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Like a virgin…

August 16, 2012

“You quoted my song, but I know nothing about this topic.”

I vaguely remember someone’s rules for writing a thriller from a class I took in college. I think they were from W. Somerset Maugham, but when I look up Maugham rules for writing a novel, I find a quote where he says there are three rules, but no one knows what they are.


One of the rules is that there has to be sex. If your protagonist is a teenager, maybe the sex is implied. Maybe the attraction is chaste, the way it can sometimes happen for young people, when a touch is electric and a kiss is unimaginable. But it’s probably there.

In fact, in practically every thriller or mystery except Sherlock Holmes, there’s sex or sexual attraction involved. (I seem to recall one in which the female lead was a nun who was smuggled out of someplace dressed in a skintight wetsuit in a milk tanker, and who left the order to marry the protagonist. Even without the sex, there was sex.)

But maybe the author (it might have been Morris West) was onto something. Maybe it’s not a bad idea for the protagonist to be a virgin.  I mean it happens (see Clavin, Cliff). People–attractive, happening people–sometimes choose not to have sex for long periods of time. Sometimes forever.

Uniformed letter carriers singing Lollipop after sucking helium are SO sexy.

Don’t get me wrong. I like sex as much as the next guy. Noticing the outfits on the women working out in the Insanity helps me concentrate on something other than how thoroughly my butt’s being kicked.

But in a world in which sex is more common in books than it is in most relationships, maybe the best way to build a memorable character is to have that character abstain, but without being a two-dimensional caricature. Maybe the person’s not frigid, not Cliffy, and doesn’t consult Jesus before picking the color of their socks in the morning. Maybe they are the stereotypical church going who casts a dim eye on everything this side of Elvis’s appearance on Ed Sullivan.

Who caused you to look at that spandex-clad butt on the jogging trail? Could it be SATAN?

Maybe they have some valid, appropriate reasons for their choice. And maybe maintaining that choice is enormously important, and amazingly difficult. Maybe it’s cost them a relationship or two. But maybe they maintain their beliefs in spite of the cost.


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