Sex, Sexuality, and Worldbuilding

My last post was on asexual representation. Literally. Today, I bring you the flip side. I mostly write younger stuff or fade-to-black scenes to avoid any explicitness of this issue, but a lot of you out there are writing it as the forefront of your novel.

At the titular panel, moderated by Jennifer Povey: D’Amanda Martini, Nobilis Reed, Mark L. Van Name, and Lisa Hawkridge managed to keep on topic WHILE keeping it all about books and writing. I was VERY impressed.

Relationships: Marriage and Divorce

For much of history, sex and sexuality revolved around marriages — on either side of the covers. When writing a story, you don’t have to be bound by your cultural assumptions. Your characters should be bound by the cultural assumptions of the time and place they’re in. In historical or contemporary settings — do your research. In science-fiction or fantasy? You can make relationships look like whatever you decide.

Here are some things to consider when worldbuilding.

  1. How are relationships made official?
    1. Does your world have a body (church/government/etc) recognizing and validating relationships?
    2. Or are relationships self-declared? To oneselves? Or to the gods?
  2. What are the societal expectations that go with a committed relationship?
  3. Who is allowed to have an official relationship? And to whom?
  4. Are marriages for life? Or do they have an expiration date?
  5. How does inheritance work? Blood lines matter more when something’s at stake.
  6. One can look to the animal kingdom for relationship styles beyond the cis-hetero-marriage for life default-assumption of most of the Western world.
  7. Is pregnancy preventable? If so, a lot of options open up for women.

Taboos

All societies have taboos around sex. About who you can and can’t be intimate with. When and where it is most acceptable. When world building, you can use traditional taboos as well as your own.

  1. Depending on your world, there can be all sorts of speciesist taboos:
    • Those who hook up with [the tentacle monster/fae/etc] are bad
    • Only elite/etc hook up with [tentacle monsters/fae/etc]
    • Those who don’t hook up with [tentacle monsters/fae/etc] are bad
  2. Powerful people have different limitations
    • Cersei and Jaime thought they were elite enough to follow the Targaryen rules.
    • Sometimes, the elite have tighter restrictions
  3. Taboos might exist in some places in your world, but not others. Remember that enlightenment isn’t universal, or even uniform.
  4. Upsetting gender role expectations during intimacy. Who does what to whom.
  5. If nothing is taboo, people will make something taboo.

Tips for Writing Erotic Scenes

These come from the panelists. I don’t really have much experience with this, but maybe I’ll eventually give it a try.

  1. Check your own assumptions
  2. Find inspiration – preferably legal with consenting adults
    • Your own experiences
    • Fanfic
    • Film
    • Livestreams
  3. To get past discomfort
    • Just write it.
    • Write something so over the top and ridiculous, that you can hopefully get past your inhibitions
    • Remember that no one has to ever read it.
    • Take suggestions of what to write, so your brain doesn’t get in the way
    • Check in about what is making you uncomfortable, is it something you have a reason to care about? Or is it social pressures/my mom might read this (hi mom!)

For another approach — the natural progression for intimacy has been reduced to a formula that you can put into good effect in your own writing! Here’s a great link.

Writers Who Explored Sexuality

People have been exploring sexuality and relationship structures forever. There’s a long history writers – in novels, tv, and film exploring different concepts within their writing and beyond.

Clearly, this list is incomplete, but the panelists gave us a good start.

  1. Asimov keeps sex short. He wrote one where spores were sex.
  2. Heinlein’s line marriage in Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  3. Le Guin
  4. A Land Fit For Heroes (“darker, gayer, Game of Thrones”)
    • By Richard K Morgan (of Altered Carbon)
  5. Brokeback Mountain
  6. Discovery – Star Trek finally having an onscreen gay couple

What tips do you have for adding sensuality to your writing?

What authors would you recommend?

(Note: Please avoid explicit material in my comment section. It will be removed. Let’s keep this education, folks.)

Making the Asexual Textual

Some people are sexually attracted to the opposite gender, some are attracted to the same gender, while others are attracted to more than one gender, and yet others are only sexually attracted under specific circumstances?

But, not all people are sexually attracted to someone. Those people? Identify as asexual.

Especially in Western culture, so many of our stories — be they folktales of yore, current tv shows, books, or movies — center around the main character’s relationship. Even if it’s not the main plot point.

For asexual people, they’ve had to read-between-the-lines to look for characters that represent them.

Is this character asexual? Or did the story just not cover a period of their life where they were in a relationship.

Is that character sexual? Or are they in a consensual sex-free romantic relationship?

At the titular panel, at WorldCon 77, Wendy Metcalfe, Darcie Little Badger, Dr. Edmund Schleussel, and Jasmine Gower discussed ways to make the asexual textual, without making it feel forced.

3 Reasons Not Making the Asexual Textual is a Problem

  1. There is already a sparsity of asexual representation
  2. Readers will project on the asexual characters and make assumptions
  3. Many readers enjoy ‘shipping characters, and will mentally pair them up, or insist that there’s subtext
    • Shipping characters – Shipping is short for ‘relationship”, it’s when readers (and/or fanfic writers) decide they think two (or more characters) should be in a relationship.

      Fanfic – is fiction written by fans about the characters from tv/movies/books that they want to see. Unofficial spin-offs. Like Paradise Lost is Biblical fanfic.

      In fanfiction circles, “slash fiction” originated as stories pairing character A – slash – character B. A lot of the derivative stories have been traditionally homosexual pairings, but not always. And some of them, explicit erotica.

4 Approaches Making Asexual Characters Textual

  1. Avoid the terms, but make it obvious in the plot
  2. Make up terms in your story to represent asexual — or the reverse. Why not make a story where asexual is the default, and everything else must be defined?
  3. Slip in the term
    • Worries it will feel dated
  4. Have it as a small detail in a larger descriptive sentence

4 Overdone Asexual Tropes To Avoid

  1. Having them focus on how their asexuality makes them weird or different. Asexual people typically don’t dwell on their lack of sexuality during their normal day-to-day lives.
    • Morgan question: What about thinking about how sexuality makes everyone ELSE weird?
  2. Naivety – not understanding what sex is
  3. Being repulsed by sex
  4. Making the asexual character alien, or a robot, or inhumane in some way (very often Death itself).
  5. Non-heterosexual characters being used as code for a ‘bad person’

How Being Asexual Affects A Person’s Life

  1. No co-dependencies. Living alone is expensive and is easier with a profession.
  2. Seen as naive or “just haven’t met the right person”
  3. People trying to pair you up.
  4. Seen as ‘frigid’ or ‘sexually dysfunctional’

Asexual people are normal people. They’ve always been out there.

For those looking for asexual stories:

  • Anything from the LessThan3Press (recently defunct)
  • Lesbian Reviews
  • Ancillary Justice (Anne Leckie)
  • Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon)

I’m not asexual. Let me know if I got anything wrong. Let me know if you have any suggestions for others trying to include asexual characters in their worlds.

Thank you for reading.

YouTube Survival Guide

I know, I know. I’m a writer blogger, but I’ve got this YouTube channel thing, as an #authorTuber. So, when I saw this panel at Balticon53, I had to pop in and take some notes. I’ve blogged about my approach before, but these notes come from the experts!

Thanks to Rebecca Davis, Devin Jackson Randall, and JP Beaubien, moderated by Melissa L Hayden, I’ve got some validation for things I do, and some new things to try out.

YouTube Basics

How do you even START a YouTube channel?

If you have a gmail account, you’re already there — at least for personal use.

Why you might want a separate email and channel for your YouTube Channel

  1. Prevents hackers or trolls from easily interferring with your day-to-day accounts.
  2. Helps with branding.
  3. Because you can’t keep your subscriptions entirely private from the one you’re subscribing TO — and not all the YouTube channels you follow are likely to be on-brand.

How Private Can Your Activity Be?

  1. You can hide/show a lot of things from your feed, but on the individual videos/channels that you’ve responded to, your name is still attached. Such as:
    • likes
    • subscriptions
    • comments

Why You Might Want Your Activity Public

Just like with blogging, a good comment on another user’s blog can drive traffic back to your channel.

Plus? People like to support people who support them — the reciprocal nature of YouTube can be strong, especially among smaller YouTubers.

The “Rules” of YouTube

Before you start putting everything out there, you’ve got to know the rules.

Legally

  1. Copyright infringement check is mostly automated — a single report of infringement is a lot less “weighty”. (Thank you, trolls)
  2. You can get hit months later with an infringement charge — that results in your video getting removed — for sharing a Picture.
    • Typically, in this case, you can successfully argue that it is:
      1. Fair use
      2. Parody
      3. Education
  3. To avoid charges — video clips from movies/etc need to be a small percentage of your video.
  4. If you get 3 strikes in one year, your site is DELETED.

Why are copyright claims important?

1. If a property doesn’t protect their copyright material, then it enters into common use and their copyright holds no weight.

2. If your channel is big enough to be monetized, there are more restrictions on what you can share from other sources.

How DOES One Get Monetized?

The big question that a lot of YouTubers want to know.

CAVEAT: the rules are ALWAYS changing.

The big things you need to know:

  1. Over 1,000 subscribers
  2. 4,000 hours of watch time in the last year
  3. You get no payout until you’ve earned $100

If your content is tagged with a yellow dollar sign, it means some ads may not be appropriate for this video. In other words, you get fewer ads and less money.

I.e. Some key words, that are not listed anywhere, can lead to less visibility and ads. Experience has shown YouTubers that “corpse” is one of those words.

How To Monetize A Post If You Can

  1. There will be a “Monetization” tab in the YouTube creator studio
  2. You get to select where in your video the ad is:
    1. Preview
    2. Mid-video, 30 second, unskippable ad
    3. Ads at the end
    4. Pop-up ads

Where Do The Ads Come From?

By the time you have 20-30,000 followers, you’ll start getting propositions, although it might not be ads that you want. These days? It usually starts off with:

  1. Russian Ads
  2. Phone mobile games.

Where Do YouTubers Make Their Money?

It’s not from the monetization. Yes, they get some money from there, but that’s not where the salary-level YouTubers get paid.

Sponsorships are where it’s at. After you have about 70,000 followers, sponsorship offers will be coming in. Make sure it’s something that matches your brand and something you’re not embarrassed to tie your name to.

How To Find A Sponsorship?

Wait for them to come to you, unless you have a great pitch, for a company that is an excellent match for your channel. Don’t accept a sponsor you don’t believe in.

  1. The recommended way to handle a sponsorship is through an agency like socialBluebook.com.
  2. Typically, you’ll have a contract and a due date, with 2 business days for you to approve their ad. The contract is typically terms:
    1. Either X views in Y days
    2. Or you’ll have to show their ad again

YouTube is a Hussle

For people who aren’t monetized through YouTube or sponsors, there’s still ways to make money — if just to support your YouTube habit.

  1. Merchandise
  2. Patreon

Community Expectations

YouTube isn’t just screaming into the void. You want to have something to offer. You want to have a theme, so that subscribers know what to expect — not meeting expectations is the best way to lose followers and get down-voted.

  1. You need to have a personality! People watch videos because of the person, more than the information. They can probably get the information elsewhere.
  2. Building on that — you need to entertain the audience and have energy.
  3. Invest in a decent microphone (Audacity is a decent, free, voice editing software program)
  4. Manage the comments on your posts
    1. You can ban certain words
    2. You can shadow-ban: the user sees their comment, but no one else does.
  5. Watch and comment on other people’s videos. Especially in your niche:
    1. Your videos should appeal to their audience
    2. You can see what other people are doing in your niche
    3. You can see what’s overdone and what’s not covered
    4. And? If you’re posting on the topic, you’re probably interested in it
  6. CAVEAT: Don’t spam comments. “Nice post. Check out my site.” are obvious link spam and won’t get you far.
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Clearly, this is a high-level conceptual approach to YouTube. Where to start, the big copyright worries, some of the details about how monetization works, and community expectations.

Is there anything the panelists missed? Anything I wrote down wrong?And… is there anything you’d like to share about YOUR approach? Let me know in the comments below.

And? If you’re an #authorTube blogger, this is a call out for you to share your links below! I’d love to connect.

Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters

You know stories need stakes. You know you need to get your readers to care. So? You try to make the stakes big enough and scary enough to drive the story forward. But you don’t HAVE to traumatize characters — or readers — to advance your story.

From the titular panel at Balticon53, Jean Marie Ward, Eric Hardenbrook, Steven Wilson, Jamaila Brinkley, and Mattie Brahen shared their tips and tricks.

Conflict versus Trauma

We all know that stories thrive on conflict. If everyone is in agreement, marching forward, you don’t have much of a story.

So, what’s the difference? When you boil it down to their core:

Conflict is:

  • when two or more entities have opposing goals — or at least, not-aligned ones

Trauma is:

  • a change that damages you
  • is harmful

Now, a caveat: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of what is traumatic. Thanks to people’s pasts, their mental health, and their current emotional state, what is traumatic to one person may be fine for another person.

Where Some People Draw The Line

This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but the panelists shared their following lines.

  • Explicit sexual abuse
  • Dismemberment
  • Kids shoved out of windows
  • Children soldiers
  • Explicit assault/violence
  • Killing the cat/dog

How To Raise the Stakes

Without trauma, what are other ways you can raise the stakes?

  1. Family
    • Protecting/defending them
    • Handling with their expectations
    • Dealing with the family history and fraught relationships
    • etc
  2. Survival
    • Human versus nature (or space) is a classic story of stakes.
    • Hunger
    • Illness
    • Injury
    • Weather
  3. Meaningful relationships
    • Trying not to disappoint people
    • Satisfying the needs of different people
    • Handling emotional baggage — the main characters OR those they love
  4. Separation
    • Take them away from their friends or family — this can be as serious as fleeing in the night or as light hearted as a RomCom

If You Do Include Trauma: What About ‘Trigger Warnings’?

It’s contentious.

On one hand – Books shouldn’t shy away from hard topics. Sometimes, trauma is exactly what needs to be worked through in a story. Plus, you don’t want to give away spoilers!

On the other, there people are dealing with depression and loss and are trying to avoid stories about suicides. Or have dealt with miscarriages and find it upsetting to read about them.

Since we’re talking about books, and the characters being traumatized are usually the main characters — we typically get to watch them work through their trauma, grow and manage to move past it. (Or, become Batman.) And seeing that healing can be good for people.

However – dealing with that can be exhausting, especially with a good writer and an immersive story.

Especially in genre fiction, people are looking for escape from the real world. And there’s plenty of books that offer that without triggering content — if the reader knows where to look.

Clearly, one cannot give a trigger warning about everything that might be traumatic to anyone. But, some are some triggers implicit in certain genres – like suspense, or thrillers, or military fiction.

Personally, I think there are ways of writing blurbs that can hint at the content within. We already rate these things for movies.

When books are used in schools, they often have themes listed, I think we should be able to do that.

Mine would probably be something like: “This book deals with themes of: religion, magic, suicide ideation, violence, and the killing of both humans and animals.” Then again, I’m mostly writing young adult, so letting libraries and teachers know can help them know if my book is right for their freshman class, or if they should save it for their seniors.

Clearly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This one is mine.

Compounding Traumas

Once you’ve decided that your story should include traumatic events, you need to look at who you’re traumatizing.

This is obviously not always the case, but very often, when you look at which characters are being traumatized in books, you can see a pattern. It’s not usually the man in authority. It’s the woman. The person of color. The lgbtqa character.

Is this due to cultural biases about who can be traumatized? Maybe. It’s impossible to know.

There are obvious exemptions from this: look at Iron Man and his phobias.

But, if you’re traumatizing women, people of color, non-cis het characters in order to motivate your main character? You’ve fallen into what is known as the “fridging” trope — named after a Green Lantern comic where his girlfriend was killed and shoved in a fridge just to motivate him.

Try to do better. It’s lazy writing, overdone, and often done to a 2-dimensional character.

Moving Beyond Trauma

Can limiting characters, through trauma or otherwise, make them stronger?

It makes for a more compelling story. We’re drawn to stories of people overcoming obstacles. Just be sure to avoid stereotypes — like the brave little disabled kid, who, with relentless optimism, overcomes ALL obstacles.

But without limits, there’s no conflict.

Be certain that you’re giving your traumatized characters agency to make decisions — not just react to what you do to them.

Captain America dealt with his trauma through altruism.

Black Widow dealt with hers by devoting herself to her job.

Which brings us to the flip side, you can give characters advantages — and regrets about what they had to give up to get them.

The panelists sitting at the table.

I know these notes covered array of topics, some only tangentially related to the premise. But, it’s good to remember that stakes don’t always have to be paid in flesh and blood.


Let me know what you think!
Do you hate the idea of sharing themes about your novel?

Do you have a better method in mind?
Do you have some ideas of new ways to raise the stakes — without destroying your character’s psyche?

NOTE: Opinions are welcome, as are discussions, but I’m not going to argue with people. I know I’m unlikely to sway your mind.

Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.