Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Get the facts straight

I learn best by reading. That probably doesn't come as a surprise to any of you.

I'm also not one to jump into anything without a clear picture of what I'm getting myself into. As a result, when I finally accepted that I had more than a passing interest in BDSM, I combed the fledgling Internet for books on the topic. There weren't many.

But I did find a few books (my favorite is still Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns) and a few websites (I learned a lot from Castle Realm, a now-defunct site. Some of their archives can be found here). Through them I learned a lot about both the psychology and the physical attributes of BDSM.

Why do I tell you this in a writing workshop? Because knowing your subject is vital to writing a believable story. Nothing pulls me out of a book faster than something that ain't true.

We're not talking dramatic license here. Taking a few liberties or combining characters for the sake of the story is an entirely different affair (and one for a future blog post! Making a note to self...). Nor am I talking about verisimilitude (the "reality" every story presents). I'm talking about factual mistakes that make readers sit up and say, "Did this author really just write that? It's so wrong!"

Believe me, other people notice. Tied to Home was recently reviewed by BDSMBookreviews. The line in the review that meant the most to me was "She did, however, go out of her way to make sure there were no circulation problems with some of the intricate scenes."

Yes, I did. As a writer of BDSM play scenes, I have a responsibility to my readers. Some people read my books as good fantasies--escape stories that let them vicariously live a life they wouldn't dream of living in reality. Other people read my books to learn about models of relationships--how can a modern, feminist woman allow her submissive side to come out and still respect herself in the morning?

Still others read them because they live the lifestyle and like to read fiction that doesn't treat their chosen way of life as something "off" or "outside". These are the readers who will spot a fake six shelves away. They understand the world of BDSM is like a candy store - with lots of different flavors and many different expressions. And I'd better get them right if I want to sell these readers any more books.

But candy stores have rules, and so do those in the lifestyle. Safe, sane and consensual is a concept that goes back several decades and one which I follow in all my books. The above reviewer did take exception to the fact that the characters in Tied to Home didn't have a set of safewords -- and she's right. They should have. All my other characters do. That was an oversight on my part and she's right to take me to task for it.

Because, when it comes right down to it, authors are teachers. It's our responsibility to get the facts right. I knew so much more than other kids in my class about history because I read historical novels. I knew dancers walked with their toes pointed outward (The Velvet Room), that there were several kinds of nurses, and that a purple crayon could make me an entire world. I knew words most of them had never heard of. Not that I knew what all of them meant, but the exposure was there--and comprehension came later.

Think about what you've learned from the stories you've read. Now imagine the author got those facts wrong. Imagine thinking you understood a particular concept or knew a straight-up fact only to discover you didn't-because the author, by being lazy and not doing his/her homework, told you a falsehood.

You'd be angry, wouldn't you?

And so will your readers if you try to take shortcuts. Get your facts straight - and write the book your readers will remember as the place where they learned something new. Something right.

Play safe, 

P.S. Remember, I write these workshops as a supplement to my income. If you find them useful, please leave a donation. Thank you.

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