Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fearless Fiction

Write for oneself, write what you yourself would most identity with, write honestly and unsparingly and fearlessly.

Lawrence Block
from Spider Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers

Yes! Give me a fearless fiction! I have no interest in the nice, polite, easy, comfortable, comforting kind of story that lulls the incurious mind to sleep. No interest whatsoever in the opiate of happy endings, or the numbing oblivion of cozy genre tropes. I care nothing for the kind of writing that validates the childish prejudices of prudes and prigs, or coddles the self-righteous in their frigid cloisters. Spare me the company of writers who hire themselves out as glorified babysitters for the willfully ignorant and the easily-amused.

Picasso said that ‘true art can never be chaste’ and this is true, as well, for writing. Great writing bares all. A great writer cannot be body shy. Fearless fiction teaches us to face the things that terrify us most, even as we stand naked before the world in all our brazen brokenness, seared but unconsumed. For one cannot live a full and true and meaningful life in a state of fear. If we would use our past hurts and present fears as an excuse to self-censor, even as we would shrink from life, in the end we may find that we have never truly lived at all, let alone written anything of lasting value.

We must venture to upset and unsettle. We must dare to disturb. And we must begin with ourselves.

One encounters far too many uninspired erotic passages with all the allure of a checklist for an oil-change or a pathologist's notes on an autopsy. I suspect that much of this clinically repetitive claptrap can be explained as nothing more than bad writing, plain and simple. But much of it, I think, is the product of people who are ultimately afraid of losing control, who fear the dark depths of their own sexual imagination—or, more likely, the disapprobation of others, and so insist on keeping their fantasies bottled up and under control. In aspiring to create a fresh, fearless fiction, it may be helpful, first, to write down everything—get it all out on the page, whether or not it's worth polishing or publishing—and once these fantasies have been brought up into the light—the bizarre, the weird, the dark, the perverse, the downright sick—once the writer truly knows themself and what they are capable of creating, there is a basis for something good, if not great.

Note that sincere creative courage is not the same as merely venturing to outrage or shock an audience. Many beginners, infatuated with the forbidden or the sheer novelty of naughtiness, assume that erotic writing is naturally extreme in its depictions and must be ‘over the top’ in order to stand out. But these are the illusions of a novice. What makes a story about sex interesting isn’t so much the act itself; it’s the characters who come together to have that sex. Before you can tell an exceptional story about sex, you need to tell an extraordinary story about people; their thoughts, their feelings and their fears, their histories, hungers, hopes and hang-ups; ambitions, jealousies, obsessions, eccentricities, perversions, machinations, nightmares, daydreams and despairs. And, above all, the way these things are imagined, conveyed in language and in gesture.

Eroticism is impossible without imagination. As a physiological phenomenon, sex is neither extraordinary nor particularly interesting—after all, human beings can only ‘fit together’ in so many ways. Fortunately, our sexuality encompasses a great deal more than what lies within the limits of our finite physicality. What makes sex glorious and unique and endlessly fascinating is the way humans apply the infinite power of their imaginations to it.

Writing itself is like sex in this regard: in theory, anybody can do it, but, in practice, relatively few are capable of creating art with it. Doubtless, any half-witted hog can master the basic mechanics of what goes where (and I suspect that almost anybody could write rudimentary porn were they to put half or less of a mind to it); but it takes an extraordinary, thoughtful, sensitive human being to make love or move the world with words.

No. There’s nothing unusual about the ability to write—there’s no great mystery about it at all. This is why people tend to think that writing is easy, and balk at the prospect of putting down a few dollars for a novel or a short story collection—‘after all,’ they say, ‘why should I pay good money for something that anybody can do?’ It’s true, anybody can write, but few truly write well, and only the rarest handful write anything worth remembering.

If our sexuality is microcosm and metaphor for life in its vast complexity and bewildering abundance, those who would write about sex with insight and power must know something of and about life. Indeed, too much ‘serious’ literature envisions a life without sex. At the other end of the spectrum, porn gives us sex without life.  Somewhere in the middle, erotica endeavors to show us a real, human world in which life and sex are unimaginable without each other.

Write sincerely. Write beautifully. Write hopefully. Write fearlessly!


  1. You write so elegantly and eloquently, TAS, that I fear my own words are clunky and clumsy by comparison. Oh that I had a fraction of the talent you possess. This is yet another great piece from you, and I know I should strive more to create something more creative and fearless. One day...

  2. Rachel, I'd strongly recommend the book by Lawrence Block cited at the top of the page. It's a great source of affirmation for writers, and, though some of the ideas about marketing and publishing are now dated, his insights into the creative process and his advice on dealing with our writerly insecurities and hang-ups still ring invaluably true. In particular, Block suggests that we identify the fears and self-doubts we have deep down, which can block us from achieving our full potential. Hang in there! I know you have it in you.

    1. Thank you, TAS. I will take a look for the book you recommend.

  3. This is glorious, TAS! Too many brilliant passages to single out, but you may have written THE explanation of that timeless--and usually misunderstood--effort to explain the "difference" between porn and erotica. Too much "serious" literature does indeed envision life without sex, and too much of our "cultural" life demeans the imaginative, emotional, connecting, spiritual power of sexuality. Sexuality is like a colonized nation, demeaned, oppressed, prone to nasty rebellion. It does require love and fearlessness to liberate ourselves, body and mind. Bravo!