Posts Tagged ‘fetish’

One of the greatest temptations in writing is to introduce and expound on things which, although they may excite the writer, don’t necessarily serve the story. Maybe you have a fetish for leather hooker-boots (guilty as charged) and will do anything to force one or more of your characters to wear the thigh-high monstrosities, going on and on in over-excited detail about the design, texture, clickety-clack sounds, and heel-to-toe ratio of the footwear which you’ve so proudly outfitted for your character. This kind of senseless detail is commonly referred to as “Artistic Indulgence, or “Artist’s Indulgence.”

There are endless ways in which artists and writers indulge themselves at the expense of their audience. Maybe you’ve created a character based on your aunt Susan, and although this character isn’t a main player, you feel obligated to give her as many scenes as possible for the purpose of paying homage to your dear, sweet, favorite aunt. This is also a kind of Artistic Indulgence, or maybe more accurately, “Author’s Nepotism.” Whatever you choose to call it, these practices can be fatal to the overall effect of an otherwise good story.

Artistic indulgence of whatever kind is the antithesis of artistic unity. Artistic unity is the practice which holds that there must be nothing in the story that is irrelevant to the plot; that there be nothing mentioned that does not contribute to the meaning, texture, or final result of the story. Artistic unity is the weaving and ultimate uniting of all the puzzle pieces, and every good plot has plenty of it. In short, if you’re going to draw attention to a thing, make sure it pays off, otherwise readers will feel like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down a hole, only to find nothing at the end.

As I have submerged myself deeper and deeper into the education of writing, it’s become impossible for me not to notice both the strengths and weaknesses I see in my own writing, but also in the other books I read and the movies I watch. The most recent storyline which has fallen under my cruel, hawk-eyed radar is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While I am a fan of the movies and certainly in no position to condemn them, watching it from this new perspective, I couldn’t help noticing some things about the plot that stumped me.

For starters, the movie begins with Kate Capshaw’s character, Willie Scott. For the first several minutes of the movie, we listen to Willie cast out a dull musical number and watch the synchronized dance steps of her and her back-up dancers. Not a big deal really, unless you note that Willie’s performance possesses neither the glamorous musical edge nor the buoyant sexual suggestiveness to appeal to the movies target market audience.

After another several minutes of Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, aka Indiana Jones (after whom the movies were titled), shows up and stares at Ms. Capshaw, making her the center of the audience’s attention one more time, in case they missed how hot she was the first time. As the movie plugs along, we walk through Willie’s fears of spiders, get in touch with her femininity as she lords her powers of seduction over Indie, and witness her intellect as she lifts a magic diamond or something. Then we endure another ninety minutes of her face screaming into the camera as her character becomes more and more of a well-rounded player, gaining dimension and strength as she grows and changes with the various adversities she faces. Oh, and in the meanwhile, Indiana Jones is somewhere trying to save humanity or something.

When I was little and the movie was semi-new, I only knew that I didn’t really like it. But now, I was seeing things that made it perfectly clear why it wasn’t working for me. Stunned that a well-respected and professional director like Steven Spielberg would overlook such obvious plot flaws, I turned to Google and learned that not only was Mr. Spielberg enamored with Ms. Capshaw during the filming of this movie, but that the two went on to be married, and I believe, still are. And this… is artistic indulgence at work.

I don’t bring this up to critique the work of any of the actors, actresses or directors of this movie. I am not a movie critic and there are many people who love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and that is fine. But as I watched it, I kept getting the feeling that there was a better storyline inside there somewhere trying to get out. And this happens all the time… all due to the lack of artistic unity.

Artistic indulgence is something I suppose you can get away with when you’re an established powers-that-be, but for me, as a beginning writer, it is a luxury I can not afford. If I ever want anything real to become of my writing, I have to tell very tightly knitted, powerful stories. I can not create and foster anything just because it tickles my fancy. I can only have one destination: purpose.

In closing, it is my greatest hope that one day, this will not be the case, and for the record, if and when that day ever comes, the first thing I’m going to do is throw a random, screaming hot chick into my story. In hooker boots.

But until then… artistic unity is my greatest ally.

P.S. ~ The beast has been unleashed.

Beautiful Monster is now available in eBook and paperback editions at Damnation Books:
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     There is a famous adage in the writing world that says, “write what you know.”  I hate that adage.  It suggests that we never move outside the confines of our current knowledge and that, in essence, we reiterate and recycle that knowledge for all our years.  It prompts a timid and all-too-cautious approach to writing that is the ultimate cause, in my opinion, of very boring material.  But I do see the point.  After all, if you don’t know anything about football, writing a story about a professional football player’s anxiety over the big game is not going to come off well.  It will be superficial and ultimately, unconvincing.  That’s why I think that whoever first made the statement, “write what you know”, really should have said, “know what you write.” 

     And that is where research comes in.

     Research for me is mostly a proactive practice.  Although sometimes you are limited and must do a lot of reading on a subject, I think it’s important that, as often as possible, you experience the things you are writing about.  For me, this has meant some very interesting and mind-expanding adventures.  Most recently, for the sake of an idea I have for an upcoming story, I have made great friends with the nicest little Jehovah Witness woman.  She’s got to be a hundred and twelve years old and she is probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.  I invite her into my house and listen to her stories, all the while trying not to stare too intently at her eyebrows which, bless her ancient heart, she is no longer able to paint on straight.  We know each other on a first name basis now, and although we more often talk about her past than the Kingdom of the Lord, I fully enjoy her company and have come to consider her a great friend.

    For another project, I spent some time in a Catholic church.  I wasn’t raised Catholic and so I knew nothing about the religion except what I’d seen on television.  Attending mass, I was surprised by how aerobic being a Catholic is. Sit, stand, pray, repeat!  I left exhausted, understanding not only why their services only last about forty-five minutes, but also why they give you a cracker at the end.  Later, I had a friend of mine who is educated on the religion go with me to the cathedral and explain all the different meanings of the trinkets and shiny things therein.  It was fascinating!

     Probably the most compelling experience I’ve had in research was my exploration of the BDSM community.  I was writing something that needed my understanding of the dynamic between Masters and their human slaves.  I spent a year searching for the local kink subculture before, quite coincidentally, finally happening upon it.  I was informed of a local fetish website, which I joined and soon began making friends.  Eventually, I realized that kink was all around me.  They even have kink classes at the local university!  Soon, I was invited to an actual “play party”, which is where kinksters get together for a night of fulfilling their fetishes.  I connived some friends of mine to go with me as my human slaves.  I wore eyeliner and dressed my pets in next to nothing, put them on leashes on headed to the event with an odd mixture of trepidation and awe. Had I been more practiced, I suppose the four of us would have even gotten in and out of narrow doorways with a little more grace, but hey… I dare you to try toting two women and one man around on leashes in a cool, debonair manner!  For the most part though, we fit right in and I was able to meet some of the most fascinating people I ever have, some of whom I remain good friends with to this day.   I saw all kinds of things that fueled my imagination.  I was hesitant about participating much, with the exception of letting a trusted kinkster hit me with a bamboo stick, (yes, Martha, I did!), and I left with a deeper understanding of and respect for the community and it’s practices (as well as a big bruise on my ass).

     Perhaps hardest of all, is the research I have been doing for the project I am currently working on.  I’m writing about a narcissistic serial killer who was abused severely by his mother and later, his foster-father.   Since it’s in no ones interest for me to experience this stuff first hand, I have been doing a lot of reading on the minds of serial killers and the lives they lived.  It’s disturbing and  hellish and I am eager to be done with it.  I have learned things I’m not sure I ever wanted to know, but it’s important to me that I understand the characters I write. 

     So no, I don’t believe in only writing what you know, but I do believe in knowing what you write.   Research is a necessary part of writing, the great myth being, of course, that it involves hours of tedious reading about dull subjects.  In truth though, research is, in some ways, the best part about writing.  Something I have come to understand is that there’s a big difference between knowing a thing on an intellectual level, and truly understanding it.  I think that in order to write a convincing account of anything, a writer must possess full comprehension of his subject.  When you write something without that base understanding, readers know. 

     A lot of writers take the liberty of assuming a position of superiority.  After all, writing is a one way form of communication; you can not be interrupted and argued with mid-sentence.  But, what writers should realize is that, in truth, the reader has the power.  All he or she has to do is close the book.  And this knowledge is what prompts me to continue knowing what I write.