Thursday, September 2, 2010

On the Page or In Your Imagination?

At the first mystery writers conference I attended several years ago, a thriller writer taught a lesson that stuck with me: people's imaginations fill in the blanks of what they *want* to think is on the page, not what is actually there.

He said that people think his books are full of swearing, but they're not. He might write that a character swore, but it's up to the level of comfort of the reader to fill in the blanks of what that means to them.

I loved this idea that you could stay true to your characters while embracing a wide range of readers. And by that wide range of readers, I mean people like me.

I don't like graphic violence or gratuitous swearing in my fiction. It's a personal preference, but there are a lot of people like me. I like to read widely within the mystery genre, but sometimes an otherwise-good book is too much for me and I have to stop reading. Sometimes these graphic details are necessary to tell the story, but usually they're not. My favorite mysteries don't need blood on the page to make my heart race in fear and contract in agony over the emotional rollercoaster the characters are put through.

The same principles apply to sex scenes. Well, except for the fact that I won't stop reading a book because it has too graphic a sex scene...

But the point is I still do usually feel that the most powerful sex scenes are the ones where the powerful interaction between the characters has been set up just right -- and then with a beautiful teaser to linger in one's mind, the characters are left to do whatever they do behind closed doors.

It's anticipation that compels a reader through a book, after all. Those set-ups and hopes that are finally realized. And I have a good imagination.



Sophie Littlefield said...

I always appreciate the reminder that sometimes less said is, in the end, more said. Despite all the swearing and occasional violence in my mystery series, the romance is actually very tame, and it's been a fun challenge to try to sizzzle it up without actually, you know, describing anything.

Gigi Pandian said...

Sophie, you're a writer who gets the swearing right in your books. Humor is an excellent reason ;). Plus, since I find myself wanting MORE romance in your books, it's that anticipation idea again -- at the end of each book I can't wait for the next to see what will happen!

Juliet Blackwell said...

I guess it's sort of like the old saw about the shark being scarier when we couldn't see it...our own imaginations are usually much more compelling than anything that filmmakers or writers could come up with. I think a big issue is that when it comes to particulars, what one person finds sexy another doesn't. Like Sophie, I usually fade to black, and let my own imagination sizzle ;-)