Friday, August 29, 2014

The Dirty Parts

S. R. Karfelt The Glitter Globe

So who remembers Ma’s advice from the Little House books? “Lest said, soonest mended.” I shall not be following that advice today.

Nope. I have my can of worms. I have my opener. Here we go.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, this concerns you. If you’re not a reader or a writer, why the heck are you here? Get back to whatever people who don’t read or write do. I heard a rumor that you kind of people have lives. Get on with it. Although today I’m talking about sex and swearing in novels. If you have an opinion about that, by all means join the fray.

Here are some questions to get the wormy ball rolling.
  1. Do you think that books should reflect real life?
  2. Do you swear? Ever?
  3. Have you ever heard someone swear in real life?
  4. I’m so not going to ask you about your sex life. #IDon’tCare
  5. Although I will ask if you are aware that some humans engage in sex?

Let’s address the first question. Do you think that books should reflect real life? It
depends on the book, right? There are piles of them. It’s like that so you can pick and choose what you like. I like real life story lines to an extent. If I wanted my books to be purely factual, I’d be writing Non-Fiction. So now we get into that whole messy opinion section of life choices. Personal preferences. A personal preference in reading material is probably as varied as personal preferences in writing books.

Good thing there are so many choices out there!

It’s weird to write a fiction book because it is mandatory to get your facts straight, even when you’re writing a story about people who are completely fictional. Characters in books might have abilities human beings don’t really even have, but many basic facts are still important to get right. For example when I put a fictional character in the Marine Corps, I want my readers to fall into the story and believe this story could feasibly happen. That means when I write I apply somewhat believable scenarios and dialogue to the best of my ability.

Now whether you swear or not, would you believe me if I told you that some Marines do swear? Sure I could have still chosen not to put swearing in my book about a female marine in the corp. I know other writers who do that well; I could have gone with they swore or some such roundabout way. The fact is, in my opinion, the dialogue needed some cussing. I work hard on dialogue. Yes, I sit in my office and read every word out loud again and again. In some books it is easily avoided, but after about six months of stressing over it, and knowing in my writerly heart that swearing belonged in the book I was writing, I decided to go there.

Sex. It’s another big ole can of worms in writing, isn’t it? Let’s open it, shall we? Does it belong in novels? Well, that’s debatable isn’t it? And it depends on the type of book doesn’t it?

S. R. Karfelt
I’ve been asked since the release of my second book, BLANK A Shieldmaiden’s Voice, what my criteria for putting sex into that book was. In Warrior of the Ages it was kept from the audience as quietly as it was in the book Gone with the Wind. You could almost hear the curtain drop in scenes from Gone with the Wind. Rhett carries Scarlett up the spiral staircase and....stuff happens behind the curtain. Readers know when stuff happens behind the curtain, but they don’t always need to see it. Sometimes less is more.

And sometimes sex is crucial to the story line. It was for my second book. It’s about a marriage, a long marriage. I did not have to go far for my research into a long marriage. I’ve lived it. I know where the bumps and twists in the road are. It was just a matter of amping it up a bit for fiction-size pain. In order to pry open this story about a marriage it was necessary to delve into what held this couple together and what tore them apart. That involved sex. And that was my criteria for putting sex into my book. It was relevant to forwarding the plot of the story.

Was it a risk to put sex into my books? Sure, but writing is a risk. When you do anything in life you might incite mob mentality and get yourself into trouble. If you’re a writer you have to decide whether you will hide your light from the mob, or whether you’ll wave it and let the mob have at you. Those are your choices once you step into the arena with a book you wrote. Welcome, fellow Gladiators, put your neck right here…your neck being a metaphor for your book of course.

But don’t you just love people who wave their light at the pitchfork wielding mob and shout, “Bite me!” You know you love them, even if you’re carrying a torch for the mob, even if you just love to hate them, you love them. Now I’m not yelling bite me, but I am owning my work. I consciously write my stories, and I live with the consequences. When I am asked by other writers about how much swearing or sex is too much to put into writing, I recommend writing as you’re so inspired, but editing with your conscience. If you don’t agree with that, well, you can just bite me.

S. R. Karfelt
Where do you draw the line in your writing/reading material? Do you dare write outside your comfort zone? Why or why not? How far into the arena will you go? And if you're going to tell me that you can't write about sex because it is against your religion, please fill me in on what religions involve people who don't have sex. I want to know. 


  1. First, people are way too sensitive about subjects such as sex (at least in the US.) Second, as you mention in the article, a writer should do what is best for each specific project.

    I am completely against using ploys like sex or profanity simply for shock value, not because it offends me morally, but because it offends me artistically. During my tenure as editor of a literary magazine, I read many stories that smacked of college-age "hey, look what I'm allowed to write about now. Aren't I edgy?" In writing, that's not how those topics can be best used. Using sex to, again as you mentioned, demonstrate a relationship and its parameters and, thereby, increasing the emotional stakes, is a much better strategy.

    In writing, sex should be neither hidden nor flaunted. Everybody knows it's happening, so the key is to figure out how to use it most effectively in your story.

  2. I don't swear habitually. There was that one hour long tirade, but hey I'd been holding them back for 50 years, it was time. lol.

    I think of swear words as adverbs. There are just better ways to say something. I do concede that a book about Marines is probably going to need some sailor speak, though.

    I find it hilarious that people who object to sex in literature are usually the ones who adore murder and gore in literature. I mean how does it come about that something God created for our fulfillment become less acceptable than something the devil created for our destruction? So weird.

    That being said, I think you are right on when you say the story dictates. I love write with your heart but edit with you conscience. Perfectly said.

  3. As the wife of a Marine I can attest to the fact that they do swear. Even if they never swore before boot camp. Even if they aren't that into swaering. It will mostly be at other drivers (that might just be me). It's funny you bring this up now, I just finished reading a book with more sex and swearing in one chapter than in any book I've read before. And it was a great read (even if I'm somewhat reluctant to proclaim it as such). The entire book toed the line between realism and just too far (for me personally), but the way it was done in no way felt false or gratuitous (mostly just really disturbing).