So we’ve been talking about sex in YA this week, and specifically about how it applies to the Grab Your Pole series thus far. In this post I want to discuss the actual writing of sex in a Mature YA book, or rather, how and why I’ve written it the way I have.
For anyone who’s read my work, it’s most likely apparent that the Grab Your Pole series is hugely character driven. With that in mind, let’s look quickly at Shark Bait, the first book in the GYP series. Aside from some expositional conversation implicating that certain characters were doing it, there really wasn’t a whole lot of sexual situations written about. Why? Well, mostly it’s because of the POV the book was being told from. The narrator if you will of that story was just getting her feet wet in that she was new to...well, pretty much everything, as was the reader. She and the reader were just getting to know each other and everyone else, which takes some time to do. So while the topic of sex may have been a driving force in terms of conflict between characters, it was in no way the over arcing theme or plot of the story. It was just simply one of many elements used in setting the scene and developing the characters. Relationships were observed, conversations were had, situations were presented and subsequently handled, all going towards establishing the learning curve for one character and the growth and development of the others through which the reader was hopefully able to establish a connection with each one; to begin to know them personally as they know themselves and each other.
In The Other Fish in the Sea, book 2 of the series, that foundation is still being built and character development is considerably furthered, but in addition to that, the reader gets to know a few of the other characters more intimately through POV shifts. True, there were only a few shifts, but they each gave insight into another character’s mind as well as the opportunity for seeing the other characters from a different point of view; helping the reader to connect a bit more and on a different level to a somewhat large ensemble cast. So because the bulk of that book was still being told by the original new girl with not a lot of sexual experience, there were few opportunities to bring in the actual act of sex, as the written depiction of the characters who were having sex in that book didn’t go to furthering their character development, meaning that there was no need to describe in detail those specific characters getting their jollies; just knowing they’re doing it, who they’re doing it with, and/or why they’re doing it was enough and to add in the details of their experience would’ve been somewhat superfluous and wouldn’t have advanced the story being told at the time.
However, when it came down to the innocent making progress on the sexual learning scale, I got a little more descriptive simply because it was necessary. To gloss over those first experiences of the lead voice and the events and decisions that led up to them would have taken away from not only the connection between her and the reader, but it would’ve also hindered the growth and development of both her and the characters she was interacting with. But here again, depicting a sexual act in detail—graphic or otherwise—from the point of view of an innocent was unnecessary and quite frankly, I believe to do so would’ve been unrealistic and could’ve even compromised the integrity of the character’s voice, because that’s not who the reader had come to know her as. Sure, there were a couple of instances where it could possibly be said that I got a little graphic, but it wasn’t the innocent doing the detailing our outlining in any of those moments; she was more or less a conduit and through her the voices of other characters was heard.
When it comes to the third book in the Grab Your Pole series however, all bets are off. Why is that? Again, it’s simply due to POV. Shark Out of Water is told entirely from the points of view belonging to the GYP guys. And even if you haven’t read a single book in the series yet, I’m sure you’ve guessed that some of these guys are far from innocent. Now although it’s true what Autumn mentioned in a comment on Part 1 of this blog series—an author has more freedom in a Mature YA or NA novel than in a true YA book—I still feel the need to be careful. I understand that readers (adult readers especially) understand and see the need for sex to be incorporated into these books and many also want to read it happen; to experience it vicariously as the characters do, but again, I’m not writing a How-To book, so it’s my belief that I need to walk a fine line when writing from a sexually experienced character’s point of view. And with regard to a specific character in the GYP series, that line is sometimes razor thin...
There was one small-ish section in Shark Out of Water that when I originally wrote it, I didn’t just put a toe over that line; I did a fuckin’ triple lindy over it. Although I didn’t personally object to it per se, I rewrote it and cleaned it up a smidge. Then, after more than a year later, while thinking about it and feeling more comfortable with letting the character be free to be himself, I rewrote it again, but this time I ramped it up. I also, however, left out some of what was there originally, as I honestly did and still do feel the original details weren’t called for and had they been re-added, they wouldn’t have done a single thing for his character development or the reader’s connection with him. What was published though absolutely did, and it also is now probably one of my favorite “scenes” in the third book.
Now although I had the freedom and ability when writing the specific act of sex in the third book to be more detailed in the physical sense and to make it hot and steamy, I still veered away from really and truly doing so. And not because I don’t have the skill or because I’m uncomfortable writing a steamy scene, because trust me, I do and I have, and anyone who cares to keep reading this series will probably raise an eyebrow, shift in their seat, and maybe even feel like pulling at their collar a few times before all is said and done. However, in Shark Out of Water I simply chose to go the other route and put the focus during sex where it was appropriate for the specific characters and where they were specifically in the story at that time. In other words, I put the focus on the emotion.
I mean let’s be honest here, you don’t have to be reading pumping, pounding, and probing or even a moderately graphic sex scene to get worked up; when done well, even a simple kiss can be written to leave a reader panting, and although that might indeed be the outcome of some scenes I’ve written both already read and as of yet unread, getting the reader all hot and bothered wasn’t my aim in this particular book. My goal was to get across to the reader the depth of emotion experienced between two characters during an act of sexual intimacy, because that was what was right for them and the story at that moment. Not because they aren’t turned on and hot for each other in every way, but rather their journey and development thus far has been more on the emotional waterfront with the physical aspect of sex simply providing a platform if you will for them to accrue emotional growth because without it, they either regress or worse, become stagnant.
So in a nutshell, I feel as though sex is mandated by these characters to be there and it’s hugely important overall even though sex isn’t necessarily a plot point of the series. Could I have written the Grab Your Pole series without sex and all it encompasses being so prevalent? Sure. However, I sincerely doubt that it would be even remotely realistic. Could I have written certain scenes to be more graphic and hot? Of course, although to do so, while probably fun for me and the reader alike, it would’ve just been writing gratuitous sex for the sake of gratuitous sex. That said, I personally feel as though I hit a happy medium, and it’s my belief that the addition of sexual situations, innuendos, interludes, and the actual act of sex itself being written in the different ways I’ve chosen to depict it in this series thus far furthers the growth and development of the characters, it helps to more firmly establish the reader’s connection with the individual characters as they read and learn about the GYP gang on a more personal level; the whys and wherefores of a character’s motivation for being who they are, and most importantly, it’s my belief that sex advances the story as a whole.
So now you know why I wrote some of the things I wrote into the Grab Your Pole series and why I wrote them the way I did, but now I’m curious so I have a few questions...
1) Do you prefer your YA books to be safely lukewarm or on the hotter side of the page?
2) When reading a GYP book did you ever feel as though you were left wanting due to lack of detail and/or was there a time when you thought, “Wait...what the fuck is she thinking writing that? Kids are gonna be reading this shit for Christ’s sake!”?
3) How many of you zeroed in on the implication that might’ve left you not caring about the rest of this blogpost, but instead has you either scared to death or foaming at the mouth to see how I might possibly turn up the GYP heat?
(Sex in YA Parts 1 and 2)
(Sex in YA Parts 1 and 2)