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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

S e x and Murder

Being a writer of Romantic Suspense books has led to some interesting discussions with friends and family. I have noticed over the years that no one is ever surprised when I bludgeon some fictional someone over the head with a hammer or poison them with sodium cyanide. Most people don't blink.  But throw in some graphic love scenes and I hear all sorts of "OMG you wrote S E X!" Mouths open, eyes wide, and that horrified moment of recollection that they gave their mother your book for Christmas.

Is it because humans are so obsessed with death that we find murder so acceptable--and yet there's no doubt humans are equally fascinated by sexual desire.

There's a study by Dr. David Buss (author of The Murderer Next Door) who says:

“Killing is fundamentally in our nature because over the eons of human evolution murder was so surprisingly beneficial in the intense game of reproductive competition,” Buss said. “Our minds have developed adaptations to kill, which is contrary to previous theories that murder is something outside of human nature—a pathology imposed from the distorting influences of culture, media images, poverty or child abuse.
“Though we may like to think that murderers are either pathological misfits or hardened criminals,” he added, “the vast majority of murders are committed by people who, until the day they kill, seem perfectly normal.” 
That's pretty scary stuff, and yet it makes perfect sense to me. And, what is that sentence, right there... 
"over the eons of human evolution murder was so surprisingly beneficial in the intense game of reproductive competition"
Reproductive competition. For humans that (generally) boils down to who gets to have s e x with whom.

Interesting stuff. Both s e x and murder are fundamental acts in the animal kingdom and yet, in fiction at least, s e x elicits a much stronger reaction from readers, and is considered much more intimate/personal than murder.

In my humble opinion, it's that intimacy that makes sexual relations integral to romance novels--it isn't about which bit goes where. It's about the emotional risk of getting close to someone and trusting them when you are at your most vulnerable. Most animals don't have face-to-face s e x, except octopods (have you read SEA OF SUSPICION? ;)) and it is that vulnerability that lies at the heart of a successful romance novel.

I don't know why people get more upset about s e x than murder. I'd like to find out. Anyone have any insights?

16 comments:

Elise Warner said...

Toni: You've given me a lot to think about. Great post and completely different--for me--way of looking at sex and murder.

MaureenAMiller said...

Toni, you have just summed up what Romantic Suspense represents to me. Bravo. Very well said!

Kathy Ivan said...

Excellent post, Toni! That is exactly the reaction I got with Desperate Choices. I can't believe it--You wrote S E X!

When it is an integral part of the story, the developing relationship with the lead characters, I find that to be as important if not more important than solving the mystery itself. Good job!

Cassy Pickard said...

Fun post, Toni! I think it's not only the readers who have trouble with this. I know (myself included) many writers who can easily kill off someone but have trouble describing what happens in bed--or other spots.

L. j. Charles said...

I agree with Cassy. I can kill people off, no problem, but when it comes to the sex scenes, I think it's harder to make them realistic without becoming erotica.

My books keep the bedroom door closed because they focus on the paranormal and the adventure as much as the romance. And, of course, with Lifethread, it's a YA so I kept the sex scenes warm instead of hot.

L. j. Charles

Ruby Johnson said...

Murder is a Who, What, Why they did it and involves mystery. Sex seems to be tool in many novels today. Of course, the developing relationship between characters is what we all want. However, way too many novels today have characters having all kinds of graphic sex with one or more partners or in places they could be exposed (in the workplace with co-workers outside the door), or with bullets flying over their heads. I think when constant sex scenes become intrusive it's too much. Give me the murder and detectives trying to solve a case with an attraction developing between them that doesn't have the characters having sex every few pages.

Toni Anderson said...

Elise, it's just a question that interests me.
Maureen, Thank you :)
Kathy, I sympathize. I really do.

Toni Anderson said...

Cassy, I hear you. It is much easier to kill people off than to write a love scene.
LJ, again--totally agree, easier to kill people than write them into a love scene. It isn't easy at all.
Ruby, I agree, too many sex scenes can be annoying and distracting. I assume too many dead bodies would pose the same problem?

Judith Anne said...

I'm not a prude, but I'm uncomfortable reading steamy sex scenes; they make me feel like a peeping tom. So I guess I could never write one.

Toni Anderson said...

Judith Anne, how are you with murder scenes? I'm curious to know and try to figure out how people think. Not that I'm writing a thesis. Just being nosy :)

Betsy Horvath said...

I think that s e x and intimacy are just so personal to everyone - writer and reader - that it tends to be more embarrassing. "Hey, that could be...um...me?" Whereas a relatively small portion of the population commit murder, so it's more of an academic exercise "Well, that would NEVER be me!" All I know is I'm pretty glad my mother doesn't have an e-reader so she won't be able to read my book. LOL :D

Marcelle Dubé said...

What an interesting post, Toni. It is fascinating why a murder scene is fine to write (although I don't do gore. Much.) but a s e x scene isn't. I think Betsy has hit on something. I think we're fascinated by murder mysteries because murder *isn't* common--most of us will live our entire lives without meeting a murderer, let alone becoming one. We need to understand why someone murders, and if it could ever possibly happen to us.

As for s e x, I'm with Judith Anne. I never thought of myself as a prude but really, I already know what goes on in the bedroom and do I really need to know how this particular couple accomplishes the acrobatics?

In my own stories, my characters, while attracted to each other, are too busy dealing with their life-threatening problems to think about jumping into bed. Besides, they've only just met. I mean, really.

Toni Anderson said...

Betsy might well have nailed it.
I know for me, when writing a love scene, the people in the story I'm writing are not me. I'm not recounting my bedroom acts LOL. Like any other piece of writing I actually research sex, as well as draw upon every book and movie I've ever read/seen. I think there's a deeper thing going on here--would make a great research thesis, don't you think?

Wynter Daniels said...

Good post - scary information! Maybe people get more upset over sex because everyone (or at least most people) have sex and the intimacy of reading about or seeing the act strikes a nerve. Few people, thankfully have that sort of relationship with murder.

Shirley Wells said...

It's a fascinating subject, Toni. I've written one erotic novel and lots of mysteries. I tell all my family and friends that I'm happily creating fictional murder and mayhem but very few people know about the erotic novel. :)

Clare London said...

Wow, this is really thought-provoking. As an author who write erotic romantic suspensed - and other erotic genres, too - I know all too well how s e x provokes far more emotion in readers and writers than any other kind of drama!

Not that I can offer any new answers, but I love the fact you've raised the question!! Personally, I think it's because a reader/writer can still find some distance from violence and horror in their real life - but intimacy and relationships strike far more close to home!

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