Writing About Touchy Subjects: Nudity

Sometimes writers encounter topics that can be tricky or even embarrassing to deal with. Subjects that I was always taught growing up did not belong in polite conversation. Yet, for the sake of the narrative we are putting forth, it is often necessary to push through somehow, lest we lose something in our attempts to avoid these sensitive areas. For the next three posts, I will proceed to discuss those topics I myself have had to deal with on occasion, what I did to make them work, and what I specifically avoided doing. I shall begin with the one I as a naturist author am most familiar with: nudity.

The first thing that one must recognize when dealing with this topic is the difference between sensuality and sexuality. Sexuality is the obvious no-holds-barred interaction between two (sometimes more) individuals that seems to be a desirable element for great love stories and smutty dime novels alike nowadays, and can take place with varying degrees of intensity. Sensuality is generally more subtle, and as the term implies, it usually involves the use of several or all of the five senses. It can be linked to sexuality through some degree of suggestiveness (the most common idea of sensuality, no doubt), but it can also be something much more innocent.

What purpose nakedness serves in your writing will depend (as usual) on: 1) genre and 2) audience. The younger your audience, the more you have to really think about whether or not it’s absolutely necessary to include such elements. For middle grade readers and below, you probably want to keep it at an absolute minimum, and as far from the sexual side as possible. For young adults, you can probably get away with more skin showing, especially for the upper grade range. For any age group above that, of course, you’re pretty much free to do as you will, though keep in mind that books targeted at certain groups probably shouldn’t include too much either. There’s a big difference between writing an article for a nudist magazine and writing an article for your school newspaper.

Maybe the most important thing to keep in mind in fiction is the purpose for your characters’ being naked, and thus the amount of emphasis you place on it. If they’re simply stripping down to go to bed for the night or for taking a bath, you probably needn’t give it any more than casual mention, if that. Just mention they’re getting undressed for the night or something like that. If, on the other hand, your emphasis is on the experience of being naked (in an unusual environment, for instance), then you’ll probably want to go into more sensory details regarding what they hear, see, and above all feel–the tactile sense is essential. If a spiritual element is involved, you may want to include details of what’s going on in their heart and mind at that moment as well. And then, of course, when you want them to get down and dirty in your story, it’s hard to avoid mentioning the undressing phase–particularly if you get down to describing some of the gory details.

Then, of course, there are the rare instances where there’s no need to mention it because clothing simply isn’t a factor. Obviously most animal stories don’t have this inhibition, but there may be other instances as well: writing nonfiction on anatomy or general biology, for example. You may also find yourself in the rare position of writing about naturism, or else fiction involving a naturist society. In this case, you can take two approaches: either place heavy emphasis on the fact that these characters are not clothed, or just ignore the fact altogether (i.e. let the reader figure it out along the way).

That’s all I really have to say about writing on nudity. It’s probably not the most controversial topic to write about or include in your stories, depending on how and why you go about it, but there is still a need to proceed with care. Next time, I’ll deal with a topic that’s a little more delicate: religion.

Until then, you may be interested in checking out my new novel, Knights of Aralia Book I: Remnants of Light, now available on pre-order from several e-tailers! This book has been a very long time coming, and happens to be related to today’s topic, so if you liked this post, be sure to give it a look.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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