Friday, November 09, 2007

The Squick Factor

(St. Audries Bay, North Somerset. I'm not sure if you can see it, but the white blur on the horizon is the very south coast of Wales.)

An Anonymous commenter on a previous post said the following the other day, which I believe is one of the nicest compliments I have ever been given:

Your ability to maintain a website, blog and discussion about erotic romance without sliding into the licentious or sensationalistic is one of the main reasons I read here.

So now I'm going to tramp all over it. Well, hopefully not. But I've been thinking a lot about that comment since I read it, because it is something I try to do: keep it clean.

Odd as it sounds.

I do use all sorts of c-words in my work (don't know if y'all remember, but last year I wrote an entire essay on the word "cunt" and why we shouldn't be afraid to use it in erotic romance, and what a useful word it is and how its origins are attractive.) So, not afraid to get a little dirty.

But I walk a fine line. I read a lot. I read a lot of erotic romance. And I have to be honest. Notwithstanding how talented my fellow authors are, there are a lot of things I read that just turn me off.

I want to make it clear this is MY problem, me me me. It's not that what they're writing isn't sexy or appealing. It's not that I think they write disgusting lowbrow crap. That is not it at all, nononono. It's my own strange interior line, one I actually think makes ME an outsider.

Take dialogue as an example. My characters don't tend to talk a lot in sex scenes. Because dialogue at that particular time usually feels to me like a mood killer. I put myself in the heroine's place and think, "Are you gonna do it, or are you gonna just talk about it all day?" Some dialogue is fine, but let's not go overboard. As Miranda said on Sex and the City, sex is the one time in life it's okay to not talk. This isn't to say they don't talk at all, or even that they don't ever talk dirty. But I do keep it minimal, and I try to keep it down to stuff that wouldn't make me laugh or squick if someone said it to me. Grown men should not, for example, refer to their Manbits as "him". If you consider that part of you to be an entirely separate person, doesn't that indicate (aside from a certain silliness) that you are unwilling then to take responsibility for "his" actions?

(BTW, this very subject led to a particularly amusing conversation this morning between the hubs and myself, based on the scary sci-fi idea that "he" might actually develop a mind of "his" own, and control the rest of the body, and how would you explain that to your wife? What if it decided to up and leave the rest of the body and strike out on its own? Hilarity ensues.)

Anyway. The point is, some things just squick me out, so I try not to go there.

What squicks you out? What in a book, specifically in a sex or love scene, turns you off? Comment anon if you want, but let's see if we can have some fun on this bleak Friday!


If you are on Livejournal, you must go join the community What was that book. SO awesome the awesomeness cannot be quantified.

Unholy Ghosts

New Words: 3,384
Total wordcount: 40,007
The Good: Hoo hoo, guess who sees somebody’s death wish?
The Bad: Big Bad follows us around, scaaaary!
The Gross: None, I guess. Hmm. A spilled milkshake?
The rampant drug use: Lines, pills, a joint
Location: Smelly alley, safe warehouse for street kids, diner, Chess’s bathroom
Research: WWI aviation uniforms
Downspeech: “Some of us needs an edge on things make us feel right, else we don’t like feeling at all, aye?”
I Hate My Work: You are so boring and obvious and dumb, and you suck like a starving leech.


Scary Monster said...

This might sound odd, but sex scenes that don't tickle me nose just don't get me goin. There gotta be a mustiness to it. Me wants to sniff out the scent of people in rut.


Angie said...

Humm. Really stupid euphemisms for body parts. (One of my otherwise favorite Regency writers used "honey pot" in one book and "sugar box" in another. I mean, sugar box??)

Over-the-top purple prose, the sort which must be read with the back of one's hand brushing one's forehead.

Sex which is just there to be sex, and doesn't carry any real weight with either the plot or the characters or the relationship. Snooze. I start skimming there. If there are too many of these in one book, I wander away and find something else to read.

Referring to a man's "sacks." [facepalm] It's one sack, containing two objects, like two apples in a lunchbag. Writer needs to get some more experience of sex before writing it. Or at least get a good anatomy book.

For anal sex, the self-lubricating ass. Just... no. Again, this is a lack of either experience or research.

People who write BDSM but very clearly know nothing about it. This isn't just aggravating; it could also be dangerous, if some reader decided that X or Y looked like fun and tried it. O_O Tying someone up and leaving them alone, a whipping on the back with no protection for the kidneys or even a mention that the person holding the whip was knowledgeable and skilled enough to deliberately avoid them, pushing the sub to their limits over their verbal protests without a safeword -- any of these can get someone hurt or even killed.

Or going the other way, like one book I read where the Girl had to go undercover as a kinky prostitute and hired a "professional" domme to give her some instruction. The woman showed up and handed her a "flogger" made of velvet ribbons tipped with feathers, because after all, this was supposed to be pleasurable!! [facepalm] Umm, right, that's really going to help her when she's alone in a room with Mr. Brutal Murdering Villain, trying to maintain her cover. Aside from the fact that this supposedly professional domme clearly had no clue what people in the BDSM community find pleasurable.

I guess, aside from the overblown terminology and such, what it comes down to is that I want the writer to know what she's talking about. This is particularly important with kink, but ridiculous sex mistakes annoy me and make me lose respect for a romance writer no matter what they are. I don't know if any of these qualify as "squicks," but they'll definitely make me think hard about ever buying that writer's work again, especially if this is the first book by her I've read.


Robyn said...

I'm with you on talking. The hero "whispering dark erotic things" to her is as much description as I want.

And I know I'm in the minority here; butt secks just doesn't do it for me. I start thinking about what comes out, and get grossed thinking about putting anything in.

pacatrue said...

I think talking during sex depends upon the type of scene for me. For the type of sex in Blood Will Tell, I agree that talking doesn't make it better. Other sex, such as lazy morning take an hour and a half sex could be filled with talking.

As for squick, I like sex that is supposed to be fun for both people. Whenever someone starts talking down to another, it pisses me off.

bettie said...

I'm with you on the talk. I also dislike generic endearments like "baby."

I'm not a big fan of the overly detailed first person love scene--When I read scenes like He pumped his hard manflesh into my slick, aching love channel... I always think: "Ew. TMI, chica." I have some uncomfortably forthcoming friends, and not even they go into that level of detail. I esp. hate it when otherwise terse narrators (FP or other) suddenly dip into purple prose.

My single greatest love scene pet peeve is the adjective "weeping" used to describe aroused genitalia. Ew.

Angie (above) hates the "the self-lubricating ass". I would add to that the instant female assgasm.

Ok. I'll stop now. Otherwise, this could go on all day.

Anonymous said...

That hardly tramped on my earlier comment :) In fact, it totally proved what I said. You have a stunning ability to address erotica and the things that go with it without being...tawdry (not the word I want, but the best I can come up with)

As I do my bit of self examination I've also taken a hard look at my online reading material. I completely respect your ability to face subjects such as the use of cunt and cock in literature without sounding like you're discussing porn and your ability to promote erotic books by promoting the book, not the content rating.

What squicks me? Beyond the partially shapeshifted characters having sex (bestiality anyone?) and the bloodletting during sex in some vampire stories (gagging just thinking about it)? Lately, it's the websites and blogs that are supposed to promote writing and books that are full of mantitty, naked people, and stories about author's dildo collections.

Charles Gramlich said...

Squick? What an interesting term for it. Too much dialogue in a sex scene would be bad in my opinion. I'm not particularly fond of seeing lovemaking compared to riding ocean waves. As far as the physical descriptions of it, nothing much bothers me although I find that when words like cunt and cock are used it tends to turn the scene more toward the sex only side than the romance/relationship side. As long as the partners are of age I'm pretty much OK with it, although non consensual sex will typically turn "off" my erogenous zones.

pacatrue said...

Anonymous, could you let me know which sites you are referring to with author dildo collections? I mean, um, I'm just wondering. You know, for comparison's sake. A little bit of research. I'm sure they're quite horrible. Yeah, that's it.

Did any of them have pictures?


cyn said...

i'm ashamed to say i don't read romance much less erotica. please make suggestions people. because i am looking to broaden my reading genres. =)

i can't help but think we're revealing a bit (or a lot) of our own bedroom preferences, aren't we, when we reveal our squicks and even what we *like* to read?

i have read tiger eye by liu, and as an above poster said, the intimate stuff with a shapeshifter gave me pause. i think she was getting hot and heavy with a feline beast or some such, and thankfully, he morphed back to human shape before doing the deed.
screwing with animals makes me squick.

cyn said...

december, if you can recommend one of your books, that'd be great. nothing too dark. i'm a wuss and faint of heart. haha!

Angie said...

Cyn -- i can't help but think we're revealing a bit (or a lot) of our own bedroom preferences, aren't we, when we reveal our squicks and even what we *like* to read?

Yes, we are. :) And moreso when we write about it. It takes guts to hold this conversation.

And for recs, if you want to test the waters on the m/m side, my favorite rec is always Laney Cairo's Bad Case of Loving You. It's a wonderfully written story about a doctor and his med student, by one of the best authors in this or any other genre. There's a bit of kink in it but not too much. There's an excellent plot as well, having to do with the shortcomings at the hospital where they work, which force another doctor to circumvent the system to get the care his patient needs, and results in a doctor's strike. (Laney used to be a nurse and knows whereof she speaks; the detail flows smoothly and is very realistic.) And my favorite feature -- there's only as much sex as the plot can support, rather than having as much sex as can be crammed between the covers just because hey, sex!! :/ This is a massively cool story, with great characters and a fresh, absorbing plot. Read it. :)

December/Stacia said...

Yes, Scary, that does sound odd. You filthy pervert. (TOTALLY joking, of course.)

Oh dear, Angie, a feather whip? Um...I would probably have some serious doubts about that book too.
Yep, I agree with everything you've listed, too. Not exactly squick, but...kind of lame. A little lazy and dull. I disagree slightly about the sex scenes, only because in certain circumstances I don't care about plot or character, I just want a nice hot little scene to cheer me up as I read, lol.

Yep, Robyn, it just seems like such a waste of time when they keep talking and talking. I don't mind some dialogue; a few lines here and there can be very sexy. It's the constant detailed conversation that bugs me.
As for the, I can take it or leave it. I've read a few scenes where it's been pretty hot, and a few where I'm just bleh. I HATE, though, with a passion, ANY book where the couple has anal sex and follows it later with vaginal sex without washing. That pisses me off. That's a dangerous sexual practice and should NEVER happen, even in fantasy books where you can ignore condoms and stuff because it's all make-believe.

Heh, Paca, I guess Cyn says it best below where she mentions how in writing erotic books we are in some small way revealing our own likes and dislikes. My characters do a lot of things I don't/wouldn't, but I must be honest; the only things I want to do for an hour and a half at a stretch is read or sleep. :-) But I do see your point.

December/Stacia said...

Eep, Bettie, I'm afraid you're going to hate Blood Will Tell then. The hero calls the heroine "baby"--the hubs and I call each other that a lot so it always seemed sweet to me (I have since discovered that a lot of women don't like it, so don't use it anymore) and I believe I used "weeping" at least once. *blush*
I am TOTALLY with you on first-person sex though. Purple or not I dislike it. It's a huge reason why I don't write in first person.

*blush again* Thank you, Anonymous!

The thing is, and I'm probably going to sound like a real misery here, I agree with you. I'm not a fan of sites or blogs, even for erotic writers, that are overtly sexual or graphic. But I have noticed the authors who aren't as, um, prudish as me tend to have much bigger followings than I do and a much wider audience. I can only assume they're doing something right, and it's not so much morals that keep me from joining them but boredom. Frankly, there's only so many ways one can describe certain acts and only so many bare chests one can look at before doing so becomes a chore. I'd rather discuss other interesting things and maybe veer off into the racy once in a while to keep things spicy.
I guess the thing is, although I write explicit books, I kind of feel like if I only promoted the explicitness of them it would be kind of like disowning the rest. I'm proud of my dialogue and my characters and what they do. Yes, I'm proud of my sex scenes and really enjoy writing them...but good sex scenes are available in a lot of places. What I bring to my books that's unique is everything else.
I hope that doesn't sound egotistical, because I don't mean it that way. I'm proud of my work but that doesn't mean I don't read over it and think of ways it could have been better, or read other people's books and sigh with envy that they're better than me. I also hope it doesn't sound like I'm condemning other writers or saying I think they're tacky or whatever. If they're having fun and it works for them that's great. It's just not the way I want to spend my time or promote myself or my work.

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Charles, ocean waves! That is bad, isn't it? It's such a cliche now.
Funny you mention the correlation between graphic language and graphic sex, or rather, between graphic anguage and less romantic sex. I find my vocab changes as the relationship between the characters deepens, and words I use in the beginning taper off or disappear completely as we get closer to the Big Declaration or after it's been made.

Oh, Paca, you can find those sites if you look, really. You're just being lazy now. :-)

Why would you be ashamed, Cyn? Read what you like. Branch out of course, and try new things, but don't feel like you have to apologize for not having read much romance.
Hmmm. Suggestions for romance. Depends on if you want light or dark, historical, contemporary or paranormal? I like Julia Quinn for Regency historicals (and she is an incredibly classy and sweet lady as well). For medievals I like Kinley MacGregor, among others--try "Born in Sin" which I really enjoyed (although I thought the ending was a tad too pat, but I still liked it).
Paranormals...erotic or not?
The book of my own I'd recommend (that's available now) is Blood Will Tell. There is some darkness and violence--I don't write stuff without it, to be honest--but the book overall is cheerful enough, I think, and fun.

And as far as putting my own fantasies out there...I addressed this incredibly astute comment a couple of times in my comments already, but I'll say it again anyway. Yes. Of course. My characters do some things I wouldn't or don't do, but it's still there. There are some things they don't do because I wouldn't do them, because I don't think they sound sexy.
I may blog about this next week or the week after, actually. I'm too sleepy to do justice to it just now.

Cool, Angie, now I have another m/m to recommend to people! Thanks! (I'm not a big m/m reader, but I may give this a go myself. :-) )

cyn said...

thanks for the great recs angie and december. adding it to my reading/wishlist. =D

Anonymous said...

The best lovin' evah.I don't like it when someone is "the most beautiful person he/she had ever seen" or when the heroine has had sex before, but this is the best evah and there will never be sex as good as this again.

I thought "weeping" was rather lovely. I like "juicy" "hot" and simply "wet" too. I'm not sure I like "Her juices".

Anonymous said...

"if I only promoted the explicitness of them it would be kind of like disowning the rest"

Man, it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

Kindred spirits, dude. Seriously.

bettie said...

Eep, Bettie, I'm afraid you're going to hate Blood Will Tell then. The hero calls the heroine "baby"--the hubs and I call each other that a lot so it always seemed sweet to me (I have since discovered that a lot of women don't like it, so don't use it anymore) and I believe I used "weeping" at least once. *blush*

No blushing--I liked Blood Will Tell. When a story is good, I will forgive it almost anything--and that includes the occasional weeping orifice. And I liked Blood Will Tell to the point that I completely forgot any occurrences of "weeping". And usually my big objection to "baby" is that it makes the dialog sound canned. When the dialog is good--like yours--it sounds natural.

I am TOTALLY with you on first-person sex though
*blushes imperceptibly* I break my own rules. I've written the occasional FP love scene. I usually try to keep it vague, but, hey, the story called for it.

December/Stacia said...

Hee, Michele, I used to do that one! Now I just leave it at "very handsome/sexy" or "very pretty/beautiful", because I'd rather they fall in love because of personalities rather than looks (but still be attractive, of course.) Come to think of it, none of my heroines are beautiful, at least not to anyone but the hero. Pretty, yes, attractive, lovely...but only the hero really goes "WOW".

I'm glad I'm not alone in that, Anon! :-)

Whew! *wipes brow* Thanks Bettie!

I don't mind a vague FP love scene. I've even read one or two that didn't bother me. But the really detailed, purply ones bug me. Just like I hate the FP heroine who always, always at some point says, while having sex, how oral never worked for her before and she didn't really like it. Like, uh, how bad at it were these guys?

Gabriele C. said...

OK, I'm obviously living on the moon or something, but what does FP mean?

December/Stacia said...

First Person, Gabriele. :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, and here I thought it meant something naughty. :)

No, nothing wrong with first person, I suppose, though I can't remember to have read a sex scene FP. Personally, I'm not overly fond of detailed descriptions of him going down on her (I won't have it in real life, either), and the word 'cream' throws me out of the scene.

cyn said...

gabriele, FP could also mean "frontal probe". =D *giggles like a school girl*

Bernita said...

Sometimes what he/she does before the great battle of the bulge is more erotic than the event itself.

Rebecca said...

yeah - I've never really found the word cunt to be particularly offensive - depends how it's being used, of course. I might find it offensive if someone specifically called me a cunt. But then, I'd probably find it upsetting to be called a vagina too....

and like Angie - I find euphimisms for body parts quite off-putting - they just make me laugh!

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Bernita, the battle of the bulge indeed!
I agree. The foreplay is more fun to write about, in general, and usually more interesting to read about too.

Right, Rebecca, being called any body part is rather...not nice, isn't it? For me it depends. There are times where euphemism works for me, as long as it isn't flowery. I think some additional words are good (i.e. cock=shaft, erection, bulge) but when you start getting into euphemism that requires more than one word...