Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sweating the Small Stuff (and Who Cares, Anyway?)

This writer gig is tough in so many ways. And it feels tougher to me sometimes because I am neither fast nor prolific. (Case in point: this is about my twelfth start to this piece, and I still don’t know if this one will stick.) I so much admire the fluency of those who can pour out a story or a novel and move on to the next. They end up with increasing numbers of eggs in multiple baskets, while I’ve got only two over which to brood, darkly maternal and a little obsessive, like an over-invested mother plotting her toddler’s career path.

With this kind of attitude, every word and phrase matters. The damned thing takes so long to write, it’s got to last and be read, not disappear into that bottomless limbo of lost efforts.

So I sweat the small stuff. The touches intended to make the characters multidimensional, and the settings palpable. Everything from the smell of her skin to the backstory that drives him. (Okay, the backstory isn’t exactly small stuff, but I’ll get to that.) Fleeting thoughts, not only sexy but mundane. Ironic moments and private jokes.

Not that these things are separate from the plot. If they’re done well they add depth; done badly and they’re nothing but padding, mechanical and jarring. Too long, and they spoil the flow. Just a touch here and there is what works. Hands turning a salt shaker in a very small circle, conveying discomfort and difficult thoughts. Old leaves skittering along the ground, providing the only movement between two characters suspended in a frozen tableau of guilt and anger. Sunlight shifting from carpet to wall, marking the passage of time, as a slave waits. I love this stuff. It’s part of what makes writing worthwhile for me. Whether anyone notices it or not is another question. I hope it provides something like the bass line in a piece of music; you may not notice it but you’d miss it if it wasn’t there.

From the comments I’ve seen, when it comes to erotica, readers’ focus is almost entirely on the plot; commentary on the writing comes down to a word or two at most. And that’s just the sexual plot trajectory; non-sexual elements are ignored entirely. I have it on good authority that such scenes are often skimmed, skipped and given short shrift in the hunt for the next sex scene. Which is understandable, as long as no one complains that the characters lack depth! I integrated an important piece of backstory for Anders in As She’s Told that illuminates his struggles and makes him fallible. Perhaps readers don’t want him fallible; not one comment or review has ever mentioned it.

So is providing depth worth the effort? Does it come through? I don’t know. But I know I can’t write any other way. So expect my next novel – a few years from now.

5 comments:

  1. I love your writing - and the way you paint pictures with words is a big part of what makes your writing as intense as it is.

    So, yeah... some of us notice. A lot.

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  2. Thanks, Candace! Nice of you to say so.

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  3. For me, a story must have multidimensional characters. Next the plot must be interesting and flow smoothly. Even if the sex scenes are amazing, the other two elements have to be there for me to really enjoy the book. So, I think providing depth is well worth the effort.

    ~ Diana

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  4. Anneke-

    I love those bits of backstory and that saltshaker stuff. The stories that include those elements are ones I go back and re-read over and over. They become all time favorites, so rich with details. They aren't "fast food" novels to be consumed in an afternoon without thought or taste.
    Beth

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  5. Thanks, Beth, Diana. I'm the same; I reread the ones that have more dimensions to explore, so there's something new to discover each time.

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