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Sex & Violence: Where do you draw the line?

How much explicit sex and graphic violence is too much in a fiction novel? As always, I’ll give you a simple answer and my own experience.

The simple answer is: It depends. If you’re writing a children’s book like Charlotte’s Web, your tolerance scale should obviously be set to zero. However, if you’re working on the next best adult romance thriller reminiscent of 50 Shades of Grey or a zombie apocalypse novel, then the scale will naturally need to be near the top end of the tolerance meter. The majority of authors find themselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

In my own experience, I have found that many readers are intolerant of books that go “too far” but “too far” is a very subjective boundary to set. Oddly enough, many of those who take issue with a novel’s graphic content have no issues when watching explicitly sexual or graphically violent scenes on the screen, big or little. Take for example the huge success and wide audiences that watched and raved about movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Scarface and television series like Game of Thrones or Hannibal.

I’m not sure why this paradox between levels of tolerance exists between books and shows, but I’ve noticed it with reviewers on numerous occasions. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that films and television shows have editors who smoothly transition from one scene to the next and cameramen who tastefully capture the most brutal of scenes, whereas a reader can linger on any content that pushes their limits and ultimately decide to stop reading as a result. Another consideration might be that the beauty of a novel is that it allows the reader to visualize the content in their own way which may cause some readers to feel offended by harsh content.

Whatever the answer is, the end result is the same: You can’t please everyone, and trying to do so will drive you crazy! So, that brings us back to the question at hand: “Where do you draw the line in your writing?” Here are some suggestions based on my approach and experience:

1. Keep your genre and target audience in mind throughout.

2. Draft your manuscript raw and uncut to maximize content impact.

3. Edit with care, tempering the spiciness of your content to a more palatable level of heat.

4. Hire professional proofreaders who already know what people will and won’t accept.

5. Include a disclaimer about explicit sex and graphic violence if included in your content.

6. Set up appropriate age restrictions for purchase on all of your marketing platforms.

7. Trust your own judgment and take pride in your work.

In my humble opinion, if you’ve followed the above-listed golden rules, then you’re good to go.

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