Sex & Violence: What’s Your Limit?

Not 100% certain this is a legit quote

Not Surprised

I’m scheduling this in late December and praying that I’m not doing something important on the day this goes live.  Sex and violence in fiction is such a hot button topic that it would be wiser to avoid them entirely.  Sadly, I can’t because Crossing Bedlam has a lot of violence and nudity.

Keep in mind that I said nudity and not sex because nobody actually does anything.  This isn’t a spoiler because I’ve constantly stated that I don’t have it in me to write a sex scene beyond making out and after glow.  The most erotic body part that I’ll name is breast with butt coming in second.  The main event parts are only in the mind of the reader because I don’t see the point in bringing them up if they aren’t going to be used.  Now there’s nudity of both genders in Crossing Bedlam and I think Lloyd’s butt gets mentioned a few times.  Nothing more than stating it so people know that the character might be cold or can’t pull anything out of a pocket that doesn’t exist.  This isn’t a video game where naked characters can have immense inventories and you don’t want to think too much about where they’re keeping stuff.  (Obviously the answer is a backpack, which isn’t an article of clothing.)

As for violence, there’s a lot of blood and death considering it’s a very cutthroat culture that’s taken over.  Yup.

Strange thing is that all I really have to do is leave it at that.  One thing I learned with Legends of Windemere is that many people have a low tolerance for anything sexual and a high tolerance for violence.  Implied coitus gets complaints.  The Lich devouring a person in bone-crunching detail is overlooked.  Things might be different with Crossing Bedlam though.  The violence will be more reality-based since guns, cars, and explosives will be involved.  For some reason, we can see somebody get killed by a sword in a fantasy setting and shrug it off quicker than someone taking a bullet to the nose.  Maybe it’s because the latter is something that we can believe is possible and doesn’t require as much suspension of disbelief.  Still people seem to freak out when you imply that a nipple is showing.

This is something I struggled with when writing Crossing Bedlam because I’ve seen the argument happen so often.  Do I up the violence and sex to go along with my desire to make a Rated-R story?  Am I even capable of doing it?  The answer ended up being that I had the violence part down already and I couldn’t do more than pointing out when characters are naked.  Kind of impossible since I have one character who uses sex appeal as a weapon and another who simply doesn’t care for clothing.  Yet I do think I pulled myself back a bit and might do it more when I do the edit.  Then again, part of me simply wants to make sure the nudity playing field is even.

Here’s one thing that I know for a fact in this arena:  If you think a scene goes too far with the sex and violence then you’re right.  You’re also wrong.

What disgusts one person is barely a blip on another person’s radar.  We all have our own definitions of what’s too much.  For some, Legends of Windemere went too far.  Other people were confused that there was a complaint about ‘too much’ of something.  These are all personal preferences, which we can argue about until the next Grand Theft Auto game comes out.  I’m betting I’ll have a few headaches in regards to the nudity, violence, and cursing.  Yet I did write a book that I would personally want to read.

The more I think about it, the more I see this as a very convoluted topic that depends almost entirely on what the individual thinks and prefers.  That’s something we can’t really control, so maybe all I can do is hope for the best here.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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38 Responses to Sex & Violence: What’s Your Limit?

  1. PorterGirl says:

    You are never going to please everyone and – as you say – people have such varying degrees of tolerance on such things that it is impossible to know what is too much or too little. All you can do is be true to your characters and your own style and hope for the best! Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. Staying true to the characters and style is very important. Think readers sometimes forget that something might be lost if things are restrained too much. For example, pulling back on the violence of the serial killer in ‘Crossing Bedlam’ would really do a number on his characterization.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think we all struggle with this at times. I think staying in character and writing what you feel will get you through it. A hippie girl is going to see things differently than one from a convent. Go with the character’s viewpoint. You also have to stay true to the story. It wouldn’t be the same without these elements.

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  3. Oloriel says:

    Like with everything, for me at least, if it comes naturally and it is sensed that the author put that sex and/or violence with a purpose and because it simply fits in his/her own story, it is fine with me. I dislike it and complain about it when it just sticks out as unnecessary. Instead of telling their story, too many authors are concerned about pleasing everybody so they follow some non existing rules like My characters are in a relationship/stranded alone in a wood cabin – SEX MUST HAPPEN (because today’s society and thus its readers would expect it.) I also tend to dislike it when it feels too tryhard with implications and metaphors and other writing tools, when the described act feels too cheesy, copy-cat (in case of violence, many authors copy specific moves which belong to other franchises, so to say. I get them, there is only so many ways you can wield magic or axes, so it is hard to be original.) or just plain yuck (people out there compare dicks to sausages, like for realsies, even going so far to name the exact brand of sausage and usually permanently kill my desire to eat any!)
    Also, a scene or a pivotal point in the plot, should not infect the whole style, in my opinion. I tend to like these more, than something that you can see the author feared putting in there and you can feel that insecurity leaving marks as the book progresses.
    I can also tell you, again for me personally, my own moral standards have a high impact on whether a simple sex scene will make me immediately throw a book away forever. I mentioned earlier I read The Wheel of Time and I can tell you it has been a struggle. I love the book, but the characters sexual choices were repulsive to me. I made a break of 5-6 years before finishing the series and it was only because I had to choose to ignore that aspect. At the same time, other novels might not be this lucky, I am much harder now to please regarding the books I read.
    I have huge trouble reading books that involve cheating, orgies and similar. At the same time, hypocritically perhaps, like you wrote, I have n o problem reading a gazillion books about murder, dismembering, head chopping and what not. I think it is perhaps because I have been affected by sexual issues in my life (my father cheated on my mother, and other family members were also cheaters), while I have not experienced this brand of violence. I have a hard time reading war novels, because I experienced a bombing when young though, so I would probably not be able to stomach war violence books.
    Weird stuff, how the readers minds work, eh? Hope this wall of text serves you something and sorry for boring!

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    • Does seem like a lot is done more for shock value than characterization. I see it happening with a lot of stuff now. The strong character having a breakdown for no reason is something I’ve seen a few times recently. There’s no build up to the event, which is frustrating.

      As far as the sword moves and sausage thing, I do have a small insight on those. You are right that there are only so many moves that one can do with weapons. You have to stay realistic with those because it creates a clear picture, which is necessary for action. Think of it as avoiding the literary version of jerky camera action scenes. For the sausage, it’s really just a ‘cute’ way to avoid using the terms that will anger people. You’d be surprised how a person will chuckle at the mention of sausage while getting angry at the mention of penis.

      I haven’t read a lot of books with weird sex choices. Then again, I take stuff in stride and figure it simply isn’t my cup of tea. Just muscle through and get to the parts that I enjoy. Kind of fearful that the depravity of some characters in ‘Crossing Bedlam’ will freak people out. Not Lloyd or Cassidy, but there are some bizarre denizens of the Shattered States.

      Good point on how personal experience can affect things. I see a cheating plot line as a rather simple and basic one to use for character tension. No real experience with that or war, so those things have no personal connection to me. Yet, car accidents in details can freak me out because of a few in the past for me and my friends. My issues with spiders makes that a touchy subject too.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    “What disgusts one person is barely a blip on another person’s radar. We all have our own definitions of what’s too much.” I agree with you. I probably won’t be much help to you on the subject, because I tend to read a lot of books for kids and teens or classic books (which can mean books written in 1970) which aren’t very provocative. But I wouldn’t dispute an author’s choice to include whatever he/she wished to include.

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    • Actually, YA books are a weird breed when it comes to this. A lot gets slipped in there, but you see more people complaining about the sexual aspect of them. For example, I talked to people who said having a kiss in ‘Hunger Games’ was not good for the younger teens. Yet the killing part was fine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I’ve heard that too, which seemed like a weird remark. It’s okay to hand a kid a book with kids killing kids, but it’s not okay for a kiss to take place? Makes no sense.

        Yes, a lot of stuff gets in YA. Many authors tend to go the “sex is understood” route with a scene that cuts to after the fact. That’s what I did in a few scenes in one of my YA novels. My mother wouldn’t read that book!

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      • My head hurts if I try to figure out why killing good and kissing bad. Maybe they got the words mixed up since they’re so similar. I do the ‘sex is implied’ or ‘obviously they had sex’ after glow scenes. Since the actual act isn’t important to the story, I don’t see a reason to show it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. sknicholls says:

    I recently read a list of to do’s and not to do’s written by a cozy mystery writer, and while I recognize her genre may not accept swear words, sex, and violence, I’d find it very difficult to write realistic adult crime fiction without it.

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  6. twixie13 says:

    As mentioned above, it sort of all depends on if it feels natural for the story. If it’s gratuitous, however, I don’t find myself shocked or disgusted. I just sort of roll my eyes and continue on. One of my antagonists is a serial killer, a few of my characters are assassins…so violence in my stuff is kind of a given. I haven’t really written a lot in the way of sex, partly because of the story (I would imagine the presence of someone that’s bent on ending one’s life could really put a damper on someone’s sex drive), and partly because I highly doubt I could do it without it becoming unintentionally hilarious. As for language…that’s another thing that all depends on the story (and the characters). One huge difference between two of the major characters (Travis and Spencer, in this case), is that Travis is more inclined to curse like a fucking sailor.

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    • Never thought about the hilarious side of things. Just thinking of some of the sex scenes I’ve read and many get into the realm of silly. Good point on the character’s roles being a factor too. Assassins, serial killers, adventurers, warlords, etc. all have violence in their nature to some extent.

      Odd how cursing is in its own category too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. or write the book you want to read and the hell with everyone else.

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  8. I tend to not like to read (or watch) something that is too graphic, particularly with violence, it can really disturb me in a way that I find hard to shake off. I prefer certain things to just be alluded to! Sometimes I feel it’s just not necessary to go into the full gory detail in order to tell the story (sometimes it is though, I’m not saying it never is). But as has been said, we all have different tolerance levels, and I wouldn’t slate an author just because they write to a level that is higher than my personal tolerance!

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    • Gore is an interesting one. Some genres seem to require it like slasher horror and gritty fantasy. Hard to tell too because of the various levels. For some, a broken limb is gore while others aren’t phased by even the most grotesque of actions.

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  9. adeleulnais says:

    i think if something fits with the storyline then its a go ahead. Sex and violence just for the sake of it, no. Thats my personal ethos. I mean people will always have sex, even fantasy people but the violence if it is not integral to the plot is just grosse. The same goes for tv, or movies.

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    • Odd question about the ‘for the sake of it’. What if the character is doing it for the sake of it? I’m just thinking about how one of my characters kills or wants to kill because it’s fun or he gets bored. Guessing you mean the author doing it for shock value, but I’m curious to know what you think of a character like this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • adeleulnais says:

        Yep for the sake of it is the author putting it in the novel when there is no real reason for it. It is different if your character is inclined to be a killer or a psychopath then it is in his character for him to kill, and then in my opinion that is fine. It is what the character would do. Like a psycopathic character gets bored, he is restless, he sees someone who annoys him and he kills him. Or there is the character who kills to get rid of any threat to him or his advancement. These are traits that can be underneath even the most non threaten of characters and that is good for a story to add twists. I hope this is making sense Charles. So a character who kills just for the sake of it, is totally different from an author who puts in violence or sex thinking that it will sell more copies of the novel.

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      • Or he wants to show off for the readers. Still trying to decide if I want Lloyd to do that at some point.

        Makes sense. One is the character’s personality while the other may be more out of character or feel unnatural.

        Liked by 1 person

      • adeleulnais says:

        Yep that is exactly what I meant thanks Charles sometimes I write too many words.

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      • Better too many than too few when it comes to explanations. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I think as long as it’s not overdone, i.e. gratuitous sex, it is merely thought of as an “adult” novel or a warning of “adult with reservations” by some censors. For instance, I read THE GODFATHER in which there was a description of sex which was considered necessary to the story. It wasn’t overdone, just basic. It wasn’t an “erotic”.novel just one which gave the violent, realistic facts of life of mobsters. The same scene in the film was behind closed doors. There’s nothing wrong with keeping sex behind closed doors, The reader still gets the idea. If they want more they can always read that type of novel. Your books are fantasy adventure and many like to read that. They want to leave reality behind while reading and can do so with your books. — Suzanne

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    • I wonder if genre has to do with it as well. You mention ‘The Godfather’, which is definitely seen as an adult novel. Nobody would worry about a kid reading that. Yet, a book that is labelled as Young Adult will be seen as something for ‘kids’ since people have varying definitions of that age category. So violence and sex come under more scrutiny even if they’re simply mentioned.

      Also things are different for TV and movies that kids can access and get through much easier than a book. So maybe the standards differ for the medium as well.

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  11. MishaBurnett says:

    It’s funny, but my reader responses have been the opposite. I’ve had a number of negative comments regarding the violence in my books (and there is a lot of it, although I tend not to describe it in great detail–I discuss what James feels about what is happening more than what Catskinner is actually doing).

    However, all of the comments that I’ve gotten about the sex scenes have been positive. Granted, I only have two really explicit scenes in four books (one in Cannibal Hearts and one in Gingerbread Wolves) but I have a lot of implied sex going on, and most of it is pretty bizarre. I’ve had a couple of reviews say that the sex scenes would stop them from recommending my books to juveniles (which is fine with me–I don’t consider my work to be for young people), but no one has said that they were personally offended or disgusted.

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    • Weird that people are negative about the violence when you don’t go into detail about it. Wonder if this happens when a reader is allowed to fill in the blanks. They might make it more graphic than the author intended.

      I’ve had a few people say the implied sex means my books aren’t for kids. I do agree with that to most extents, but I’m thinking teenagers would be okay. Then again, that’s just me and I remember being aware of sex at that age. Funny that many reviewers will mention if a book is good for kids or not even when the blurb makes it clear that it’s an adult novel.

      Also, why does it sometimes seem like people react more to implied sex than graphic stuff?

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  12. Mr. Bill says:

    For me it’s pretty simple. Does it make sense in the context of the story. Is it consistent with where the story is sold…ie I would be bothered of too much in a YA story. Is it consistent with the actual story, the cultural attitude, the characters expressed preferences and is it not the result of coercion. I believe the response to violence is less than sex because one is easier to view as fantasy the other closer to real life. I’ll continue to read a great story with coercion but always believe the story is less as a result.

    A zombie eating you….. not likley to happen. Sexual situations …happens all the time in real life.

    I believe a well written sex scene can add as much to a story as a well written battle or fight scene, if not more. What I absolutely hate is forced sex for “the cause”, because it happens so often in fantasy. The cause can be an army, political/social capital, save someone ect…ect…

    As a consumer, it’s about truth and expectations. I have different expectations from Dark Fantasy, or Adult Romance than I have from Coming of Age. Yes there is crossover but I want to make the choice. I don’t want to buy a ticket to bambi and end up watching silence of the lambs. 😉 both excellent but one should not be sold as the other.

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    • Interesting point. Most people never believe they’ll be involved in violence, but they have been involved in something sexual. Even just the thoughts or discussion. So there’s a distance with one that the other doesn’t have to work with.

      I’m trying to think of a time I read a story with the forced sex scenario. I remember it from historical dramas, but I actually think I missed the fantasy books with those. So my exposure to it isn’t as much. I actually remember watching an old Disney movie as a kid and walked into the other TV room to find the older kids watching Predator. Not exactly the same, but it can be shocking.

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      • Mr. Bill says:

        Charles,

        I purposely used coercion, which can be physical or psychological (In psychological coercion, the threatened injury regards the victim’s relationships with other people. The most obvious example is blackmail, where the threat consists of the dissemination of damaging information. However, many other types are possible e.g. so-called “emotional blackmail”, which typically involves threats of rejection from or disapproval by a peer-group, or creating feelings of guilt/obligation via a display of anger or hurt by someone whom the victim loves or respects) rather than forced because it is far more frequent than the actual force. It happens so often I think we’ve almost become numb to it. A positive example where this does not happen is Sari. Agree or disagree with her lifestyle choices, they are hers. There is an honesty there and she never feels like a victim, forced or used, so her sexual situation don’t bother me in the least, they are hers. Even if you wrote her encounters in more detail, they would still feel fine to me.

        Fantasy is filled with situation where (usually women) have sex for reasons other than a clear desire to do so. To gain an army, save a loved one, seal a pact, community expectations…ect..ect.. those are the ones that bother…and more really is less because it doesn’t feel quite right.

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      • I think a big part of that is the old idea that women can use sex as a weapon. A classic example is Lysistrata. It really is strange because it doesn’t work that way for males. A hero has sex outside of love, it’s usually for a ‘reward’ or to dominate. Something to aspire to or despise depending on how it’s portrayed. A heroine does it and it’s most times described as a noble act of sacrifice. Kind of creepy in a way, but the sad thing is that it isn’t a fiction only occurrence. As far as Sari and more detail goes, it’s been requested by a few people. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Seems unnecessary and, oddly enough, I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be peeking on my characters doing that. Knowing is one thing, but writing it out just doesn’t feel right.

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  13. Mr. Bill says:

    I’m sorry….I wasn’t suggesting you write more detail for Sari, only because it feels true to the character and her choice .. it would not feel creepy. So it’s not just sex more or less, the context really does matter.

    I don’t need any more detail..the comment was really back to the original question.

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    • No problem. I figured that was what you meant. I was only pointing out that other people have requested more detailed sex with her in the past. I find it odd in a way because the sex garners so much more attention than other aspects of a story. Almost like that gets the ‘stare at the roadside accident’ treatment even if there’s an actual roadside accident in the same scene.

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