishing the story...

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  6. I read quite a bit about the Craft, and a lot of how-to manuals will tell you that sex scenes are absolutely obligatory. I think if some of the masters were writing in the modern day, Sherlock Holmes would be clearing his head by gettin' busy with a girlfriend instead of shooting up with cocaine, and Cap'n Ahab's cabin boy would be in for some rousing adventures centered around Moby Dick. I choose to not indulge. Maybe that's why I couldn't get published, but look, sex is something that virtually all of us have personal experience of. If I write a sex scene, and it doesn't coincide with your own experiences, you're likely to think, "This guy doesn't even know how sex works. How am I supposed to believe anything he says about a dirigible?" If I nail it (sorry...), I send you off into a masturbatory fantasy, after which if you return to my book at all, it will likely be to skim for the rest of the sex scenes. I haven't put a sex scene into Beyond the Rails yet, but should a plot ever require one, it will end as the lovers close the bedroom door with you the reader on the outside of it; it is sufficient to know that Tom and Mary "did it;" the details are superfluous.

    By the way, on the subject of NA, they classify it as romance if there's no sex? Where have I been? Romance novels are almost exclusively, to my limited understanding, written by women for women. Every one of the relatively few that I've flipped through have at least a couple of sex scenes that would make a sailor blush. I know; I used to be a sailor...

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    1. How AM I supposed to believe anything he says about a dirigible? Indeed, Jack. Indeed.

      Using the classics in your example is spot-on. Yes, writers in those days needed to conform to the social mores, and perhaps a certain percentage of them might have wanted to be more bold when it came to the addition of something sensual. However, the bottom line remains that those books were still great without all that. Good writing is good writing.

      Your comment about skimming for the sex scenes also brings up a good point. If your story can't stand on its own, the reader may resort to skimming for "the good parts" (if they're written well enough) and will ignore the rest of your story. In the end, it's not doing you any favors if they don't get involved in your characters.

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  7. LOL. And let's add, I skip explicit scenes, so you've just wasted a bunch of space on the page in my book. I'm with you. I think the sex scene in Gone With the Wind is classy and amazing, and all writers should take a page from that book. Alas, people will do what people will do. I read my first NA book a couple weeks ago without adult content. I was shocked. Completely shocked--but wow! What a great contrast. (And story.)

    True Heroes from A to Z

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    1. Crystal, you're not alone. I talk to people all the time who skip the explicit scenes, and I wish they would tell the authors they're reading. Nothing I dislike more than telling someone about a book that's "great, except for that one scene." It really limits what I can recommend, especially if it's "a great story, but..."

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    2. I have it the other way--reviewers confess they're skimming the violent murder scenes to see if Bram and Katla are getting it on. Not that they don't like the gore and violence, but they need to satisfy their curiosity on what happens in the relationship between the characters.

      Makes me think I should've picked Romance as a genre, not Suspense Fiction. The Amsterdam Lovers Series.

      Nah.

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    3. The Romance genre would never be the same. Never.

      The Amsterdam Lovers Series sounds like a '70s television show.

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  8. Yes. 100% agreed. I'm helping a friend edit a book, and her main character develops a love interest late in the story. So she asked me how she should write the sex scene. My answer? Not at all. Especially since it's not a romance novel.

    I mean, imagine if you were watching something like Captain America and he gets the girl. Then he suddenly stops to have a 15 minute long pornographic sex scene with this girl... and then the movie just resumes like nothing happened. That would be extremely awkward and off-putting.

    Just as I'm happy never knowing what Captain America's penis looks like, I'm equally happy never knowing what your main character's "delicate rose petal" looks like.

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    1. Two words: Gamma Radiation.

      That can't be pretty.

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    2. Oh, you guys . . .

      Beer guys, thank you for reminding your friend that a non-romance novel needs no sex scene. I'm not so sure I should thank you for the Captain America visual, especially with Stephen's reminder of the dangers of gamma radiation.

      The numerous euphemisms drive me nuts. Who the heck wants to read about laving someone's orbs? I picture somebody slobbering over a globe, and that's not inspiring at all.

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    3. @@

      Now I'm picturing them spinning. That can't be healthy.

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    4. It really brings new meaning to the title Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We hope his "soldier" isn't too "wintery."

      Is it cold in here, or is it just the captain...?

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    5. . . . if George Costanza played Captain America . . .

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  9. The comments have been as entertaining as the subject matter. ABFTS made me laugh aloud with "delicate rose petal." I couldn't agree more about explicit sex scenes. The only people who want to read that are young people who have never had sex. And then when they do, they are MAD. Yeah, I went through a MAD phase after having sex for the first time. I thought it was going to be like those romance novels described... and it WAS NOT.

    Now I just skip over any books that go on for pages about the sex. I am with the commenter who said "Fade to black." All the reader really cares about - if there is sex - was it good or bad? If it was good... yay... and they can fill in the blanks. If it was bad.. ick... who wants to read about it in detail???

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    1. I never thought about getting mad about the lack of realism in books when presented with real life. Good point, Robin! There is probably a generation growing up who will think there's something wrong with them if they don't have at least three people in the bed at once, or if their lover doesn't hotly gaze at them across the room, no matter what else is going on, e.g. funeral, cooking dinner, children crying, influenza...

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  10. It seems to me that writing a sex scene, especially when your writing for a genre like Action or Suspense, is something of a cop-out. It's the "easy" way to tell the reader that "Hey, these two like each other a lot. They should get it on so I can convey that."

    It's ten times harder to write REAL emotion into your story, but they payoff is huge if you can get it right. It's taken me four novels in my series to get from "passing mutual attraction" between my primaries to one of them actually admitting the L-O-V-E word out loud, and I'm not even sure if I want to write that it's verbally mutual at this point.

    That, to me, is *real* emotion. It's the ups and downs of forming a bond between two people that makes it feel real to the readers. Sex is like taking the freeway when what you really should be doing is take a winding road through the countryside.

    My advice would be for writers to take that road less traveled approach. You're readers will appreciate it.

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    1. It IS a cop-out, Stephen. I hate the insta-love thing in so many of today's books, and my first question is why? Why are these people suddenly "in love" or sleeping together? There is no relationship development to show the building attraction.

      For me, the tension is the best part of it. The characters learn a little more about each other as the story progresses, and for every few steps forward there might even be a step backward, just as in real life. And yeah, that's one of the things I've liked in the Kestrel novels—the slow buildup of the relationship—because the story is not built around it. It's an integral part of the overall story that has not tried to shove its way to the forefront.

      Nobody likes the freeway. Nobody.

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    2. But the freeway gets me there faster! :P

      I agree with Stephen, its about the emotion...and how pretty is it what he just said? "...take a winding road through the countryside" instead of being a cop-out. That being said, I do have some fade to black scenes in my first book. I had one in my current work and deleted it because it just wasn't needed or working. Either way, the "sex sells" thing...maybe not *in* the book, but I'm looking for anyone who wishes to objectify themselves to help me sell my books. Just take a pic with my work and I'll post it around all social media...just as an experiment, you know? lol

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    3. All in the name of science and social experimentation, of course. Ahem.

      So...what are the dimensions of your book? In case anyone wishes to objectify himself to help further your sales, that is.

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    4. Size don't matter, Lynda! But yeah . . . all in the name of experimenting to see if there's any true to this "claim."

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    5. "Why are these people suddenly "in love" or sleeping together? There is no relationship development to show the building attraction."

      People can't just be 'fuck buddies'? No wonder Americans are so messed up. They don't mind when bodies pile up in torture porn movies like Saw and Hostel, but if a movie starts with a scene of a couple making love, like Betty Blue, they grow all blustery and smack an X-rated on it.

      *shakes his head and writes some more violent scenes, for the Americans.*

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    6. LOL "for the Americans." You Amsterdammer, you. Or should I say Mokummer? (Yeah, I had to look it up.)

      People can be buddies, but if the book isn't about that, then the sex is just an awkward addition.

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  11. Excellent! So true. The sex in books today seems to just indicate how shallow we've become. So many adult books these days are just light porn - some, not even light. I did not see the appeal of the 50 Shades of Gray books, and thought it was rather sad that so many women flocked to them. I'm popping in from the a-z. come visit me, if you'd like!

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    1. Porn for women. It's legitimate, right? Because novels are literature, and literature feeds our brains, so it doesn't matter what's IN the book, it's the idea that we're reading something. It's not like we're looking at those filthy magazines . . .

      I know there are people out there who really love writing and reading erotica, but that doesn't mean every book has to include a sex scene. More often than not, those who write them are simply not good at it.

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    2. I thought porn for women was all those Doctor Romance novels where shy Nurse Helga creases her stiff white uniform against dashing Doctor Greg's unyielding stethoscope.

      All this tying people up with shibari ropes and spanking their bottoms with custom-made single-tail whips is great fun in real life, but reading about it is as boring as watching paint dry...

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  12. I agree. You don't need sex in a book to make it good.

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    1. No one seems to argue the point if it's in a children's book, but even teen books are creeping in there with the "needs this to sell" factor. Ugh.

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  13. I like the fade to black approach, too. I'll save my sex for my off-time hours.

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    1. Fade to black will never steer you wrong. And sex during the paid hours usually gets people into trouble anyway.

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  14. I think it is mostly the difference between a checklist of biological function versus an seductive telling of an encounter. The words themselves should create the texture, the soft smooth lines of the bodies entwined, the hushed whispered urgings of two lovers embraced and seeking one another. Readers want the erotic feelings of such things, not the cold visual reality. Which is why i don't write that stuff LOL

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    1. Gee, glad you didn't write it here, either. :P

      I have read books whose "special" moments I would have sworn were in a science textbook. Not only were the scenes thrown into a book in which they had no business being, but they were written so poorly that it might have put me off sex for life if I hadn't already known better.

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    2. I have this really intimate scene between two adults in a car with all their clothes on, and all I get is complaints that it wasn't more raunchy... Yes, Raymond, I'm looking at you.

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  15. Lynda I believe I am feeling strange unusual sensations. I want to feel but I am having a positronic system failure...seriously though, I am proud my little corner of the galaxy is sleaze free.

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    1. None of that matters as long as you are "fully functional."

      :)

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  16. My boyfriend, Pat Conroy, told me that when he went to his first "group" book signing (several authors selling and signing their books in the same place and I don't know what else to call it) and didn't sell any books, a female author who sold a lot of books told him that his book wasn't selling because it didn't have any sex. I told him I have no idea who the sex book lady was, but I'll never forget Pat Conroy.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Your boyfriend was smart enough to land you and smart enough to write a whole load of books that were all shades of terrific.

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    2. But he ever so foolishly marries other women.

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  17. NA should refer to the age of the main characters, not the R or X rating of the material. I don't mind reading the casual stuff, but erotica - no way. Besides, it seems everyone has jumped on that bandwagon.

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    1. You're right, Diane. I know a few NA writers who are frustrated at that very thing. It's an age category, not a genre of its own. The pressure for the NA writers to add sex is very present.

      Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way and people will begin to deliberately seek out the clean books because they'll be the oddity.

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  18. I just threw out a book my daughter was given at the RWA (romance) and it is/was awful.
    Still gagging. Over from the A to Z.

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    1. It seems when they're written badly, they go all-out, don't they?

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  19. Sex cells. Um, sex sells.

    Of course it doesn't sell any Xtra books. Never needed to incorporate sex into my writing. Okay, maybe an innuendo or three or sex, um six.

    The word "sex" is overused. I can evidently have a sexy car. Who'd thought that.

    Dr. Seuss
    With Mother Goose
    Footloose
    With a moose
    In a caboose.

    Gary :)

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    1. Oh, Gary!

      When even a car can look sexy, I guess I don't feel so bad.

      Thanks for the rhyme! Dr. Seuss must be hot stuff to have landed both Mother Goose AND a moose. Modern writing leaves no stone unturned.

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  20. I always thought NA stood for Not Applicable. Wow, Lynda, you have flung open the gate here today. The post and comments have certainly been educational and informative. I had no idea about Capt. America's Gamma Radiated Pecker...that's as close as I can get to saying the other 'P' part....my mama would be washing my mouth out with soap. And as for writing SEX ....I'll have to go with the old school version of NA. Gate closed!
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. Sue, you're probably going to get to the point where you're afraid to come here, opening the page with one hand over your eyes, peeking through the fingers.

      I have laughed all day long at these comments. If I'd had a bit of forethought, I would have answered all comments with a double entendre just to be a smart aleck.

      Poor, poor Captain America . . .

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  21. I am looking forward to the day when NA refers solely to age, just like YA. It's not a genre, and romance or erotic romance shouldn't be it's default. Some day! I hope. :)

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    1. I think we're all wishing and hoping for that day, Jennifer! Until then, we're stuck with Captain America and his radiation issues . . .

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  22. I've heard that, about YA. It's a shame. Authors should keep in mind the audience they are writing for. If you want to create a story with explicit sex scenes, just go ahead and call it erotica. Or romance. There are plenty of people who want that, and there's no shame in it. To each their own.

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    1. Right-o, Elle. Sex scenes can be there if it's that type of romance, or of course if it's erotica. There's a market for it, and there are people who love to write it.

      BUT if your story is NOT a romance, then the idea that there has to be some sort of sex scene is just silly.

      I have to say that your comment looks so normal compared to all the ones above, like a sturdy pair of sensible shoes. Don't hate me for saying it. :)

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    2. Who doesn't love sensible shoes?

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    3. Touché! And they could be sensible AND sexy . . . like a sparkly pair of Chuck Taylors.

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    4. LOL
      I'm all about the Dr. Scholl's these days. Yay for comfort!

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    5. Chuck Taylor sneakers are sensible, Lynda? If you were talking about a custom made hand-molded pair of Italian shoes from alpaca leather, yes, but sneakers? Give me a break...

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    6. Sensible Chucks? Yes, and yes again. Because I'm not afraid to get them dirty.

      Custom-made Italian shoes? I can't even imagine such luxury, but I'll take it, and toss that sensibility out the window.

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  23. I love this. I agree about NA not needing all the X scenes. I think that NA has a lot of potential for awesome adventures, but I'm not interested in the same story being told over and over (pure girl goes to college, meets bad boy, has sex, learns how awesome she is).

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    1. That's a really awesome way of putting that. LOL!

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    2. Excellent, Kim! That's about what all those boil down to. Perhaps a little off-topic with this, but it reminds me of the movie "Grease," where this nice girl dates a bad boy. Everyone treats her like crap until she turns into a big sleaze, and then she's the belle of the ball. Err...the carnival.

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  24. I'm totally with you on this. I'd include profanity as well. I look at the movies pre mid-60's and see that great film was made without the explicit sex or the profanity. These things are essentially a distraction and an avoidance of strong creative writing. In writing it's about the creativity of the language and not always about the "realism" or the graphic detail of things that get repetitious. What next? Explicit toilet scenes?

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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    1. I'm with you, Lee. I think it's refreshing when I see a great movie or read a terrific book and realize there was nothing in it to give me pause about recommending it. People often comment on how funny Bill Cosby could be without resorting to foul language or toilet humor, and I think it's no different for authors. You're forced to be more creative if you're not relying on the garbage as a page-filler.

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