One of my learnings as I’ve been writing and reading other authors’ work is the importance of subtlety. Rather than spell out what has happened or what is going to happen, it is often better to imply and let the reader draw his/her own conclusions, or guess. Obviously, there are times when it is necessary to be explicit: for example, when an author wants to elicit strong feelings in the reader. But there can be a fine line between developing strong feelings about a character and the reader developing negative feelings about the book.
Sex is one area where I feel, now, that less is sometimes more. Presently, I feel that the use of explicit words can interrupt the reader’s attention, and force him/her to develop an explicit mental picture of what is happening. Depending on the reader’s reaction, the explicit picture may or may not be erotic, or enjoyable.
Here is an example of the more explicit approach from my first novel, Fishing in Foreign Seas:
He stepped into the shower and closed the door behind him. They embraced, luxuriating in the delicious feel of wet skin against wet skin. He redirected the shower head so that it did not spray into their faces. They began a long, sensuous French kiss, their hands wandering over each other. Caterina’s legs had drifted apart, and his fingers found her black curls and then her secret cleft. “Oh, Jamie, don’t stop.” Her hand found his erection, and began to stroke. They moaned into each others mouths, their hearts racing and their breathing erratic, as they clung more strongly to each other, their eyes closed. She became rigid and stifled a cry of release.
“Oh, yes!” he groaned, and she opened her eyes to see his semen disappear in the streaming water.
They kissed slowly and lovingly, holding each other close.
“What a beautiful way to start the day!”
And here’s a sample from my latest novel, which will be sent for final editing next week:
“Mary Jo, I must have tried to visualise you as you are now a hundred times.”
There was a slight giggle. “I didn’t try to visualise. I tried to feel your touch and smell your body. Now, it’s so nice to be real.”
He run his hand slowly and repeatedly from her cheek to her knee, pausing at her breast, her navel and her mound. “God, you’re a beautiful woman!”
“Well I’m not, but I’m glad you think so. Let me see your scars.”
She raised herself to a sitting position. She giggled again. “Rob!”
“You know perfectly well what.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Nothing right now. Maybe later. How many stitches do you have here?”
Another area where caution is required is in descriptions of violence. Violent scenes are sometimes necessary: they may represent an essential turning point in the plot; they may shed clarifying light on one or more of the characters, but too much clarity can turn the reader off.
Writing my latest novel, I discovered the importance of the use of ambiguity in the description of what has happened to a character, what she is doing, or what she is thinking. Sometimes, if one paints too clear picture of these events, we are forced to develop a specific view of the character: strong approval, or disapproval. What the author may want is a feeling of ambiguity about the character: I like her, but . . . So, for example, in my latest novel, one of the main characters may have become pregnant by her brother. The circumstances and the symptoms are not clear. What did she (and he) do?