Writing sex and violence

By Ross Brown | October 31, 2018

One of the challenges in writing is finding that sweet spot when it comes to sex and violence. I’ve found having good editors like Sarah and Melissa has been instrumental in finding that balance between capturing a scene in a way that is accessible for all readers but doesn’t lose the natural essence of prose.

The sex scenes in the book came easily (ha! A bit of a double entendre). In subsequent re-writes, I found softening some of these scenes made more sense. While I think they would have resonated with some readers in a powerful way, I’ve found a good litmus test for exclusion or editing to be this: Does this advance the story or take the reader out of the story? When I look at different readers, I found the more detailed sex scene took more people out of the story, so therefore they were softened (again, you are welcome for the double entendre).

One of the concerns that has been on my mind is the descriptions of violence and how they may lead to a contagion effect for others. A favorite artist of mine, Stephen King, wrote a novel called RAGE in 1977. Sadly, in the late 80’s and 90’s, several school shootings were inspired by the book including ones in Washington, California three separate attacks in Kentucky. In 1999, King asked his publishers to take it out of print.

While initially a noble idea, writers struggle with this concept. King himself writes again in Mr. Mercedes, a protagonist who kills with a car, perhaps foreshadowing terrorist attacks in New York, London and France. At what point does writing inspire these attacks? At what point is the writing a reflection of society? These are deeper questions that I think about.

In the end, I think the same rings true—violence that deepens and advances the story stays. Violence that takes most readers out of the narrative is smoothed over some.

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