Thursday, October 02, 2008

Plausible Eroticability

Mr. Xandra and I recently stood in the great room of our house and looked up at the 11-ft ceilings, and admiring the walls we'd just finished painting a lovely color that reminds me of chocolate silk pie. "That edge is uneven right there," he said.

"Where? I can't see a thi--oh, yeah, now I see it." In spite of my awesome almost-expert job of taping and prep work, a little blotch had gotten under the tape and made the edge where the ceiling and wall met look just a little wobbly. Of course, his tendency to load up the brushes with extra globs of paint is equally to blame, but hey--we know our faults and we paint anyway. "You know, it's just a little thing. Nobody will notice."

"I notice."

"Look, it's eleven feet in the air. It'll pass the ten-foot test. Nobody will notice, and I'm not getting up there with a q-tip and trying to fix it because that always makes it worse."

"But it's fixable, and to not do it would leave the job undone."

"Honey, think about it. None of our friends are going to go over our walls with magnifying glasses looking for flaws in the paint job. It's a great job. And anyway, if people are bored enough over our house to be looking at a fingertip-sized line of uneven paint, then we have bigger problems as people to worry about. Now I'm going to try to slip some writing in before the kids get up."

Of course, once I sat down at my laptop, my usual stuck-age hit me full-force. I haven't been writing enough lately, haven't been making word counts, or even taking full advantage of the time I have to write. My critique partner has been harassing me and asking, "why are they not having hot, sweaty, nasty, hot mansex again?"

"Well, I'm stuck in this plot-thing in between the naked times," is usually my lame-ass excuse.

But in thinking, I realized that it was more than plot, because I know plot. I can see plot, and when I can't, I roll around in post-it notes both real and virtual until I do. I study it. What I realized was that it wasn't the plot that gave me was the plausibility.

A little bit o' background here--I'm currently working on a really hot M/M erotic romance right now and for various reasons, it's been going slowly, even when I do have the time to work on it between family stuff. And I think I might just know why.

As erotic romance writers, we naturally write highly sexually-charged stories. That often means there's sex in the first chapter. What we have to do as writers, however, is come up with plausible reasons that two characters that our readers haven't had that much time to get to know yet would not only hop into bed together, but do so in a way that the readers want along for the ride.

There's this concept called plausible deniability found often in politics and business situations, as well as involving my kids and "science experiments." It basically says, "Gosh Mom, I didn't know she'd dump all the vinegar in all the baking soda when I dumped half a cup of it in a glass and made the vinegar bottle really easy for her to pour and left them right in front of her." In any situation of "innocent until proven guilty" this means that as long as Elder Spawn was not directly caught in actively performing mischief, he gets off with the ability to declare the situation an accident and escape grounding.

There's a similar theme at work in erotic romance. We're charged with the task of developing situations that have plausible eroticability. To encourage the reader to suspend enough disbelief to get to know the characters while seeing, or after having seen them naked and horizontal (or vertical and you get the idea), for just long enough for us to continue reeling them into the story. Now this is a concept not limited to erotic romance--it's true for all stories, the reader suspension of disbelief. But since sex is one of the most universal and common things we all share, and one tied so much up in individuality on an atomically personal level, that that suspension of disbelief has to be damn good and damn thorough.

A sexual relationship is one of the most intimate and personal things to anyone, and erotic romance writers are tasked with showing motivations for engagement that have to speak to enough readers for the suspension of disbelief to be widely accepted. Geez. No wonder I've been so slow on going lately. It's damn intimidating when you think about it.


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Savanna Kougar said...

Plausible eroticability ~ what a great term. I'll have to steal it unless you really put your foot down.
I know exactly what you mean. I just had to transition from romance and tenderness in my menage to rough desperate possession...okay, I think it works. It certainly works for me and my heroine. But the question is: will it work for the readers?

Skylar Masey said...

Totally intimidating! I get intimidated enough writing regular love scenes, much less erotica. I think any one that can do erotica and do it well, as you can Xandra, is truly a gifted person. Sure writers can do tab a into slot b all they want, but really good writers of erotica make it an art:0)

So get back to that hot sex! lol!

Xandra Gregory said...

Thank you for the compliment, Skylar, but I think it has less to do with eroticism and more to do with storytelling itself overall. It's like giving props to category romance writers, especially the really short categories, like Harlequin Presents or Blaze, or Silhouette Desire. You really, seriously, do not have a lot of time to get people invested in your characters.

I think it was Smart Bitches, or maybe Dear Author, who had a discussion going about over-the-top Alpha Males, and the comments diverged into the idea of "romance shorthand"--the idea of a few broad-brush strokes of "alpha hero" are used in conjunction with the reader's "meta" knowledge about the genre to create a fast track to empathy. This has its negatives, too, though, resulting in heroes that may pass the ten-foot test, but only because at that distance, they tend to start looking alike.

In erotic romance, we have little time to create that buy-in, but then we also have to create an environment that allows readers to suspend *moral* disbelief as well, which adds an extremely swampy layer over already uncertain footing. Sometimes, only words and time will provide the necessary footings to a solid story.