Isn’t it funny how we’re taught not to trust ourselves with the contents of our own minds? We learn to police our own thoughts, worrying that certain ideas are beyond the pale, etc. People get churned up with guilt, worrying that thinking certain things makes them a bad person, even though they know that they’d never act on them. I think that actually, most people have an inbuilt safety net. For example – I reckon I could say to any one of my friends, ‘tell me the kinkiest fantasy you can think of’ and I could absolutely guarantee you that, whilst it might be utterly filthy, it would only involve consenting adults.
But what if you want to push the boundaries?
When you write erotica it’s a leap of faith to put those fantasies out on the page, because it risks the wider world assuming that you have direct first-hand experience of whatever you write about. True, we’ve come a long way – but still, I reckon an awful lot of erotica writers probably think ‘eek’ quietly to themselves before they press that publish button, wondering what their audience will think.
Can’t we just trust ourselves – as writers and readers – to know that thinking isn’t the same as doing? Isn’t the whole point of fiction is that it isn’t necessarily real? And if we accept that, then it’s not much to ask that we then step even further out of our comfort zones into the realms of the forbidden.
I was reading through the schedule for this weekend’s Eroticon just now, and was thrilled to see that Remittance Girl is doing a session. Then I sulked, cos my own creative drop-in session is on at the same time, bah. Still, it sounds fascinating:
‘…fiction should not be asked to serve as a self-help resource or a best practices manual, but be free to examine erotic desires and behaviours that cannot legally or ethically be countenanced in practice.
The session asks participants to put their moral and ethical judgement on hold, and enter the world of no-limits erotic fiction.’
This fascinates me – how far should we allow ourselves to go as writers? Is it acceptable to step beyond the boundaries of what might generally be considered acceptable (and even into the realms of the downright illegal), so long as we accept that it will only ever be fiction? You only have to look at the pseudo-incestuous porn that is widely available to see that there is undoubtedly a market for it, so why should written fantasy be different? Okay so it’s not my personal ‘thing’ – I tend more towards the mainstream and make no apologies for that – but I’m still interested in why other people might prefer the darker side and whether they should be ‘allowed’.
Which brings us back to permissions. As we are talking about fiction, in which no one is actually ‘real’, does it matter morally if the subject matter is not only outside our comfort zone but has actually done a sprint down the lane marked ‘A Step Too Far’?
I, like most people I suspect, can tell the difference between real life and fantasy, but sadly there are some people (and I have come across them) who find it hard to tell the difference. You only have to see how many people send sympathy cards when a character in a TV ‘soap’ is killed, for example. So, for that reason, I believe that we have an obligation to think very hard before we commit things to paper that might cause emotional problems in those people who think differently to us.
As a writer of erotica I don’t like writing about the more extreme end of bdsm, for example. I am happy to incorporate spanking with hand, paddle or belt, and I have no problem with threesomes or other sexual permutations, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about more severe forms of bdsm. I also like to incorporate romance in there somewhere, and I like a happy ending. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to reading some of the hotter material myself, and enjoying it, so I guess that I am a bit hypocritical to say that I wouldn’t write it. But then I believe that I know the difference between real life and fantasy, and consider myself to be emotionally stable, whereas I know that there are people out there who are not.
That’s the thing tho, Rachel – why should we be held responsible for what other people think, or how they may or may not be influenced? There are so many other things – war, abuse, in fact the whole ‘misery memoir’ genre – that could be way more triggering than anything an erotic writer might publish, yet you rarely see those writers being told that they have a responsibility for how their readers react. I’m with you on the ‘knowing the difference between real life and fantasy’ thing, for definite – this is the precise reason why I read, say the Twilight novels and thought they were entertaining pap, but was generally horrified at young girls being so obsessed with them in case they actually thought any of the behaviour illustrated in it was acceptable. Because most of it absolutely wasn’t. But it is still not the writer’s responsibility to decide – fiction is just that. Fiction. Thanks so much for taking time to respond 🙂 V x
I never self-censor, and I never worry about reader’s reactions, because if I did I would never publish anything at all. Yes, people think I am sick and twisted. Yes, I get threats and, even worse, prayers. But I need to stay true to the voice and vision in my head, else there is no point.
And all hail you for that! A genuine question now – if you had the option of your stuff being published for silly amounts of money that would make your life massively easier, but the publisher wanted it toned down, would you agree to do so? Yours, nosey of Shropshire 😉 xx
So would you write about child rape? Or torture that resulted in the death of the person being abused? Or mass rape, as happens in war? People do write about these things. Are any of these off-limits for you?
As for Stephen King, I never read any books that contain murder and cruelty, because it makes me feel ill, especially when I know that somewhere in the world a small child or a woman, or even a man (because they get raped too) is enduring this for real. It’s all a question of degree. I know my limits and am happy to stick to them.
“As we are talking about fiction, in which no one is actually ‘real’, does it matter morally if the subject matter is not only outside our comfort zone but has actually done a sprint down the lane marked ‘A Step Too Far’?”
Do we ask this about murder mystery writers who describe brutal, bloody sadistic crimes? About horror writers describing unspeakable violations? About other stories where the decisions of characters (legal and not) result in wholesale death, misery, or impoverishment? We have to ask this question of ourselves because we’re worried about how and who our fictional characters fuck? No.
I use this argument often, Raz! My stock phrase when someone accuses me of writing something that steps over some unmarked, apparently arbitrary moral line is “I don’t see you accusing Stephen King of being a serial killer?’ 😉
I’ve just said that very same thing to myself…why does adding sex into the mix suddenly seem to (have to) make all the difference? Why does that automatically mean we should tread oh so carefully around the delicate sensibilities of others?
I’ve argued with myself this past week about whether or not to write a particular story, and I’ve come tot he conclusion that, fuck it, I’m going to write it, and if some don’t like it then they’re welcome to go read something more attuned to their own preferences.
I would ask the same questions of people who write bloody, sadistic crimes and about horror writers describing unspeakable violations. I can’t stop them, but I would never ever read them. I wonder if they have children. The man who, a couple of years ago, raped, dismembered and burnt the remains of a small girl in his fireplace, said that his urge to do that was encouraged by things he had read and seen online.
As for differentiating between fiction and reality, you may feel confident in your ability to tell the difference, but there are some sick, disturbed people who are not able to make such distinctions. You must answer to your own conscience however.
If someone has a prediliction for doing unspeakable things, they will find an outlet for that, and gain inspiration from the most seemingly innocuous situation/object/scenario. I am not responsible for what resides in someone else’s head. I am accountable to myself, and I have to be able to sleep at night, but I will not be shamed into writing Disney-esque fiction because the subject matter bothers some people.