WRITING SEX – AND NOT SEX
S. Lee Manning: Okay, I’ll start with the question of sex in thrillers. How to write it? Whether to write it?
Sex is entertaining. It gets attention. It’s pretty much expected in a spy thriller. But exactly how sex is used – how hot, how explicit – is very much a question of the writer’s taste. Some writers cut away at the bedroom door. Others do an in-depth description of every move. I’m somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes, both as a reader and as a writer.
I write sex scenes not only for the intrinsic pleasure but either to further the plot or show something about the characters. In my novel Trojan Horse, the sex scenes between Kolya, my protagonist, and his fiancée, Alex, a smart and tough attorney, do both.
She sat on the side of the bed and leaned over to brush the light blond hair from his forehead. As she did, his arms circled her waist and pulled her down into a kiss, his mouth tasting of vodka. She melded her body against his as his hands untied the sash to her bathrobe.
Then she remembered he was leaving again, after only two days in Washington, and that he hadn’t bothered to mention that fact.
“I shouldn’t have to find out you’re leaving town from Teo.”
“We can fight later.” He moved his hands to her shoulders and slid the robe back, but he had said the wrong thing.
“Exactly when shall I schedule you in?” She grasped his wrists to stop the hands from caressing her breasts.
is instinct is to avoid the emotional confrontation, and hers is to not let him get away with it. He eventually gives in, and they have the talk that Alex is demanding. And the reader learns something about both of them and about their relationship – which will be important, not only to their
personal development, but to the twists and turns of the plot.
Then they have sex. Fun for them. Fun to write. Not too too detailed, but just enough.
have no problem writing sex. I have no problem writing violence. If I did, I would be writing in another genre. But then there’s rape. It’s a little more problematic when writing about rape, which is also in my novel, because some people confuse rape with sex. Rape is not sex; it is violence in the guise of sex. And that’s clear in Trojan Horse. When Kolya and Alex are being held prisoner, Kolya is offered a Hobson’s choice by Max, one of his captors.
“Just to show how fair I am, I’m going to let you choose your punishment. Either I break your other leg, or I fuck your woman in front of you. Which do you prefer?”
Kolya immediately chooses to have his leg broken, but the choice is illusory.
Max wants not only to punish but to humiliate, and to illustrate his position of power, and to do this he has already decided to rape Alex in front of Kolya, while pretending to offer a choice.
he rape scene is important to the plot, and important to the character arc, but it wasn’t easy to write.
So while as a writer I needed the scene, I didn’t linger. I wrote the scene from Kolya’s point of view, and Kolya closes his eyes, unable to watch. I figuratively closed my eyes with him, because I was no longer writing sex. I was writing sexualized violence – which somehow is harder for me to write than either straight sex or straight violence. I wrote what he hears, and the description is brief.
t’s an interesting question – why do I find it harder? Is it my gender? Is it because rape takes an act
that is meant to be intimate and pleasurable for both parties, even if it’s casual, and turns it into a brutal act that violates personal integrity in a much deeper way than a punch or a gunshot? Or is it because rape is still so often not taken seriously – regarded by some as a youthful mistake meriting nothing more than a slap on the wrist – and all too often victims are mocked or blamed for the violence that was perpetrated on them?
I pose the question, but I don’t have the answer.