Talking last week about what lazy erotica authors do in certain situations got me into a spiral of thinking and rethinking about certain tropes, which kind of brought me to a weird conclusion: I’ve only ever seen nerds portrayed properly in erotica once or twice.
I came into my own in high school and have the privilege of saying I know what being both somewhat popular and not popular at all feel like. When I came into high school, I was a giant nerd that thought I knew everything. I was kind of stuck up, emotionally inexperienced, but most importantly, I was totally naive.
Tell me if this rings a bell: The nerd. He’s geeky and adjusts his glasses and pocket protector a lot. He talks about chess and computers out of habit and uses weirdly big words that fly right over your head. As soon as he’s in a social situation, he starts sweating nervously. He trips over his words when anyone popular talks to him, because he’s aware of how feeble he is in the high school power dynamic.
That’s how a lot of erotica, and actually a lot of media in general, show nerds. And it’s also almost entirely a fabrication. Even the way I show Quinn in Mutual Benefits is betrayed by the use of a few of these tropes, and virtually none of them play out in stories like they do in the real world.
One thing that struck me after writing my last blog post was that Quinn, the nerd, wasn’t the hyper-rational one. Morgan was. The nerd, who is supposed to look at things scientifically or whatever the stereotype asks for, still acted emotionally. And that is spot on for nerds. People have this idea that nerds just use big words and calculate social situations as if they’re an equation, but sweat and shut down in other social situations. Both of these are just weirdly specific caricatures for low-to-no social experience, which can be shown a billion different ways if we don’t limit ourselves to one stereotype. Nerds get angry. Nerds say things but often say the wrong thing. Nerds have their own social groups and social lives, and sometimes it’s thriving, it’s just with other nerds. Nerds can, and do, condescend to jocks and hot popular people as much as the popular people condescend to them. In this chapter, I’ve arguably shown Quinn more accurately than ever as a nerd because he got easily flustered in a tense situation and the person who has the most experience in conflict resolution, Morgan, had to be the one to go problem-cause-solution on their asses.
When it comes to nerds silently getting nervous in social situations, that can happen. Usually because someone else escalated the conflict first or because of some kind of sexual response. I’ve tried to show both in this story, but on reflection, I think I’ve accidentally played into the stereotype myself a bit too much with this. I’ll do better the next time I write a nerd character. When it comes down to it, nerds are humans, and it’s weird how much of a boner a lot of erotica writers have to make them seem less like human beings and more like aliens trying to imitate humans that use comically big words to show off their comically big brains.
I think a lot of writers get the wrong idea about how to make and write smart characters. They aren’t just big word speakers who mumble to themselves and write on walls when they have a breakthrough. In fact, usually, the smarter you are, the more pithy you can be. Who are my smartest characters? Daisy and Nicole. Are they true to life with actually human phrasing? Yes. Are they smart? Also yes. (Though they feed into another untrue stereotype, ‘the effortlessly smart mean person,’ like Sherlock Holmes or Tony Stark, another habit I’m trying to kick.) Smart people and nerds aren’t dragons and unicorns; they exist, and they can be written as human beings. I think we just think of people that are too dissimilar to us as alien or fundamentally different and that does more damage to our writing than we think it does. I’ll talk to you all next week.