Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No More, No Less

by Chris F. Holm

When I sat down to write this post and saw the question of the week was "How much or how little sex and violence do you weave into your stories?" I had a moment of deja vu: I was certain we'd covered this before. So certain (by which I mean so lazy I hoped I could recycle old content to feed to the fortnightly blog-beast) in fact, I googled up the ol' CM-archives, at which point I discovered that I was mistaken; the old question was an altogether different one. (Boo.) But (and this is the kind of but Sir Mix-A-Lot might well appreciate, being rather ample) I wasn't wrong about being able to recycle content. (And yea verily, the blog-gods were appeased.)

Let me explain.

A while back, we Criminal Minders tackled the question, "Is there any such thing as too much sex or violence in fiction?" In response, I wrote a list elucidating my views on the subject which consisted of the following bullets (click through to read the post from whence I yoinked them, complete with additional bullet-by-bullet-blather from yours truly):

1. Every Story Has Its Own Line
2. Every Reader Has Their Own Line
3. Every Writer Has Their Own Line
4. Fiction Itself Has No Line
5. Sex (or Lack Thereof) and Violence (or Lack Thereof) Have No Inherent Artistic Valu

Alert readers will note that that question was of the how-much-is-too-much variety, whereas today's is how-much-do-I-use. But here's the thing: my answer is pretty much the same. Because my goal in any given tale is to find out where the line in bullet one (the story's) and bullet three (my own) intersect, and treat it like a target. Any more sex or violence than that target is gratuitous. Any less, and I'm not serving the story.

Serving the story is the key. I've long joked that I don't write sex scenes because my grandparents read my stuff, and though my reason is facetious, the fact remains I managed to write four books and twenty-odd short stories without a single on-screen act of boot-knockin'.

But I've written five books, not four. And the fifth book (as yet unpublished) has three sex scenes. Two are handled obliquely. One's as on-screen as it gets. And I'm proud to say the onscreen one's as unerotic as can be.

Yes, you read that right. And no, I'm not trying for a Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Fact is, that scene only survived editing because it wasn't there to titillate. It's a scene in which a man hitting rock-bottom falls off the wagon and has sad, unromantic sex with another lost soul too far gone to realize the brief, chemical-abetted solace they find in one another is a far cry from real happiness. It's an important character beat, and a poignant, human moment. At least, it better be, because it sure as hell ain't romantic.

I'd like to think I treat violence the same way. In fact, though my stories have no shortage of sturm und drang, my tolerance for writing explosions is on the wane of late; I find the quiet character moments far more satisfying, and more devastating. I wonder if that means in the future, I'll tend toward writing stories with more of the latter and less of the former. Time will tell, I guess. Lord knows I have no idea. I'm here to serve the stories, after all, not the other way around.

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