How "real" do you like it?

Friday, July 17, 2009
I know, it's been a while since I've written. Been swamped in a good way! And on Monday, July 20th, "Hell's Bells," the second book in the Good Will Ghost Hunting series, is coming from Lyrical Press.

Today's question is pitched out to readers and writers alike, because I'm interested in hearing from both sides of the fence on this one. It's inspired by a couple of things: one, a posting on a bulletin board I haunt on occasion, and two, by two recent reviews I just received. (Good ones, thank god!)

Those of you who are familiar with my "alter ego," Tymber Dalton, know that Tymber's writings are much more intense not just erotically, but emotionally in many ways. Especially the BDSM genre writing. Now, I pride myself not just on researching a story to the best of my ability (when it's based on real-life issues/situations) but writing what is dictated by the characters, not just plotting an outline and shoving my characters into it. One writer posted that they only focus on the "darker" (meaning negative) aspects of BDSM because they couldn't imagine why someone would willingly be in the lifestyle. At least, that's the impression I got after reading their post several times and then closing my gaping jaw.

The two reviews I (I mean Tymber) just received for "Domme by Default" (Lyrical Press) were amazing, talking about how realistic the characters were, how emotional the stories were, et cetera.

I mean, I know some writers who write BDSM erotica aren't into the lifestyle at all, and that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that (as long as they aren't erroneously portraying the lifestyle in a negative way). I do know a few erotica writers who are into the lifestyle, and some who aren't, but they're friends with people who are and do extensive research. And the way they write shows that veracity of emotion you don't normally see in what I've dubbed "fluffy bunny BDSM" stories where an Alpha hero spanks the heorine and it's called BDSM.

As a writer, I would be totally embarrassed if I didn't research, talk to people, learn as much as I reasonably could about a topic, have a manuscript vetted by experts in the field, on and on. As a reader, I want to trust that -- yes, EVEN in erotica -- a writer has done their fieldwork to the best of their ability and didn't just spend five minutes on Wikipedia.

Maybe I'm making too big a deal about this, but to me it's a matter of pride that if I'm writing about a submissive or Dominant's journey through a serious life issue, I want to make sure I have my story as real as it can be. Again, donning the reader's hat, I don't want to stumble across something that yanks me out of the story and proves to me the writer doesn't know their ass from their hat and have totally flown by the seat of their pants hoping no one would notice. (I've dubbed this the, "write more sex and they'll forget I flubbed it" syndrome.) It doesn't do a writer any good to pull me into a fantasy world if they drop me on my head in the middle of the story and make me scream WTF??? when I stumble across proof that they were too lazy (or maybe too embarrassed?) to do good research and preparation.

It also bothers me that a writer would use a story that erroneously portrays a lifestyle simply because of their own prejudices. Yes, it's fiction, I get that. But to me as a reader, I feel that's a breach of trust. I don't do that to my readers, I let them draw their own conclusions. There's a major difference between skewing in favor of a particular point of view and total blatant misrepresentation, in my opinion.

So readers, how much reality DO you want? Do you simply want a good yarn, or do you care if the writer flubs it on occasion? Writers, have you ever been guilty of "MSU" (making sh*t up) because you didn't do the research? And on the flip side, what do you do to research the more difficult stories you don't have any experience with? (I'm not talking vampires and outer space stories, although feel free to talk about that too.)

I'd love to hear from both sides of the fence on this. Feel free to chime in!

4 reader comments:

  1. She said...:

    I am a reader only. I like reality in what I read. If you want me to understand a certain lifestyle, do your research. That's how I learn about things not on my radar. If you are writing historical fiction you wouldn't dream of making things up. You'd do your research because you will be called on misinformation. Do the same when you're talking about a lifestyle. Maybe it's not a lifestyle I would want to follow but then again maybe your book might make me interested enough to check it out and research more on my own. If you want to make something up, then stay out of lifestyle genres, and go with general non-erotic fiction or sci-fi fantasy where you make up the rules of your universe.

  1. If there's something I absolutely hate it's how some authors misrepresent the goth scene as something that is "bad" or "dangerous" or something "uninformed" people get into.

    Being a fly on the wall here at my local underground scene, and knowing people who are experts in rope-tying and who do participate in BDSM, I know they're also ordinary people with real life jobs.

    People may consider what these folks do as "kinky" or "twisted" but there's an element of trust that goes into it that I find tends to be overlooked.

    As a writer, reader and editor I like it when the story takes a turn for the grittier and it must be kept real lest it makes me remember that I'm reading a book.

    I want to empathise with the characters. I must believe in their motivations and these must ring true. I don't necessarily have to AGREE with their motivations but these have to be absolutely clear.

    I don't like sex or play for the sake of having those elements there. There must be a realistic build-up to the sequence in question.

  1. She: Very well said, and I totally agree! That's why I approach my stories the way I do.

    Nerine: I completely agree with you. I hadn't even thought about the goth element since I don't write about it, but you're exactly right. And regarding the trust, what a lot of the "fluffy bunny BDSM" stories totally miss is the underpinning trust dynamic of a true BDSM relationship. It starts in the psychological, not the physical. And as far as the sex, I actually took flack from a couple of people for not having the heroes actually sleep with the heroine until 1/3 of the way through the book in "Love Slave for Two," but most everyone else agreed it was the right way to write it because it was true to the characters and story.

  1. I think some writers can weave believable stories about topics they aren't experts in. (think how many females write m/m romance!) Then again, you're looking at audience issues. Since a great number of m/m romance readers are women, they're less likely to call the writer out on a gaffe. Are the BDSM readers people who are active in the lifestyle, or are they folks who fantasize about it? Real-lifers are probably going to want more gritty details, whereas the fantasizers are going to want the sugar-coated sexy version, at least in my opinion.
    Personally, I tend to write what I know. I once spent a month researching time travel for a book I was writing, have taken trips to places I set my stories, and I learned to meditate for a novel, too.