There are certain universal truths that hold all people common. Whether a person lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Indonesia or in a high-rise condo in the financial district of Manhattan, certain things connect them. When it comes to human nature, circumstance has little to do with who we innately are. We all need the big three: food, clothing, and shelter. We all work for those things. Granted some work for bread, while others work for caviar, but that’s just a matter of opulence and means. That becomes a social or financial phenomenon. The thing I am talking about is raw human nature. Another big one not so broadcasted? Sex. Red, yellow, black, or white, we all do it. Therefore, I have to write about it…
When writing a novel, certain elements must be present to make the subject relatable to people from all walks of life. My latest project, a southern period piece, is very regional in nature. However, I’ve used certain tools to bring out the humanity in my characters so hopefully anyone can relate to them. The romance in the novel is between a white boy and black girl in 1950-something Charleston, South Carolina. I needed the energy between these two characters, who were caught up in the Jim Crow South, to feel real, and I needed people of any race or background to identify. It’s simple. I needed to write a sex scene. I needed to convey the ideas of longing, passion, fear, love, newness, and bona fide forces of nature to a blended audience. I needed my readers to feel the magnetic pull between my characters. I had to recreate in words, the most naked part of human nature, the most carnal part of human nature, the most profound connection between two beings…and frankly, I was a little shy about it.
I’ve never been a person uncomfortable with sexuality. I don’t believe in whispering around about it and pretending it doesn’t exist. That would be denying a fundamental part of our make-up, as well as an actual gift from God. Writing about it however, knowing that other people would read it, was surprisingly hard for me. I mean, I’m a female with a notoriously crude sense of humor who will say just about anything for shock value in certain situations, but I couldn’t write a sex scene? I was perplexed, and considered avoiding it entirely.
I think it was that I felt so exposed. This is a subject considered to be taboo, except in secret. This isn’t in order to keep it intimate and sacred (which it should be), but instead to protect the insecurities bred from social scrutiny. I couldn’t help it…while I was writing this scene I felt naked, as if I were showing a part of me that could incriminate me. My moment of revelation came when I realized that was exactly what I was supposed to be feeling. In the fifties, society said this white boy and black girl couldn’t, because of their nature, because of their race, feel those feelings that are just human. There was a shame to it. I had to convey that as well. When the shame left was when the passion stepped in. That’s the point when our inhibitions leave and we let those tiny connections make contact. We surrender to loneliness, euphoria, pain, intrigue, or in beautifully rare cases, actual love. We let the animal in us decide, and it makes so much more sense than the lies we wear on our judgemental faces when the endorphins wear off.
At that point, it flowed. It flowed out of me, onto the keyboard, and right through my characters. I stopped thinking about how to handle it and just wrote what is real. I wrote what they would really be feeling, doing, and exploring. During that scene that I had considered omitting, my characters sprang to life. Their souls were stripped naked, and they were ready to attach themselves to readers from any demographic. They were just acting out a hunger, a color blind hunger, we all know but are told repetitively to hold at bay and only speak about in embarrassed whispers. I decided not to “handle” this scene, but to embrace it, and do it some justice. This was my opportunity to let my characters to reach out and grab people at their cores, maybe make them blush a little, but certainly make them feel something real.
I once read that Barbara Kingsolver, author of the wonderful book, The Poisonwood Bible, had a terrible time writing sex scenes. She hated it and tried to avoid it herself at times. Now, as my own writing matures, I get it. We writers have a responsibility to write truth. Writers have the ability to make people feel less alone by finding the things that foster camaraderie between all mankind. We have to somehow illustrate, by using words we’re told we shouldn’t, what being mortal means. It isn’t always pretty, graceful, and tasteful. It’s sometimes ugly, awkward, and crass. But, if we write, we write it all…the good, the bad, and the bumpin’ ugly’s.