Fifteen Shades of Gary
I can't dance, so I doubt I'd ever be brave enough to attempt to write erotica. Well-written erotica is much harder to do than one might think and the bookshelves are filled with works that fall just short of the mark. The difference between writing titillating erotica and salaciousness is like the difference between dancing the tango and twerking. One is beautifully sensuous--the other is, well...you get the picture.
But let's face it--sex is a reality. And sex in literature is a reality. And while I might not write erotica, the three novels I have published thus far all use sex as their main thread. Exit Strategy revolves around a man suffering from the psychotic effects of extreme childhood sexual abuse. Hope Flies on Broken Wings introduces us to young Collie Tinker as she struggles with her burgeoning sexuality amid repressive societal mores. And Hope Rises from the Ashes continues with Collie's road to maturity when she becomes the kept woman of an abusive man.
When a non-erotica story demands the inclusion of sexual encounters, it is a writer's responsibility to handle these situations with a certain amount of discretion. This is where I rely upon the two BIG HOWs. Big How number one is: How important is this scene to the story? As with every other scene written into a work, if the sex scene isn't in some way vital to the plot, perhaps it can be excluded altogether. If it needs to stay, then the second Big How is: How detailed does the scene need to be? One of the main facts of the writing life is this: the more details the sex scenes contain, the more limited the story's potential audience appeal and reach.
When I wrote my novel, Exit Strategy, I knew I was going to have to limit its audience appeal due to the brutal subject matter. As I previously stated, the plot revolves around the results of the trauma incurred by a sexually abused boy. Some scenes demanded to be told in their raw coarseness and certain sex scenes blatantly displayed. For example, in chapter one, a sexual encounter occurs between the main character and his fiance. It was best written in its detailed entirety in order to reveal the first vital insights into Jonas's psyche, personality problems, and psychotic predilections. The two encounters that immediately followed were simply brushed over. Only the first scene needed to be portrayed in order to get the point across. There was no reason to carry on with more of the same. After all, even though it's sexually themed, the book is far from erotica.
Someday I might find the courage again to tackle a project as deeply disturbing to me as Exit Strategy was, but I won't hold my breath. Such an endeavor requires a long recovery time. So in the meantime, I will continue to write stories of the milder kind (though not necessarily sex-free) (or violence-free) (or....). The simple suggestive sexual encounters included in Hope Flies and Hope Rises are more amenable to my ingrained puritanical senses. And I really don't wish to limit my audience appeal too much. It's limited enough as it is.
(I'd like to express my appreciation to Gary for lending me the use of his name in the title of this article.)