It was a typical evening in the Nyquist house. The kids had gone to bed and my wife and I were looking for a new TV show to begin. After a bit of browsing we decided to give Orphan Black a try. The brief synopsis sounded compelling, and within the opening minutes of the story we were fascinated by the potential of the story.
Three quarters of the way into the first episode we turned it off in frustration. Let me explain why.
Sexuality in Our Stories
Usually I shouldn’t write when I am frustrated. Authors are rarely as articulate and accurate when they rant. Frustration doesn’t produce our best written work, but often in frustration we find the genesis for our better ideas.
In full awareness of that; I am frustrated and I am writing.
I am frustrated by this experience because it is one stop on a long line of attempts to find a TV show we can enjoy. Yet, each time we desperately struggle to find a show that does not overwhelm us with excessive sex and nudity. Rather, excessive sex with nudity.
I understand, value, and would advocate for the use of sex in TV drama. Good stories – stories with real “truthy-ness” – necessarily express real life and real emotion – the gut stuff of life. When a writer sits down to create characters and a world for them to inhabit that writer cannot ignore the existence and power of sexuality. Not only does the writer strive to create characters, but the attempt is to create characters with fullness and depth.
Doing so often means reaching into the background of the character’s life – their thoughts, struggles, emotions, and attitudes. If you reach that far into the life of any adult you will find sexuality. Because sexuality is a crucial part of every human. To create a world and characters with real depth and authenticity without sexuality would be – and feel – fake. Is there any quicker way to doom a TV series than to portray fake characters?
Additionally, par for any TV drama includes broken relationships, betrayal, and manipulation. Because sexuality touches humans so deeply, using sex to manipulate or betray is effective and powerful.
Yes, you could write a husband and wife into a divorce because the husband is a workaholic, but the gravitas of the broken relationship weighs upon all viewers if an affair is involved. Even if you have never been through an affair or a divorce, you can grasp the complexity and difficulty of overcoming such a breach.
Sexuality has a place in our stories.
The Mechanics and Art of TV Sex.
But how you tell and show the sexuality is a different question. I will grant that including sex and sexuality in a story is potentially important, or maybe even essential, to creating a compelling narrative.
But do you need to show the backside and chest of every character in order to complete the story?
Writing sexuality into a story is not the same as writing significant nudity into sheets and showers of your characters lives. You can expose the depth of the character in numerous ways without exposing the physical body of the character.
The artists reading this will cry foul, “Do not restrict the methods i use to tell my story.”
But does the display of explicit nudity and sexual activity offer the best means of telling your story? Is it possible you are reaching to tap into the eroticism that draws in viewers who simply want to gawk at your characters bodies in bed?
Do you think its possible that the skin you feel is essential is actually distracting the viewers or overshadowing your story? Is it possible that writing skin into the script will draw the wrong audience and taint your work differently than you want?
Artist, challenge yourself to create a story that is driven by characters, emotion, relationships, passion, without nudity. Use sexuality because it’s a powerful part of life, but don’t use the cheap draw of skin to grab attention.
In the meantime, does anyone have a good show recommendation?