sex and violence

Sex and Violence

Stephen Watkins wrote an interesting post called, "Links to Chew On: Publishing, Dialog, Language, Culture, DRM, and Weirdness," where he linked to a post by David B. Coe called, "A Father and Writer Looks At Violence In His Books."

This struck me, because I did deal with this question in writing Stevie One.

It was not much of a question in the mystery stories. Because of how mystery stories work, you often see the results of violence but not the violence itself, since the detective doesn't become involved until after the violence happens. There is sometimes some violence in the "capturing the murderer" scenes, but that tends to be very quick.

As far as sex goes, that's pretty much set by the fact that there is a first person narrator, and Marshall would certainly never describe himself having sex with his wife. In fact, in the mystery stories I use the very old-fashioned device of a break, with asterisks, when the sex scenes happen.

But in Stevie One, which is a "an adventure" (though it is also a mystery) and which is written in third person, I had to think about this. To quote from my response to Stephen's post (slight edits for clarity):

In Stevie One, the violence is explicit and the sex is mostly not. This is not because I think violence is cool and sex is icky. The violence is explicit (both the altercations themselves and the injuries which result) because they are necessary to the story and the development of the character. (I’m trying not to reveal too much about the actual story in how I write about it here.) The reader has to understand why the fights are happening, and the risks involved, and the implications for the future.

Most of the sex is not explicit for a few reasons. It is not a dramatic event in the story (the characters are in a long-term and, in its way, stable relationship), and the main point in the scenes they have alone together is how comfortable they are with each other. They present a fairly formal front to the world, but there is an extended and intimate (and non-sexual) scene where they are alone together and both are naked.

The one more explicit sexual scene is brief and very quickly interrupted, mostly because it struck me funny and also because it shows how the participants feel about the person doing the interrupting.

I have no problem with explicit sex or violence, if that's what's necessary to tell the story. This is why I'm always clear that my stuff is not YA.

Why Writers Write

Tim Parks at the New York Review of Books blog again tackles the question of whether writers would write without being paid (if copyright would cease to exist), and, as far as I'm concerned, comes up with the wrong answer: "Does Copyright Matter?"

He makes several interesting assertions, including this one about copyright: draws the author into a bourgeois mentality where writing is a job with an income; the writer now has an investment in stable markets and attentive policing. In short, copyright keeps the writer in the polis, and indeed it is remarkable how little creative writing today is truly revolutionary, in the sense of seeking a profoundly different model of a society.

There is also this, which ends the piece:

If people only read poetry, which you can never stop poets producing even when you pay them nothing at all, then the law of copyright would disappear in a trice.

But if poets will write without any chance of significant payment, why assume that novelists are different? Because novels are harder to write? Nonsense. As my father used to say, the two hardest forms of literature are poetry and humor, because they're the only two where every word has to be perfect for the piece to work.

The NYRB blog already has a response from a poet ("Poets and Money") who talks about how he writes poetry with no expectation of receiving any money, and talks about the possible underlying assumption that poets write for free because it's easier.

What I'm doing

I've been thinking about what to work on next. On one hand, I have a couple of ideas for new mystery stories. On the other hand, I'm thinking of a new Stevie One adventure, and I already have the first two scenes and the ending written for that one (but with only a vague idea how I'll get from one to the other).

But I've started to re-read Stevie One, particularly thinking about the points about sex and violence, and I've realized that it needs a little cleaning up. A word here and there could be better, and there a few details which are not covered. For example, in the scene I mention above, one of the two naked characters leaves the room twice to get things from the rest of the house. She would have put on a robe to do this, but that isn't mentioned.

So, that comes first. After that, who knows? I have noticed that there are twelve mystery stories, which I said I'm not going to edit until next year, and next year is scheduled to have twelve months, so I may do one story a month. Spruce them up, rewrite when necessary, and then post each as the "story of the month" for that month.

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  1. Pingback: reporting on the world, writing on the screen » Anthony Lee Collins

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