How much is too much? Graphic scenes in books

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

The walls of the castle are building around you. The knights and maids and chefs bustle about as you look up and take in your surroundings. A grand, tiered, golden chandelier sways lightly just as the general comes running in yelling,

“The palace is under attack!” 

You watch the scene unfold in front of you: swords clanging, the main character breathing heavily, the prince’s near abduction. The plot is building, you’re excited, the novel is pulling you in. You had been struggling to get back into reading, but this book? This book was going to change that. And then, (record scratch) the main characters are making out.

Way too passionately.

In fact, they only met approximately two chapters ago. It’s way too intense; you barely even like the characters! All it does is interrupt the flow of the story.

Contemporary literature has a very big problem. 

The line delineating general fiction from romance has begun to blur. 

Series that once would have put focus on cultivating a fascinating story through avid imagery and world building have now begun to focus on where they can stuff smut into the seams of a story, sometimes ripping out plot details in the process. 

The ideas become jilted, the story is interrupted and now you are stuck reading a very, very graphic scene, with far too descriptive imagery. 

Kerri Maniscalco’s “Kingdom of the Cursed” was a decently entertaining gothic thriller novel about the disappearance of a girl’s sister, both of whom are witches hiding in old Italy. 

When her sister’s body is found, frighteningly desecrated, she strives to find her sister’s killer at any cost, including dark magic. Mildly corny, but a generally interesting plot. 

The second book, however, was a shock. Pages into the “Kingdom of the Wicked” is a very graphic scene. 

This was completely contrary to the first book, which had no indications of being a smutty romance novel with fantastical undertones. 

The first book had focused on developing the mystery of her sister, with some instances of romance. This book jumped straight in. 

From the uncomfortable sexual imagery to the peculiar verbiage (the author tries hard to cling onto the historical nature of the setting), the plot is lost. 

The third novel was not even worth reading, as the very first page in the first chapter sets a scene using nudity, snow and boots: a true nightmare.

This is not to say that graphic imagery and sex scenes are akin to bad writing. 

There is nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying a romantic entanglement — graphic or not — in a novel. Even in film and television, some of the most critically acclaimed media is for mature audiences only. 

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s films tend to include nudity and sex, as does the Golden Globe-winning television show “Breaking Bad.” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is almost disturbingly graphic. 

These factors are not an issue until the quality of the story is lost, which is an ailment many modern authors suffer with. 

Low quality writing with incessant sex plagues contemporary literature. Authors like Penelope Douglas, Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry write romance lacking nuance and diversity, resulting in a mediocre read with mediocre characters and mediocre plot development. 

Aside from storytelling, according to The Washington Post, studies show that smut is not that dissimilar to pornography and can spur addictive tendencies. 

Heterosexual graphic scenes, notably, also contain other problems, with unnecessary depiction of nonconsensual acts, focuses on sexually driven power imbalances (such as in the workplace or bully romances) and alpha-male glorification, which all play into misogynistic values and the objectification of women. 

While reading smut might feel like a form of sexual liberation, it may cause more harm than a heightened libido.