Fantasy and Realism

In writing a story, such as Summer Hire, there is a constant tension between fantasy and realism. At its core, the story is an erotic romance about a woman in her mid-20’s being introduced to the world of BDSM. Setting the story within such a strong genre creates powerful expectations for how the story will unfold.

Because it is a Romance, we know our female protagonist will have to meet a powerful, more worldly, wealthier, slightly older, and somewhat emotionally remote man who will sweep her off her feet. Although there will be sparks of conflict at times, she will fall in love and gradually begin melting his hard facade. At the climax of the book, everything will seem to have fallen apart, before our two protagonists finally embrace their undying love for each other, which is resolved in a happily-ever-after ending. This plot progression is carved in stone. Woe be to the author who messes with it too much.

Because it is an Erotic Romance, there has to be lots of mind-blowing sex, in which our lovely protagonist experiences a steady progression of increasingly powerful orgasms. The narrative isn't allowed to go too far without a sex scene, or else readers start skipping pages. And the sex scenes have to be hot, really, really hot (or else the reviews will be poor).

Similarly, the sub-genre of a young woman's introduction into BDSM has its own set of required signposts and plot points.

As you might imagine, day-to-day reality has very little to do with these archetypal fantasy tropes. Of course, Fantasy is an entirely legitimate form of entertainment. After all, we read books like this in order to get a break from our day-to-day reality.

As a writer, however, I struggle with these genre constraints. If followed too slavishly, the power of these tropes can suck the life out of the characters, turning them into cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, if I blatantly disregard the expectations of the genre, readers would not be getting what they were implicitly promised, which is disappointing.

So, what I have tried to do is to honor the overall structure of the genre, while letting my characters be as real as possible. For example, despite her enthusiastic embrace of BDSM sexuality, Melissa is not about to sacrifice her dreams of being an archaeologist, just to stay at home and wait for her man. Sure, she’s willing to have a summer fling and enjoy her walk on the wild side, but the on-coming semester will force some serious rethinking.

Similarly, Erik strays away from the depiction of the prototypical dominant found in most BDSM stories. He is far more emotionally present and willing to show his uncertainty than the typical portrayal of a brooding, emotionally-challenged male dom. Erik clearly respects Melissa as his equal. In short, he is much more like myself and the other dominants I know in real life. As discussed in the post below about a Canadian research study, true equality of power between dom and sub is the norm, not the exception.

In trying to bring more realism to this story, what has been an absolute delight for me is how all of these characters have found their own clear voice. They insist on staying true to their voice, even when it is inconvenient for how I am trying to shape the through-line of a chapter. I have an overall narrative arc for the story, as well as specific arcs for each chapter. The characters, however, will sometimes take a somewhat different path through the chapter than I had planned. Their path and their landing point is more emotionally honest than where I was trying to force them, so I back off and let them stay true to themselves.

The distinction between fantasy and reality is sometimes sharpest in my depictions of some of the settings in the story. For instance, I have been asked by more than one reader if there really are high-end BDSM clubs, like the one Erik takes Melissa to on her first night at his house. Alas, as far as I know, clubs like this are pure fantasy. There certainly are some wonderful BDSM clubs in many different cities, but they are generally very mid-market in their construction, finishes, and clientele. Unfortunately, any high-end club would become a magnet for would-be blackmailers. The people who are wealthy enough to afford membership at an exclusive BDSM club are simply too sensitive to the threat of exposure. Most of the wealthier people who I know in the BDSM community only go to clubs when they are in other cities, where the likelihood of being recognized is much lower.

Even though there are some great resorts internationally for exploring sexuality, such as Desire in Riviera Maya, Mexico, these resorts have been very tentative about creating BDSM-focused events or time blocks. As far as I can tell, they are worried about both the liability issues and the reactions of the locals. (What can I say? Folks like us in BDSM just don’t get no respect.)

In any case, at the end of the day, I hope that I have created a story that is emotionally real, even if the setting and overall narrative arc conform to expectations that are rooted in fantasy. It’s an odd mix, but it seems to work.