Writing Dirty

Recently, someone in a writing group I follow asked for advice on good words to use when writing a sex scene. They got a lot of answers, many of which could be broken down into two categories: strangely clinical* and childish euphemisms. I feel like it all missed the point, though.

Even beginning writers generally know that they need to develop a distinct voice for each character. Failing this, the characters all sound exactly alike and it won’t be believable. A teenager probably shouldn’t sound the same as a fifty-year-old ex-mercenary. Although, if they do, that could be a pretty distinct character voice right there, provided they’re surrounded by people with contrasting speaking styles.

I think the issue when it comes to writing sexy scenes is that people get nervous and stiffen up. (Heh.) They’re afraid they’ll sound silly, or they’re afraid the subject matter itself will spark a negative response, and they want to word it perfectly. It’s also kind of hard to toe the line between a sexy, romantic scene and straight up porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but it may not be what the writer is going for. I’m sure a list of suggestions can be very helpful in this situation, but it won’t do to just pick and choose an array of words that sound good to the writer.

The writer is piloting the characters, and the characters still need to sound like themselves. Even if the story is in third person, it’s best to use words that the POV (point of view) character might use. This draws the reader in and makes them feel close to that character. It sets the tone. There are times when distancing the reader is fine, but a romantic or sexy scene really isn’t one of them. That’s exactly when you want that closeness, so the reader is emotionally invested in what’s going on.

In first person, this is even more vital. The writer absolutely has to choose words that suit the character. It makes no sense for them to switch into a different mode as soon as things start to get steamy. The biker can’t go from cursing the air blue to referring to their partner’s genitals as their “tenderness.” It’s just weird. If the character would use terms that make the author uncomfortable, the author is gonna have to deal with that or wind up creating a very inconsistent narrative. The words should also go together well. Switching tone mid-scene is confusing and will push the reader out of immersion.

So, what would the character say? That’s it. Asking around for inspiration is great, but it all has to be filtered through the character in the end.

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I tried to find more suggestive flowers, but this was the best I could do. I apologize.

 

*  Anatomy tip: The vagina is on the inside and the vulva is on the outside. Unless there’s penetration involved, no one is doing anything to the vagina. I was a little concerned by the number of people who suggested penis and vagina as the only terms any writer really needs for a solid sex scene. For a number of reasons.

 

Wonder Woman and Revisions

I saw Wonder Woman, because of course I did. I’m not gonna go into detail, so there are no spoilers to follow, but I’m not as excited about it as I kinda wish I could be. The thing is, it’s only revolutionary compared to the bulk of really fantastically sexist crap up to now. It’s still good to see, and it’s a step in the right direction, but they could have gone a lot farther. I enjoyed the fight scenes as much as the next person, but there were a lot of points where I wished for a little (or a lot) more boldness and awareness. I feel oddly uncomfortable with the amount of praise it’s getting, even though I understand why it is, because treating a female superhero like a male one shouldn’t be anything other than normal. They still played into the born sexy yesterday trope, so they didn’t even quite treat her like a male superhero, but even if they had. That’s what we should expect every single time, from every single movie. That’s not something we should have to celebrate, and we shouldn’t have to ignore any problematic elements to encourage them to make more. I’m glad I saw it, but I’m sad that basic non-shitty storytelling isn’t common enough that we can just shrug and call it a decent superhero movie with some issues.

I’ll say this again and again. Sexism, racism, ableism, etc are all elements of bad storytelling. We shouldn’t be saying “well, it was a great movie except their female characters were all basically cardboard cutouts with boobs, and the only people of color were evil, as fucking usual.” We should call that a bad movie, because it is both incredibly lazy and harmful to rely on the same offensive stereotypes and narratives. Normalizing equality is important, and while it’s totally understandable that we treat anything that gets even a little bit close as exceptional, it’s still a serious sign of how messed up things are that Wonder Woman is such a huge goddamn deal.

On that uplifting note, I’m still in the midst of revisions, and I’m hoping to be done with them by the end of June so I can stay on track and get Somnolence off to be line edited. We’ll see how realistic that is, but I’m pretty sure that if I give myself more time I’ll get complacent and slack off.

I’m also preparing to buy some ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers.) That’s a whole thing. You need a different ISBN for every version of the book to be published, and the pricing scheme is kind of bizarre. At the moment, one number costs $125 and a batch of 1000 numbers costs… $1500. Bowker is the only source for these numbers in the US, so I guess they can basically do whatever they want. There are also some midrange options, which I’ll be taking advantage of, but the scale is still a bit startling.

That Feeling When

Do you ever find yourself reading a Terry Pratchett book and just getting annoyed because he says things you never knew you wanted to say, and says them in such a casually clever way that it’s almost insulting? That’s been happening to me a lot. The more I write, the more I notice really excellent chunks of writing that beautifully and humorously communicate a complicated idea or feeling. Of course, coupled with that is the awareness of how freaking hard those are to produce and how much my own work falls short, but that’s just how it is.

I got my manuscript back from the editor this week! I’ve been reading through her comments, and we have a call scheduled for next week to discuss her recommendations. It’s pretty cool.

In other news, procrastination is a scary powerful force. I meant to spend a few minutes prettying up my blog page last night, but instead I spent half the night glaring at my screen because nothing is quite right, damnit. It’s still not right, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna spend another minute on it right now. It’s just going to have to sit for a while and think about what it’s done.

I went out and got some fresh air instead. Soon I will go out and get some fresh caffeine, which is even better.

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Questionable life choices selfie.

Don’t Blame the Muse

 

It seems extremely odd to me that handy little lists off of Tumblr, such as this one below, inspire as much ire as they do from members of the writing community. 18557056_1394586123913674_8439391497564996321_n.jpg

Few things seem to piss off some writers more than telling them, even indirectly, that, while they’ve diligently studied the art of creating a solid story arc and researched medieval warfare extensively, their lesbian character might need some serious work to be anything other than a walking cliche. For some reason, every other aspect of writing is craft, and we generally accept that we should work hard on it to improve, but when it comes to characters and world-building, suddenly it’s all down to the ineffable and unquestionable work of the muse.

It’s interesting to note that the aspects of writing which are most rigid and subject to strict judgement are the parts that make it more difficult to succeed if you’ve not had access to an extensive education, you don’t have the funds to hire an editor, or your habitual speech patterns aren’t considered “proper english.” It’s also interesting to note that the areas where creativity and the muse are allowed to reign supreme are the parts that make it easy for those with social privilege to ignore the real experiences of people unlike themselves, while still using their identities as spice for their fiction. This indulgence allows writers to freely rely on lazy stereotypes and racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist narratives because art.

The thing is, the characters who pop into your head are not coming from some magical artistic inspiration. It’s your brain that cooks ’em up, and when they pop into your conscious mind already formed, it was your unconscious expectations and cultural programming that made them what they are. That means that, in spite of all the little details you may change to make them interesting, they’re just different pieces of you and your experience. If your only experience of asexuals is seeing them portrayed as damaged or confused, you’re going to be inclined to default to that tired, harmful trope. This does a disservice to everyone. Stereotypes are boring, they hurt vulnerable people, and they drag down the quality of their creator’s otherwise hard work.

In response to these helpful but oddly controversial lists of suggestions and warnings, the advice I often see is to ignore all that SJW crap and to just write the person first and then basically slap the label you want on top of the personality you’ve created. I think the basic intention here might be good. You don’t want to fall into the trap of making your character’s entire personality revolve around one aspect of their identity. The opposite pitfall, though, lies in the myth of the “real” person hiding underneath all the things that make people unique. Every aspect of every person affects their view of the world, including whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, being able bodied, and all the other default character settings that too often go unchallenged. Yes, we all share a great deal in common and we can draw from that, but there’s an important difference between trying to imagine someone else’s experience so you can empathize with them, and imagining that they’re really just like you underneath all the things that make them who they are. Doing the latter results in characters that have maybe stretched a little, but can’t be much more than reflections of the way you already see the world. Doing the former involves listening to the lived experiences of others and respecting what they say, and it opens up a whole realm of possibilities you literally couldn’t have come up with on your own. That’s where the magic can really happen.

 

Sharing an Unfinished Manuscript With People is an Exercise in Effective Terror Management

It’s probably equally scary to share a finished manuscript with people, but I haven’t had that pleasure yet. Two of my beta readers finished reading last week within a few days of each other, and that’s the first time anyone other than me has read the whole thing through. My readers are super awesome people, and all the feedback I’ve gotten so far as been really constructive and helpful, but I still get this little jolt of panic every time I see an update from one of them.

I feel like this whole process is a crash course in developing stronger confidence, though. Not because anyone has been anything less than helpful so far, but because showing it to anyone when I know it’s nowhere near finished was a pretty difficult step for me. Handing it over to the editor was similarly intimidating, even though it’s literally her job to take unfinished things and help develop them into better things. Every step is gonna be scarier than the last, but that seems like a good thing in the long run. It’s hard to make good art while also being too scared to take risks.

Plus, without the risk it’s not possible to get the super sweet responses that make it feel totally worthwhile.  ❤Screenshot_20170512-174705 2 copy

 

 

Outlining Fun with Scrivener

While I wait for Somnolence to come back from the editor, I’m working on some older projects. At the moment, I’m organizing a story that I started during national novel writing month a few years ago. I did get to around 50,000 words only to discover that I actually had two books worth of story on my hands, and I had only written about half of each of them.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while, now. It has tons of features, many of which I’m sure I haven’t figured out yet. At the moment, I’m using it for outlining the material I’ve already produced and filling in the blank spaces. It allows me to make a virtual cork-board and to organize my plot points on it as little index cards. It’s pretty cute, and it works nicely.

Behold, this beautiful sample creation.Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 10.54.57 PM

*Obviously, I don’t own these lyrics. They’re from Crazy Ex Girlfriend, which is the hilarious creation of Rachel Bloom. I watch a lot of TV. Like, a lot. Too much.

My Favorite Writing Vloggers

I’ve come across some really great writing vloggers (video bloggers) while wasting time on Youtube, so I thought I’d share them. Honestly, no source of writing information has been as helpful to me as these videos. They’re encouraging, educational, and it’s really easy to absorb the information and remember it. It’s great to be able to put on a video and soak up awesome writing goodness while doing the dishes, and watching one or two before sitting down to write helps me get in the right headspace. Plus, it usually cheers me up if I’m feeling floppy and unmotivated.

  1.  Jenna Moreci‘s videos are just really fun to watch. She’s funny, and she has great writing tips that I’ve found incredibly helpful. She’s also very blunt and honest. I think that creative types often need a kick in the pants more than sympathy, so I appreciate her no-nonsense approach; it’s generally what I need when I’m goofing off. Here is her great advice for getting over writer’s block. Her self-published YA sci-fi series, starting with Eve: The Awakening, looks really great. I have a copy sitting on my shelf but haven’t had time to read it yet, which makes me sad. I’m also really excited for her upcoming fantasy book, The Savior’s Champion.
  2.  Kim Chance is a total sweetie. She recently got a publishing deal for her book Keeper, and she offers a lot of support for people who are interested in traditional publishing. Her videos are super cute and heartwarming, and she also has great general fiction-writing advice. She teaches english, so she’s there for your grammar needs, too. Here is her video on giving your book a strong start, with lots of great info about what to do and what not to do in first chapters.
  3.  Kristen Martin‘s writing vlog is full of really detailed, really clear information, and she also has a cool personal vlog where she shares some of her daily life, including how she finds general balance and a healthy approach to her writing. A lot of writing sources romanticize stress, so it is really refreshing to see someone who really cares about feeling good and taking care of herself while pursuing her goals.  Here is her video on her writing process and how she gets her first drafts done in about two months, which is totally hardcore. Her self-published YA sci-fi series, starting with The Alpha Drive, looks really cool. She also offers first chapter critiques for a reasonable fee. She critiqued the first chapter of Somnolence, which was incredibly helpful and encouraging.
  4.  Bookish Pixie, also known as Ava Jay, is also traditionally published. She offers advice about that process, plus a bunch of general fiction tips and tricks. Here is her video on writing fight scenes, which can be really difficult to get right. She started pursuing her writing goals very young, and has worked incredibly hard. I think her videos would be especially encouraging for younger writers, although I still get a lot out of them. She wrote Beyond the Red, another cool sci-fi novel.

There are a ton of really informative writing vlogs out there, so I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to just search around on Youtube, because there’s almost certainly someone making videos that are perfect for your needs. And if not, you could always take it up yourself and help others while building an audience. 🙂