Barbara Kyle’s latest e-mail newsletter provoked these thoughts for me.

Is sex necessary when writing fiction?

It depends on the plot and the way in which sexual action helps develop the characters in it.

How do you as a writer write sexual material?

In a way that is consistent with the characters that you are creating, not with your own personal approach to, experience of, and values about sex.

My conclusions were influenced by Elizabeth Benedict’s book on writing sex.

Elizabeth Benedict “The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction, Writers” Story Press, Cincinnati, Ohio: 1996  ISBN 1-884910-21-1

I enjoyed it, and found it useful, when I originally read it. I am finding it so again as I re-read it.

I used to have concerns about writing sex but have finally decided that the amount of sexual detail included is as much part the writer’s creative choice as is every other word in a piece. As a reader, sometimes sexual detail flows for me as part of the piece, and sometimes it seems more like an author self -indulgence.

A sensual character needs sensual writing when sex is appropriate to the context of the novel; a reserved character requires reserved description; an energetic personally expressive extroverted character needs exhibitionist writing.

I believe the writer’s challenge is to stay close to the character, especially when the character’s approach to sex is very different from the writer’s personal approach. I think that it is as difficult for a personally sexually expressive writer to craft words which successfully describe a reserved character’s experience of sex as it is for a personally reserved writer to put down the explicit words that fit a more openly sexual character.

One of the other things that Benedict  brought back for me in spades is that sexual response does not require explicit sex. As a reader, the material that I have had strong personal responses to over the years have been suggestive rather than explicit and sensuous rather than sexual.

Originally posted November 17, 2008

Shepherd's Revenge

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