This applies to readers, writers, movie-viewers, etc.: What's your limit on sex, violence, and profanity in a story?

How much does the content of the story affect how quickly you reach your limit?

What's worst-- sex or violence or crude language?

I'm one of those people who tolerates just about anything so long as it works in the story. But, if the story doesn't work, I nitpick like crazy. (Probably because I'm bored. =)

What about you?

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Well, first of all, I'm a big fan of Bo Fexler, so I guess that tells you a little about what's too much for me ;)

I find that a good sex scene can reveal a lot about a character, if they're self-confident or not, generous, selfish, experienced, etc.. Violence can also reveal character, but not usually many positive attributes, so I find it less useful.

One thing that I usually skip over when reading is the hero getting beaten up. I know the hero will survive and come back from this, it won't be fatal no matter how much the author teases, so I don't need all the description any more than I need long descriptions of the countryside. Not the kind of writing I appreciate, just a personal thing.

But what I've been wondering lately is, have sex and violence become more prominent in fiction as other things have become shut out? Maybe this is a holdover from those appropriation of voice discussions back in my student days, but it seems to me a lot of books avoid a lot of issues surrounding things like racism and sexism that reflect the world we live in and settle for more archetype characrers of a world we'd like to live in. An agent told me because I'm a middle-aged white guy, all my 'bad guys' had to be white men as well, otherwise the book would just be too touchy for her. Or, she said, if I had a minority bad guy I had to balance that out with a good guy of the same minority. I don't know if this gets mentioned so blatantly very often, but I think this kind of thing may have become so ingrained in us that we self-censor before it ever gets that far.

And that's opened up sex and violence and things we can write about in greater detail.

I don't know, I'd like to know what people think.
I don't think a sex scene has to reveal anything important to the story. In real life, we don't need a reason to have sex besides the desire to, so why should characters in a book have to? For a group of people (crime writers) who claim to write the most realistic fiction, they're pretty artificial in the construction of it. And it seems odd to me that people who write so breezily about murder and other kinds of violence can be so touchy/prudish about sex.

I can't see how the agent's advice/instructions can be good for a story. Such artificial, blanket rules which don't seem to take into consideration the story at all. You can't write a good story by plugging in elements into a formula. If you could, we could let computers do the storytelling for us.
Well, I don't have any problems with sex scenes. I find it alot easier to write the text for my protag going down on someone than for her to her to beat someone up. The latter always seems a bit stilted on the page.

But, it's true that the crime/ mystery genre is full of people who accept bodies piling up but don't want to see two people being intimate (much less getting it on like horny bunny rabbits.)

As a culture, there's a tendency towards accepting violence, but not sex. To me, that seems backwards. Sex is normal, natural, and (in theory) fun for all. Violence, well, there's kind of a limited 'fun' to that, if any, and somebody always gets hurt.
Well this is what we're up against, John. The agent's advice/instructions isn't for story, it's for sales (I know, you'd think, well, the better the story, the better the sales, but...). So far, the worst advice I've gotten has been from agents, maybe why I still don't have one.

And, not only do we talk quite breezily about murder - as if it's some kind of crossword puzzle with clues and solutions - we claim that everything has to be 'integral; to the story.' I think it was you yourself who once pointed out here that we don't mind taking side trips for recipes and all kinds of history lessons, so why not a good sex scene? Ah well.
Aren't we taugth in Creative Writing 101 that every scene must contribte to character or plot? I find that in almost all cases sex scenes do not contribute anything to character or plot that can't be acheived easier and more effectively in other ways. Your comment about recepies etc is a pretty good reply to that! But on the other hand, I never read books with recepies or tips on making a quilt etc. etc. either.
I agree with that.
I love all the extra stuff--the bits that color it and make it a living, breathing thing.
Also, I think the best writers do that in my humble opinion.
Sorry about the agent. That's PC, and I detest it. You see it on televisuion and in the movies all the time, and the truth or reality is frequently bent in the opposite direction. One wonders what the effect of this is on the next generation. Will we automatically avoid young (or middle-aged) white guys? Will white boys grow up feeling like losers because they see guys like themselves commit all the gruesone crime on TV? I also detect a certain fad to make the villain always a rich and powerful guy. Readers love to hate such men, and mystery after mystery is set up to hang all the crimes in a city on the wealthy (white) factory owner or judge, or city councilman, thereby sending the message the success corrupts the white man. The poor character, on the other hand, is always decent, hard-working, and ultimately victorious over evil.

On the whole, I think I've spread the viciousness about even-handedly in my books

And there's a lot to be gained from forcing one's protagonist to undergo pain and torment. It tests his character and certainly worked for the epic heroes. While the reader knows that he'll survive, he doesn't know how.
I'm doing fine without an agent, we'll see how that goes.

If I ever see a sitcom in which the husband isn't a complete doofus and once in a while the wife makes a mistake, I'll watch it every week. I think those days are gone.....
This is another one of those personal preference/tolerance issues. You'll find the line drawn at different places for different peeps. As long as it serves the story, I'll read just about anything. Now, that doesn't mean that I haven't put down numerous books because I felt the violence was silly, over-the-top, or whatever. I'm not big on reading sex scenes, mostly because they tend to be poorly written or because they don't seem directly related to moving the damn story forward. Profanity? Again, if it serves the story (i.e., that's how the character(s) would talk), then it bothers me more when it's not there.

Truthfully, I'm more likely to put a book down if I just don't give a crap about the protag. When I hit the point where I find myself wishing s/he would hurry up and die already, I know it's over for the book!
I was urged to include more sex in my second mystery series for my current publisher. Now I'm rethinking it.
However, I don't think it was "over the top" and actually was appropriate to the novel. Still, I don't like the idea of offending readers. As to agents, I'd love to have a good one, but it hasn't happened for me and so I continue to sell my own work.
I'm not much bothered by sex or violence in literature as long as they are appropriate to the story--that goes for profanity as well. But if it's merely gratuitous then I do have a problem with it. I've been questioned by some readers regarding a strong sex scene that is part of my mystery novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION. I explained that it was important to understanding the heroine of the novel. Writers need license to create characters as whole individuals.
As long as the sex, violence and/or crude language fit in with the story and the characters, then I'm pretty cool about it. What I hate is movies and books where I feel things are thrown in for effect.

I loved The Sopranos and would have felt it was a bit odd if there had been no violence, sex or swearing!

Lynette

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