Last week, I participated in a flash fiction challenge in which I picked two subgenres to mash together into a single short story. I did this using a random number generator and landed on dystopia and erotica. (Read it here if you’re so inclined.)
Yep, erotica. As in hormones, blood rushes and naughty bits. I didn’t go all-out graphic with the sexy time because that’s not what I like to write. But it’s there enough.
I also didn’t post the thing to Facebook or Twitter, like I normally do.
Well…I’m not sure. I did post the link on the site hosting the challenge, but that’s it. I think it was because I knew my mom wouldn’t be able to find it there.
Silly, I know. She, along with most of my other readers at this point, is an adult. If she didn’t want to read it, she wouldn’t have.
What makes this even sillier is my published novel has subject matter that more readers (compared to those who’d say casual sex is a no-no) would consider taboo – adultery – though that’s not explicit either. I wrote it that way mostly for genre reasons. The book is a mystery, not romance or erotica. So I wrote just enough for readers to get the point without treading into a mature rating. Still, when I asked for volunteers to beta read the book, I warned those I thought would be offended by such behavior. “The characters don’t behave themselves,” I said.
You know what? Everyone who I thought might be bothered loved the story. Even my mom.
Here’s the thing – fiction is a reflection of life. In the real world, people don’t behave themselves. They lie. They cheat. They drink too much. They develop unhealthy attractions. They swear. They kill (though this particular transgression is more widely accepted in literature than the “everyday” sins we’re talking about. More on that in a minute.) No one wants to read about a perfectly-behaved character for two reasons: 1. Perfect people don’t exist, and 2. They’re boring.
Fiction should challenge us. It should present us with situations in which we normally wouldn’t find ourselves and give us a safe place to grapple with the choices the characters face. Do we agree with them? Why or why not? What would have happened had they done it differently? What would I do in that situation?
My telling of fictional characters engaging in an affair doesn’t mean I endorse adultery. I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin doesn’t promote sexual relationships between siblings. I bet Stephen King isn’t sitting around thinking about the best way to slaughter his family while dropping five hundred f-bombs in the process.
Okay, so that last example (and maybe the one before) is extreme, but that’s the rub, innit? The closer to real life the moral dilemma, the more dissonance it causes. Of course you’re not going to climb onto your riding lawn mower and go hunting for kindergarteners. But maybe you were a little attracted to that shapely blonde on the subway, and you looked a little longer than you should have, because who would know?
So what’s a writer to do? Compose a tale that includes taboos, and you’ll probably face critical reviews. In fact, I promise you will. Write it anyway. Well-written stories that pull readers out of their little comfortable boxes are good fiction. Those are the stories people remember.