Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Where Do You Draw the Line"

While writing women's fiction and LDS Romance, I find a great degree of difference between what some consider acceptable love scenes and others deem as smut. While at the LDStorymakers Writer's Conference this past April, someone asked the board of LDS publishers what they thought was acceptable in a romantic scene. One in particular laughed and then said, "One and a half kisses is our limit." Of course, the comment brought laughter to the entire room, but I didn't think he really answered the real question. Where do you draw the line?

I was told once that you don't go any further in your writing than you would be willing to go yourself, and that helps when you're writing about anLDS couple who hold true to their LDS standards, but what if they aren't. What if the book is about making mistakes and overcoming them? What if you have to show the reader what the character has gone through in order for them to realize how far they've come and what they've learned? Where do you draw the line then?

I've given this a lot of thought over the past few months and have come up with my own hypothetical line draw in the sand, but was curious what the rest of you thought. How far should a love scene go and under what circumstances would you let your character slip past the line you've drawn? And just in case you're wondering, I'm not interested in any graphic details or examples. Keep it clean girls...LOL


  1. I write YA romance--not geared specifically for an LDS audience, and this is a subject of much meditation.

    I ran across a comment in a writers romance forum that kind of opened my eyes. It came from a non-LDS woman who was blown away by Stephanie Meyers ability to keep the "sexual tension" for 4 novels without ever writing a "sex scene". Has the world forgotten what true romance is?

    I believe inferred or vague relations (even to explain where a character is coming from) are often just as/or more effective than graphic ones. Characters are not likely to relive experiences in detail that were traumatizing.

    By way of a line, I ask myself if I'd be embarrassed to let my brother or sister or mom read what I've written. Generally, if I'm not comfortable publishing it without a pen-name, it's too much.

  2. I also have given this so much thought. And discussion. It seems never-ending. But I've learned that what works for one doesn't work for another.

    With what Crystal said, I agree that Stephenie Meyer did a bravo job. She also was writing about teens. She wrote herself many great reasons *not* to write about sex.

    But what about with adult fiction?

    I write contemporary women's fiction, and often have to ask myself what is appropriate for the characters without compromising what I feel okay writing. But you make a good point, Christine - what if we are writing about someone who makes mistakes?

    I have a character that is divorced and never been with another man. The idea of *being* with another is frightening. She also had an alcoholic mother, and therefore doesn't trust herself around alcohol. She, of course, doesn't want to end up like her mother.

    Yet when she meets a certain man, she lets all those fears and standards fall.
    And she has to learn from them.

    I certainly don't go into graphic detail (the most you get from me is a detailed description of a certain wine's flavor), and I don't think you need to.

    To me, it's like a war scene in a film: You can show me enough I need to see to know I'm watching a battle scene. Or you can go out of your way and show the carnage, the blood, etc, and really sort of ruin the whole thing.

    War happens, but how much carnage will you show your viewers?

  3. I think Crystal's right here—have we forgotten what sexual tension is? Sex scenes actually end sexual tension (well, release it).

    In writing with LDS characters, it's actually usually really easy to keep a line there. I know I'm not going to write any sex scenes (um, EVER), but I'm not sure exactly how the relationship is going to go in my newest WIP (without LDS characters).

    But Christine, he said three and a half kissing scenes. That's okay, in my WIP there's only one and a half. ;)

  4. I agree this is our most difficult line as LDS writers. My current WIP doesn't present this problem as my character is 12 yrs old and her biggest is only to save the world. But I wrote a women's fiction story where a woman had left her abusives husband and was in the middle of a divorce when she meets up with an old friend. It seemed like everywhere I turned I kept wanting to write kissing scenes because, let's face it, this poor woman deserved to be happy. But my husband freaked out when I mentioned a kissing scene because she wasn't divorced from her husband yet. I did lessen the kissing scenes by alot but neither did I take them out completely. I think because the world's standards are different we have to portray believable characters but still hold onto the reins. I read an article by Orson Scott Card that addressed this very topic is great detail. He said that if the behavior is shown in a way that shows the real life consequences then you are merely giving the reader the full story. But the dangerous thing is when such immoral things are shown in a decieving manner that glorifies them and shows them as good things. This helped me to put it into perspective. I think I had found the article of Provident living magazine online or something like that.

  5. It's all about implication. You can imply mistakes without detailing them. You can allude to an event happening without detailing the feel, taste, etc... of things. Reality is what it is, and we can't sugarcoat everything, but there is no reason to expose innocent readers to smut either.

  6. Thanks for all your comments. I put the same post on my personal blog and got a lot of comments there as well. It seems there are a variety of opinions on this subject. I enjoyed reading them all. Thanks again.

  7. To set something down in print, on film, or in any other media is to glorify it.

    I feel uncomfortable reading or watching anything that I would feel uncomfortable watching in real life. Anything I wouldn't do in front of my children, my friends, my family, total strangers, OTHER PEOPLE - I don't want to put things like that explicitly in my writing. If my characters make those choices, they can do it off stage and I'll let them suffer the consequences in scene.



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