Friday, November 30, 2012

On BDSM And Writing About It (Or About Anything)

So there's a discussion going on in the comments of my last book review about an interview of E. L. James on BBC news this week and I had more thoughts than I could fit in a reasonable length comment so here they are.

James says that she read a couple of BDSM books that sparked her curiosity. I wish she had cited what particular books she'd read, or even what kind. Reading BDSM erotica is not the same as reading a BDSM how to do it guide, and as someone who doesn't know anything about it, I'm not even sure whether what she read really was BDSM and not some general erotica that had one spanking scene in it, or even an old copy of Cosmo she mistook for an actual book. But let's say she did. Reading two books is not a whole lot of research, particularly if you are going to go ahead and expand that limited knowledge into three books of your own. There are many facets of BDSM and people have many wide ranging and varying kinks. There is no one size fits all in the community. If she had done any real research, there would not be lines in these books about how Christian didn't have to have detailed conversations with his former subs because they were already experienced and knew what to expect. There would not be lines about Christian having to rub the feeling back into Ana's hands and feet all the time if she had done any reading about safe play (in fact, Ana wouldn't have been bound with cable ties to begin with, that is so dangerous). There would not be a line in Christian's contract that referenced maintaining a risk-free environment. There is no such thing. One of the things that greatly concerns me about these books are the number of people who claim is has changed their lives sexually. If these books caused them to seek out GOOD information about these topics, great, I'm happy for them. But I am also hearing a lot of people defend the quality of these books by saying how much they hate to read, but these books were GREAT! If the people saying that are the same people saying the books changed their lives, I am worried that a lot of people out there are going to wind up getting seriously hurt both physically and emotionally. Which in turn will perpetuate the stereotype that BDSM is sick and wrong and a desire for it indicates that one was abused at some point, or became broken in some sort of traumatic way.

 James says that from those handful of words, she became interested in what would happen if someone who wasn't into BDSM and knew nothing about it met someone who was. Again, if she was REALLY interested in how that would play out, doing the research to find out instead of making up some bullshit in her own head based on the stereotypes she holds about what kind of person would want to do this would not have been that hard because guess what? That happens ALL THE TIME. Seattle based sex-advice columnist Dan Savage (who I would recommend reading to anyone looking for sex positive advice of any kind) frequently points out that there are two kinds of people in the community: those who have always been that way and always knew that about themselves, and those who met/dated/married/fell in love with someone who had those interests and tried them out for their partner and discovered that they really really liked it. It happens a lot, and it happens a lot largely because of the stereotypes about people into BDSM. Because many people grow up with a lot of shame issues involving their kinks due to the way those kinks are perceived by society, and for many people it isn't until much later on in their lives - often after getting into a serious relationship or getting married - that they feel comfortable enough with themselves to come out about their kinks to a partner. So it turns out that scenario James was wondering about is actually pretty common. The woman lives in LONDON. It would not have been hard to find people who had been through this and ask them about it. All she would have to do is google BDSM sex clubs in London, email the contact person who runs it, and ask for help. Most people would have been happy to help educate her. They're good at it, they do it all the time with people who are new to the scene. For her to have written the story that she did in the way that she did it is horrifyingly irresponsible.

James also tells us in the interview that she didn't outline the story at all, that it just "came spilling out" of her. That really couldn't be more obvious. The story follows no logical progression whatsoever and often rambles on for pages and pages about the same thing whenever James got stuck on an idea. But she also makes a comment that when writing without an outline, all you have is what came before in your own story, and on that point I need to call bullshit on her. Because that statement would be true if she had bothered to go back and look at what she's written before, but it is painfully obvious that she doesn't. I have never read a book before whose main characters had such astonishingly inconsistent personalities. Even if you are writing without an outline, once you have established a character, you need to stick with the traits of that character. You can't write a Christian who maintains a mindblowing amount of control over every minute facet of his life, and then suddenly have him squirming and uncomfortable and unable to handle the situation without help when an architect doing work for him makes a pass at him. I'm not sure George R. R. Martin writes with a particularly detailed outline given that his planned trilogy is now going to span seven books (so far), only five of which are finished to date despite the fact he's been writing them for over 20 years. There are dozens of characters he has to keep track of, but every single one of those characters behaves the way the reader would expect them to behave because he thought about who all these people were and what defined each of them as a person before he started writing about them. The story grows out of the way those established characters interact with each other, not the other way around. To decide - on the fly, because you have no outline and no plan - how you want the story to go and then constantly contort your characters to behave in completely different ways from how they've acted before in order to fit some idea you had is a horrible way to write about anything.

The other thing James said in this interview is that she is "embarrassed" because so many men have now read her private fantasies. There would have been a very simple solution to that if the author weren't the real life embodiment of her fuckwit character Ana Steele, which is that if she had a fantasy she didn't want strange men to see, she shouldn't have WRITTEN IT DOWN IN A BOOK AND PUBLISHED IT.

11 comments:

Jenny Sare said...

I really don't think I could have out it better. Honestly she just abuses the English language and makes a mockery of real peoples lifestyles. As much as we are taking the piss, the truth is her books are dangerous.

Jen Summers said...

I don't know if they're dangerous, really. Well, at least not to the type of person with more than a few brain cells rattling around in their heads. The people who pop up on my Facebook feed citing this books as 'the best thing ever written!!!' are also the kind of people who say 'dat' instead of 'that' and think that the Lord of the Rings movies are unrealistic because 'that would never happen'.

Look, I'm not saying these people deserve to die after reading EL James' startling inaccurate and unhealthy rendition of 'Kinky Shit and Why it's Good, or Possibly Bad, IDK' but if they do it's probably some form of survival of the fittest. It's generally only going to take the stupid and the slow anyway.

That being said, ELJ is a moron who needs to be STOPPED. Someone really ought to invite her to an actual evening of BDSM, though the person brave enough to go through with that would win a shocked and awed tip of my imaginary hat. Shit, SHE should have gone to a fucking BDSM club before writing that book.

It's one thing if you're writing fantasy and creating your own world. It's another entirely when that subsection of society actually exists and the freakish popularity of your shitty novel makes them all look like neurotic, dangerous crazyballs.

Lora said...

I just want to hug you and thank you for all your hard work. I know you are suffering through this, but I also believe you can make it without going insane.

And thank you for clearing this up; I love learning and expanding my knowledge of things.

I'm gonna miss the daily postings.

Lisa Richard said...

I read something recently where she said she did a lot of her research on twitter. TWITTER!

Tyr Frankish said...

Well. That explains alot. I found were she found her inspiration on twitter while browsing reddit earlier.

http://i.imgur.com/7uVjU.jpg

Lucky find that will bring us more insight into her minds inner workings.

Jen Summers said...

Guys, guys, a 50 Shades birthday cake turned up on my Facebook feed today, I shit you not: http://tinyurl.com/bmyrtv4

THESE PEOPLE!!!!!

Q said...

girl I don't know how you deal with this. I'm only 25, but I've been reading fanfiction since I was in middle school. When I finally found some D/s stuff I was look 'hmmm this sounds intersting'. so you know what i did...I READ somemore and did a shit load of research. Some of the fanfics out there are actually pretty good, but I would have never thought this shit would get published. There are tons of great authors out there who deserve this more than James. I just want to show her what a healthy relationship really is, what BDSM REALLY is and hopefully find her some more brain cells. this woman is dumber than a nail....i honestly think she is Ana...no...I know for sure she is...God how can someone be this dumb?!

Laura Mary said...

One of the biggest things that's bugged me about all this, is how whenever EL is asked what research she did she just giggles like a 12 year old and says 'the internet'.

I just... I don't... I...

*brain dribbles out of ears*

Collared Cassaundra said...

I have not read this book yet, but when my NON-BDSM friends started telling me how great it was I wanted to read it. I figured any book that had vanilla folks understanding and loving the BDSM lifestyle was a great book! But after reading SEVERAL posts like this one....I am beginning to have doubts about even reading it. Thanks for the heads up.

Laura Antoniou said...

I'm glad she doesn't mention what exactly she read. I live in terror that she will say it was something of mine.

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