Saturday, October 31, 2015

When Infidelity Works

Warning: I’ll be riding my segue throughout this blog.

Sometimes the rules of capital-R Romance give me pause. One of said rules is the one about infidelity, and the verboten nature of it. I understand the reasoning behind the rule, but I also feel it can be a strong tethering force to a writer's creativity.
In the real world, for example, it’s quite possible for an infidelity to happen and for it to make a relationship stronger. It becomes, essentially, the relationship’s beauty spot–the dark blot which brings into stark relief all the good, great and wonderful aspects of the rest of the relationship. (I don't make any claim to this result being common, nor am I making a recommendation to test the theory!)
Granted, it depends on the nature and strength of the relationship before the infidelity as to whether healing can occur. Also, a whole lot rides on the nature of the infidelity itself. Was it a casual, no-strings thing that “just happened”? Did it result from a period of unrest within the core relationship? Or was it one of those situations where if you’d met that new person first, you’d have been with them instead?
Another factor is the people within the core relationship, and what their triggers are. Of the three examples I described above, each one would have a different meaning to different people. The no-strings situation might be a sharp blow that could be easily fixed because it really did mean nothing beyond a quick fuck. But perhaps the fact a partner could so easily trip and land in or on someone else’s sex organs would give their partner pause.
Either way, though, what bugs me to a certain degree is that removal of a valuable source of tension and character growth. Even in religion, sinners are granted a chance at redemption. Why not in Romance? (I do know the answer to this question, by the way. I just like to ask it once in a while.)
I think these strict rules are part of why I have such a healthy love of well-written literary erotica as well as erotic romance. The scope is wider, I suppose. The options more varied.
In my last blog I mentioned my older story, “The Three-Day Hump”. There were many reasons this story never really took off, and I’m told one of those reasons is the infidelity. In my story, the second example held true–my male lead was married to a famous model, whose obsession with physical perfection had led to her becoming cold to anything but her own reflection. He had motivation which, to me, was understandable but still morally wrong; and I see nothing wrong with using that in fiction. My female lead was a little more innocent, given her on-again-off-again boyfriend was off the scene at the time.
I firmly believe that story is hella romantic. It just isn’t a Romance story.
But the whole question of these rules brings me around to another bugbear I’ve visited in the past, on one or the other of my blogs. The warnings system on distributor websites.
Now granted, in self-publishing we’re not bound in any way to provide warnings about what kind of nookie and triggers go on in our stories. There is, however, a strong expectation that we’ll do so. When working through a publisher, in my experience it’s absolutely expected that warnings will be quite transparent.
Why does this bug me? Well, to draw another tired comparison… horror stories. I did a little searching on Amazon, choosing Steven King and Clive Barker as my guinea pig authors (because I don’t read much horror so I only know the big names!). Nary a warning to be seen. No mention that characters might be eviscerated. No warning that blood will be forcibly removed from its vessels. Nuttin’. Yet you slip one random cock into a pre-lubed ass without telegraphing it to the reader and there can be a whole lot of trouble.
Bear in mind that it’s a fictional schlong and an equally fictional rosebud. And that, though I’ve not discussed it until now, I’m talking consensual acts here between the fictional folk.
None of which quite answers the question as to why it bugs me. Again, I do understand the viewpoint of those who say it’s necessary. I just think the expectation that we should lay it all out like that removes some of the writer’s power to surprise. Imagine applying the same expectations to “The Crying Game”.

Warning: main female character is actually a dude.

11 comments:

  1. I loved The Crying Game by the way. And though in real life I'm morally opposed to cheating (without permission) I do understand some of the motivations for it and believe fiction is a great place to explore those.

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  2. I loved The Crying Game by the way. And though in real life I'm morally opposed to cheating (without permission) I do understand some of the motivations for it and believe fiction is a great place to explore those.

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    1. It's so long since I've actually seen the movie. And I already knew the secret going in, unfortunately. But to explore your second point further, since we're talking fiction, I feel it can be quite crippling to a writer to have certain things taken off the table. And nobody truly gets hurt when two non-existent people bump genitalia, no matter their fictional marital status.
      (I am aware, of course, how deeply readers get into a good story, so I'm talking only in literal terms here, not metaphorical!)

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  3. Excellent points Willsin. I have read blurbs for books that actually warn that there is infidelity and read reviews that state had they known there was cheating in the book they wouldn't have ever read it.
    I think (with the proper medical testing) that I maybe could get over a casual one time slip more than a non sexual but emotional affair (example: the work wife).

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    1. I do understand, of course, that it's a trigger. People who've been devastated by a partner's affair probably won't enjoy reading about infidelity at all. But I still feel it's potentially hindering a story's impact to have to spell it right out, though I don't have a catch-all answer for how else to handle it. I guess a healthy "buyer beware" warning that the story they're checking out doesn't follow the rules of capital-R Romance.

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  4. Fiction shouldn't be subjected to such arbitrary warnings. Are our readers not grown up enough to be exposed to complexities in a relationship? Can a writer offer no shocks or surprises? Are we so tender we need somebody to protect us from our own squicks? Sounds like a slippery slope catering to the weakest constitutions.

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    1. Unfortunately a lot of it is already in place. I suppose, as I said on the above comment, we need to still use some vague warning terms in order to help readers who might have strong triggers to avoid getting hurt. Not sure that's the job of the author, of course.

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  5. Sorry I'm chiming in so late, Willsin, but jeez, this situation bugs me, too. Both the fact that infidelity is off the table if you're going to write "romance" (or maybe "Romance"), and the way readers (or at least publishers) seem to want their hand held, to be warned about anything they might not expect. Talk about killing suspense! (Not to mention narrative tension, as you observe.)

    I recently reviewed a very good novel on my blog, called Ash's Fire. At the core of the book is an adulterous affair--and not just a fling, a serious emotional attachment. At the same time, the protagonist is deeply committed to her husband and kids. The book treats this situation with the delicacy and complexity it deserves. Quite a feat, in my opinion.

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    1. Ah, yes, exactly. I've not read the story you mention, but that very situation can be super-romantic. It's absurd to think no person can possibly love more than one other. It's the fight through those temptations, or the fact a character succumbs, that makes a stronger story. But I guess they're not Romance stories, either...

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  6. They may not qualify as romances, but toss in a couple of old wooden structures over water, and bingo, you have a best-selling novel and movie. (Bridges of Madison whatever, I never read the book or saw the movie.) It's only romance that has such strictures, possible because "daddy" is still ensuring that us "little women" don't hurt ourselves...or develop unreal expectations about size and stamina. Or what we'd like to do with our lady parts. Bleah to the bullshit patriarchy! So glad to find out that there are more men than I know personally, who disagree with it also. Part of what makes this such a fun place to visit is the respect everyone has for each other, despite, nay, because of our differences.

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    1. I hadn't actually made those links myself, Fiona, but you raise a good point (about the patriarchal nature of Romance). That gives me even more to think about, and more ammunition for future stories! Thank ya!

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