Now let’s get off on the right foot. I love me some erotica, some smut, some writing just to get you off. Whatever literary category it’s deemed to fall into. From Anaïs Nin to Sacher-Masoch to Sylvia Day, it’s all good fun. Especially when it’s fanfiction. That is, the suggested coupling between Galadriel and Gimli. The anatomical difficulties and challenges in blowing a wookie.
However I don’t like when one genre attempts to emulate the other. Anaïs Nin wrote in order to get herself and her cool French friends off. They’re stories of threesomes written in lyrical phrases designed to be both stylistically and thematically sexy at the same time; they were masturbatory in more ways than one. Pauline Réage, pseudonymous author of Story of O, wrote because her lover at the time said that women can’t write erotica. Sacher-Masoch wrote for different reasons completely.
As a passing mention I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I did see one of the films. And I was disappointed. ’It seemed more in keeping with the Mills and Boon ‘Sexy’ line of books – which let it be known I enjoy, I just want something more than “tried and tested formula + s&m.” But that’s me.
Sylvia Day… I’m not sure why she writes. But it’s still nice stuff for the white middle class women to fantasise about. For that reason it’s very straightforward and no-nonsense in it’s style; a metaphor here and there but otherwise no plot and all gasping.
As an example, Day’s Bared To You tells the story of Eva, a young professional in her field, rising through ranks only to get a new job with a boss, Gideon who’s really hot in that upper-west-side-lawyer kind of way. And he’s rich. In brief and without much spoiling, there’s rising tension throughout between them, some stumbling as they get closer and then everything is more or less fine as they the book ends with them together.
I think something of this style can lead us into what so much fanfic doesn’t make any effort to do.
Examples like that of Sylvia Day tend to follow a specific narrative structure that mirrors the filthy coitus they’ll eventually engage in. The plot is broken up into the flirting: the intro where our couple meet in some mating dance of the rich. They probably fuck early-ish, or attempt to and both want to, yet they put it off for a bit longer.
The foreplay: Things get awkward for a second, unknown to one of the parties. This awkwardness is overcome soon enough, they dive headfirst into the romance and fucking. Maybe there’s another little upset as a secret is revealed (this is equivalent to the moment in sex where someone suggests someone put something new somewhere new, always a risk but – as these books show – always worth it).
Ending in the relaxing climax: they’re together for better or worse and they probably know far too much about each other to back out now (“we’re all human after all”).
Forgive them their unrealistic trespasses reader, they just came after all. This is what I call fucking as structure, or structure fucking. And that’s not necessarily as good as it sounds.
This unification of structure and content, using a structure that gives the story a flow akin to the rhythm toward orgasm, at least for contemporary erotica, serves a function: to show us that the goal of all amorous relationships is in the holy baring of two or more naked souls in trust and tenderness.
For the Fantasy world though, we can do better. It is a fantasy after all.
In episode 7 on Salvatore’s Crystal Shard we talked briefly about one particular example of Drizzt and Catti-Brie re-fictionalized in a forbidden amorous situation. In this story Wulfgar, Catti-Brie’s ex and Drizzt’s erstwhile companion, has gone to sort out (and probably literally wrestle with,) his demons/PTSD and left Catti-Brie in Drizzt’s capable hands.
In this story Catti-Brie declares that she actually always loved Drizzt and begins her single-act courting. Drizzt coquettishly rebuffs and rebukes her numerous times that this would be a betrayal of their mutual friend, that he also loves her but that they could never marry and that the flesh should never be indulged on such a whim. In the end they obviously fuck and immediately Catti-Brie realises that Wulfgar will probably murder both of them and begins to consider running away with Drizzt. The end.
This would be a fine example of some nice Drizzt wish-fulfillment for the reader if it weren’t for the constant exaggerated caricature of accents and personalities. Catti-Brie’s accent isn’t the (nonsense) Scottish inflected speech, but a torrent of dropped g’s yelled at Drizzt’s brooding countenance. A character is not defined by the set of attributes that make them, no matter their seemingly independent affect, their ways they interact with their environment – from the tundra to the parochial glare of a local farmer to a roguish lout.
This fanfic is held together by stilted caricature and ham fisted homage to the original work, rather than a reworking of theme or style or narrative convention.
Beyond that, the structure attempts to mirror the examples above but flags like a jilted erection: the gradual increase in intensity, the feint just after the erotic tension becomes explicit, and the cock-standard ending are all heaped with the author’s own expectations and desires and so doing stumbles from frame to frame. What’s worse is the writer can’t dare to take a well crafted world – the thing many of us love about the genre – and use the nuanced aspects of that reality to create a story of either seductive romance or tavern trawl.
Considering some of the worlds that fantasy writers have invented for us one would hope that with the most minimal effort one could write an erotic story about, say, Jorg in Prince of Thorns being tied up and mind-controlled at his own confused masochistic behest and toyed with by his sister-in-law Katherine. Throw in some mention of ‘builders technology’ and you’ve got some half decent world-based erotic fanfic.
And yes the sister/brother-in-law thing is fine, haven’t you watched Clueless?
It’s not that the style is old or unoriginal. Instead it’s that from a genre with such a rich history that could create something wholly irreverent (i.e. druids fucking) or hot as a dwarven forge (i.e. druids fucking), why are we stuck with writers who can’t import anything of that world or style into their erotic homage? I’m not picky, i just want to be able to pick more than the bones of cliche and rehashed contemporary erotica structure from a world of unbridled imagination and unlimited possibility.
But then again: “There’s a peculiar shame involved in admitting that one is a fan, perhaps because it involves being caught out in a fantasy-identification. ‘Maturity’ insists that we remember with hostile distaste, gentle embarrassment or sympathetic condescension when we were first swept up by something – when, in the first flushes of devotion, we tried to copy the style, the tone; when, that is, we are drawn into the impossible quest of trying to become what the Other is it to us … Smirking postmodernity images the fan as the sad geekish Trekkie, pathetically, fetishistically invested in what – all good sense knows – is embarrassing trivia. But this lofty, purportedly olympian perspective is nothing but the view of the Last Man.”
On that mention of Clueless, a similar structure is used with rom-com films. The will-they-won’t-they format lets the story progression rock back and forth slowly developing until it all breaks and all reforms in a beautiful ending. While Clueless was a little different from a normal rom-com – the love interests in Clueless are first representative of the teenage crushes girls in her social class have, and the second is when she becomes self-aware like all the rest of us and decides Paul Rudd was the only choice. Not every rom-com has Paul Rudd, and this has been a long-standing flaw in the genre.
But the whole reason that works with rom-com is that a) sometimes they won’t-they and b) you’ve gotta use every device available to make a titillating story fit that PG rating. It’s subtle, clean, winking goodness for the whole family where the erotic action takes place in the fades between shots (Casablanca has a cool one of these) or behind closed doors. Or on a bus like at the end of The Graduate. Right?
None of this goes anyway to mentioning why we still got straight couples all the time. But an amorous sea creature with a tentative castlegoes a long way.