Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Revising for Emotional Honesty

I'm in the last phases of revising Untouched (that book you see to your right at the top of the page). While I'm of course paying attention to my language, watching out for inconsistencies, and the like, I'm finding that by far the thing I most want to accomplish with this revision is emotional honesty. It's tempting as a writer to say, "This character needs to say or do this particular thing because I really, really need her to wind up here." But as I've worked on this book over the past months and thought about it lots, I've realized that I don't want to betray my characters that way. I've taken to drawing what I'm calling "bullshit lines" on the page—demarcations of where my characters stop acting like themselves and start saying and doing the things that are convenient for me.

I write from an outline, and perhaps this is a pitfall of being an outline writer. But I think it's more than that. With Untouched, I'm exploring territory that's been hard for me to reach. My main character, Celia, has a sexual identity and expression that can't easily be labeled, and her feelings about it are complicated. Celia fights back against people who want her to become "normal," and sometimes, I must confess, I become one of those people. As the author, I sometimes want her to be more "normal," easier to understand, and I do her, myself, and my readers a disservice when I give in to that.

If I weren't in the thick of this, I might be able to transform this into a more general rule, but right now the best I can manage is the very zoomed-in view from where I sit.

My personality is rather philosophical, and I think that comes through in my writing, but I also want to add something about sexiness. I believe in emotional honesty for its own reasons, but I also think it's hotter than the alternative, and, as an erotica writer, that really matters to me. I've had conversations with other writers about whether our work remains sexy to us. My personal ideal is for my work to always make me squirm. I want to always be genuinely turned on by the concepts and scenes in my stories. I confess, however, that sometimes when I've gone over a draft numerous times, the sexiness sort of disappears under the weight of commas.

Untouched has proven different. This is the wildest, most honest work I've done. It's challenged me heavily. It's hard to hang with Celia because she sometimes scares me. The bar she sets for emotional honesty is so high. On the other hand, even though I've been over and over this manuscript, it's still so hot it makes me sweat. My panties are soaked at the end of every day, and I'm editing.

But that can be a scary thing, too. Because of this honesty thing I'm talking about, I've produced something more honestly hot for me, something closer to what really makes me tick sexually. Writing this book has affected my actual sex life in a number of profound ways, and that's backwards from the way it usually works for me (usually, I transform things I know from my sex life into fiction, and it's a different experience to have my fiction lead me). It's hard to stay true to that, too, because the book feels more personal, much closer to home. If people think it's weird or perverse, it's going to be a little harder for me to shrug and say that's fine. This is a concern whenever writing erotica, but honestly after doing it for five years I thought I'd gotten over that.

I've never pushed myself as hard as I have for Untouched—in every aspect: language, story, psychology, eroticism. There's a responsibility that I feel as I wind down this revision. I want to do justice to all of this. I want the words to burn on the page. So here I am, going through it one last time, making it as real as I can. The humbling thing is that I already know there are ways that I will fail—goes with the territory, I think. I'm just hoping I can fail better. And be as emotionally honest as I can in the process.

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