by Mindy McGinnis
"... and you know you want me to give it to you." Biff's words to Lorraine in Back to the Future had me totally flummoxed for a looong time. What was it? How could Biff give it to her? And why was he trying to touch her panties in the front seat of the car during the dance? Why was Lorriane talking about Marty's Calvin Kleins in their meeting scene? What's the fixation with underwear?
I remained in the dark about these topics for awhile. I knew sex existed, but I didn't have the whole Tab A, Slot B mechanics of the dance figured out until er... well... later. Not so today's teens. Blame it on the media, blame it on the culture, blame on parenting, blame it on the rain. (How many '80s references can I get in here?) Let's just set blame aside and focus on the fact that it simply IS. My opinion—kids aren't having more sex, or earlier than before—it's simply no longer a taboo subject.
So, because it's not taboo, because they do know the mechanics—what do we write about it? Do we write about it?
It's up to you. I've read some really graphic sex scenes in YA. I don't find them offensive. I have a hard time believing there's anything in there that the average teen hasn't already been exposed to. However, I do monitor content in the books that I give out to junior high students—not necessarily because I think they're about to have their minds deflowered—but because their parents DO believe that, and they might have my ass in a sling. And I need my ass. I use it every day.
My own philosophy runs thus: I have always believed that less is more. Why does Jaws work? 'Cause you don't see the shark. I typically refrain from physically describing my characters because I want my readers to fill in their hot guy, their hallway bitch, themselves as the MC. So when it comes to those backseat moments, or when my MC invites a guy over to "watch a movie," (yeah right, I have yet to see the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off), I want them to fill in slot B on their own. Something happened. Unless it's imperative to the plot, does it matter what? Do they need the description? Do they need to see that shark?
Here's a great example from Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix: (I know you're saying "What! An HP makeout scene?") Oh yeah... it's there. A meeting of Dumbledore's Army has just ended. Everyone has filed out except for Cho and Harry, who are kinda hanging out there in the Room of Requirement... and who didn't guess that thing had multiple uses? pg. 456-457:
"I really like you Harry."
He could not think. A tingling sensation was spreading throughout him, paralyzing his arms, legs and brain.
She was much too close. He could see every tear clinging to her eyelashes...
He returned to the common room half an hour later to find Hermione and Ron..."
Hey! Wait a second!! Half an hour later? Gee... what were they doing? Now, obviously Rowling had a duty to her young readers to keep it clean, and to her older readers to keep it interesting. Not so for all writers, certainly. But I think it's a good example of letting the reader take it to their own level—of comfort, of familiarity, without being told what happened.
My own writing gives a little more detail than this highly gratuitous page break, but you get the idea.
One last thought—what do you want your readers to take away from your book? I haven't read Breaking Dawn, but I know that Edward and Bella break the headboard, 'cause that's all anyone wanted to talk about. Other than that—zero clue what the plot is about.
I'd love some feedback! What are your thoughts? Show the shark, or keep him underwater? :)