A couple of weeks ago, I addressed how the longer a story goes, the more potential for buildup there is, and the more ability I have to veer off into the world of Weird Shit. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have written about it as if it’s this universal constant – not only can stories have the ability to stay thoroughly grounded for their entire run, but I also left out how Weird Shit can easily happen in the first chapter or two of a story.
A side project I’m working on is editing down a ‘version three’ of Being More Social to my $5 patrons, and it became quickly clear to me how gleefully 18-year-old me immediately made things crazy and high stakes in the first few chapters. By comparison, Mutual Benefits (so far) is more tame, patient, and much less sappy. As of this moment, quite frankly I don’t know if it’ll be that tame, patient and unsappy by the end, so if this is one of the story’s strengths for you… perhaps an apology in advance could be warranted from me, if things go that way.
Along with Weird Shit, as I mentioned, Being More Social gets really sappy. I guess I really was much more of a hopeless romantic seven years ago. (I don’t know how you all perceive me, but, for the record, I’m in my twenties.) I can definitely be sappy in my own personal life, so it didn’t surprise me all that much, but something did surprise me after more than a year of not intensely looking into my old work – all of the crying. At some points, the tears would be like the sex – at least once per chapter, several chapters in a row, like clockwork.
The reason this surprises me is because I kind of really hate tears in erotica. Mainly I hate the crying because it never feels justified, especially tears of, “that was so beautiful.” I can not tell you the number of times I’ve seen a story where the protagonist is forbidden from seeing the cardboard cutout of a love interest they’re interested in, so they give a speech that amounts to, “Well you can’t stop me because I love her and this is true love and even if you can’t accept me, that’s okay because I have her and she’s all I need to keep going in this world.” Then the very person that not 20 seconds ago forbade them from seeing this cardboard cutout is crying and telling the protagonist how beautiful that was.
…I can’t emphasize this enough: the only thing that scene tells me is just how much the author is out of touch with emotional reality. In reality, that person would argue back, or, at best, look around the room awkwardly and go, “Oh. Um, okay, if you love her that much. Just promise to take care of her and…” Blah blah blah. Tears aggravate me. They’re virtually never earned, especially, again, tears of appreciation for some milquetoast speech.
I guess I can chalk up Adam and his friends crying so much in Being More Social to them being teenagers and being hormonal and emotional, but it did kind of offput me in much the same way. I understand why authors do it – authors, especially erotic ones, really love to chase the emotional highs and lows of human connection. They want the stakes high and for things to matter, especially on an emotional level. They want to connect to that human experience of caring about something or someone so much, you’re moved to tears. As soon as we accomplish any tears in the reader, we, as authors, have discovered a Truth.
For the purposes of this blog, a Truth is an experience that is genuinely true to life. Something that’s maybe high stakes and maybe even really specific so only a few truly empathize, but it’s something the readers know really happens on some level and maybe even can relate to. So, for example, that moment in Chapter Five of Being More Social where **spoilers ahead** Nicole tells Adam about the story of her deceased brother, that’s a Truth. I’m sure there’s an actual better term for it, but as long as you understand what I mean I can probably get away with calling it something dumb like ‘a Truth’ for now.
I have found that the more inexperienced a writer is, the more often they try to reach for Truths. A first time erotica writer, or even a young adult writer, wants high stakes immediately, so bam, they tug on the heartstrings with the dead sibling or the “I love her and you can’t stop me” speech. Or, bam, they hit you with action out of nowhere. Is it a school shooting? Is it a fire? Who knows?
(Key words being ‘out of nowhere.’ Not every story that features a school shooting or a fire is shallow and bad. I wouldn’t be able to showcase the difference without making this blog about four times as long, so it’s up to you to make that distinction.)
There are a lot of ways to convey that the events are affecting the people inside the story. And even hack writers can affect empathetic readers if they show their own characters affected. I think the irrational part of my brain gets a little angry at stories doing this – I’m all like, “Oh, so you couldn’t make anyone cry with your writing so you made your own characters cry to see if that could seal the deal? How cheap.” I don’t want to say where, but I thought this once or twice while reading through Being More Social too.
It is possible, though very very unlikely, that Mutual Benefits will take a sharp turn and there will suddenly be crying in every chapter from this point forward. I doubt it. It is a lot more likely that there will be at least one Truth, as this blog puts it. I remember once a reader referred to those more ‘very special episode’ moments and vibes that occurred during my chapters as ‘Bashful Scribe moments,’ and truthfully, I was honored to be recognized for that. My writing absolutely gets cheesy and downright silly at times, especially when pursuing Truths, though I hope I’ve gotten better at writing them to be better and more meaningful with time. I like knowing that I write smut but at least one viewer out there knows me as the rambling sentimental smut writer. It feels nice. I’ll talk to you all next week.