A few weeks ago, I wrote about a particular Free Write Friday picture prompt (Free Write Fridays from Kellie Elmore). What came from that free write session was about 1600 words of a relationship story, one that flowed so naturally from my fingers, I just couldn’t stop writing it. As I mentioned in that earlier post, what struck me as I wrote those characters was how much of a role their religion played in their dialogue. Their sexuality also featured prominently, which is one of the main reasons why I didn’t post the piece at the time. Because you never know who you might offend.
Generally speaking, offending potential readers is not something I care very much about. It’s my belief an artist should create Art that speaks from the soul, no matter how dark, bright, raunchy, or chaste. Whether the artist can then sell that creation if they so choose is an entirely different debate. But, the Art at its core should be honest. Otherwise, it’s not so much art or even craft, but simply a consumable.
Side note: I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with producing for consumption. Nor am I saying consumables necessarily exclude artistry, or vice versa. I think A Song of Ice and Fire has proven that pretty well. Besides, every one needs to eat, no matter how high-falutin’ their principles.
That said, I recently revisited that piece of free writing because I was curious to look at it with fresh eyes. I wanted to see if it really was as bad as I’d originally thought. Holding a marker, I went over and redacted everything I thought anyone could possibly find offensive in any way. This is what came of that exercise:
If, for some reason, you’re interested in the actual words, click the images for a more legible experience (they’ll open in a new window or tab). The scene itself isn’t important, though. The reason for this exercise – aside from fueling my own personal amusement – was for me to see just how much black there’d be on those pages.
I’m not particularly smart, so I can’t write good mysteries or thrillers. I’ve only ever held a gun once, and never in a conflict, so I’m not qualified to write a big war epic. But, I understand people, and the everyday conflicts that can arise from personality and heritage clashes. I know love, too, because I experience it in my life every day. And I like sex, because…well, who doesn’t?
I don’t pull many punches when it comes to my stories. I try my best to warn folks ahead of time if a story contains questionable or mature material, but I also believe any individual should be able to decide for themselves if they want to continue or not. But, I’m writing these for me, first, and those topics are the ones I personally enjoy exploring. If they need to be redacted later, to fit someone else’s idea of what’s appropriate or salable, well, that’s life.
Have you ever redacted or edited something you’d written to fit someone else’s sensitivities? Why did you do it? Or, if you didn’t do it, why not?
(Or, visualisation, if it please you, Beth. ;))
I think writers should be as visual as traditional artists. Perhaps more so, because we need to provide description for a reader, without the benefit of a comic panel or moving image. But, dwelling on description overlong can become tedious for a reader, and that we never want.
“Good morning,” he replied, coming to a slow stop in front of her. He propped his board beside him, shielding her from the bright sun; it didn’t make her any less pretty.
“Ah…Amber, yeah?” he said, feigning blase non-involvement.
She nodded. “And you’re…” She paused a moment. “Fearless?”
He snorted. “Close enough. Ross.”
“Right,” she said. Though from her smile, he guessed she hadn’t needed the reminder, either.
He raised his brow at her. “You need help with something?”
“You said I should stop by,” she reminded him, as she glanced up at the sign of the shop, with its graffiti-style lettering. Looking back to him, she smiled again. “So, here I am.”
“Here you are,” he echoed, as he felt himself break into a smile, too.
That’s the only time the shop sign is mentioned, but I still came up with a design:
The Fearless shop logo
Mostly, I did it because I like playing around with graffiti. But, I also think it’s important for a writer to have a firm vision of the world in which their characters live. The more we know – either in our heads or on the page – the less we need to explain to the reader: the details usually invariably find their way into the story on their own.
I design (or, at least, I keep detailed notes for) every location of any import in my stories, from Ross’s living loft above the shop, to Amber’s hospital room, to the Truro flat. I did the same for a Japanese apaato and a country ryokan, a starfaring tramp tanker and a soldier’s little love nest. Because understanding where your characters are will help everyone understand where they go, how, and why (we call that “blocking” in theatre-speak).
How do you design your locations in your stories?
Breathless, sweaty, and dizzy of a sudden, Ross tumbled to the bed beside her, one arm still draped loosely around her. They would need to clean up and wash before bed, but, for the moment, he just wanted to lie with her in the drowsy quiet. So, settling his head next to hers, he blinked, and swallowed, and asked:
“Can we cuddle a bit?”
No mincing words, here: I think sex is an important part of any adult, loving relationship. It’s fun to write, too…though what’s more interesting is examining what happens around the main act. Pillow talk in these situations can offer a unique perspective on your character.
Trailer title from the 1959 movie; public domain image.
Lovers (and this includes men, here) are often much more honest with each other when they’re naked and relaxed, coming down from a sexual high. Just something about that situation, I guess, that opens people up. 😉
If you’re so inclined to write a sex scene, I’d suggest at least considering that opportunity of after-sex pillow talk, to broach some of your more sensitive topics. Perhaps your woman has body image issues, or your man has trouble with intimacy. You can potentially use this time to explore those, in a natural, conversational way.
Because honest communication is what truly makes sex sexy.
If you write sex, on what part do you like to focus: the buildup, the climax, or the denouement? If your story doesn’t include the convention of sex, how do you approach sensitive relationship subjects?
Many of us have already been told it’s better to keep our prose as simple as possible: clear is better than clever, as they say. For the most part, I agree. And I’ve enjoyed my share of flowery prose! One part of a story that’s created something of a dividing line between me and other authors, though, is just that: the dividing line. To put it more broadly, the use of transitions.
Keeping in mind that adage of clearer being better than clever, I don’t see much point in dwelling on long, rambling transition sequences. But, I also think the dividing line is a bit of a cheat. Not only does that divider line (or space block, or asterisks, or whatever) take the reader out of the moment, it breaks the flow of the narrative. Sometimes, this doesn’t matter so much; if you’re changing perspective, for example, you want to separate the narrative flow somehow. But for a subtle scene or time change, I prefer to keep reading, rather than having my eye stutter over a visual division.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly: the relatively uneventful walk back to the city centre, with St. Stephens and the train station, and a bit of aimless traipsing around the shops while the hotel prepared their late check-in room. Sally led them into a book shop where they stopped to listen to a charming children’s reading circle; Larry dallied in a retro art store with a selection of colorful and odd-looking international movie posters.
The quaintness was charming, of course, and they chatted along the way about both realistic potentialities and dreamy might-bes. But, through it all, there was still something missing, something hovering almost expectantly in the air between them: when they’d stop at a corner, or pause in conversation, or share a quiet look over tea and biscuits in a coffee shop.
Now, the above doesn’t really move the plot along any; all it does is take the reader from one scene to another. An editor might tell me to cut it. Simply removing these paragraphs between the two scenes makes my brain stutter, though, the same as putting in one of those divider lines would do. So, I’ve indulged myself with this transition.
What are your feelings on transitions in prose?
A friend of mine asked to read my latest project, which happens to be Fearless. I don’t usually share my work with people I trust so early in the game, but I offered him the first two (draft) chapters, mostly just to shut him up.
What I got back was an earful. He made some good points, but this had to be my favorite critique: The best friend is more likable than the hero. To quote: “Your hero’s a jerk.”
That one actually made me grin. Because yes, he is. But, that’s a big part of the story.
One of the things I love about my main characters is that they’re flawed. Some more than others, of course, but I try to help them all grow. That’s the beautiful thing about heroes and heroines. They’re like you and me (sometimes scarily so), but, over the course of the story, they push themselves to be better people. They don’t always get what they want, but they’re stronger men and women for the effort.
Which is why it’s so much fun to write them as jerks in the beginning:
Ross felt a grin creep to his face. Then he raised his free arm and called out, “Mornin’, Beth!”
Neville clicked his tongue, muttering, “Grow up.”
Ross ignored him, swinging his board up as he approached both fruit and filly. He bent his head, offering the Crispins’ youngest daughter a leering smile. “You look as scrumptious as those apples!” he told her.
Beth laughed and blushed bright red under her kerchief. “Thank you,” she said, her voice mostly squeal.
It took some effort for Ross to keep his smile in place; hopefully, that voice would one day mature as nicely as her tits had already done. Still, he wasn’t interested in her, just the apples, so he offered her a charming flare of his nostrils and asked, “Think you could let us have a taste?”
What do you like best about your main character(s)? Are they the ones who grow over the story, or do they spur the growth in others?