What I Don’t Want to Share   10 comments

Oct 4, 2021 Does ‘show don’t tell’ ever run up against your personal prohibitions?

SHOW NOT TELL' IN STORY COMPOSITION | ACE ENGLISH

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Prohibitions

Let’s start off with the truth. As a writer, I believe showing is better than telling and I do it all the time. Now for a personal confession. I enjoy sex — in the privacy of my bedroom with my husband. It’s an intimate affair. Over the 35 years of my marriage, maybe the cat is sometimes a witness. When we were new-married we had a bedroom without a door and a dog who would jump up on the bed after we’d settled down for the night. She never interrupted sex. Maybe she too understood sex is an intimate affair. She’d also go behind bushes when she needed to go to the bathroom, as if she thought that ought to have some privacy too. We locked the door when the kids were old enough to barge. When we lived in a small two-room cabin, we’d have sex in the living room because we knew we’d hear them coming up the stairs from the bedroom. Once when we were camping, we looked up to see a very startled squirrel watching us through the tent screen. We started laughing so hard we couldn’t finish. A similar event happened once with a moose. We aren’t exhibitionists.

It’s not that I’ve got anything to hide. It’s just that I have nothing I want you to see.

So, no, I’m not going to describe sex to you in my books because that would be like inviting readers into my bedroom and that’s an intimate place. Just two people allowed. No lookie-luus.

Don’t Cheat!

We have a pretty strict rule in our marriage — Don’t cheat! I wouldn’t say that’s the secret to keeping a marriage together for decades — I think that’s probably forgiveness and grace for the other person’s foibles — but breaking that rule has ended more marriages I’m personally aware of than I can count on two hands. So, I always wonder how women (particularly) who write a lot of sex scenes manage to look their husbands in the eye after they’ve mentally cheated on him. Maybe there’s some trick that I just don’t understand, but I know I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine Cai having sex with Marnie in all the intimate details, write that and publish it for the whole world to read, and then turn around and look my husband in the eye with a clean conscience. If you can do that, fine, and go about your life in peace, but I can’t…so I don’t. It’s kind of like masturbation. Does anyone fantasize about having sex with their spouse when they pleasure themselves? I haven’t found a lot of people who do. That doesn’t mean masturbation is evil — it’s darned handy when you’re separated from your spouse by hundreds of miles for months…or if you’re single…or if your spouse doesn’t mind (though never met a lot of those, either) — but it does mean that when you’re doing it, you’re mentally cheating on the person you promised not to cheat on and that’s a problem for me. Whether I do it in a book or just inside my head, that’s a problem for me and I don’t want it to become a problem with my marriage. Marriages are hard enough to hold together without adding that element to it.

Less Is More

So that’s one area where my personal prohibitions won’t allow me to “show don’t tell.” I strive to write realistic characters who have sex and pee and crap in the woods, but readers don’t need me to describe it. With very few exceptions, readers have had the experience I’m referring to and can draw their own conclusions. My characters get dressed a lot. Why would they be naked in a freezing-cold bedroom in the middle of the afternoon? Why would they visit the “squatting pits” while on campaign? Yeah, I think my readers are smart enough to figure that out. And that leaves me with more pages to “show not tell” about other things — wars, sorcery, how to rewrite a constitution, how to save someone’s life. There’s lots of things to write about. I don’t need to write about sex.

10 responses to “What I Don’t Want to Share

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  1. I don’t write sex scenes, but I think if I did it would be like writing a fight scene. How does the human body react when hit by a bullet? How does the mind react? I’d be so busy analyzing movement and positioning it wouldn’t be a personal turn-on.

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  2. I write rather hot sex scenes in my hot books. I also write sweet books – doors closed! If people want to think that’s what my sex life is like – fine.
    Tweeted.

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  3. A Suggestion can be enough, with sex or violence. It allows the mind of the reader to make it as graphic (or not) as they like.

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  4. I do write sex scenes, but not too graphic and not many of them. ‘Revenge’ has the most, and that one sells more copies than all the others. Readers like a little escapism I think. I’ve never cheated on my husband in 41 years of marriage, and creating sex scenes in books doesn’t count as cheating as far as I’m concerned.

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    • It does for me. And more importantly, it does for him. He points out he doesn’t look at porn. He wants to sometimes, but he doesn’t, because he respects me and doesn’t want to mentally cheat on me. So I kind of owe him not to fantasize about other people having sex. He’d rather I never read any books with those scenes in it and I don’t read many (it’s hard today to avoid it.) It’s just how we do it in our house. You can do you in yours. It’s all good.

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      • What do you do when sex scenes are shown on TV or in films at the cinema?

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      • It doesn’t bother me. For whatever reason, those kinds of scenes don’t stick with me. Now my husband has been known to get up to go to the bathroom when it happens. Men are far more visual than women, so that makes sense. Sometimes for his sake, I’ll look away. Back in the days of videotape, we’d try to fast-forward through scenes like that. It never worked out. Sex scenes at high-speed are surprisingly more memorable than at ordinary speed.

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      • We record films on Sky TV and watch them the next night. It’s better that way, as then I can fast-forward through any needless sex or violence as I don’t like watching it either.

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