I re-read Jacklyn Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart last week and wanted to take a moment to react to the sex scenes. As one might imagine in a story that centers on a pair of prostitutes (I’m simplifying a 900 page story drastically) the sex scenes are important. And yet, the way she handles them is remarkably well done. Carey spends just as much time on each sex scene as needed. When the scene has to do with love between characters who love each other, the scene rapidly fades to black because the actions aren’t the point of the story. But when the courtesan who is trained as a spy engages in spy-craft as much as her sex-work, the scene stays well-lit, giving the readers the information at the same time as our point o view character gets it.
As I’ve worked on my novel Harmony in Three Voices I originally wrote out the sex scenes in exquisite detail. At that stage of the process, no one else was reading the story and I for one, wanted to know how the characters acted together in those naked moments!
But when I took those three disparate but overlapping storylines and wove them into one novel, I realized that the purposes of the novel were not served with the inclusion of details in those scenes. That they happened was important and was related to the point of view narrator. But what went on? Not important, even though I’d written out every scene. The blow-by-blow (if you will) ended up amongst those 100k of words that I cut from the final story.
How a writer deals with sex scenes is an important consideration. What kind of story is it? Carey handled her sex scenes really well because she seems to be very conscious of the way in which the sex scene is just another scene and should do the work of any other scene: it should broaden our understanding of the character, move the story forward, enhance our perception of the world theses characters inhabit. The language used has to be accurate to the character using it and the situation has to be described in just enough detail to match what the characeter would say and why they would say it.
I’m still working on Harmony but I think I got the mix right. My novel A Call of Moonhart doesn’t leave the characters much time for sex, but even then the fact of the sexual liaison moves the story forward in a way that the details of the liaison would not add anything. Brittany is dealing with those questions as she finishes a much more sexual piece called Middle Ground. I only hope that we are able to pull it off as well as the Kushiel books do.