librarian

So what is it that you like reading anyway?

So! Metafandom's been pretty dead recently, but has picked up this week with a couple of links on the topic of sex in fanfiction. The discussion starts here and continues here. Here's what I've gleaned from these discussions:

- Lots of readers skip over sex scenes when they read.
- Other readers read only for the sex.

What's a writer to do? Same thing we do every day, Pinky: write a story that pleases us.

sahiya and I were discussing the "sexy coda" approach. Some stories don't want the sex in them directly because the tone would be all wrong. But the sex is fun, and it's nice to give two characters who've just hooked up a bit of a treat. (We do love our characters.) So round off the story with a brief sequel. (I note that when I did this recently, with a brief followup to "An Antique Roman", the story is all about sex but it's completely elliptical. Hmm.)

In other cases, it seems to me that the sex is integral to the story. It's the thing that fanfiction can do that a lot of other fiction can't: explore character by means of sex. Really intense emotional circumstances, like hurt/comfort and some other things we call "bulletproof kinks", are other means we use. They're characteristic of our genre. The pressure that some writers feel to include sex might be the pressure of genre expectations. Hmm again!

Mainly, I think the author of the first post has some assumptions lurking below her list of questions. For one, that most sex scenes are gratuitous, but that including them is key to success in fandom. For another, there's this air of, I dunno, self-deprecation about the sex writing. It's "just" sex. To which I say phooey! My advice continues to be to write whatever it is you want to write, read whatever it is you want to read. Please to enjoy your hobby sans guilt.

But I'm curious about you all. Hence, some questions.
Do you skip reading the sex scenes? Skip some of them? What moves you to read a sex scene and what moves you to skip?
Are you more likely to comment if a story is prawny?
Are you more or less likely to read if a story is prawny?
What else comes to mind?

Poll #1262506 Obscure FicPoll Mark XVIII

Which story would you want to read first?

Gen, a two-character conversation with quasi-religious overtones and angst.
5(25.0%)
Shippy romance, a happy day in the life of two characters that ends with non-explicit or possibly off-stage lovemaking.
2(10.0%)
Shippy smut, sexual interactions between two characters in a relationship, with external conflict.
11(55.0%)
Straightforward smut, sexual interactions between two characters who might or might not be in a relationship, with the conflict internal.
2(10.0%)

My answer to the above question:

Might change if I knew what characters or ships were depicted.
6(37.5%)
Might change if it were a different writer asking.
1(6.2%)


(And yeah, those are the four stories I have sort of in progress at the moment, slightly obscured.)
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"Do you skip reading the sex scenes? Skip some of them?"

Sex isn't at all necessary in a story, but I love a good sex scene. I'll skip if it's not doing anything for me and read it otherwise.

"What moves you to read a sex scene and what moves you to skip?"

To paraphrase Potter Stewart, I can't quite define a "good," erotic sex scene but I know it when I see it. It's easier to define what makes me skip--purple prose that's either annoyingly coy ("center of her womanhood") or squickily unappetizing ("her clit was wine-red and throbbing"--actual story quote there). Flamingly cliched dialogue (two pet peeves: characters moaning "looooove youuuuu" like being aroused suddenly makes you forget your subject pronouns or screaming "MINE!" when they come). Writers who clearly don't know their anatomy. Writers who clearly don't know the difference between BDSM and a beating (I don't mean heavy BDSM, I mean someone being nonconsensually punched in the face hard enough to draw blood or having a compound fracture inflicted but, of course, they love it 'cos they're "submissive"--also actual recent examples), or whose total knowledge of kink clearly comes from having read the Beauty trilogy about eight years ago (hanging someone's full weight from their wrists, aaaaggggh).

"Are you more likely to comment if a story is prawny?"

No. I rarely comment anymore on stories written by people I don't know personally not from anything prawn-related, but because when you've had enough tantrums inflicted on you because it wasn't exactly the right kind of positive feedback, you decide not to bother. I'm not saying I'm proud of that, but 'tis the truth.

"Are you more or less likely to read if a story is prawny?"

Prawn prawn prawn can get very repetitive, particularly since I can write what I really like to read of it myself, so from certain writers I'll always read it but I don't go seeking it out in general. I'm more likely to read if a story is plotty and well-thought-out on the characterization and structural level, with good prawn a very nice added plus but not necessary.

"What else comes to mind?"

What, all that rambling's not enough? ;-)
[...] when you've had enough tantrums inflicted on you because it wasn't exactly the right kind of positive feedback, you decide not to bother.

I've seen that happen. Amazingly disgraceful, and yes, tends to suppress the urge to leave feedback for that writer in future, even when I like the story.

About what you're more likely to read: Was thinking it's the juggling act. The more balls the writer keeps in the air, the more satisfying the reading experience is. (Oh dear, was that metaphor unfortunate?) Good prose, good story structure, good characterization, interesting invention, with some spice added in the form of smut, and I'm in heaven as a reader. But I don't need the chili peppers added to everything. Usually the first paragraph tells me everything I need to know.

Good writing is good, says lolcat.
"Good prose, good story structure, good characterization, interesting invention, with some spice added in the form of smut, and I'm in heaven as a reader. But I don't need the chili peppers added to everything."

Exactly. Ripping yarns = great. Ripping yarns with hot sex = great with chocolate shavings on top.
Ripping yarns = great. Ripping yarns with hot sex = great with chocolate shavings on top.

Yes!
Do you skip reading the sex scenes? Skip some of them? What moves you to read a sex scene and what moves you to skip?

I skip sex scenes if they're grossing me out or boring me to death. If
they're sexy, I read 'em.

And then I read them again.

Are you more likely to comment if a story is prawny?

Nope. Prawn embarrasses me. I have shame issues.

Are you more or less likely to read if a story is prawny?

I like 'ships. Certain pairings and well-written smut please me the most. But I'm mostly in it for the characters: Giles almost exclusively; Buffy preferred.

What else comes to mind?

It's difficult for me to figure out why one sex scene works for me, and another one doesn't. I think the main issue is sexual tension. Is it building, does it make sense, or are the characters suddenly fucking again for no reason? I don't enjoy when the characters are simply sex addicts. Sex in relationships is complex. I want internal and external struggle. I want to be teased. PWPs work for me, too, though. They just have to be done right.

Gross: have definitely encountered examples of that. Back button, move along, these aren't the droids I'm looking for.

Boring: way more common.

Sex in relationships is complex. I want internal and external struggle. I want to be teased.

"The only good plot is a delayed fuck." --Louis B. Mayer
The example I always have in mind for this is the plot of It Happened One Night, the Claudette Colbert/Clark Gable comedy. UST UST UST, resolved in the last moment of the film. Once the UST resolves, the story loses its narrative drive, so it had better happen at the very end. (Unless there's something else driving it. Etc etc. Caveats aplenty.)

Another example: cadences in music need to be earned. You have to move away from tonic to make the return to it satisfying.

Okay, viewed another way: sex scenes are subject to the same requirements of rising conflict & resolution as the rest of fiction.
The example I always have in mind for this is the plot of It Happened One Night.

I think that's true for most of those old films. Maybe that's why I love them so much.

Okay, viewed another way: sex scenes are subject to the same requirements of rising conflict & resolution as the rest of fiction.

Yes!
Had this epiphany a few weeks ago when I was pulling apart action sequences to see what made them work or not. Same thing there: hero takes action, action complicates problem, rising tension, reversal/revelation, rising action, final confrontation, resolution, then a moment of denouement/sequel. Why not apply it to sex scenes?

Craft is cold-blooded. The art that it produces is not.
Do you skip reading the sex scenes? Skip some of them? What moves you to read a sex scene and what moves you to skip?

I tend to read the sex scenes...unless it's doing nothing for me. Some I'll skip if I find it disturbing (but, that rarely happens because little disturbs me). If it's well written, I'll read it.

Are you more likely to comment if a story is prawny?

No, I try to comment on everything I read. Comments make me happy, so I figure they'll make other people happy too.

Are you more or less likely to read if a story is prawny?

Depends on the author, really. Some author's I'll read for the sex...others I read because they're intriguing stories...but, sex is a plus. :)

What else comes to mind?

Nothing at the moment, but I'm sure I'll think of something at some point during the day.
Comments make me happy, so I figure they'll make other people happy too.

So true. And I have been so bad about commenting recently. *hangs head*
I sometimes wait days after I've read something to comment. It's not necessarily because I don't like it...it's just that I'll think..."I'll do this first and then I'll go leave a comment."

Personally...

When someone leaves a comment who normally doesn't...or rarely does...I get all giggly. Because if that happens, either what I've written is really really bad...or pretty good. Does that make sense?
The first time I'm reading a story, it's extremely rare for me to skip any part of it. When I'm rereading, I tend to reread just to get to a section I loved, so it's common for me to skip the rest, whether it's sex or not. Frankly, depending on the sex scene, it can just be boring the second time around.

Although there is an exception to my read everything rule. I was recently reading Doctor Who OT3 fic by a certain author, and in every story she wrote, every sex scene was pretty much identical. *yawn* I started skipping those after a few stories. It was a shame, because her plots weren't identical, and I liked her writing.

Sometimes it depends on my mood. After reading a bunch of gen I really look for stories with decent sex scenes. One of the things that drives me nuts is stories where including sex wouldn't throw things off, but it's missing anyway. I hate that, it feels like such a cop out.

I don't think my tendency to comment changes much, I comment more on things I like, and more in general on authors I like.
You have no idea how much I worry about repeating my effects, how much effort I put into not doing so, and how depressed I am when I read back and discover that I have anyway. I bet she has no idea she's doing it.

I know what you mean about missing sex scenes being a disappointment. There the characters are, finally getting together, or fixing whatever, and you want to follow along with them further to crank up the level of intimacy, the emotional intensity. And whoops, no.
You are nowhere near as bad as she is! Every single sex scene was double penetration, no variations. You, on the other hand, have a lovely variety running from Blackmail and Rough Boys to much more vanilla scenes.

I do get what you mean though, because I worry so much about repeating words when I write. I always get stuck on some word and then use it every other sentence.
First, I love you for quoting Pinky and the Brain!

Now, sex scenes. I think for me it is dependent a lot on the writer and the pairing. There are certain writers who I know will deliver a good sex scene, so I won't skip over because I know my buttons will be pushed. Pairing wise, I've become very selective in what I read tending to only read certain writers for certain pairing or devouring anything I can get my hands on for other (rarer) pairings.

When I'm writing, I think it all depends on the plot of the story. When I was writing my SGA Big Bang I knew I had to include at least one sex scene because part of the plot hinged on the female character getting pregnant. The second sex scene just evolved naturally when I was writing it. The characters had just gone through a daunting, emotional and scary mission, so it was a scene where sex was used as a comfort, an affirmation of life which led to a marriage proposal.

I'm of the mind that if you're not writing prawn then the sex should evolve naturally from the story, it really shouldn't be forced otherwise it kind of lessens the overall story.
I used to have a firm rule when i first came to fandom: nothing lower than an NC17. Not strictly because I was here for the prurient ;) fun, but because there was some kind of an emotional hook in the stories that had sex in them that wasn't (i thought) in the stories that didn't.

That has since changed, but I still have trouble reading gen for authors I don't know.

Now, though, I do find myself skipping over some of the sex scenes - or some of the paragraphs describing sex if there are more then four or five of them and they haven't hooked me, or sometimes if there's terminology that i don't find sexy (pucker is one that makes me shudder, and the zero lube situation scares me). On the other hand, there are times when I'm not in the mood to read a sex scene and the next time I read the story (i go back and reread constantly - there is not enough fic produced in the btvs verse to keep up with how fast i consume it), i'll read every line, slowly, so it is a mood dependent thing too.

So what moves me? Often it's my own motivation (am I interested in that kind of emotional closeness? somewhere I feel comfortable reading a sex scene?, etc) coupled with the way in which an author has led up to the sex (if, say, there's been great sexual tension throughout then the sex is an emotional climax even before they're climaxing).

I'm not more likely to comment if a story is prawny, unfortunately that's *far* more based on my personal impulses to be talky or not.

I really do think that there is a link between more ... depth in a story and sex. Sadly depth is a horribly inefficient word for what I'm trying to convey, but I think because the sex automatically requires the author to maneuver the characters into *believable* physical relationship it seems to come with a corollary attention to creating *believable* emotional space. Not always, not exclusively, but somehow there are more plotty stories with sex in them that I emotionally connect to than stories without. Maybe I'm just reading the wrong authors, maybe it has something to do with my early reading patterns that after years of this are too ingrained to change now, but there you have it.

oh, and, YAY SEX!!!

eta I loved the Pinky quote too!!!

Edited at 2008-09-19 12:36 am (UTC)
I've seen far more stories where the author substitutes sex for character development and emotional plot than I've seen stories where the sex truly was integral to the story and helped develop the characters emotionally and added depth. There are many stories with great depth and characterization that have sex in them, but even when the sex is well-written, hot, and in character the sex could usually be faded-to-black without much damage to the depth of the story. I think the link you're seeing is an artifact of the fact that the longer a writer has been in fandom (and hence the more experienced and polished she is), the more likely she is to have gotten over any hangups regarding writing porn or erotica and thus the more likely she is to include sex.

YMMV.
I think the link you're seeing is an artifact of the fact that the longer a writer has been in fandom (and hence the more experienced and polished she is), the more likely she is to have gotten over any hangups regarding writing porn or erotica and thus the more likely she is to include sex.

I actually wasn't trying to imply (although rereading my earlier comment I think that I pretty much did) that there are more sex-as-integral-and-depth-adding stories in the world than there are sex-as-substitute-for-character-development stories. I'd agree with you, there are certainly bunches and bunches of the latter, probably more than the former.

I was trying to say that, of all the stories I connect with, there are more that have sex in them than there are ones without. You may be right about the seniority and practice of the authors in that sense.

On the other hand, it may be just that I'm way more willing to tolerate more of the sex-as-substitute stories than I am a story that doesn't have sex in it and still does a crappy job of characterization.
i de-lurked to say pretty much what you just did. it seems like the harsher-rated the fic, the more likely i'm going to enjoy it, whether it's sex or violence or both. the passions that come out in those fics are what i'm after, and unless i know the author, i'm less interested in skimming across something G-rated or gen fic to see if it's going to hook me.

as for the sex proper, it really depends on the fic. there really is a finite amount of ways to describe sex without trying too hard. so, unless the author has woven more angst or plot or character dev into the scene, i generally skim it. although, much like the rating issue, there are some authors that i'm reading that scene no matter what, even if it's the same set of characters they're always sexing up and even if it's just PWP (because it rarely is, even when they say it is).

i'm a lurker 99% of the time, so something has to seriously move/impress me (or, in a case like this, i get over being shy because i want to hear myself talk :) for me to comment. sexiness is irrelevant.

so...short version: it mostly depends on the author and the "point" of the sex, and i rarely comment because i'm shy. :)

(Edited briefly to fix a homonym)

Edited at 2008-09-19 03:35 pm (UTC)
Hello and welcome!

the passions that come out in those fics are what i'm after

Yeah, I think a lot of fan readers and writers are after that as well. We love to crank up the heat on our characters' emotions, whether it's through hurt/comfort or sex. We want intimacy and intensity in the stories.

I like your comment about PWP-labeled stories not really being so. People confuse "plot" with "action", I think. Plot is just the causal connections among incidents, the pattern that links the chain of story events. People have plots more often than they think they do!
I sometimes read the sex, sometimes skip over it, depending on a) if it's integral to the story and character development and a fade-to-black wouldn't work just as well, b) how well it's written, c) if I know and trust the author, d) what fandom/characters are involved, and e) my mood. That's the general order of importance for me. All usually have to be working for me to read a sex scene. I never comment on fanfic with any explicit sex, because although I try to keep rl separate from fan life, if people in rl found a connection between me and erotica/porn, I could have serious problems in my vocation.
Woah, I hadn't thought of that as a reason not to comment, but it makes sense to me that you'd have that in mind. The two original conversations I link above suggest that for most fan reader it's the opposite: higher-rated stories get more comments. And since comments are the only "reward" fan writers get, commenting trends shape writing trends.
Fanfic: I rarely write entire sex scenes any more -- allude to them, fade to black in the middle, that sort of thing -- but I do need to know that my OTP is passionate about each other. I tend to find PWP less interesting, but I've been unsatisfied (so to speak) by stories which omit my OTP's passion completely. (I'm thinking here of a well-known, old and unfinished Buffy/Spike story with a Giles/Anya subplot, where my OTP is basically just the dad-and-surrogate-mom window dressing.)

Reading fanfic, however, is tricksy for me, because I have very very specific interpretations of the characters, and often even within stories with my OTP, other interpretations throw me right out of the story. That's my problem, however, not the writer's.

Original fic: Actually, same thing as writing fanfic.