Sex and Plot

Sex.

It sells.

It entertains.

This is nothing new. We all know this, it’s been doing so for thousands of years. You can find it wherever you look. On the television, in film, in your daily newspaper, on the internet and in your favourite novel.

But after reading a novel the other week with a little more ‘action’ than I cared for, it got me thinking about sex and plot. At what point is it entertaining and furthers the story and when does it become gratuitous?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude. There are times when I’m reading a book and it skips ahead to the – and they woke up cuddling the next day – and I can find this as frustrating as the infamous – and we woke up and it was all a dream – cop out. Frustrating and boring.

But, by the same token I really cannot bear pages and pages of vapid sex scenes, that I just end up flicking through until the book goes back to the narrative.

Let me take Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Executioner series as an example. The first six books are action packed, page turning thrillers. I love them. Then enter what is called ‘the ardeur’, a plot device that means Anita has to have sex otherwise she dies. Hmmm. My favourite character suddenly descends into immoral promiscuity. Books that were once superb crime/supernatural dramas, become filled with empty virtually pornographic scenes. Scenes that neither further the plot or the character development particularly in my opinion.

Somewhat ironically, the character development in Hamilton’s books are so good that find myself reading the next book to find our what happens to them, even if I do end up skipping past half the pages.

The urban fantasy genre in general tends to pull no punches and is gritty, real and provocative both in terms of plot and narration. Which is why I’m such a fan. I love a good sex scene almost as much as I look forward to a violent fight scene or battle. But what I cannot bear is sex or violence for no reason.

So where is that line for writers and readers? Interestingly it seems to me the more sex scenes a book has, the more repetitive and unoriginal it becomes. I read a book for its plot and character development, because I want to know what happens or who the person is going to become. While I like fantasy, I also want on some level my characters to emulate human behaviour. Not become an adult industry double.

Whether it’s a good fight scene or passionate love scene, you could argue there’s some amount of titillation involved, but without context it becomes meaningless. If it goes on too long or does not further the story it might as well not be there at all. Essentially, when I read a book, all I want is to be entertained and a good writer needs to find this balance.

4 thoughts on “Sex and Plot

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head: “But what I cannot bear is sex or violence for no reason.” That’s definitely the issue for me!

    A well-placed sex scene adds interest to the plot and furthers things along, as in, “Wow, now that we’ve slept together, where do we go from here?” The moments when the intimacy between characters has long been established but we’re still going through every stroke, suck and thrust with them (excuse my crudeness!) bothers me.

    I tend to skip scenes like that all together in order to get back to where the “real” action is: the plot! You’re right: it’s all about the context. Without it, some of these novels seem to descend into softcore porn. Not my cup of tea at all! 🙂 Interesting post!

  2. Hi Megan,
    Thanks 🙂
    So true, the amount of times I roll my eyes and flick through the pages annoys me especially as these scenes can be submerged into good books too.

  3. Because I’m not exactly the most enthusiastic book reader right now (things may change), I can’t truly comment. But I think you can perfectly draw a parallel to movies and TV. Too often the director will think, maybe will throw in a bit of random sex. That oughta sell it in the trailers.

    Everything that happens must have a reason no matter what format. Otherwise it turns into a vacuous waste of time. Of course, i’m a young single male, so I have no objections to it being done right! But when done wrong, it’s not worth the effort to keep my eyes open and read/watch it.

  4. Hi Simon,

    Good point, it’s not just books where this happens, you see it on films too.

    But if done well, can make a film or TV series. True Blood springs to mind at the moment. Incredibly racy, but a superb series.

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