Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I’ve started to think about the panel I’m going to be on at the end of August, One of the themes is likely to be the question of truth in M/s literature. David Stein, who organized the panel and will be on it himself, asserts that M/s fiction is more authoritative if it is firmly rooted in experience with actual master-slave relationships. Without that experience, he believes the novels will tend to exaggerate, mislead and misrepresent the M/s lifestyle, possibly to readers’ detriment.

I’ve mentioned that he first invited me to join the panel and then found out I’d made it all up. However, he liked AST enough to keep the invitation open.

We’ve touched on the “reality vs. fantasy” topic more than once, so I’ll try not to go over old ground. What I’m searching for in this blog (while simultaneously getting a head start on my conference remarks) is an idea of what does constitute “truth” in our kind of fiction. Is its foundation lived experience, as David Stein suggests? And if so, does there need to be an actual collar around your neck for you to know what a collar feels like?

As we’ve said before, fiction is – well -- fiction. An invention. The challenge is to write it powerfully enough that it conveys some form of truth to the reader. How do we do this? Is it contemporary settings and believable plots? Realistic, layered characters? Natural-sounding dialogue? What about a finely-drawn texture of detail to ground the tale? Detail that never distracts with inconsistencies or absurdities? What about language that says what it means, conveying images or sensations that burst in your brain?

Or is it emotional truth we’re seeking? Perhaps a character’s feelings that chime with your own, or a sense that the author has dug deep and brought something to the surface, articulated something meaningful and rare?

All of these suggestions would apply to any genre of literature, of course. But how do they apply to M/s? Well, accuracy when it comes to the bondage details, that’s for sure. No suspension from handcuffs. Layered characters whose responses and relationships rise above the usual bdsm clichés, and who can talk about what they do with some intelligence and wit.

I’ve never been inclined toward philosophical abstractions; I’m more likely to discover meaning after the fact than to search for it beforehand. Whatever truth there may be in my own writing is likely based on a deep sifting of my own emotions, as well as empathy and extrapolation when it comes to the emotions of others. I don’t discount the rest of the writer’s reality toolkit; it’s all important. But emotional truth is, for me, the core of truth in fiction. As long as I can dredge that up, someone is going to read what I write and say “yes.”

What about you? Tell us about a moment of d/s literary truth, and how you knew when it hit you.


  1. I don't think you need to live D/s to write it. And anyway, sometimes people live it... but that doesn't mean they write it the same way. I think insisting that people live it to write it can have a negative effect, by telling readers that this is intended to be instructional instead of fiction. I think, in As She's Told, we really felt that she wanted the submission, and that's what made it real to us. Some of the motivation was supplied (to feel safe and ordered) but some of it was just innate - you had to accept her desire for TPE in order to enjoy the book. I've definitely read BDSM romances where I never really felt the heroine wanted the submission... or maybe the better word would be needed. If it's just a game, take it or leave it, then it's not that compelling. In that case, my guess would be that the author also didn't live it, but it wouldn't even matter if she did, because the book still didn't come together for me.

  2. Amberlin, I agree that an insistence on lived experience can convey an implication of an instruction manual, and that's never a good thing in fiction.

    The wanting you refer to is one of the emotions I'm talking about, so I agree with you there, too. It would of course be possible to write a believable story about a reluctant sub or slave, by connecting to those emotions. And many, many authors have tried; I'm sure some of them have been successful, but I don't enjoy non-con so I can't say which ones.