In previous posts I've commented on the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Their books made no pretence towards literary merit; they were totally and unashamedly commercial. Written in the nineteen thirties, they treated sex in a subtle way that titillated the reader, but omitted the finer details of what happened behind the bedroom doors. I think a few modern day writers could learn something from that. I believe the blatantly uninhibited sex scenes that mark out too many current novels detract from the action.
I have this in mind as I look at a series resurrected from the depths of my computer, something I started years ago. These are hard-hitting, gritty crime stories written in a style I imagine Chandler or Hammett would use if they were alive today. The crimes are to the forefront in the stories, the sex is keep in the background. That’s because the plots are essentially about the crimes, not the characters’ sex lives. That’s not to say they don’t have sexual encounters, they do, but I try to keep it in proportion. I’ve given some information on the books at:
I suppose a well-known writer could get away with vivid descriptions of the sex act, even if it is unnecessary to the plot. To my mind Sebastian Foulkes did it in Birdsong and it didn’t work for me. But he’s a famous writer. My advice to lesser known writers is to keep your eye on the ball. If you want to write erotic sex scenes, do it within the covers of erotica novels. If you are writing for any other market, keep your action centered on your main plot.
However, one area on which Chandler and Hammett’s books scored highly was their front covers. The publishers used images of scantily clad women to titillate the reader into buying. It wasn’t blatant sex, and it worked.