Sex and Violence, are they the payoff?

by juliusmsanz

I was thinking about this yesterday, about the portrayal of sex and violence in stories.

It made me realise how uncomfortable I was, and still am a bit, writing about these things. All that gore… it makes me feel weird about the whole thing.

You see, for me, these two things have their place in stories, but I don’t think they absolutely need to be featured in stories. Let’s clarify this even further: I’m trying to write a suspenseful story. I know that the moment I show what I’ve been hiding, what I’ve been building up to, it’s going to be over. Stories are like houses, you have to build them, work on them, lay foundations and you give the finishing touches when you’re done. I see sex and violence the same way. In a way I understand why it’s featured, and when I talk about violence I mean death or something along those lines, it’s supposed to be a spark to light a fuse, but ultimately I don’t go that route.

If my characters are in a relationship I leave it to the imagination what they do under the sheets. If they are going to be in a relationship I prefer to create tension and end the book on a positive note. I don’t write erotica, I don’t need to put in those explicit scenes. Plus I think that the biggest reason is that when I write about it I just feel I’m writing a porn script or something along those lines. Am I the only one thinking that way?

Sex shouldn’t have to move the plot along. And what does not make the plot move forward I simply just don’t put it in.

Violence is a whole different thing and I worry that I’ll end up contradicting myself. Do you need a page long description of a murder scene and how each gut is laid out? I don’t think so. There is nothing wrong with violence in stories, so long as it isn’t gratuitous. If I need to murder a character then I will murder him, if I need to make that scene spectacular then I will make it so, but I refuse to cheapen the story by doing that over and over. It needs to be a crucial point in the story, it needs to move the story forward and, at the same time, it needs to do something for the reader.

Let me give an example and for those who haven’t read The Game of Thrones or seen it then I’m sorry for the spoilers.

One of the main characters in the first book and season is Ned Stark. Being appointed Hand of the king he goes out to search the truth about the former hand. He gets caught up in the game of thrones and upon learning the truth makes some poor decisions and dies. It might have been a tragic moment and a sad and violent death, but it was a huge moment in the story and served to move the plot and develop plenty of characters.

What I’m trying to say is that sex and violence aren’t the payoff, they’re the drivers, the fuel.

Note that this is my personal opinion. I would also love to hear about how you write these things and what’s your view about them in a narrative context.