The kinks: stories and our emotional response to them

A friend and I were discussing some of the more “interesting” fannish speculation we’ve encountered while out and about on the interwebs for various reasons re: Once Upon A Time. We both agreed we have no plans to participate in general fandom again. It is a hairy quagmire of divergent points of view and divisive passions, and we have both been there, done that with the bruises to prove it. Best to stick to the discussions we can have with our immediate internet friends.

But that got me thinking about why fandom is the way it is. Anything that makes us equally passionate–hobbies, areas of expertise, particular people, things of beauty–can lead to divergent points of view and divisiveness. We form strong opinions about those things, then the realities of internet communication exaggerate them: a degree of anonymity makes us bolder, ruder, rasher. The visual and aural cues that come with face-to-face or telephone communication are not there, which leads to unintended ambiguity and misunderstanding.

But there’s an additional element to fannishness about fictional books, films, or television shows that also contributes to the potential turbulence of the fan experience: our human response to stories. Continue reading “The kinks: stories and our emotional response to them”

Eye of the Daemon

Latest book: “Eye of the Daemon” by Camille Bacon-Smith

OK, this book was totally cheating, as I’ve not only read it before, it’s been sitting on my shelf for years now. But I was having interlibrary loan issues, and needed something to read in the interim. Plus, a lot of this “book-a-thon 2007” is about exploring themes in fantasy novels that interest me, and revisiting a book I’ve already read for its themes fits that bill.

And how.

Suffice it to say, this book really pushes my buttons.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “story kinks” as the term is understood in the fanfic community–why we are drawn to the particular stories we are, whether as writers or readers. “Kink” here is understood in a broader sense than merely sexual, any story element that draws you in with such an inexorable power that you find yourself writing or reading stories with that element over and over whether you realize it or not. Among my many “kinks”–(1) parent/child relationships, particularly when the two finally meet after the child is an (near) adult, (2) aliens-among-us, (3) the experience of being part-human, part-alien (where by “alien” I don’t necessarily mean extra-terrestrial, but anything not commonly associated with the natural inhabitants of Earth we see in our daily lives), (4) supernatural families, especially special gifts/experiences being passed down through the generations, (5) a young person only discovering belatedly that they are half-alien or of some sort of supernatural origin, which finally makes sense of the weird/bad experiences they’ve had in their lives, (6) strong women characters who are not merely bit-parts or recurring (may be less of a kink than a prerequisite), (7) characters of invitation, (8) stories of the supernatural that take place in the real world, (9) secret identities/secret sub-cultures, (10) ordinary people becoming champions/messiahs, which may or may not include destiny/prophecy/previous foreknowledge of this as an element.

how any of this is related to ‘Eye of the Daemon’-spoilers

Quirk

Taking a cue from buffyannotater, and given my own January-ish Spring cleaning urges, I’ve been going through my old VHS tape collection seeing what I want to keep and what I want to pare down. This time around (I’ve pared down before) I’m interested in what drives my choice of the “keepers.” I was “poked” by a recent post of rahirah‘s on fan fic “kinks and squicks.” She nicely differentiates author “kinks” in stories from repeated themes in an author’s stories, and I suppose what I want to talk about are better thought of as “themes” than “kinks,” but the idea is similar–what draws me to particular movies/books/TV shows, and makes me want to revisit them again and again, is that they contain elements that really push my buttons.

I added my own comment to her post in response to someone talking about books and bookstores. The original commentator noted that being in bookstores drives her crazy because she knows there are books there that include her own personal kinks, but the difficulty is finding them! This resonated with me because I have a very quirky way of choosing what books I will read. I rarely, if ever, pick a book to read because it’s by a favorite author, or recced by a friend, or any normal way of choosing books. I want the books I read to satisfy my kinks or my themes or push my buttons or whatever the appropriate metaphor is. So I find the books I will read by spending hours in bookstores (or surfing amazon) reading the blurbs on the back of book after book until I find one that sounds like it will satisfy a kink/theme/button.

Which is probably why I don’t read a lot of books, or see a lot movies, and tend to revisit the ones I already like.

Is anyone else this way, or am I entirely weird?

Exploring one’s own writing is an easier way to judge one’s kinks and button-pushing themes because you’re in control of what gets on the page. I see repeated themes in my writing. Family is one of them, but it can’t be just anything having to do with family, because there’s a zillion movies, books, and TV shows out there dealing with family that do nothing for me. Children lost to their parents for a number of years and found again is certainly a theme that pings me. Also children who inherit some supernatural talent from their parents. I used to write a lot of “half-alien girl living as human on Earth discovers she is half-alien” stories when I was a teen. Being alien (as in not-human) and what that means to one’s own personal identity is also a big theme with me. Not just as an exploration of how that makes you different and isolated from others, but, for me, how it connects you to others who share your quirky difference.

Part of this comes from being gay, I’m sure. Belonging to a relatively invisible, shunned, but assimilated minority group that has created its own sub-culture due to its relative isolation from mainstream society has its “pretty cool” side, and that gets reflected in stories I write about “groups of aliens living secretly among us.”

But on the whole, I don’t know where a lot of my button-pushing themes come from. There’s nothing in my past that suggests itself as an obvious origin of my need for emotionally screwed-up protagonists, for example, or my odd preference for broad age-difference romantic couplings. And I wonder if knowing the genesis of one’s kinks isn’t like knowing the biological basis of being in love or something similar. It sort of takes the magic out of it, the same way that therapy takes the trauma out of the quirky things that disturb us the most.

Another one of my necessary “elements” in stories is the need for strong women. Many times, I end up primarily identifying with a male character in a story, but if there isn’t any strong women in the story, the Kate Lockleys and Darlas and Hermiones and McGonnegals, I’m not going to continue with a story universe no matter how much I vibe with a male character (e.g., that’s why the LoTR movies just didn’t stick with me after one viewing.)

A few years ago, I took a fascinating writing class called “The Intuitive Voice”. The purpose of the class was to help you discover the kinds of things you should be writing about. What your best mode was, for example–fiction, memoir, non-fiction, short-story, novel, etc. And what repeated themes would supply the most energy to your writing. The instructor actually used this metaphor–that certain themes are like an incendiary fuel that once we learn how to stop avoiding them (in our thoughts or in our writing), would actually get us putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard better than any other writer’s block cure. rahirah notes that many fan fic writers write their kinks into their stories without even being aware that they’re there, sometimes to the detriment of the story, but I think the opposite is true for a lot of would-be writers. They haven’t gotten words on the page yet, or they have, but they’ve written uninspired, half-assed stories–because they’re afraid to write about the themes and kinks that would fuel them the most. Taboos, either societal or personal, block them.

I learned to get past that by telling myself that no one would ever have to read a particular thing I was writing. And lord knows I often censor my public writing a bit lest my kinks be judged. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of my personal issues in the writing I’ve put out there for public consumption, though.

In that Intuitive Voice class, the instructor had exercises that helped us discover what our most resonant personal themes were. I need to dig up my homework from that class, because the exercises were pretty cool.