A long time ago, in a land far, far away (Los Angeles, 1970), a 22-year-old lad wanted to be a filmmaker. Three months out of college, out of options and hope for any kind of income, the young man finally got an unexpected call…about directing movies…adult movies…VERY adult movies, which he was not.
He took the job and entered a topsy-turvy realm where folks filmed other folks doing sex. Inside that bubble, the young man’s innocence melted away, because two years of living in a universe where naughty was nice, intrinsic truths oozed up through the sheets that no psychology or creative writing degree could ever deliver.
What makes a storybook character admirable, even a girl who throbs on-camera? You’ll discover the answer in reality porn.
Yes, really. Interview a sex star and you just might find yourself respecting her spirit.
Okay, I know. It’s obvious why fornication performers would make interesting protagonists. But for me, their profession wasn’t nearly as intriguing as their attitude and the answers they gave when I asked them why they exposed themselves.
Humm… Guess I forget to mention that the film student-turned-porn-director was me. He was, and that “Nice Jewish Boy” got smacked full-frontal with three growing-up questions.
- How could nice people do something so naughty?
- How could pornography performers become my friends?
- And most importantly, why did I like them?
Yeah, WHY? Why were some of those people really cool while others were nowhere near my interest? What made the difference?
The answer to that special difference lies within Emma Coat’s writing basic #13. She says, “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”
See where I’m going? In a book or in real life, opinionated porn people are more interesting than Ho-Hum…whatever porn people.
But it goes deeper than that. Think about it. What makes any person admirable, porn princess or brain surgeon? Is it about their CONVICTIONS? Yes, that’s it – their that’s-my-story-and-I’m-stickin’-to-it convictions! Everyone has opinions but not everyone reveals them, believes in them and defends them.
People admire leaders with strong convictions. Why? Because defending the what they absolutely believe suggests there are absolute truths and solid boundaries where people can feel safe. “There’s US and there’s THEM.” She said so! “There’s RIGHT and there’s WRONG.” He explained it! Politicians know this game and flip-flopping is the kiss-of-death. They all do it anyway because things really do change.
Still, unwavering opinions leading to unwavering convictions leading to unwavering actions shows bravery in the heat of risk. We all wish we were more like that and admire people who are, in real life and in fiction.
So what about you? Strong principles, right? But how comfortable do you feel wearing them in public? Are you as steadfast as the heroes who populate your stories? And if so, is there room for other opinions not necessarily your own?
I’m asking that because it’s important to have a point-of-view and defend it but writing opposing characters with opposing opinions is a whole different story (pun intended).
Your characters have convictions because you make them that way. But are their causes, their beliefs, their morals and ethics your own or a version of your own? Do all your people view their world your way with different decisions?
Put another way, when you write evil antagonists, are they simply the antithesis of standard virtues…YOUR virtues? Do your vampires think like you do but have longer teeth? Does your scary menace use your logic but with wolf like fur? Does everyone agree on what’s right and wrong but do bad things because it’s practical?
If all your characters think alike but make different decisions, that’s not an accurate description of human diversity. Of course making things feel real in a novel may not be your goal, but it is mine. And to my chagrin, a while back I forgot that my personal morals are not necessarily my character’s and I wrote a short story based on too many wrong assumptions.
But I did my homework. Yes I did. There was lots of research, an extensive outline with noble causes for my young lady in college. She needed fast money to help her brother get into rehab. A sacrifice for family, I assumed (although wrongly), was a worthy reason for a quick stint in Sugar Baby Land. Contract dating comes close to prostitution but it isn’t, and couples who share intimacy that way defend it as an honest, beneficial relationship. And that’s what my story was about – with enough appropriate reasons, sex for favors can be justified.
Appropriate reasons – that was my second wrong assumption. Sugar babies and daddies don’t need appropriate reasons to make their agreements acceptable. With two consenting adults, there’s nothing unacceptable about it. It is what it is – an exchange where both people get what they want and enjoy the getting.
But deep down I didn’t believe it. I was prejudice going into this story and I assumed no smart college girl would date a rich guy for rent money unless she absolutely had to, and if she did, she’d feel guilty about it and lose self respect. This was my third wrong assumption, that I could I could base my character’s motivations on my own principles and make her use them for necessary decisions. Not good! My girl’s character fell apart and it took time to figure out why. Here’s why:
Because I built a character out of my values, my plot demanded that she contradict them and consequently, she sold out. The result? None of my readers respected her, and I didn’t either. In reality, if I were that twenty-year old, I never would have dated older men for money. My real-life justification for stumbling into the adult movie world had nothing in common with this sugar baby plot so constructing a character somewhat like me was the wrong approach.
The right premise would have had my college gal proclaiming, “I love sex and I love men. I’m pretty enough to get a good-looking rich guy and I won’t turn anything down he gives me.”
Had I started my narrative with that assumption, my story ethics would have been different, my message would have been different, and my character would have been different. Nothing like me, but realistic and worthy of respect, like the girls I met on the porn sets years ago.
Guess what they told me absolutely shame-free? Most of them said, “I love sex. All kinds of sex. And if I can get paid for it, that’s even better.”
Getting paid for something you love – isn’t that the ideal job?
That’s why I admired them, the ones who weren’t needy. They were confident and felt good about themselves. I felt great just sharing their space. Maybe that’s why so many people watch sex performances. It feels good! And so does winning an argument with someone who has strong opinions.
So take Emma’s advice. Give your characters defined opinions, strong convictions and throw them into conflicts. Without confrontations, there is no drama. And we can’t have that!
Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.