December 09, 2019, 04:30:40 AM

Author Topic: How to Avoid Scaring Away Male Readers - Too Much Touchy Feely Stuff (literally)  (Read 17731 times)

Offline Sir Gawain

So, I'm not exactly sure how to start this one. I think the title says it all.

Basically I've always loved history and researching how people lived, mainly for ancient Egypt. But then I got my hands on some books about Henry VIII's wives and in my APA World History class we studied England for two months. I fell in love.

In studying their culture, I always found it interesting that medieval people were not the prudes everyone made them out to be. I took this into account when writing my first draft, and I didn't hold back on writing sex scenes.

Unfortunately, people from the medieval period aren't going to be the ones reading my book. I've been looking around at forums, including this one, and trying to gauge what the average male reaction would be to my writing. From what I see, most guys seem to be squeamish when anything related to love or sex shows up and its not "warranted".

The whole "warranted" stipulation is what scares me. Its subjective. What I think adds depth to the plot (which actually features relationships as the main source of conflict vs dragons or elves), might be gratuitous to someone else. There is plenty of action in the book, but I am afraid it will be overshadowed in the minds of some readers as soon as they see the first intimate scene. And when I mean intimate scene, I mean in no way erotica, because even l blush when I read that stuff.

What I'm asking is, where do I need to "draw the line"? Should I have a male reader go through it first and mark things that he finds "unwarranted"? Should I throw in more sword fights?

I know it seems like an odd question, but I want my product to be marketable to both genders. Thanks in advance.

Offline Yora

Brandon Sanderson talked on some occasions about every book having a "promise". Right at the start every story is telling the audience what kind of story it will be. Even the title, cover, and marketing, and to some extend the previous reputation of the author are part of telling the audience what to expect.
When this promise is not kept, and the story is something different than expected based on what the author indicated at the start, audience reactions are almost always overwhelmingly negative. It doesn't really matter a lot of the story is good or bad, but when you go into a story with a certain expectation, the mind deals really poorly with getting something else.

I guess the best approach here is to make it clear right from the start what readers are going to get from the book. If there are no unexpected shifts in mood and themes, reactions shouldn't be too bad. (Unless it's actually a bad story, of course.)
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Offline xiagan

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Anne Lyle's Alchemist of Souls (first in the Night's Masque trilogy) is set in a slightly alternative Victorian England and there are hetero, gay and bi main characters who are having sex occasionally.
I wasn't bothered by it and don't think that many people I know would be. People from the US may react differently, though.

Maybe you can ask @AnneLyle how her experiences were? How the book and the naughty parts were received? She has a forum profile with her real name, so you can send her a pm.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2015, 02:50:48 PM by xiagan »
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Offline Arry

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I think no matter what you write, you will run across some readers that think things should have been handled differently (everyone's a critic, right?). I also think the other thing to take in to account is not all readers are the same. In general, men seem to have a lower interest in romance, but I'd be careful assuming all men would be turned off based on a few reader responses. I also know women who will be very quick to be turned off if they think a sex scene is gratuitous.

Personally, my advice would be to write the story you want to tell, how you want to tell it. You're the author, that's your right. When it comes to sex in books, different people will have different reactions. Some want more, some want less, it's just the way it goes.

For the record, I'm from the US and I loved Anne Lyle's books. But I would also say there was very very little in the way of sex in them. Like hardly anything, it was mainly just hinted at. The Steel Remains gets some bad reactions because of the sex in them (which is also homosexual), but that is another book where it did not bother me at all. It was not any more graphic than many other books, but I think there was a stronger reaction because it was homosexual sex.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Sex scenes don't bother me at all. It's the relationship drama that does. And not just your average fight here and there, but the wishy washy stuff that gets annoying.
I will say this though. If you're worried about having too many sex scenes, think about this. What goes through the character's mind during this scene that adds depth to the story? Is there something particular that happens here, for example a funny or awkward moment, that ads depth to the relationship? If there are no important thoughts going through a character's mind, does it show something about the internal conflicts of the other character purely based on his/her actions?
That's the type of stuff I look for while reading sex scenes. Sure, a hot moment is never a bad thing, but there also needs to be a deeper meaning behind it.

Offline D_Bates

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Guy here, and I enjoy romance if it's done right. But 9/10 times it's a shoe-horned in relationship just to have a bit of love to spice things up. Romance is about the dance of courtship, and when you look at the top romance stories that have endured over the centuries, very few even mention sex or the desire of such as any motive for why the characters are attracted to one another. I'd also say that the most intimate moments are those which don't involve sex, because that's when you're going out of your way to make someone feel good for no reason other than the fact that you love them.

As for ancient people being more prude, that is indeed a modern misconception. There are many stories about promiscuous Gods from the old world. And it didn't just stop at sex. I think there's an old norse tale where it's suggested that a river was formed because a female giant parted her legs and urinated. But at the end of the day sex is sex. It's been cool since the dawn of existence because nature would have failed miserably if the means in which any species reproduces is so unpleasant that they avoid doing it.

I fall into the crowd who gets uncomfortable when reading sex scenes. But that's because most are weird and awkward. You see them coming from a mile away because the attraction is so forced and corny--whenever two characters cannot get together for whatever reason they're going to get together--and it often ends with that seemingly mandatory and equally terrible simile for the orgasm. In most cases I suspect the author is merely living their own fantasy through their writing. That's cool and all, but that's what the erotica genre's for. If I wanted to enjoy some porn I can find far better avenues of getting it than through books.

There's actually a large thread on fight scenes further down this forum. http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/writers-corner/fight-scenes/ . It might be worth giving it a browse because the principles most concluded with there are the same ones I'd suggest applying to sex scenes. Readers don't need to see every thrust, swing, and miss. And the scene should never be longer to read than it takes to do--which, contrary to popular belief, isn't the 10-30 minute sessions people like to imagine, because then they either aren't really attracted to one another, are under a lot of stress and not in the mood, or else have been getting themselves off with their own hand at regular intervals leading into the event.

On a final note, here's some food for thought. Think of one of your close friends. Now imagine that you walk in on them while they're having sex with a partner who they love dearly and are very intimate with. How would you react and feel? Even if you'd smile and laugh about it later, would you pull up a seat and watch them finish? Because that's exactly what you're making your reader do when you go into the gory detail of such moments with characters who they've gotten to know well and hopefully have an interest in.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2015, 11:01:02 PM by D_Bates »
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Offline Francis Knight


Personally, my advice would be to write the story you want to tell, how you want to tell it.

Word

Write the book you want to read -- chances are someone else will too. You cannot write a book to committee, so write what you like to see

And consider...there is a quite famous, popular SFF book my husband read ( I tried to, but got bored, he had issues, made himself finish) and...well my Old Man is not into Romance. At all. But he finished the book and said "It was ruined because the relationship wasn't set up properly" Now, sometimes you need an..intimate scene to set that up and sometimes you don't but it's the relationship that is the important part, whether jiggy things are going on or not. And I say this as someone who has written erotica (great practice btw -- it helps you see how to build and hold tension, and if you then later decide not to use sex scene you can still use the tension...)

And, ofc, there is the old bait and switch -- I can think of several films frex that are in fact romances at their core...but are not marketed as such. The first Pirates of the Caribbean. It's a romance, pure and simple (take out Will and Elizabeth's relationship the whole story changes). But dressed up as adventure so much, no one who would be bothered by that was bothered by it.

We could go into how a healthy percentage of Romance readers are men (they just dare not admit it) but say it's true and men really don't like romance (or do but won't admit it)

Women buy more books than men. Women read more than men. Even in SFF

Soo....

Write what you want to read. Sure keep an eye on he market and make sure you appeal to as many peoples as possible. But do not compromise your story for some mythical "reader" who may not even exist
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Offline Nora

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Write what you want to read. Sure keep an eye on he market and make sure you appeal to as many peoples as possible. But do not compromise your story for some mythical "reader" who may not even exist

Completely agreed there, I've come across wide varieties of sex scenes and love stories written in different manners and styles and levels of crude or romantic, and the end of the story is that hopefully the writer wrote what he/she wanted and enjoys his/her own story. End of the day I'm still reading it, and for every person who dislikes his romance set up, there might be ten loving it.

@Yora is really giving you a great advice, at the end, you need to advertise your book for what it is. If you're writing something with a sex scene per chapter, and you advertise the book as erotica, no one will be agravated with you, and people who pick it up will be hoping for sexy scenes.
The reverse being completely true too.

I myself found the mistborn series prude (actual spoiler)
Spoiler for Hiden:
and missing into some kind of confirmation that the marriage between characters was ever consumed.


I'd say the biggest turn off to me is the repetition of unrealistic sex scenes. People always having deep-connection sex, orgasming together (the first time, or every time), or just always orgasming... I know lots of people expect it, and I even welcome it easily enough the first few times, but sex as a more normal and useful activity is favoured by me. And when I say useful I mean as in human interaction, act of value, GRR Martin kind of useful.

I'm a woman, but sex is rarely the main problem in relationships to me in books. More often than not it's invented and stupidly orchestrated couple problems. It's often glaring when an author bends a character into stupid mental or actual behaviour to complicate love lives and later resolve everything.
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Offline jefGoelz

IMO, the only reason to detail sexual encounters is if it reveals character or furthers the plot. Otherwise it's just for titillation.
If it doesn't reveal character or further the plot, I tend to fade to black as soon as the reader is sure sex is about to happen. I might fade back in to show a dialogue during the afterglow, but otherwise I just move ahead to the next scene.
If it is a continuing relationship, I might only allude to subsequent sexual encounters.

Offline Rostum

I seem to have arrived late to the thread and pretty much agree with the consensus.
Unless you are writing to eat, write the story you want to tell. If you are risking going hungry write the story as many as possible want to read.

Why worry about men being put off by sex or love scenes? Why not people? There will be always be some who are more prudish than others, some who through their political or religious beliefs and upbringing will find any mention sex or intimacy offensive in literature and we still have the odd book burning from the more lunatic elements out in the world.

If what you are writing is the Mills and Boon(do they still exist?) type story where the author is chucking out a book a fortnight using the same story dressed up with pirate ships, knights in armour or car racing, but essentially the same book dressing up the titillation in a slightly different way from the last one. That will probably drive men away. Nothing to do with the mention or inferred intimate contact and a lot more to do with the unrealistic expectations of the male characters, sadly most of us are not ruggedly handsome multi- millionaires who happen to be holidaying alone and on the beach at just the right time to meet/find/rescue the heroine. It's trite and doesn't appeal.
Belief is not suspended by such characterization any more than it is when female characters are portrayed as beautiful, slight, weak and constantly in need of rescuing.

Medieval Europe was indeed a fairly bawdy place, Chaucer portrays it as such, and he and Shakespeare both write to the audiences of their times. The best sources of what people were getting up to are church ordinances. If the church was banning it then there was usually someone up to it, at certain times the clergy themselves.

One of the best reasons to use romance or relationships in writing is to fix your character into their society and as a reference to that societies mores. Is the relationship permissible or forbidden is it an act of desperation is it an arranged marriage, for good or bad. Is it an act of duty. You can also build up a character to have everything to live for then kill them off to desolate their partner. I would agree that any intimacy needs a context and if it does not further the story it detracts from it.
Someone said that every word and deed between bouts of lovemaking should be considered foreplay. If you can write a characters where that is the case you will hold a readers attention regardless of their gender.

Offline Lady Ty

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Brandon Sanderson talked on some occasions about every book having a "promise". Right at the start every story is telling the audience what kind of story it will be. Even the title, cover, and marketing, and to some extend the previous reputation of the author are part of telling the audience what to expect.
When this promise is not kept, and the story is something different than expected based on what the author indicated at the start, audience reactions are almost always overwhelmingly negative. It doesn't really matter a lot of the story is good or bad, but when you go into a story with a certain expectation, the mind deals really poorly with getting something else.

I guess the best approach here is to make it clear right from the start what readers are going to get from the book. If there are no unexpected shifts in mood and themes, reactions shouldn't be too bad. (Unless it's actually a bad story, of course.)

Hi Sir Gawain and Welcome  - I'm neither a writer nor male, but I am a keen reader of fantasy and some SF. I just wanted to endorse what Yora wrote as it is sound advice altogether, whatever you plan to write.

 My personal comment on your question would be that if I wanted to read steamy detailed sex or prolonged romance I would be looking for it in different books. If an author brought it into a fantasy or SF plot, other than where it was minimal or necessary to enhance characterisation at some particular point, I would probably avoid that author in future. Not because I disapproved but because it would be a boring distraction when I really want to get on with the thieving, rogues,  magic and intrigue in the fantasy world.

But that's just one reader's POV, so good luck with whatever you decide and I hope you'll join in the rest of the forum sometime as well. :)

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Offline ultamentkiller

I myself found the mistborn series prude (actual spoiler)
Spoiler for Hiden:
and missing into some kind of confirmation that the marriage between characters was ever consumed.


Yeah, from what I've seen of Brandon Sanderson, it seems he refuses to include sex scenes, or the words shit or fuck, or anything like that. It doesn't take much away from the story, but there's just a little taken away from the characters. That may be just me though.

Offline Nora

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I myself found the mistborn series prude (actual spoiler)
Spoiler for Hiden:
and missing into some kind of confirmation that the marriage between characters was ever consumed.


Yeah, from what I've seen of Brandon Sanderson, it seems he refuses to include sex scenes, or the words shit or fuck, or anything like that. It doesn't take much away from the story, but there's just a little taken away from the characters. That may be just me though.

Fair enough for swear words, but god forbid annyone telling me the english language lacks enough vocabulary to convey the expression that a couple enjoys the consumption of their marital state!
It gave the characters a childish, asexual aspect I found genuinely odd. Their love life seemed unnaturally platonic and avoided. The story, at that point, was in dire need of getting me to feel involved and connected to the main characters, and the lack of any mention of romantic interest was a sore among many others.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Sir Gawain

Thanks for all the responses, and the welcome. :) I didn't expect to actually get this many responses.

I do often wonder if I should just solve the whole problem by "fading to black", but I feel like the reader would be some how...cheated? Without going into too much detail, one of the major conflicts in my story line is one man lusting after and chasing another man's wife. There is a lot of tension leading up to their inevitable meeting, and I think it would be a coward's way out to just have the lights go out and the door shut. The fact that these two fool around causes long reaching issues throughout the book as well.

 For example, it makes the heroine afraid that at any given time her tryst will come to light and she will be ruined/ executed. She eventually turns to the enemies of the kingdom for safety because of her own suspicions and mistreatment at the hands of her spouse.

 And even though its never actually proven, the offending male character looses everything, including his social standing and influence with the ruling party. He is even blackmailed at one point by one of the more devious characters who happens to have witnessed the whole affair.

But aside from this one scene, there are incidents which lead up to it which make me think some readers will go "oh, its a love story", and put it down. I try to emphasize the mental torment and anguish this poor guy goes through, so its never too sappy  like hand holding or picking flowers. I wanted him to have ample opportunities to turn away and make the right decision, but in the end he just can't surmount his own lust, even for the sake of his kingdom/ well being.

What would be away to make this more apparent and less like a love story?
« Last Edit: May 09, 2015, 07:04:16 PM by Sir Gawain »

Offline K.S. Crooks

"Is this a kissing book?" - Grandson in The Princess Bride.
The context is what is key for readers regardless of their gender. Why are the characters being intimate? What level is the intimacy reaching? As long as the reader feels connected with the characters they will go along with all of their journey. Building the intimacy slowly will allow the reader to grow into the situations and feel comfortable.
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