Monday, June 7, 2010

may not be suitable for readers under seventeen

the other night i had the movie heathers playing in the background as i did laundry.

two things became very apparent to me while the film played:
1) it is not nearly as clever, witty or cool as i originally thought when i first saw it as a kid
2) there were things mentioned, portrayed and alluded to in the film that went completely over my head upon my first several viewings because i was a kid.

that isn't to say i didn't know what sex, murder and suicide were, nor was i so innocent (re: naive and gullible) to think i was watching a slightly roughed up john hughes film. but even though i had limited knowledge of such "meaty" subjects, i had enough imagination to make sense of the parts i didn't quite get.
for instance in this scene:

i always thought heather#1 moved out of camera frame to lie down on the ground so she and college guy could have sex and the sound of a zipper unzipping was her taking off her dress.
i did, however, wonder why the college guy closed his eyes instead of looking at the naked girl lying at his feet.
a minute later (i'm referencing the youtube video, not how long it took college guy to finish) heather#1 is in the bathroom looking in the mirror. she fills a glass with some water, takes a sip, then spits the water out at her reflection.
again - as a kid i thought she was just mad at herself for sleeping with college guy. i didn't realize there was a very specific reason why she had the water and spat.

the funny thing is, although i didn't fully understand what was going on in these scenes, it didn't take away from my overall understanding and enjoyment of the film. in fact, i probably would have liked the movie less if they'd been more graphic with the sex.

it can work the same way with novels, especially young adult ones.
i don't believe sexual situations have to be graphic or explicit to get the idea across, or for the reader to "fully" get involved with the characters. it's entirely possible to hint at, allude to, and make innuendo and still convey what needs to be made known.
just like my experience with the movie heathers, creating a certain setting and letting the reader "fill in the gaps" can be just as effective.

at least that's what i'm hoping since i will never be the sort of author who gives a blow by blow *ahem* description of a coupling act.


Dawn said...

Awesome post, Mi. I think about this a lot since a write several genres and question the level of graphic description I want in each genre, whether it is sex or violence. And yeah, I agree about Heathers. But then, that's probably not a surprise :-)

Random Thinker said...

Oh, now I get it.

SkippyMom said...

That is the reason I like books better than films - the ability to use my imagination instead of everything being spelled out in vivid details.

Great post. [as usual ;D] ~SkippyMom~

Creepy Query Girl said...

For me, the most important is the chemistry and sexual tension between the characters- the what COULD happen. I don't describe the sex but there can never be enough passion:)

mi said...

dawn - it's true, different genres can go to different levels when it comes to sex and violence. double ha on our agreement!

random thinker - HA! somehow i think you are more savvy than i was!

skippymom - i agree about liking books better than films!

creepy query girl - very true. chemistry is key!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Interesting post. I never noticed those things in Heathers either, until you pointed them out. But you made valid points here. I don't write YA fiction, but I think that you're right about how it is possible to write those types of scenes without being too explicit. I write chick lit, and that's something I struggle with too; some of the books I've read are fairly "descriptive," and some are less so. I guess it's whatever you feel most comfortable with and what works for you and your story.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I watched Heathers recently, and I had the same reaction. I hadn't seen it in years, and although I was a college student when I first watched it, I was less impressed with the film overall this time around. Right on, though, about how sex scenes can be just as effective with less graphic scenes and more left to the reader's/viewer's imagination.

mi said...

neurotic workaholic - yes, i can totally understand your point about it being a struggle with chick lit. jane green has made eyes go big with shock on more than one occasion (especially a sex scene she wrote that takes place in a bathtub with a bar of soap. every girl i know who read that book had the same reaction: OUCH!!)

nicole ducleroir - isn't funny how different (and not nearly as good) things can seem when you revisit them years later?

Christine Fletcher said...

That's funny, I was just thinking about Heathers the other day. I loved it when I saw it (I was in college) and I'd be interested to see it again.

Perfect illustration of your point...getting across what's happening while leaving details to the reader's imagination. Blow-by-blow rarely, if ever, works for me as a reader, not just w/ sex scenes but also w/ fights or other intense physical interaction. If I'm busy trying to picture exactly what the author is describing in great detail, I find I'm often not in the actual story anymore.

Johnny Rojo said...

I haven't seen "Heathers" since around the time it came out, when I was in my late 20's, but I do remember that I liked it, but it cut a little close for me. My family moved from the city (Chicago) to the suburbs and the people I went to junior high school and high school were awful. I spent a lot of my adulthood shaking these people off. The wonderful friendships I made in college went a long way to tapping off the pain.

In any event, yes, I agree that implied things can be way better than explicit. And I definitely need to go back and rewatch Heathers.

mi said...

christine - i struggle with balancing the amount of detail in my manuscripts. usually i'm not descriptive enough, and i think it's because i REALLY dislike books that describe every petal on every flower, etc.
i am NOT a fan of thoreau!

johnny - is it one of those movies you appreciate, but can't watch often?

Jaydee Morgan said...

I agree with you totally - it doesn't have to be spelled out in explicit detail to understand what's going on, even in YA. The power of imagination is strong - and don't we expect our readers to use their own?

Johnny Rojo said...

That's exactly it. Another one of those is "The Great Santini." I saw it once in the early 80's and it rattled me-- Robert Duvall's character reminded me so much of my father. I may watch it again someday, but I'm not in a big hurry.

Jennifer @ New Shade of Green said...

I loved Heathers as a kid! And after watching the YouTube video I missed all of that as well (zipper, and spitting at mirror).

Unrelated... but I'm reading UGLIES right now and I'm really enjoying it!