The Smut Card

So awhile back, I was reading this great little sci-fant bit with monsters and magic and a whole fantastical world. It was a real page turner by an indie author, fast paced and full of characters about whom I was incredibly curious.

There I was, halfway into the journey and boom. There it was, like fresh roadkill on an idyllic autumn drive and I didn’t have time enough to swerve out of the obstructed lane: a great steamy pile of porn complete with guttural noises, graphic descriptions of intimate parts and functions and lots and lots of body fluids.

We aren’t talking a pulse quickening smooch and squeeze or even a seductive slow dance and lingering touch. This was straight up pornographic writing so in your face that it made me—a married mom with two grown male children—incredibly squirmy while reading. And not in a good way, either.

The smut card had been played

Suffice it to say, I felt awkward with the storyline after the intrusive sex scene. And unfortunately for me, the writer dropped in another X rated escapade a few chapters later. Not only did the jarringly explicit dual scenes disturb me, but also the fact that the author made no attempt to warn readers regarding the lengthy narratives of mature content halfway through the book. Until the two scenes were dropped on my eyes like they were hot, the book itself would have been a prime read for adult or YA sci-fant fans. Unfortunately, the needless inclusion of gratuitous and over-the-top pornography garnered this otherwise solid story a brown paper cover and a spot in the naughty section of the bookstore. In the back. Where all the creepers hang out.

Seriously now. I’m a grown woman, and I like a little spice every now and then, but dumping the entire bottle of cayenne in the dish will not only ruin the flavor but it may scorch a body’s innards as well.

We owe our readers the integrity as writers to protect them from ingesting that which might damage them.

I get it. People meet, fall in love, and intimacy is a real part of life. In fact it is to be enjoyed. But there is a huge difference between creating a connection between characters who demonstrate intimacy and physical affection and/or attraction for one another and straight up smut.

If you as a writer choose with eyes open and conscience unmarred to write pornographic material, rest assured you will have an audience who hopefully will be as adult as you are. But if you are just wrapping your characters personal parts around each other and throwing in some blue language for effect to grab your reader, don’t.

Check your skill set as a writer first.

If you have to prostitute your characters to keep the attention of your reader, something is wrong with your characters, your storyline, or your writing itself.

Reread your work up to the point of your characters defrocking, and correct your story. Create some tension, add some danger, take a writing class, but don’t add an explicit sex scene just for shock and awe.

Here’s the deal:

That book I mentioned would have read stunningly without the sweaty, sticky, contortive side bar. It was obvious the protags were passionate about one another. And while a moment of procreative endeavors could have been alluded to or given a few sentences, the pages of porn did not advance the story one iota. In fact, they detracted from it, because they pulled the reader out of the amazing world the writer had so painstakingly created.

The two potentially offensive scenes took the characters from otherworldly to disappointingly boorish and, even more damaging, the scenes put constraints on the book in total: an otherwise stellar story now really requires a graphic content warning.

So, when gambling for your readers attention, don’t play the smut card. It’s constrictive to your reach as a writer, it cheapens your characters, and ultimately it’s a cop out—a cheat for a writer. If you need drama or tension, add a teenage girl or a mother-in-law. But don’t write something that makes your reader want to gouge his or her eyes out and soak them in disinfectant.

Peace.

Tammy Boehm
Associate Editor