Here I was, wondering what to blog about this week when darling CopyEd came to my rescue. We had been swapping emails regarding schedules and payments (believe me, stalwart reader, I have three more releases to come before the end of this year!) and he dropped a comment about THE PIRATE’S GRAND PLAN. He said:
the sexual back and forth felt like an extension of the characters’ interactions out of bed
And I thought, yes! I did a little Happy Dance because, when I picked CopyEd, I really only wanted to know if he was willing to edit fiction, mostly SF, sometimes erotic. During our mutual evaluation period, I was impressed by his comments and sense of humour and now (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this), I consider him to be a firm friend. And his comment highlighted something that is very important when writing more explicit SFR. I began to write a response to him but then, I thought, why not turn my response into a blog post? And here it is.
I understand that different people have different tolerances for explicitness in stories. But if there’s one cardinal rule about writing explicit SFR, it’s that the sex scenes should be another way to extend the characters’ interactions. I’ve blogged about this before, but I think it bears repeating.
When I sit down to write a sex scene, I think of the major characters and their personality traits. I ask myself how those traits translate into behaviour in the bedroom. Would a hesitant character initiate sex? Probably not. Would someone all sweetness and light suddenly turn into a dominatrix? No, at least not without some careful other hints dropped in the prior narrative to indicate that we are not seeing the full picture…or unless we want to introduce some shocking revelation regarding the character. In other words, what explicit SFR should not be is world-building + drama + any sex scenes that could be dropped in from another book. That’s just sloppy.
I remember reading a popular space opera series and all the heroes (both men and women) had “regular” sex, but all the villains could only have anal sex. I chuckled my way through all three otherwise wonderful books, and the subsequent spin-offs. They were very crude, forgive the pun, examples of what I’m saying here that probably reflected the author’s take on what it took to be a hero vs a villain. (It was a male author, btw, in case any of the “Manly, No Yukky Stuff For Us Real SF” writers have stumbled by.)
And, of course, you can work with that, bend that, shape it. What if someone you love to hate is actually a tender lover? There’s a facet of the character you would never see if you skipped the sex scenes, an important element that shows the flawed nature of us all (no hero is 100% good, no villain is 100% bad). So, if you can bear to do it (and only if you can or are inclined, mind), do try to slog through the sex. Sometimes, it really is there for a reason.
(As an aside, if you’re a writer looking for a reasonably-priced UK English-based copy-editor, drop me an email and I’ll pass on CopyEd’s details.)
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I don’t think I could have planned this addendum (addendum? It’s going to be longer than the main post!) better if I tried. You’ll recall, stalwart reader, that I recently blogged about servants in Malaysia and Singapore. Well, last weekend we had Sunday lunch at a pretty nice restaurant that we occasionally frequent. By “pretty nice”, I mean stiff white tablecloths, large white plates with the food artistically arranged, piped Mediterranean ballads and an open kitchen.
While we waited for our meals, we saw a car pull up in the carpark outside. It was a BMW, an X3 I think, with Singapore license plates. An X3 currently retails in Singers for between SG$232,800 and SG$312,800 (or US$184,000 to US$247,000), depending on model type, so we’re talking some serious cash here. A couple emerged with two sons in tow. The husband looked to be older than the wife, who was very attractive and impeccably dressed.
I focused on them because they did a very strange thing. After getting out of the car, locking it, entering the restaurant, and being seated, the wife returned to the car, let the front passenger-side window down by about 6cm or so (2″), locked the car again and walked back into the restaurant. Now why on earth, I thought to myself, would someone lower the window of a locked car? My first thought was that they must have had a dog in there. Well, it was worse. Yes, it was a servant. But hold on, the story only gets better from here.
(Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@sandalpress, ahem), knows how hot it is where I live. The average daytime temperature hovers around 33 degrees Celsius (91 Farenheit), with a humidity of 80% on a dry day. The perceived temperature, then, is much higher, often into the forties.)
After arriving at the conclusion of “other possible occupant” in the car, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. The car windows were deeply tinted but, from time to time, I thought I caught a glimpse of shadow moving in the cabin. J wanted to know what was bothering me, as I seemed to be fixated more with what was going on outside rather than the conversation at the table.
“I think there’s someone, or something, in that car,” I said, nodding to the BMW. “But it’s not moving the way I expect.”
I sipped my drink, we commented on the music, but my mind was fixated on the car. Then it started to rain. And the husband, seeing the change in weather, hurried out the door and gesticulated wildly to someone in the car to put the window up. The windscreen wasn’t tinted and so it was only then that I noticed a servant reach from the back seat and put up the passenger window. The young wife looked around and saw me watching the entire event. I slid my gaze to her and projected every bit of cynical amusement that I could. She looked uncomfortable, but retreated back to the restaurant with her husband.
So, one servant in a hot car with the windows up. (All the rain does here is raise the ensuing humidity.) Lovely. I might have said something at a volume slightly above normal about “some fucking humans treating other human beings like shit”, but that’s just my natural exuberance.
Another few minutes passed, before there was a second flurry of activity at the Singaporean table. The husband looked angry. The wife looked at me. I pointedly looked at their car. It was unlocking. The rear door opened. To my shock, a servant and her young daughter, stepped out. A child! In a locked car in equatorial heat! The servant was embarrassed, cringing, with that smile on her face that says, “please don’t be angry with me”. She gestured to her daughter, indicating that the girl wasn’t feeling well. In one hand, she carried two small red plastic bags, of a type used by food hawkers. Later (because yes, I was that damned nosey), I saw they contained fried wontons…the woman and child’s lunch.
I leaned across the table to say something to J. It was actually unrelated to the drama unfolding in front of me but — and yes, I’ll admit this too — I deliberately made it look as if I was ridiculing the family again. The wife, who was constantly shooting me glances during all of this, turned away quickly. The husband ordered servant and child to get to the bathroom and stay there.
“What’s happening now?” J asked, his back to the action.
“The husband is telling both woman and child to go to the bathroom and stay there until they’re finished.”
“What? Do you want me to go and say something?” Darling hubby had already pushed back his chair, all fired up about forcing someone to hide out in a restaurant toilet.
“Hold on,” I said. “Let’s see what happens.”
Well, I’ll admit it. I shamed the wife into doing the right thing. Unlike other polite company, I made no bones about the fact that she was my sole entertainment for the meal. I didn’t look away, I didn’t pretend that I was focusing on something else. I sat there and stared at her and made it quite clear that I considered her to be trash.
She buckled. She went back to the bathroom and told the servant and her child to join them at the table, soothing her husband’s objections and even bending down to ask the child how she was, giving her a brief hug while she was at it. It would have been touching if she hadn’t been watching me all this time, making sure I was taking notice.
In the end, I didn’t enjoy my lunch. But I think that was a small price to pay if, in future, it means a child isn’t locked inside a car in the tropical heat while her so-called “betters” eat expensive food in air-conditioned comfort. Considering the clientele who normally visit (of which this family was, unfortunately, a typical example), we decided that we won’t be going back to that restaurant.
Shame. Not always, but it can work.
Have a good weekend and I’ll catch you next week.