By Lisabet Sarai
A few months ago, I wrote a short story called "Like Riding a Bicycle". The story focuses on a long-married couple. They originally had a D/s relationship but over the years, their sexual interactions have become more vanilla, due to pressures of life and work, lack of privacy, and so on. The story involves a chance interaction that rekindles their old fantasies and pulls them back into BDSM.
Now, personally, I found this story very hot. It incorporates both physical and psychological elements that I always find arousing. On the physical side, it offers blindfolds, butt plugs, and flogging, leading up to penetration and mutual orgasm. As far as psychological turn-ons, there's the Dom calling the sub a kinky slut because submitting makes her wet - his forcing her to admit her deviant desires - the sub's articulation of her total devotion - the Dom's intuitive understanding of how to give his sub what she needs - the rough sex followed by tender caresses. By the time I'd written the last sentence, I won't lie - I was horny as hell!
As I mentally reviewed the tale, though, I was assailed by doubts. So many of my BDSM stories include similar details. Was I succumbing to clichés? Writing the same story again and again? At the same time, well-defined sub-genres (like BDSM) have conventions, commonly recurring themes and actions that exist because that's what readers enjoy and expect. The elements that I've described "push my buttons" and I assume that they have the same effect on my readers.
So how do I succeed in pushing my readers' buttons so that they find my stories sexy, without descending into sameness? I really don't know the answer to this question. I do know that the few times I've penned a different sort of BDSM, the reactions haven't necessarily been favorable. My novella Tomorrow's Gifts features some M/M BDSM interactions between one of the protagonists and a gorgeous but self-centered Dom who is a basically a stranger (actually, he's sort of a ghost...). I received a number of negative comments from readers about this aspect of the story - and that was after I toned down the gay gang bang (which the protagonist eagerly desires) at the request of my editor!
Maybe I'm more sensitive to the issue of repetition and clichés than readers are. I wonder whether most readers notice repeated plot elements or other details. I have to admit that I do, although noting some repetition won't necessarily make me like an author's work less. Still, I personally place a high value on originality. Thus, when I find myself falling into the habit of reusing ideas, even ideas that particularly arouse me, I get a bit nervous.
At the same time, Raw Silk remains my most popular work, possibly because it is the most nakedly personal, if not exactly autobiographical. To a large extent, it's a compendium of my fantasies, played out through my characters. And I'll be the first to admit that those fantasies are not necessarily all that unusual, at least not for someone who finds dominance and submission appealing. (Okay, the scene with the chilli peppers is pretty different. But that's not even BDSM!) Aspects of those fantasies appear again and again in my subsequent books. Are these clichés? If they are, should I be working to get rid of them?
I guess one mark of a skilled erotica writer is the ability to push your buttons without your feeling manipulated - to offer the satisfaction of recognizing familiar scenarios and emotions without the boredom that comes from excessive repetition. I recently read Training the Receptionist by Juniper Bell and was really impressed by her skill in this regard. At one level, this book is yet another riff on the common office BDSM/dominant boss/submissive secretary premise. Yet Ms. Bell breathed new life into this tired plot, partly because she introduced some original elements, but mostly because her tight, lively style and first person point of view were sufficiently - um, stimulating - that I didn't really think about all the other stories I'd read with similar plots.
I've learned from experience that if my stories don't arouse me, they won't have the desired effect on my readers. Either I need to expand the range of toys, activities and scenarios that turn me on - or else reconcile myself to some repetition in the pursuit of a hot tale.