Sunday 11 November 2012

Strong Female Characters (in erotica?)

I've always been interested in strong female characters in fiction, and that goes for everything from novels to stage plays to films and video games (perhaps specifically due to their sparseness in the latter two mediums). I love a good female character that's well-rounded, unique, memorable, and able to overcome the challenges presented to her in a way that seems realistic and organic to the story. On top of that, I've always been a proponent of the idea that truly strong female characters are those that deal with challenges and situations specifically related to their gender. Anyone can write a gender-neutral action hero of the type we've seen a thousand times before in hollywood and popular media and hire a female actress to play them, or change all the "he"s to "she"s in their manuscript. In fact (and perhaps I'm verging into the territory of silly personal hang-ups here) whenever I run across a female character who's portrayed as tough and butch and domineering I can't help but roll my eyes when she's described as a "strong female character" - because in my mind she's really not. She's just a generic strong character with the gender dial clicked over from option #1 to option #2. Of course, I'm generalising here (and not to say that those types of characters can't be fantastic in the right hands), but my preference what makes a strong female character is a little different.

Perhaps the quintessential example for me is the character Ayla in Jean M. Auel's novel The Clan of the Cave Bear. By and large the entire plot of the story hinges in one way or another on Ayla's status as a young woman in a male-dominated clan of Neanderthals. Most of the challenges she faces are related to her social status as a woman, themes of motherhood, and the conflicts placed before her by the male characters in the novel. Ayla is a character who simply would not work in this story if she was a man, nor does she overcome any of the hurdles the author places before her via male-associated traits of strength รก la the Ellen Ripleys and Lara Crofts of fiction. That to me is the key distinction between a strong female character and a generic strong character, and precious few writers seem to make it in mainstream fiction.

So obviously I appreciate this type of characterisation, but where do you fit something like that into a quick and steamy erotic short story?
I have been trying, believe it or not.
A big thing for me when writing sex scenes is how dominant and how submissive each character is, and how much control they have over those things. A lot of the BDSM-themed stories I've written are all about a submissive protagonist, and with the small amount of wiggle room I have for characterisation I always make sure to establish that they're not submissive through some defect of their personality, or because they're totally overwhelmed by a powerful male partner; it's always because they ultimately choose to be. It's a small thing, and sometimes one I only allude to in a sentence or two. Most readers might not even pick up on it, but it's important to me to get that kind of stuff in. One of the things I had fun playing with a little in my Confessions of a Slut Puppy shorts was the idea that Fiona the protagonist was just as much of a driving force in her marriage as her husband (perhaps even slightly moreso), despite the stories revolving around her being his utterly submissive sex slave. She was always the one who made the ultimate call about what was going to happen in the bedroom (or on the couch, more often than not), while her husband maintained this gleeful, almost innocent fascination with the prospect of being her master.

I think I'll wrap this one up now as it's getting a little long, but I think there's more to talk about and chew over here, especially related to strong female characters in erotica! I'd love to hear people's thoughts on the subject.

AN: This being said, don't read any of my current stories looking for deep characterisation. They're all still predominantly about hot sex. :)

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