Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Whatever Turns You On

Never a week goes by that I’m not reminded of the challenge of writing fiction with any kind of erotic element. Unfortunately, sex is an arena that is more individually personalized than any other aspect of psychology. What turns one person on can not only do nothing for another, it may actually turn that person off.

We are aroused by different circumstances, different environments. We all have particular “types,” and may or may not share them. Finding common ground can be very difficult, and forget about finding someone exactly like you. Is there anyone other than me out there who is attracted to the same set of men I have blogged about here (say, Admiral Adama, Mr. Tumnus, Survivorman Les Stroud AND Jim Halpert from “The Office”)? Anyone who worships (chastely of course) John Williams while also lusting after an assortment of hockey players? Anyone who loves sex scenes but is no fan of C-words? How about anyone who enjoys the occasional “movie for mommies and daddies who love each other,” but finds the usual erotic book cover—naked torso of ripped guy—completely unappealing?

Anybody out there scoring 100% with me? Didn’t think so!

Okay, here’s a good example of how very particular we can be about our arousal triggers. A number of years ago I read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, because I was a big fan of her vampire books and also liked reading erotica. For those unfamiliar, these three books are intensely S&M in character. I’m not saying they aren’t well written, and I’m sure hold great appeal for many in the D/s community, but they were not especially erotic to me…more icky, actually.

However, I’ve always been very intrigued by dominance and submission. Taken to a certain degree, it’s one of my biggest turn-ons. I’ve read a couple of the current popular authors in the D/s genre, and while the sex scenes were too extreme to me, I did find the elements at play very interesting. Meanwhile the D/s movie “Secretary,” with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, was one of the hottest things I’ve ever seen. And I had a wonderful time writing my novella “The Scarlet Shackle,” although the content was not acceptable to my publisher at that time (it’s now offered by the Living Beyond Reality Press READ FREE Project, if you are interested). It is very mild D/s, but has appealed to many over the past couple years and even been endorsed by a popular D/s website. See? Some hate it, some love it.

My point is, even on this one issue—dominance and submission—there is a spectrum, and a person falls into a very narrow band upon that spectrum. The D/s fiction I enjoy may be horrifying to you, or far too tame. Ditto every other approach to sex.

It’s for this reason that I’ve hesitated to leave behind the short story/novella fiction length. I’m always hopeful that by including three to twelve tales in a book, so that even if the reader isn’t crazy about one, hopefully they will enjoy another. I know this from experience, from buying erotic anthologies over the years: there’s one or two stories in the book that are really arousing, and the rest will probably just be interesting, with one or two clunkers in there that just do nothing for me at all.

But a person can make herself crazy trying to write original, interesting fiction that includes sex. Is there enough, or too much? Will it be hot enough for people who demand “dirty words,” while not turning off the more sensitive? If I make the hero the computer geek sort of guy I’m attracted to, will I lose 95% of my audience immediately? If he’s nice will the bad boy lovers hate him; if he’s bad will he lose the reader’s sympathy?

And you wouldn’t believe what an issue it becomes even deciding if the label “erotic” is appropriate!

Long story short, fiction is no substitute for individual imagination. When a person invents a sexual fantasy for herself, it is custom-made. But when that person opens a romance book, unless it’s very formulaic and that reader is way into that formula, it becomes a total crap shoot. Naturally I write what arouses me. Whenever I get into an argument with myself about how much a particular passage or story is going to arouse someone else, I’m lost in the quicksand in no time. You just can’t even shoot for that goal.

Although I’m getting the impression if I wrote about some office guy who looked just like Jim Halpert, an awful lot of you would like it!


WilloWisp said...

This is a very interesting post and something I grapple with as a reader and writer. I'm partial to the occasional erotic scene but don't like smut. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one.

Diana Laurence said...

Thanks, Willowisp, for the post...I think a lot of people feel as we do!