Thursday, April 28, 2011

Presenting my case for not making your sex scenes graphic unless the genre is erotica

I took part in an interesting conversation on Absolute Write yesterday. Someone asked whether or not they risked losing readers by making the MC gay.

First, I'd say that introducing the element of sex in the slightest will carve away potential readers, as will not introducing any, because some element of sex and love is big to many people. The second a character is identified as gay or straight, you risk losing the readers who don't want to read about either one or the other of those. And it's not just people who are bigoted against gays or on a gay crusade. Your job as the writer is to try to drop the reader into the fictive dream, that state of mind in which the reader loses himself in the book, loses touch with his surroundings, and for all intents and purposes becomes the MC.

The moment it happens, the reader feels what the MC feels. Wants what the MC wants. Now, there will be varying degrees to which a reader is willing to become someone who thinks in a sexual way about someone they would not themselves be interested in. Straight men will want the MC to want women. Straight women will want the MC to want men. Gay guys will want the MC to want men. Agreed?

Most people, I believe (no research was done to come to this conclusion) will tolerate an MC who does not want what they want, as long as the narrative and dialogue don't get too graphic. In my case, I can read a book with a woman as the MC written in her POV, and I have no problem if she embraces a man, if they kiss, things along those lines. But as soon as the POV character does something that gets graphic such as rubbing the guy's crotch and grabbing his hard on, it drops me out of the fictive dream. My mind's hand wants to pull away. I don't want a guys dick in in my hand. It's instinct. For all intents and purposes, it ruins the book for me. I put it down. I don't go on to tell my friends what a great book it was. Word of mouth does not promote the book.

It's a fine line. I don't know of anyone who doesn't love the gay guys in Four Weddings and a Funeral. But it never got graphic. People loved the sitcom Ellen. They didn't mind knowing she was a lesbian, and enjoyed the show. Then she kissed a woman, and the show lost a portion of the audience. It may be a portion of the audience she couldn't care less about anyway, but ratings dropped. There are consequences to showing sexuality. If you're willing to accept losing that portion of prospective clients because you feel the need to make some sort of a stand or want to make your work realistic in some way, more power to you, but understand that no amount of political correctness training will change the physiological responses in the brain of the reader. They can't help but react the way they will react. It's wired into their nature. It's no more a choice than being gay is a choice.

I have a confession, I would like to make money by selling what I write some day. There, I said it. I have no nobler reasons for writing. I have no political agenda. I have no social agenda. That means I want the biggest audience I can get. The second you get graphic with a sex scene, you WILL lose readers. Now, you may also make the book better for those who share the MC's sexual orientation, but probably not for as many of those as you may think.

Think long and hard before you get graphic.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Let us bow our heads

Wait, let me dry my eyes. Today we mourn the passing of a subplot. I loved that sub plot. It was fun. It was tender. Unfortunately it strayed too far from the primary plot and and was run over last night by the wicked inner editor. Damn it. I think I'll save the corpse and see if I can resurrect it in some future work.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jump in and get your feet wet and make mistakes like Edison

I like that picture of me and dad because we're actually getting along there. When I was choosing my major at the University of Pittsburgh, I didn't know what I wanted to study. Dad held mining engineers in high regard and thought there was a good future in the profession, so that's what I selected. I knew it was a mistake about two weeks after the first semester started, and when you combine that with my drinking and tail chasing, you can deduce the results without seeing the report cards.

After three drunken disastrous semesters, I dropped out for a year and came back as a psych major with a heavy load of English courses. I still drank and chased tails, but I did far better.

I've never regretted those first three semesters, not only because the drunken debauchery was tons of fun, but because it taught me what I didn't want to do with my life. Similarly, writers should never regret a year or two "wasted" writing something that doesn't pan out, maybe something in a genre they realize along the way they're not necessarily interested in. You always learn things along the way, even when it doesn't pan out, and end up with a cleared picture of what your skills and interests intersect.

p.s. I'm up to level 6 on the chess program, but I've lost 41 consecutive games with 2 draws at that level. I think I'm going to have to get myself smarterer to go to the next level.

p.p.s. Chapter 4 is done, and chapter 5 is going great. Should be done this week. I'm getting excited just getting that far. By the time I ge to the epilogue, I'll be whining and pissing on the rug like a dog that hasn't seen its master in a week. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing and chess

Eastern Europeans pride themselves on being good chess players. I'm Eastern European, so naturally I suck. But I used to really suck. The laptop the wife bought me has a chess game on it, ten levels of difficulty. I haven't played since I was a kid, and even then I didn't play much, though I enjoyed it when I did.

The machine starts you out on level 2 which is one notch above persistent vegetative thinkers. I started out losing for the first couple days, then I had to go up a level to get a good game, and recently I went up to level 4. Still not Boris Spasky by any stretch, but after getting really ticked off because I couldn't beat the machine at level 4, I checked out a couple games, recounts of historic matches, and I could tell right away why I was getting into trouble. Now I'm beating level 4 and thinking of moving up.

It's startling how similar the experience is to writing, although, the act of writing is far more complex and takes much longer to move up the rungs. Practice anything and you'll get better. And when you reach a level and can't seem to figure out how to take the next step up, it doesn't hurt to check out how the masters did it.

And I bet you thought this would be another guy telling you about moving the protag and counter moving with the antag, etc...

p.s. In case anyone's wondering, the picture is a closeup of a rook. Duh.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Last night I got tired of revisions. When that happens, I like to twirl titles around in my head. I must have a list of fifty at this point, ranging from esoteric titles to "Big Tits on Display" which would help get the book picked up off the shelves. It's irritating that I keep coming back to the same sets of words rearranged, and nothing seems to hit it just right. I wanted a title which would convey the essence like Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but they all come out sounding like, well, like Heart of Darkness. He stole my title, the bastard. Oh well.

Still haven't finished chapter four revisions. I revise these chapters until I can get through reading it once all the way through without changing anything. I think it's getting close, but so far away.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The plane in the picture is Glamorous Glennis, the one Chuck Yeager flew to first break the sound barrier. It never actually took off from the ground, rather it was hauled up by a modified bomber to get it to a high altitude so it wouldn't have to expend rocket fuel just to get airborne. It was released and the rockets were shot off, and from there Yeager took his historic ride.

I liken a lot of the books being sold today to that style of storytelling. The story starts when the vehicle is already up there and it rockets from there. I thought about going that route, but opted for the roller coaster style of story, where the reader starts on the ground and gets six chapters of slowly going up that first rise, looking down, knowing a ride is coming. Then, in chapter seven, the reader crests the hill and away he goes. Well, it's not quite like that in the first six chapters, there's tension and even a corpse, but it's definitely a buildup.

Hopefully I'll never have to change the beginning to move the faster pace up toward the front of the book. I'll resist with all my might. They say to tell the story the best way you know how, and this is the best way for me. Of course, ultimately, if it comes down to changing it to see it published or leaving it to see it sit, I'll change. I won't clutch to it like it's my child. I can see starting the story with chapter seven, but then it wouldn't be as rich. I think the first six give it its backbone. If I was describing the difference, I'd say that with the first six chapters in there, the book is a science fiction novel, but start it at seven and it becomes a techno thriller. Frankly, I'm tired of techno thrillers. They're typically shallow. I want it to be a science fiction novel. If nobody buys it up, and I print some copies for myself via some self-publishing firm, this is the form it will take.

It's funny, after all the crap I've read over the last few years about how a book should be written, where the story should start, etc...I ended up writing the thing that feels natural to me and my instinct.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tracks of the mind

On the way to work this morning, it finally occurred to me what was bothering me about chapter four. I needed a better motive for a character. The new motive is something I remember coming up in conversation with the wife while we were cooking one day, but I couldn't say whether it was yesterday or twenty years ago, nor could I say with certainty that I'm the one who thought of it in the first place. I wonder, does that mean I'll have to credit the wife if by some miracle this thing's ever published? Nah, she'll never remember.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Struggling to reel in chapter four

As easy as chapter two and tree were, chapter four is turning out to be a bear. It's a bit of back story introduction that's at issue. Luckily it's revealed in dialogue, but it's still back story. At this point, it feels like a reeking roadside toilet with the scent slightly masked by some air freshener. I need to turn it into a classy toilet with a valet and marble walls and brass fixtures.

Fucking back story, it sounds good when it first comes out, you get all happy that you have motives for the characters, that there's a glue tying events together, then you read it back and even if the thing's interesting, it still reads like the instructions on a box of spaghetti. There are a lot of things that are difficult about writing, but telling back story in such a way that the reader actually reads it and doesn't skim over it to get to the "good" parts is definitely near the top of the list. If the reader skims over this part, 10% of the story will be lost. I'm thinking of turning religious, just to get all the help I can get.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writing while deprived

So, it's been a while since the wife and I rolled around under the sheets. Nothing wrong, just haven't been on the same page lately.

There's one scene in my WIP that gets a little naughty, and I find that, when it's been a while for me and the wife, I tend to want to refine that scene, go over it time and time again, just to make sure it's right. Odd, don't you think?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chapters two and three done

Time for another small party. Chapters two and three have been ironed out. My problem at this point is that I'm so immersed in the story that I'm not sure how smoothly the plot points will come across the page. No way to know until someone else reads it. Three chapters in and only one corpse so far. I'm not sure that's enough for today's reader, but it'll have to do for now.

The system I've devised seems to be working. The collected fragments that come to me during my commute or at the grocery store that get put on the tape and later transcribed are similar enough and adhere to the theme closely enough that I don't think it'd be as jarring jumping from one to the next as I had feared. Obviously, some of the transitions are taking far more work than others, but I'm happy with what's born in those moments that I'm laying the mortar that holds the bricks together. In fact, I don't think I could have effectively written these transitions before I was this familiar with the story and characters.

I've settled on the names of two more of the characters. Alas, the protagonist's name is still up in the air.

Two more chapters and then the players are unleashed on the distant planet.