Saturday, April 29, 2006

The flip side

Last time I was here, we chatted about the things we think we should want, but in fact couldn't care less about. This time, I'd like to discuss the opposite – the things we think we should not want, and yet stubbornly insist on wanting anyway.

In writing circles, we talk about characters' secrets, and they generally have to do with their deepest desires. The standard advice for authors is to ask yourself, "What does my heroine want?" and when you have the answer and think your work is done, you realize it's not quite right, and you need to ask yourself, "No, what does she really want?" When you can answer that second question, you'll have a deeper understanding of the character, but you're not done yet. You need to go one level further, asking "No, what does she REALLY want?" and that's where you find the character's secret, her motivation, the key to understanding her enough to make her come alive on the page and to give her a unique and credible happy ending.

It's not easy to get to that final level of what the character REALLY wants. She may not know, herself. Or she could be in denial. Just as there are many things we're told we should want, there are many things we're told we should not want, often with a huge taboo sign plastered over them. And we want them anyway.

The sexual arena seems to spawn a number of these dichotomies. Some segments of society proclaim that women aren't supposed to be as interested in sex (or sexually explicit reading material) as men are. Although some women (not this particular blog's readers, I hope!) may buy into this view of what women shouldn't want, the recent explosion of the erotic romance genre is pretty clear evidence that women do want sex and erotica every bit as much as men do.

There are a number of other proclamations of what women shouldn't want that I find more troubling, especially when I can see some validity in the reasoning behind the "shouldn't." For example, I'm a feminist. I believe in the radical principal that all people, regardless of gender, are created equal. I could never write a truly retro heroine, because I can't fathom a woman ever deferring to a male simply because he has a penis and she doesn't. And yet ....

And yet, I'm working on a couple stories where the heroine plays out a submissive role with the hero, because that's what the heroine REALLY wants in her sexual romps. (Just to be true to my feminist roots, though, I also have one where the hero is the submissive partner, enthusiastically carrying out the heroine's orders.)

Which leads to my question for the day – what do you want that you think you shouldn't want? Wait, that was too easy. Think deeper, about what you really want. And now think some more and tell me what you REALLY want that you think you REALLY shouldn't want.


Blogger Michelle said...

good morning jan,

wowza...that's a question and a half. i need more coffee first, darlin and maybe a tune up on my brain LOL.


11:06 AM  
Blogger Meljprincess said...


10:29 AM  
Blogger Jan Darby said...

Good one, princess.

I've got a few folks I'd like to see get their come-uppance, myself. Probably why I write mysteries when I'm not writing erotic romance. I get the high of committing all sorts of revenge and no one actually gets hurt.

Oh, boy, you wouldn't believe my word verification: dmtlust. Damn it, lust!

4:09 PM  
Anonymous moonlightwillow said...

This is a VERY good question, Jan. I'm a writer, and I've written "the book of my heart" many times. Now my heart really wants one of those books to sell, and sell BIG. Like, NYT Bestseller list, personal pride, loads of lovely loot. And it's funny, but I feel uncomfortable saying if my ambition would be frowned on by other women.

Sometimes, I feel as if "writing the book of your heart" translates into "If you're good at writing across genres and willing to switch back and forth to try to sell in a shifting market, you will be labeled insincere and somehow not a 'true' writer."

What do you think?

5:27 PM  
Blogger Meljprincess said...

Thank you, Jan.

11:20 AM  

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