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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Limits of "Lifestyle," also known as---They're choosing a safeword AGAIN??

I'm Annabel Joseph, author of general BDSM and kinky goodness. I loooove my job. I love all the things that make power exchange relationships "different." The added sense of responsibility between the partners, the heightened level of trust necessary to make it work, and of course, all those awesome TOYS!

But I think there is a danger in writing for BDSM audiences, and that is the problem of the lifestyle traditions and jargon...and whether or not they start to grow stale.

I'll always remember the first lifestyle negotiation scene I wrote, in my book Mercy. I wrote the whole scene in one fell swoop, completely enthralled and every bit as nervous and excited as my characters. It was completely new to me, writing this type of interaction, and there seemed so many rich possibilities to make it work. Heck, I remember the first negotiation scene I read! It's etched in my mind forever. It was the scene between Jonathan and Carrie in Molly Weatherfield's classic BDSM tome Carrie's Story. There was something about the way he laid it all out for her so bluntly, and the way she had to consider, really consider, if his demands were okay with her.

But I'm the first to admit that after I wrote my fifth or sixth negotiation scene, they started to become a bit harder to make fresh. Heck, by the time I read my fifth or sixth negotiation scene by other authors, I actually found myself skimming down the page. Yeah, yeah, yeah, get to the sexin' part already! Which brings me to what I call the Limits of Lifestyle. Many lifestyle people follow the same or similar protocols, such as the scene negotiations, safe calls, and forms of address (Yes, Master or Yes, Sir). The toys and settings also become all too familiar. Whips, cuffs, ball gags, leather, and the requisite dark, erotic dungeon. Oh, believe me, I've had dungeons in at least half my books, and I will always write dungeons, because they are a turn on. But different, more original play spaces can be arousing and interesting too.

In my eyes, the challenge to BDSM authors is to write power exchange and dominance and submission without making it sound too much like something readers have seen before. One thing I've been toying with is writing stories with a more organic power exchange relationship, rather than the traditional BDSM jargon and dungeon set-ups.
In my last book, Lily Mine, I was more or less forced to find new ways to depict power exchange between lovers, since I couldn't bring myself to place a dungeon or play space in Lord Ashbourne's country manor during Victorian times, or have him pull out a pair of leather cuffs! But I was happy about that. There were still plenty of opportunities for him to be the dominant partner, and for her to find arousal and fulfillment in submission. I was worried my readers wouldn't be interested in a book without all the "lifestyle trappings" as one reviewer called them, but I worried for nothing. I think sometimes people have just read enough safeword negotiation scenes for the moment, or heard a heroine say "Yes, Master" one too many times, and are ready to read power exchange done a little differently.

So how do you feel about the lifestyle traditions and tropes in BDSM romance novels? Do you ever get tired of them, or are they exciting every time for you? Would you enjoy a power exchange book without all the usual lifestyle protocols, or do you need them to feel satisfied with a read? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Hello Annabel!
I totally agree with your post. I have read a few stories where the "discussion" dragged the story to a halt. I think it would be interesting to read a non-traditional BDSM story where the power exchange happened naturally. I will have to check out Lily Mine.

user1123 AT comcast DOT net

booklover0226 said...

Hi, Annabel.

I haven't read too many BDSM novels but the ones I have, I've enjoyed.

Each author has his/her special touch so BDSM novels I've read have always been new and fresh to me.

I look forward in reading your works.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

bw said...

Sometimes when reading, when a woman starts calling the hero of the story "Master or Sir" after knowing him 32 minutes, the impact is diluted. I think the protocols ARE important but can be different from time to time. There must be respect between the individuals and respect for the situation. That doesn't come in an instant.


Toni said...

The subject is still relatively new to me. I've only been reading it for about a year. Yes, the quick negotiations and instant "Master" gets to me, but I still find it all enjoyable.

I think since I have no real information to compare it to. I just have to trust the authors to show me the way. And what a lovely way it is!


Na said...

I am all for keeping things fresh and no matter the genre I love stories that veer off the path of predictability and deliver an engaging story. Some things like a passionate love story I will never get sick of. Also if the book is a bit predictable I won't mind so much if I find the characters interesting. I have never read a BDSM book so I'm not sure what is the traditional norm but I wouldn't mind a story that brought in something new.

Gabrielle Lee said...

I think it takes a good author to write a good scene. It seems that many writers are trying their hand at BDSM and just because we have the whips and cuffs doesn't make it a good read. A good BDSM book can have a strong person being dominant in many ways not only with cuffs and whips.