In my other life, I have recently switched jobs and work hours, and I am still getting my balance when it comes to routines. Routines for writing, for blogging, for sleeping. I have been a bit less active here than usual–the life change is why. Working on getting better protocols in place. In the meantime, real writing has precedence the few moments I am managing to sit down at my computer with even a fragment of concentration.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
Or, Revisions, Ahoy, and This Sailor Can’t Wait
II had to go back to the opening of my novel-in-progress for a name reference yesterday, and ended up reading back a fair bit of it. Not all of what I’ve written, but maybe a third or so. I had already identified some revision points—the first scene will have to be reworked, because the heroine’s motivation is extremely muddled (it was muddled in my head when I wrote it, but I figured later events might clarify her choices and I was right), and the inciting incident of sexy times needs to be rewritten completely because attempt number one was boring (entirely possible, I do assure you!). So I knew already that I was going to have to do significant remodeling in at least a couple areas, but reading back the opening today really gave me some clarity about what direction the revisions need to take.
I realized I’m actually really looking forward to going back and fixing the parts I didn’t get quite right the first time, and sharpening the words and scenes of all of it into a more streamlined and incisive form. When I’m drafting I tend to use more qualifiers than I really need, and I tend to let the dependent clauses pile on and pile on until the original thought is more covered than a mummy, and I like to repeat words and details too much, and I do a bit more telling than I would like, and I let scenes run a bit long and therefore leave in too many parts “people tend to skip.”
I’m far enough from the writing of my opening that many of those issues were also clear to me today, and I am genuinely looking forward to pulling out my editrix claws and letting the red ink bleed. I am also looking forward to being able to read my story back to myself in a form that is not mostly-good and mostly-fitted-to-my-aesthetic but unqualifiably good, because it embodies my aesthetic.
This realization is actually a sharp motivator for me to finish up the rough draft. When I look forward to the next step, it helps me work with more efficiency through the current one.
Or, The Catch-22 of Writing Sex Scenes
Writing sex scenes is harder than you might think.
Let me qualify that statement: writing good sex scenes is harder than you think. I don’t mean “scenes of good sex” but “good scenes of sex”–yes, there is a difference, and, yes, a sex scene can be good even though the sex in it is not.
What do I consider a good sex scene? A bedroom rumpus that is:
1. Hot – a sex scene is only successful if it makes my lady parts react.
2. Based on characters involved – sex scenes can very easily become tedious–after all, there are not that many different ways to do it, and if you’re an adult with an active sex life you’ve probably done most of them already. Literally the only thing that can be unique about a sex scene (except for the first few times you read them, when you’re 12 and sneaking your mom’s romance novels) is the specific experience of those specific characters.
3. Honest – “Inspired” might be another word for what I mean here. I have found in my own writing that the only times sex scenes work when I read them back later is if they are based in one of my actual fantasies. Usually written when I am in the midst of creating the fantasy–written on an inspiration.
Which creates the catch-22 of writing (and then publishing) sex scenes: either you write a bad sex scene and have to suffer the embarrassment of having published it, or you write a good one and have to suffer the embarrassment of publicly sharing one of your most private fantasies.
I am not talking about shame here–I don’t feel ashamed of my sexuality–but simply the desire all of us have to keep some experiences private. I don’t need my co-workers looking at me and knowing what gets me hot when I masturbate or the details-changed-to-protect-privacy version of a great bout of sex I had with my husband (last week’s How I Met Your Mother episode got into that, with Marshall and Lily having no stories to tell that aren’t about each other and thus TMI for their friends).
Conversely, I have the human urge to share experiences and the writer’s rejection of limiting what I share only to certain “acceptable” aspects of my life. Writing should be one of the only forums in which a person can operate away from the Satrean “bad faith” and simply be honest. That honesty makes you feel vulnerable and exposed. It is also what draws readers in and makes your words and your story resonate.
So why not, as an author, simply skip writing the sex scenes in the book, as many veteran romance fans will say that they do when reading? Because omitting that experience (in cases where the characters have sex in the story–I’m not talking about romance novels where the love is unconsummated until after the final page) is equally in bad faith with offering a fake experience. If the point of romance novels is to explore love, the process of falling into it and the experience of it in all its shapes and forms and colors, then to omit the sexual experience from that narrative is to imply that sex is not a part of loving.
I am not saying it’s the only part, but it certainly is a part. For example, the first time I felt from my now-husband the sort of tender cherishing that comes only from love was during sex…when we were making love one last time before he went away for a summer, maybe six months into our relationship. The other times we’d had sex we’d had sex; that night we were making love. Nine years later I still remember that night, and that feeling between us as a promise we made long before we said the words “I love you” to one another. If we had not had that particular sex with one another, perhaps we wouldn’t have had enough to hold onto during a summer apart. So there’s a piece of direct experience from my life that says sex matters in courtship and love. Therefore, if I am writing about the full scope of falling in love, for those characters who have sex in the part of their story I am telling, then I am going to share their experiences because the sex informs the story.
And if I’m writing the sex at all, then I am writing it honestly.
In my view there is nothing in between writing honest sex and writing in bad faith sex that, by virtue of its inauthenticity and careful construction, fails to accomplish the one thing a sex scene should accomplish: to make the reader feel engaged by the experience of the characters as if it were their own experience.
In the end, I would be less embarrassed at sharing my honest experience of the world than either propagating cultural myths about female sexuality or writing such bad sex scenes that everyone who reads it thinks “Well, no wonder she writes romance novels: the poor woman obviously doesn’t get what she needs at home.”
As an addendum: If you really want to know how bad bad sex in romance novels can get, I direct you to the Tumblr whose name says it all–Twatspert. Fair warning: There be dragons.
Or, The Mushy Middle
My second-favorite analogy for writing a piece of fiction is swimming across a wide river.
When you start, you’re enthusiastic about the challenge you’ve taken on, and from the bank of the river you can see how far you have to go, and you think, it’s not that far. By the time you get near the end, you’ve come too far to turn back, and your enthusiasm has returned because the end of the trial is in sight. But in the middle, when you can’t see the other side of the river anymore, when you’re still closer to the place you started than to the place you’re trying to go, moving forward is hard. Harder than it should be. Hard because you know there’s still so far to go, and you’re already tired. Hard because you’re not quite sure where you are anymore, so you don’t know if swimming forward will actually take you toward your destination. That feeling of being lost is frightening, and its accompanying sense of helplessness is paralyzing. The swimmer panics; the writer abandons the project.
My favorite analogy? “The best way out of hell is through the other side.”
I am nearing the end of my first novel. In 10 years of writing, I have started more novels than I can remember and finished none of them. I would get about 20-30,000 words in and hit this wall I simply could not get past. I would second-guess the beginning and start from scratch and then finally give up on the project and move on…only to do the same thing again. And again.
About a year and a half ago, to figure out what was misfiring in my writing process, I tried writing in microcosm—novelettes and novellas. In my practice shorts, I hit the same pattern, except I could force myself through the middle because I only needed a few thousand words to finish the story.
And I found a new pattern: once I got into the part of the story where events were wrapping up into the conclusion, the writing became easy again.
This revelation made it clear that for me, the middle is the problem…and that is a huge problem, because the middle is where the events that make the ending inevitable occur. That mushy middle third is the part of the story where the story actually happens.
The middle of a story is my writing hell, but it cannot be skipped because the events of the end depend upon the events of the middle. The middle causes the end; what happens in the middle makes the ending inevitable, and there is no ending if those events do not take place. The only option for completing a piece is to write through the middle—to write my way through to the other side of hell.
So, if I am finally finishing a novel, how have I managed it this time?
I wish I could say that knowing my weak spot gave me conviction and determination to get through it. The truth is less glamorous: I didn’t start writing until I had an outline for the entire story.
The difference I had found in writing shorts, you see, was clarity. With my earlier novels I’d had only where the story started and where it ended up—with the shorter pieces I knew everything that happened in between. That certainty was my compass in the river to tell me which way to swim.
I am happy to report that the compass is just as effective in a wider river. Or should I say a deeper circle of hell….
Read the post at amwriting here.
The quote above is a paraphrase of Lady Heather on CSI on what I believe is her last appearance on the show, after she has become a licensed psychologist. She spoke it in the context of romantic relationships, but I have come to the conclusion that the insight is equally apt for friendships.
The ending of a friendship is an underexplored topic in art and fiction. I think because we tend to be polyamicable, the disintegration of any single friendship is not as culturally fascinating as the death of a monogamous sexual love, even though it’s a phenomenon we have all experienced…possibly more than the other. Sometimes it is a mutual drifting away, other times one person intentionally shuts off contact, other times one person inadvertently pushes the other away. As an individual you can at one time or another play each of those roles. I have, on several occasions in all of those ways. Yet I rarely see this theme outside of YA and children’s literature. Do friendship break-ups really stop being something worth talking about once we pass childhood?
Or does discussing them threaten the easy platitudes of friendship in our culture to such an extent that we must all simply perpetuate the lie, when the truth is that a friendship that can last a lifetime is almost as rare as that love–and the only reason it seems “almost as rare” is because we allow ourselves to test more than one friendship at once.
Or, Changing Your Mind Isn’t Quite As Good As Not Trying to Ban Legal Fiction to Begin with, But I Respect Your Decision to Learn from Mistakes and Applaud Your (New) Support of Free Speech
Since I pretty furiously called PayPal out for trying to ban legal fiction they deemed “obscene” here, I wanted to call attention to the fact that they have reversed this decision vis a vis Smashwords (and hopefully other ebook retailers, as well). This was the correct decision. There is no reason to ban FICTIONAL DEPICTIONS of legal behavior, however distasteful it might be to someone.
So, props for changing your mind. Thank you for supporting uncensored speech and the freedom of authors to write and sell, and readers to buy and consume (enjoy or otherwise!), any (legal) product they desire.
This is not another post about romance heroes masturbating. This is a post about Japanese art and its long and proud tradition of tentacle porn. I found the following image in a book titled something like The Pillow Tale, and other erotic stories:
As you can see, this is tentacle porn. As you may not perhaps see, it is from 1814. Allow me to zoom in.
See that date? That says 1814. So all those Regency heroes who had well-traveled friends (or were themselves travelers) or just had memberships to clubs where men who traveled congregated? Probably saw this very image and a dozen others besides.
We might make fun of the ole tentacle monster rape scenes that show up in manga now, but it’s just part of a long and glorious tradition on the island nation of Japan.
And I am sure that at least some of my heroes knew about it.