(Turns out this is just my shtick. Whenever I enter a new fandom, there’s serious or quasi-literary fic and then, a few fics in, I’m just writing the worst kind of filth imaginable and this is usually my fandom legacy. Sigh.)
I’d like to sort of compare and contrast these two, because they’re both about sex but I think very different kinds of sex writing. And see above re: sex writing being my bag, I’m trying to get better at it.
But mostly I want to talk about this because I think the broader conversation is important. I try to write sex very deliberately, even when sometimes what I write feels off to me. (I’ll write lines where characters consider issues of consent, safer sex, etc. because I think we don’t have these conversations enough in reality but we should and to some extent I think we have to write the world we want to see.) And it takes constant critical reflection, to think, talk and write about sex in a way that’s more in line with our views on deconstructing the current, incredibly broken culture and that is necessary, fundamental, to changing it.
On that overly earnest, slightly self-important note, onward!
(But that’s the real reason I do this. You’re welcome to adopt this noble goal to excuse your own smut if you’d like.)
First off, for do your worst in my best dress I apologize. I’d say I don’t know what came over me but really I do. I just decided to. Challenged myself. You’ve written a lot of dirt in your time, I said to myself, but can you do better? And by better I really meant worse. A lot worse.
So in the name of … let’s call it self-improvement, I embarked on this journey and IN MY DEFENCE, this whole boob situation really does make you wonder about the physics involved:
This is one of those weird stories for me, when I had an idea in mind that was meant to be like maybe 2000 words of straight up 50 shades filth because for this showing E Morts gets my nomination for cleave of the year in the television/miniseries category (this should be a real award, and the “somebody call the Golden Globes” joke is too easy.) Plus I’m both childish and fairly depraved. But it just didn’t happen because instead the characters kept talking.
I mean obviously I shoe-horned the sex parts in there (and to me they feel very shoe-horned, I hope it doesn’t read that badly) but I honestly think they would’ve been happier just spooning and discussing all the important things happening in their lives. (Ugh. Bastards, you are ruining my idea.)
Starting out I wanted this to be third person limited from Mac’s perspective, but it somewhat accidentally ended up in Will’s head. (This happens to me often when writing fic based on borderline objectification of female characters.) So the “Mac is thinking a lot” was a vestige of this scene written from her perspective.
Originally considered switching it up, but his POV was stronger, I wanted the lead-in joke:
He ends the evening with a lot more than he bargained for – hotel room, check, knockout fiancée in dress with bordering-on-indecent neckline, check, grand jury summons? Check and one of these things is not like the others.
And I’ve been trying to do less flipping between characters in the same scene because I’m told it makes your writing stronger.
But limited POV came home to bite me here, because what she’s thinking of is sorta heavy. I’ve been struck by the fact that nobody is talking to each other, obviously trying to minimize what they all know for legal reasons. But it reminds me of Charlie and Will’s sources being the same guy with Genoa. So that’s one of the things Mac is thinking about. And whether or not her encounter is legitimate, whether she should tell anyone about it to assess the legitimacy, what to do next.
(Also canonically I hope she gets be bad ass now, but I have this feeling Will’s still going to be the hero of the piece. Whatever cable tv, I can’t hear you over the sound of the far more interesting stories about awesome female characters being awesome in my head.)
And I like this bit about her:
Mac is a visual thinker, not necessarily artistically, but she plots things out on paper, usually in color-coordinated ink.
There’s no strict canonical basis for it aside from the fact that she writes on whiteboards sometimes and works with pens. But I work with pens is one of my favourite lines and so, a humble homage.
You always were a handful = I laugh at myself. I’m proud of that one.
But do you see what I mean about serious talking? Finally we get to the business end of things and we have to discuss Scooter Libby and the “Plame affair”? (I can’t believe they called it that just as I can’t believe Valerie Plame was in-real-life the name of a CIA operative. That shit is from a fucking John Le Carre novel and it kind of makes me angry because I want a name that sounds that cool.)
And I really didn’t want to expend this much energy and this many words on something that was theoretically meant to be substanceless and yet.
This line of Mac’s:
I don't give a fuck Will.
… felt a bit off to me, but I kept it in. Partly because I’m trying to be less of a perfectionist especially about things that are rather inconsequential in the scheme of things, but also because I wanted it to be jarring, like she’s saying something in a way she might not usually. I also went back and forth on ‘lawyer talk’ vs. ‘legalese’. (That whole being less of a perfectionist isn’t really going all that well.)
Do like use of word yammering.
Don’t like necessity of the word nipple. Hate the word. Have I told you that I hate it before? It’s probable because I hate the word a lot. But it has no viable alternatives.
(Fact: I hate it so much that I never type it anymore, I use find and replace and type in something equally ludicrous – it’s a ludicrous word – as a placeholder. Except this time I used “elephant graveyard” and when I sent it to Meg I forgot to find and replace first oops.)
Stupid. We need a better word. And not a stupid romance novel one like buds or a crass slang one like nips (which is fine in joking contexts but this is OBVIOUSLY SRS LITERATURE HERE.)
Elephant graveyard probably won’t fly either. I’m happy to take suggestions.
On co-opting the Serenity Prayer and love one another:
Religion keeps angling its way into my Newsroom fics and okay, Sorkin obviously started it, but I’m a complete and total atheist with strong views on the value of organized religion so I don’t know where it keeps coming from.
(Other than 12 years of Catholic schooling and taking all the Sacraments. I still feel a little bit guilty about being confirmed, like I backed out of a commitment that they probably shouldn’t have let me make at eleven.)
So as it turns out you never forget the rosary and here we are. Apparently you also never forget that the Bible contains Song of Songs … so really the perves that compiled the Holy Book decided sex and God go together and don’t blame me.
And both the religious jokes tickled me even though maybe this also toed the characterization line for me.
(Christians for cunnilingus, I’d start the movement if I believed in God. And seriously, if you really commit to it, giving head is definitely a selfless act of love, p. sure that was definitely what Jesus was talking about.)
Observation: I struggle with ands in sex scenes. Also in general, but it strikes me most when characters are gettin’ busy. It’s partially a stylistic choice when I’m writing sex, to sort of give a sense of motion and building intensity and, and, and. (See? Momentum.)
(See? Problem with ands)
– that’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about for a while, in reality do you really notice what’s happening in minute detail? There’s a sort of andness about sex most of the time, you know, an end goal, and a lot of the time the physical details (who’s doing exactly what exactly where) aren’t something you take particular notice of and when we write about it very specifically but maybe that doesn’t really capture the truth of it?
To some extent that’s inevitable, you have to communicate something to your audience, but the thought occurred to me (mid-act, and yeah, don’t fuck a “writer”) that I really don’t have a whole lot of idea what’s going on down there when I’m looking up north while you’re going down south. Feels good, please more and thank you, but as for physically what you are doing? Beyond a general “well that’s your hands/mouth/misc novelty item” I don’t have a clue. Could be anything.
So I guess the experience of receiving vs. giving oral sex is very different. I’ve looked at love from both sides now, as it were, so can also attest this authentically. But how to capture this observation in writing? I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out. (Quasi-accidental quote. BAM.)
But still. And and and. Is it too much? I go back and forth. My style here is not at its best, in my opinion.
(Speaking of too much, how the fuck many times do you think you can say “breast” in 5000 words? The answer is too many but synonyms felt silly even though yes, while I was writing I occasionally used “chesticles” as a joke. Also fond of “the whole boob-ular area” … but it didn’t quite fit in with the atmosphere I was going for.)
She trembles around his fingers, whole body shaking when he leans in to taste her but he knows her (so well, and getting there has been their own private fucking miracle) and that's a more-than-usual reaction. He looks up and she smiles to reassure him.
“I’m fine,” she says, eyes bright and he thinks she might be lying but he takes her word for it.
She is lying.
Also hahahaha will I ever write a fic in which Will McAvoy doesn’t go down on MacKenzie McHale? The answer is only once to date.
(Such a sex head canon here. Again with respect to sex writing and realism I have this idea that she needs … a bit more to get her there. And this is pretty much raison d'être of their foreplay.
I feel like we always write highly sexually charged women who are always ready to go and come at the drop of a hat in fandom, and sure, this is a fantasy space, and I get wanting to think that in the context of these great loves we’re reading about that’s how sex is. But … it isn’t always and that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about your relationship you know? It can still be your great love. A lot of people just play endurance rather than the sprint. And I’ve been guilty of writing this way for most of my life because I will admit I’m easy and reliable in this regard myself, and you tend to write your own experience. But I try to write Mac a little more reserved than other characters, mostly because of that line in Election Night about using fucking as a verb.)
I liked this line:
They make a pretty portrait of debauchery.
And I didn’t really like all that many lines in this fic.
Sometimes I really enjoy alliteration. I mean actually always I really enjoy alliteration but I find it especially fun in the sex writing context when I think I struggle with tone or style, you want to find the right words and to some extent keep it light hearted and uncomplicated but you also want to give the reader something to hold onto intellectually otherwise it can end up as a bit of a play-by-play. Like I said, I don’t think my style is at its strongest here and this was in part an exercise. But I try to play with rhythm when I write and I always have varying degrees of success.
I need to kiss you; I've missed it.
To get in her head a bit here: I usually think of them and face-to-face sex people. Like sure, everyone changes it up every now and then, but, mostly speaking, they’re a bit sweet. Like it’s more of an intense emotional connection in the first instance, the physicality is secondary.
(That is based on how they interact canonically. They’re always staring at each other all longingly but it’s not sexual so much as it’s loving and (pre-Election Night) regretful. Or just plain we’re a team, something is happening, you’re the first person I turn to. WHICH ALWAYS KILLS ME.)
So this is a bit analytical considering what’s going on at this point in the story:
That's different, second time round, because they're not perfect to each other anymore, so it's realer and messier…
But … the way I’ve been writing them has evolved a little and I do sort of think that: they idolize each other at first, you know Mac says you were in love from the moment you met me and in the beginning, the Pilot, she obviously thinks more highly of him than anybody else. But it’s on a level beyond I love you so you’re great to me … it’s a bit pedestally, unrealistic.
But they get beyond that idea that they’re perfect, and so now filthy dirty sex. But that’s it right? She trusts him to love her anyway, and he doesn’t have such a high ideal for her to live up to in his head: the reason it’s going to work is that they’re all grown up now.
I’ve always liked that about them: we know they fucked it up the first time round, probably for a lot of reasons – Mac’s gotta be a bit commitment shy (given the ex-boyfriend fucking scenario), it’s hard to imagine that Will’s not fucking needy given his spectacular narcissism – and sure, she cheats on him, but he can’t forgive her and it doesn’t work because of the people they were then. Sometimes even if you love someone it doesn’t work because of all your shit, but they get past a lot of their shit.
(I also like they do this maybe a little later in life than is expected by society, it gives me hope that one day I might not be such a fuck up.)
In defense of my pretty crude Pollock reference: it’s 2014 and if Beyonce can have ‘Monica Lewinskyed all over my gown’ I’m making gross references to modern art. How. I. Motherfuckin. Roll.
I went back and forth on really committing to this whole concept. (The fuck me out of my dress part was pretty much fine. I was going to leave it there, but like I said, I was searching for new lows.)
But I wondered about this, not just because it’s on a whole other level of smut for me but because it’s like every stupid hetero porno that’s clearly designed to be some stupid male fantasy and if we can’t see him jizz on her face we’re not smart enough to figure out what’s happened? Or is it meant to be the world’s shittiest safer sex campaign?
(I’m on a bit of a war with porn at the moment. I just feel horrified that there are all these 14 year old boys out there rubbing one out to this shit. Will someone please think of the children? What is this teaching them? A blissful ignorance of female physiology for one thing.
And it just thoroughly depresses me that there’s a market for this male-centric selfish bullshit. Buddy, that woman is not enjoying that. Why are your fantasies even like this? Is the answer patriarchy? PROBABLY. When will it end?)
So on the one hand I feel a little bit like I’m condoning some shitty fantasy men seem to have about using women. On the other hand I’m a little bit into this and FEMINISM and stop policing my sexuality etc. (So conflicted.) I justify this moral dilemma to myself with the comfort than fandom is a majority female and queer audience, so this is a safe space and we can all just enjoy this without worrying what the MRAs would think of it. (Right?)
Anyway, did I dress it up in enough feelings-y shit to make it less porno, more completely normal loving expression of love between consenting adults who love each other? I heard something once (was it in SATC?) about it being about acceptance, that there’s a hangover culture of shame about sex and that … letting someone ejaculate all over you subverts that and makes acceptable something that’s considered dirty. So you could look at it that way. Mostly I just think it’s filthy as fuck and that’s enjoyable.
(I’m all about the DNA evidence. Plus Mac seems to have developed a bit of a kink for this in my writing lately. Minx.)
She doesn't think that it does but it wears at her. Hesitated on this. On the one hand, it’s actually slipping into a bit third person omniscient because that’s more Author Talking than Character Talking. But since we’re in third person limited it is Will “saying” this, which feels a tad patronizing to me. And I actually have noooo problem believing this is something we’d see in the show because that feels both a little Sorkin and a little Will McAvoy – but if I did see that kind of thing it’d piss me the fuck off so again, am I being what I hate?
Re: Miss Manners. I somehow always seem to write Will calling Mac things that are not her name in passing. Which I don’t think he’s done in the show more than once (when he calls her Dulcinea in The Greater Fool) but I’ve developed a bit of an authorial tick for it. Shrug? (She hits him back here when she calls him Icarus. I don’t know, I’m a reference-heavy writer. I think I’m trying to prove to you that I’m well-read/clever.)
State Legislature joke brought to you by this Last Week Tonight segment. (10/10, do recommend.) Needless to say, I think this comparison is saying plenty. Picked The Atlantic because it was founded earlier than Time or Newsweek or The New Yorker and thus has more issues? Joke with myself.
On a serious note: crowd-sourcing is an interesting subject and since I’ve just taken a first year uni subject on it I now know just enough about it to talk about it without really knowing what I’m talking about (I call it “the first year effect.”)
And I want to mention it here because Mac is so critical in that way Sorkin characters often are: they’re one side of the argument, and other characters might give that argument other faces, other sides, but generally speaking he foists his opinions into the story any which way they’ll go … and I think all writers do that. (Sometimes I do it.) But I didn’t do it here, conscious choice and unavoidable with respect to characterization.
My personal opinion is that I’m all about what Neal (and Neal’s a representation of the hacker culture) is about. I’m for deliberative democracy and open source information and in general, people being informed. The hacker ethic is great.
The problem of course lies in the tenet that you will make things better, and seek to learn. En masse people aren’t really doing that. And thanks to the Internet we now get misinformation at lightning speed. Most people in the “crowd” aren’t all that critical of what they’re reading and consequently they’re probably not great sources of information that isn’t bullshit.
So no, in the old vs. new media debate I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong about “citizen journalists” or “pro ams” probably because I was raised in this big ol’ barn called the Internet, and more specifically fandom, and there are people here doing professional standard work that aren’t professionals. At some level the only difference is an economic one: are you getting paid to do what you do?
That’s not saying that experience and expertise isn’t valuable. It is. But I do think you can have or not have both regardless of whether you’re employed by a major news outlet or you just run a really well curated blog. Lord knows a lot of shit gets published or produced by “traditional” media.
(I think this is more valid in the creative industries. I mean, I’m just saying: Michael Bay. And while we’re on this tangent, the creative industries are a place where I think crowdsourcing triumphs. The ability to fund start up projects using Kickstarter etc. is amazing and I hope it continues to lead to voices that wouldn’t get heard via traditional channels breaking through.)
And I do think that digital technology allows us to subvert hierarchies that control the cultural conversation. (That’s what disruption is all about. But ironically I think the tech industry has become such big money that commercial interests have undermined what the hacker culture was all about.) And that’s invaluable. It allows the oppressed a voice and it teaches us to question the mainstream voices we might otherwise consider gospel.
What’s less valuable is that now everyone is just shouting out their shitty opinions amongst all the other voices and I’m starting to wonder if any of us (professionals, amateurs, somewhere in between) are really listening to anybody else. I’ve always loved the line in the pilot of The Newsroom, people choose the facts they want now, because that’s true.
(It’s always been a little bit true, and one could make the argument that I’d actually prefer to choose my own facts rather than let a major media outlet/news editor do it for me, thank you very much. But I’m hyperconscious of the constructedness of any piece of media and everything is biased and it makes me angry that this is an inevitable part of our human existence. And Johnny come reader might not share my passion for identifying bias.)
But the ability to so wholly read what we want to read, to cherry pick and only ever be exposed to things we already agree with is so dangerous especially when we’re not constantly vigilant about assessing the information we’re presented. Just think of it: you’ve reblogged a tweet on Tumblr about some controversial issue because it sounded good, even though you don’t know where it came from and you didn’t check that it was true. You’ve shared blog posts and even legitimate news articles without critical reflection because the share button is so readily accessible and you probably agreed with what it was saying.
I guess what I’m saying is my position is much more nuanced than the character’s and I just want that to be known and also LET’S TALK ABOUT NEW MEDIA OKAY, let’s talk about the Internet and privacy and leaking classified information. All these themes, so into them, jump in, talk to me.
One of the things that makes me sad about this being a six episode season is that these are such big ideas. And we’re only going to touch on them. (As said, if you wanna talk about this LET'S. Comments below or ask box on tumblr.)
This ending kind of comes from nowhere because … this was long enough. And serious enough. So I guess this is weird because on the one hand it is literally a fic about cleavage and male ejaculate. But also all these serious things were happening, and it felt like all that other dirty stuff had to happen within that context.
This is in contrast to that other story I wrote. And that’s sort of what I wanted to talk about write back in the beginning of this post and I’m sorry this is so long:
I started writing slippery when wet because I was reading something else about shower sex, this is a pretty common kink, and I can’t help but think that it’s really not one of mine. It’s just so much better in theory than in practice so I wanted to throw that into the cultural conversation. But this was so much easier to write, it flowed (pun?). And I think a format makes it easier to write sex. A five times fic or something with a gimmick just makes keeping the tone light-hearted a little easier.
I enjoyed writing it a lot more than I enjoyed writing do your worst.
I think it reads better?
I mean obviously they’re completely different stories, completely different atmospheres. But I wanted them to be the same, so instead of writing all out angsty smut (I can do that, I’m comfortable in that territory) I kept trying for light-hearted and … I'm desperately insecure about it.
So, writers/readers: what's your opinion? When reading/writing do you prefer your dirt dressed up with some kind of thematic link to help the format and pacing?
And this is where I leave you: with far too much overanalysis of literary pornography. I’m out. Mic drop.