Explicitness

This is a follow-up on my post regarding sex.

A lady friend of mine (probably in her sixties) told me she was put off by the chapter in Sin & Contrition which is entitled Finding Out. This chapter deals with teenagers discovering sex, and their reactions to their discoveries.  There are various reactions: disgust, fascination, bravado, feeling left out, etc.  While she didn’t say so, I think what put my friend off were the descriptions of three boys discovering heterosexuality, and of one boy achieving sexual maturity.  She said, “It was just too much.  I had been through some of that with my sons, and I didn’t want to be reminded of it.”  Naturally, I didn’t ask her about her experience with her sons, but evidently it wasn’t good.

In thinking about this feedback, I’ve had several thoughts.  First of all, I didn’t intend to offend any one’s sensibilities.  I had been through what I wrote about (many years ago), and there’s nothing exaggerated in any way.  I remember it clearly, and I remember feeling much as LaMarr is reported as feeling.  In retrospect, it’s neither good nor bad; it’s just part of growing up.

My second thought was, ‘maybe I should have made it less explicit’.  (What happens is pretty clear.)  But it’s not erotic.  Some readers might consider it ‘disgusting’, but on this basis, lots of body functions would be so labeled.  The problem with making it less explicit, is that it loses its emotional impact.  LaMarr experiences his first ejaculation.  He sees it; the reader sees it.  He reacts emotionally, and the reader has an opportunity to empathise.  If it is written in such a way that what he sees is vague, it becomes more difficult for the reader to share his feelings.

As I said in the previous post, I don’t believe in explicitness about events that please or feel good to a character.  With a little hinting, we know what he or she is feeling.  But for strange or painful events, I think it is harder for us to tune into what the character is feeling.  We have a natural tendency to deny difficult or hurtful things.  So for these events, I may feel the need to be explicit. 

The battle scene in Sin & Contrition in which Mason is killed and LaMarr lies weeping over his friend’s body is  another example.

(For more information about my novels, see www.williampeace.net.)

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