Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Plot or Not?

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a total wuss. When the background music goes into that minor-key “danger” riff, I dive right out the door. Or I used to. Now I just stay away from the television altogether.

I don’t need bad guys in my fiction. There are enough of them in the real world (mostly politicians) and they upset me plenty; do I have to deal with them in my off hours, too? I hate knowing that there are helpless victims in the world; it’s painful.

Now, this may look like a contradiction. After all, what am I writing about (and turned on by) but helplessness in the hands of strength? But for me the similarity is superficial, not real. In my fantasies there’s always consent up front, safety, sanity. Nonconsent is too scary; I can’t go there.

Take out bad guys, risky, non-consensual action, genuine fear, and you lose most of the traditional plot devices. Which is fine with me, but also creates a certain level of confusion in my readers, who keep expecting for something big to happen. A breakup, a breakdown, a kidnapping – something. When Lisabet Sarai reviewed As She’s Told for Erotica Revealed, despite giving it two thumbs up, she complained that there wasn’t enough conflict or revelation; no big climactic finish. (I’d argue that there is conflict, revelation and growth, but it’s internal.)

And here we come to the standard plot trajectories. Readers have expectations. Viewers do too. There are cues: falling shadows, a character with no apparent ties to the plot, a phone call in the middle of the night with no voice at the other end. Romance plots require misunderstandings, pride, abduction, gulfs of class or distance – something separating the lovers before the final revelation and happily-ever-after. (See, I’m so out of that loop that I don’t even write HEA.)

But what I’ve written about so far is relationships. Deeply kinky ones, but nevertheless relationships as they develop. Is there not enough drama in that? I’d like to think so. People can be fascinating as they change and adjust and create something new, something larger than themselves. There’s a plot going on, but it’s subtle, enmeshed in the slowly developing kink trajectory.

What’s your take on this? Does lots of external action and tension make a book a better read? Do you prefer certain types of plots over others?

Can lovers living in harmony win your heart?


  1. My favorite part about romance is the relationship - by far. Sometimes I will read romantic suspense or other books where there is heavy plotting but still that ends up being like filler for me - I want to get to the good part.

  2. The drama in your books, for me, is all about how far things will go... how far he will push, how deep the psychology of being owned will be taken.

    External drama really isn't needed in your books, because you have so much going on with the internal stuff.

    I'm happy with both kinds of books, the "story about this and that and the other thing that also happens to have kinky people in it" as well as the "story of two kinky people getting together". As long as it's done well, I'm good with both.

  3. Thanks. There are many books where there action is more internal than external; a lot of modern literature, actually. If I was an English major I could be more erudite on the subject; fortunately I'm not!

  4. Great post Anneke. I know exactly what you mean about how to drive the plot (drama or no drama). It's something I think about a lot. In fact I think we had a more indepth discussion about it once, oh, probably a year ago.

    I know I lean to the "drama" side of things. Usually, when I'm still in the outlining stage of the book, I'll have some climactic dramatic event mapped out before I even start. It's like...I need that as something to write towards.

    BUT, I enjoyed As She's Told very much, and I was so involved in the unfolding relationship that I didn't miss the big dramas or some big shake-up type climax. There was the one drama--not to make a spoiler--but the time the neighbor had to come help out. That felt dramatic and scary to me even though it wasn't a huge event. For her, and for him, it was.

    I think that "internal" action is much harder to write and that's why I respected your work in AST so much. It's hard to write those inner changes and character development, much harder than writing some external event taking place.

  5. I know what you mean, Annabel, about needing something to write towards. I have this idea in mind for the book I'm wanting to get down to, this interesting, difficult place for my characters, and I'm looking forward to writing it. I think it will help keep me moving. If I ever get to work on it.