Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Where Does the Line Blur?

Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Escapism versus reality.

To me, every story ever written has some element of fantasy and some element of escapism. That’s why it’s called fiction. It doesn't matter where you set it, or who the people are, or how closely it follows something that really happened, the writer has imagined it.

This topic set me to thinking about the huge variety of fiction out there. When it comes to books, it’s not whether you like escapism or not, it’s where you draw the line in the sand. And boy, it’s one wiggly line when it comes to what people prefer in erotic writing. Appropriate, don’t you think? Sex is not a straight forward affair. Wiggly sounds better. There are so many many ways to approach sex. If you think it’s just wham bam thank you ma’am and insert tab A into slot B you need to step away from this blog…or to go and read a few of the past posts.

That wiggly line in erotic romance stories (I mostly write those) might as well start with those involving the guy next door. I mean, that is so close to real, right? Yet for some like me, it’s too close.

If you’re going to dream, you don’t want Ned the balding, badly dressed IT consultant with the bad case of (insert some disease) next door do you? No, you must have Mr. Insanely-well-muscled with a bad case of gym junkie who is also a great lover next door. So there you have the first rift in reality. There are very few books that ever pick a man who is truly average, and none that choose Mr. Way Below-average for the ‘hero’.

There is always some element of unrealness. And even in a contemporary story, what turns on one reader will turn off another. You may love reading about Billionaires who find the woman of their dreams walking down the street and she’s poor and nothing special really, but to him, she’s amazing and he just has to have her!

But to me?

Hmm. No. Billionaires don’t do it for me. Unless, maybe, they have had some awful things happen to them and they’re trapped in a jungle prison with a vile disease eating away their leg and the cleaning lady has made off with their money. Yeah, sorry, uber-rich for me is just going too far.

I would rather read a story set in an alternate world where the people are at risk of being killed any moment from a dreaded invasion of aliens than read about billionaires. If you’re going to stretch reality, do it in a way that makes my brain hurt, puh-leeese.

In most every story there is a moment where the author asks you to take a leap of faith. They take you by the hand and say, come with me and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.

And right there, right then, some readers let go of that hand and go, no way.

But that’s what highlights the differences between what some see as escapism and others see as trash.

And though different people have different opinions there seems to be a mass preference for some types of escapism that is set up by what has come before. Go back twenty years and you won’t find this huge preference for shape-shifters or vampires in romance. Women now see them as sexy because of what they've seen in the media, on TV and in books, and Twilight has a lot to do with it.

Give us another twenty years and these stories probably won’t be as accepted. Ask a romance reader to believe in a shapeshifter romance and they will perhaps let go of the author’s hand and not make that leap of faith.

Obviously, what you like others may not. The trigger point for disbelief can be tiny and inexplicable. Some minor detail of character will make one reader toss the book, where another will sit enthralled and read until the small hours. That same first reader who got stuck on a minor character detail, will gobble up another story that starts with a billionaire Dom at an art gallery finding their future submissive wandering past the gallery. Or they’ll dive into a book where a man finds a woman and tells her to go enroll in a Submissive school so she can find her dream Dom.

Is it just the weirdest and the most fantastical books that make readers faint and walk away? No, it isn't  There is a huge immense market for books about women being abducted by aliens and finding their true mate in outer space.

What one reader will go all OMG over, another will snatch up and devour.

Yet is it any more escapist to imagine an alien with two dicks loving you than it is to imagine a sexy, handsome, well-endowed billionaire deciding you are the woman he has been waiting for and that if he cannot have you his life is worthless? I think not.

Perhaps you disagree? Where does the real turn into the unreal and you let go of the author’s hand?


  1. What Cari says about being pulled from a story by what would be a minor detail hits all of us. It may be an unbelievable character or an impossible sex position. The latter could be just a bump in the road of a novel but the former would permeate the entire work. I had trouble with Gone Girl because Flynn's first person Nick did't come off (to me) as a man. Make it fiction, make it fantastic, but it's gotta jibe with itself.

  2. I'm bored with books about alpha males who have been searching for "the one" and she's always young, plain (in her mind), and inexperienced, so he can "break her" to his hand, as it were. Sigh. Nothing worse than a man who needs a virgin because no woman who knows what sex can be like, will have anything to do with him! Cough(bad lay!)cough...

    Even worse are the vampires, though I did just write a couple where my protagonists were all vamps. I once asked a teen girl raving to me about the "T" book series, how old the hero is supposed to be. She told me he's about 100. I asked her how old her grandfather is...much younger than 100, of course. Then I asked her if she'd date one of his friends. "Ew!" So why is it okay in this series? "Cause he's young-looking and hot!"

    Then I imagined the dialogue for her thusly:
    Him: Blah, blah, blah, back in the good old days, etc.
    Her: Oh, are you still talking? I've been texting and checking Facebook.


  3. Reading this reminded me of one of my early loves which were the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read these when I was a kid and looking back I realise these were actually romance novels written for boys in exotic settings.


  4. Ooh, where are these books about women being abducted by aliens and finding their true mate in outer space? I've been missing something. I do remember "The Women Men Don't See" by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), but we don't get to know whether those women find true mates with the aliens, just that they figure anybody else has to be better than human men and the way they treat women. Not exactly a romantic story.

  5. Interesting post. And yes, there are romance novels for male readers! (In any case, "romance" once defined all fiction -- anything not factual or Biblical.)

  6. Funny, but I just this afternoon finished writing my first "billionaire" story, which will (hopefully) appear in an anthology entitled "Tied to the Billionaire". I don't personally find wealth to be an aphrodisiac, but it's clear from the sales of previous "Billionaire"-themed anthologies produced by this publisher that many readers do.

    In any case, my billionaire isn't typical. The story is set in the Gilded Age and unfolds in one of the famed Newport mansions. And the heroine is anything but a virgin - she's an experienced submissive who works as a labor activist, organizing strikes in the young robber baron's factories!

    Excellent post, Cari. I'm really sorry you're leaving us, because you've got a lot to say.


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