|Flowers of Life II by Georgia O'Keefe|
Sex is a fact of life. If you’re an adult, there’s a really good chance you’ve been intimate with someone. (If you’re a young adult, there’s only a slightly smaller chance you have as well, as much as it might make parents squirm.) However much mystery may shroud it, everyone knows it’s out there. And many stories (most of them?) touch on sex in some way, whether it’s simply an act that happens between two characters or is the main thrust (pun intended!) of the story.
The question for the writer is how much mystery should or shouldn’t be present around their characters’ intimate acts. As far as I’m concerned, this should be decided by how much the characters themselves want revealed.
Emily, the main character of my novel The Smartest Girl in the Room, is nineteen, ambitious and a control freak. She is involved in sexual situations, but she would find it a gross violation of her privacy to go into too much detail about it. She feels vulnerable enough because of her circumstances; I don’t want to make it any worse.
Miranda, the heroine of the upcoming sequel The Family You Choose, has always been more open with her emotions, and when she becomes involved with someone, it’s passionate, romantic- and very sexual. While I’m not graphic in my descriptions of her encounters, I do spend more time with the bedroom door open. There is much more to Miranda than her sexual side, but to hide that part of her would be to deprive the reader of an important and illuminating aspect of her character.
This is how I see my job: I have to convey my characters’ motivations, what they’re thinking and how they’re acting in such a way that the reader can, if not always sympathize or agree, at least understand. One more layer—arousing my reader—is one too many, because it requires, on my part at least, a level of self-consciousness that I need to avoid when I’m writing if I want to stay “in the zone”. I respect readers of erotica and I admire writers who can pull it off, but it’s just not in my toolbox. (That’s okay; there are PLENTY of other authors to choose from if that’s what you’re looking for.)
Aside from that, as a general rule, I tend to appreciate (and use) the understated approach. Call me old school, but I believe that nothing is sexier than leaving something to your imagination. So let me tell you about someone losing a piece of clothing and how much someone else enjoyed removing it, but I’m going to leave it to you to imagine what that person looked like once it was removed. For me as a reader, it’s not about what two characters look like during their encounter, it’s about what they feel. It’s my job as a writer to do a good job conveying those feelings, not describing everyone down to their anatomical detail.
About Deborah Nam-Krane
Deborah Nam-Krane was born in New York, raised in Cambridge and educated in Boston. You’re forgiven for assuming she’s prejudiced toward anything city or urban. She’s been writing in one way or another since she was eight years old (and telling stories well before that). It only took 27 years, but she’s finally ready to let the world read her series, The New Pioneers. The first book in the series- The Smartest Girl in the Room- was released in late March.