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The topic for today’s post stems from several bits of reading I’ve done on the web over the past few days.


In one thread in the romance section at Amazon someone wrote on the forum requesting recommendations for realistic BDSM erotic romance or erotica.  From the description of what they wanted (and what they didn’t like) which took form through the course of the thread it seemed that what they wanted was a book that depicted their own experience of the BDSM lifestyle. They were disappointed in the books on the subject because they didn’t depict their experience of the lifestyle.


After each recommendation the poster voiced something they didn’t like about the recommendation. Many of the negatives seemed to be that the depictions of BDSM in the books didn’t match their real life experiences of the scene. Well…pardon me…but not every depiction of vanilla relationships in books matches my experience of vanilla relationships. When I read a vanilla book in which the characters are not exactly like me, don’t practice their relationship exactly like I practice mine, I am able to take a step back and see the characters as individuals who are not me — who are separate and distinct from me – who practice their relationship in their own way. I can still enjoy these books even though the characters and their relationship is different than mine.


My question is — does fiction need to follow realistically every facet of a lifestyle in order to be good? Can alternative lifestyle fiction like GBLT, BDSM, D/s realistically hope to depict any one person’s experience of the lifestyle any more than books about vanilla relationships can depict the way that any one person practices a vanilla relationship?


Is it fair to expect authors of alternative lifestyle fiction to depict the lifestyle according to any specific practice of it?


In another post at the Dear Author blog Sarah takes Tymber Dalton to task for her book The Reluctant Dom – a book I personally read, enjoyed immensely, and recommend to others. Sarah’s primary complaint with The Reluctant Dom seemed to be that the couple in the book – Leah and Kaden practice BDSM because the practices help Leah who had a terrible childhood process her emotions. Sarah’ objects to the BDSM as therapy aspect of the plot. She has a right to her own opinion on the matter — as we all do and I’m not posting this to debate her opinion which she’s already expressed on her blog. My question is — does romantic fiction need to instruct people on what they should do in a given situation or in how they should behave? When an author sets out to write a book should they insure that the hero and heroine do exactly what the author would recommend someone in real life doing?


Is it too much of a leap to concede that many things besides counseling help people heal? Many of us have had bad childhoods, endured things we shouldn’t have had to endure. Many of us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move on with our lives without the aid of counseling. Often we’re able to do this because of the other supportive relationships in our lives – often the relationship with our spouse or other significant other who either directly or indirectly helps us heal. This seems to be perfectly acceptable in vanilla romance novels. However when it is combined with BDSM in romance there seems to be a different standard applied. The standard sometimes seems to be BDSM couples should seek counseling while vanilla couples can heal without counseling.


My question is does fiction need to instruct people on the correct, socially accepted, courses of action or is it acceptable for heroes and heroines to follow less socially accepted courses of action which might not work for everyone but which do work for the characters in the parameters of their story? Is there a different standard for couples in BDSM relationships than for couples in vanilla relationships?


It is fiction…how realistic does fiction need to be? Is it different for different kinds of fiction? Is there a different standard for vanilla romance than for erotic romance with a BDSM theme?

16 Responses to Does Fiction Have To Follow Fact? Does It Have To Instruct People On How They SHOULD Behave?

  • Velvet Rose says:

    I think the very definition of fiction means that it isn’t entirely based on reality. Sure, there may be elements of real life here and there, but overall the story is made up. If I wrote my erotic stories based on my own experiences, after awhile it would get very boring, because like most others, I tend to fall into certain patterns or routines. That is why reading and writing erotica is fun, I can fantasize and put myself in the shoes of someone else with different tastes and desires.

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      I agree completely with you Velvet Rose. It’s funny as books need to be real enough we can suspend disbelief to imagine that they could happen somewhere in the universe. And yet, as you say, if all fiction was based on real life it would get pretty boring. We do all like to fantasize…put aside our own troubles and enjoy living vicariously through someone with different troubles for a while. I think that’s why we seek out fiction. One of the things I like most in fiction is variety…NOT knowing what is going to happen next. I like that characters can make mistakes, do things that we might not do in real life and no one gets hurt. :)

  • Gabrielle says:

    Fiction books are meant to entertain us not to be a guide on how we live. I reader should read how to books if they want the book to be exact. I would be hard pressed to find a book that matched my life unless I decideed to write it myself. I once read a book where the woman was running from her abuser and ended up in a relationship rather quickly. Another reader complained that not enough time passed for the an abused woman to go ahead with a relationship but as I said we read to escape and everyone is different and everyone reacts differently. Who knows what is the right reaction or even what reaction it will be.
    With BDSM I have read the spectrum from really bad to really good. I expect it to be reallistic and not the way people think or imagine it to be. Some people believe what they want and insist it is the right way even if they have never experienced it themselves.Different people enjoy different things whether it be in real life or books. Fictional characters are just that fictional as is the story. I want to read it to be entertained not to compare it to real life and make sure it is what I think is right.

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      Having to smile here Gabrielle, about the line, “I would be hard pressed to find a book that matched my life unless I decided to write it myself.” I think that’s true for me as well. My characters do have some aspects that are similar to me. But if the book was my life story it would be an autobiography and not fiction. :) Also probably not very salable.
      I agree…we read to escape from real life. :-) What I’m looking for in fiction isn’t a character who acts and reacts as I would. I want the author to show me why THIS character acts or reacts as he or she DOES based on who they are.
      Some readers do have trouble suspending disbelief if a character doesn’t act the way they would in a situation…even if the character is shown to have strong motivation for acting differently. This kind of always bothers me in reviews. I want to shout “BUT THE CHARACTER ISN’T YOU!” when I read one of these reviews complaining that the character didn’t act the way the reader would have acted in a given situation.
      I don’t think there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to practice BDSM any more than there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to practice a vanilla lifestyle. There are things that will aid in a positive relationship of either type. Respecting your partner is important in both vanilla relationships and BDSM relationships. Communication and honesty are important in both types of relationship. Valuing the other person’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and needs is important in any relationship. But how people incorporate these things into the fabric of their relationships (or don’t) – I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way. I think there are ways that work for individual people and ways that don’t work. I think it is the same for fictional characters and their relationships.
      I want characters who seem so real that I believe that they WOULD ABSOLUTELY do this or that — even though I ABSOLUTELY WOULDN’T in the same circumstance. If I believe they would, even when I wouldn’t then the author has done a good job of creating realistic characters and strong motivation. Authors like that soon find their way to my favorite authors list.

  • Carol L says:

    When I read it’s knowing going in that I’m traveling into a story that is going to entertain me and take me out of my life for a short time. I totally love the research Author’s do for their stories but no two people are going to leave that story with the exact same feelings. We interpret what we need I think.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      Hi Carol,
      I think you are right. I think we interpret what an author says according to our own viewpoints. If a character acts as I would act in a given situation it feels good…I’m in alignment with the character and the character’s behavior doesn’t need much explanation. However, if the character acts in a way that is different than I would in a given situation then I need more explanation – motivation – for the character to act differently.
      I agree — people are different — what they like in real life and in stories is different. There are times when I read book reviews and then read the book based on the review that I wonder if the reviewer and I read the same book. :) They may love something that made me think I’d love the book but I may hate something that they didn’t mention which makes the book a total loser for me. We’re all unique and different. We bring our past experiences into what we read I think.

  • Cara Bristol says:

    There is no right or wrong answer, because it all depends on what the reader wants. Some readers want starkly realistic fiction — other readers specifically don’t want realistic fiction. On the flip side, some authors are real sticklers for absolute accuracy, while others bend the rules.

    There’s an element of “unrealism” to all romance no matter what the subgenre, because it always works out happily in the end and the boy always gets the girl. Not so real life.

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      True enough Cara. Readers are all different — do all want different things. You are right, there is an element of “unrealism” in romance because of the requirement for the happy ending…but I sure don’t want to give up my happy endings in the romance genre. :)

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      I’m a lot the same Wilma, though I do like a sense of realism…I like to be able to suspend disbelief. I’m okay with the realism factor of most books if there is enough realism that I can suspend disbelief enough to believe that these characters would have this experience, if they lived in this made up world and had these made up experiences.
      Like you, if I want reality I will read the newspaper, watch a documentary, or pick up a non-fiction book — of course, books, newspapers, and documentaries express “truth” through the lens of their writers too. What one historian thinks is important in history or politics might be different than another author’s. These personal biases of authors do find their way subtly into the non-fiction newspaper articles, books, and TV documentaries.
      “Truth” is a lot processed through the viewpoint of the person writing it — or experiencing it.

  • Mary Preston says:

    I don’t care too much about the realism of what I’m reading. Newspapers & non-fiction do that well enough. I want an escape. If I learn along the way – great. Entertain & enthrall me.

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      I’m into books for the entertainment factor as well. I want a story that scoops me out of my real world and deposits me in a fictional one…allows me to experience the fictional world and the character’s experiences in the fictional world.
      I don’t really look to fiction to provide truth beyond is it realistic that these characters in this setting, with these past experiences, these present goals, to act in this way. If it is I’m usually along for the ride…even if I disagree with whether what the character is doing is “right”.
      If characters only did “the right thing” and never made a mistake their lives would be fairly boring…their stories fairly boring. It seems to me that characters, like real people, make a lot of their own angst by their mistakes, misunderstandings, and missteps.

  • Sarah Frantz says:

    My main problem with Dalton’s book was that it perpetuated the idea that people only engage in BDSM when there’s something wrong with them (hideous childhood abuse). There’s no understanding or acceptance of the fact that people might be drawn to BDSM for the pleasure it provides them, rather than because they need to be fixed.

    There are certainly many great BDSM romances that use the kinky sexual relationship as therapy, just as there vanilla romances. Joey Hill’s pair of novels ICE QUEEN and MIRROR OF MY SOUL are great examples–heroine had similar agonizing childhood experiences, but she also has an impulse to BDSM above and beyond that. (And don’t get me started on “realistic” depictions of romance-generated recovery from PTSD.) But the problem (for me) with the Dalton was that this was the ONLY reason they were participating in BDSM.

    You raise some very interesting questions.

    • Laurie Sanders says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Sarah.
      That your main problem with Dalton’s book was that it perpetuated the idea that people only engage in BDSM when there’s something wrong with them is not what I took away from your review so I’m really glad you clarified. I understand your point better now.
      I must say though, I enjoyed the story partly BECAUSE it was different than many of the books I’ve read in which the characters did engage in BDSM because they enjoyed it. Most of the books I’d read at that time — and up to now — included characters who engaged in BDSM because they enjoyed it. For that reason I was not bothered to see a different treatment – a different reason for engaging.
      I didn’t expect this one book to show the whole realm of possible BDSM relationships. I expected it to examine one set of characters and their relationship, which I thought it did in a believable way.
      I believe that many of us who read, write, or publish BDSM stories feel strongly about how BDSM is portrayed. Some of us care because we ourselves engage in those lifestyles or variants thereof and we want what is shown in fiction to be a fair, positive reflection of what we experience in our own relationships. For others the feeling might have nothing to do with our own personal relationships but might instead stem from the feeling that the relationship style has been dealt a bad rap by society and the media and we want to see it treated more fairly.
      When it comes to BDSM we’ve seen it treated as the province of numerous twisted sexual deviants, serial killers, etc. on any number of TV shows and in movies. We’re tired of having something we care about misrepresented as something dark, sinister, twisted, or the province of those who have something wrong with them. Having seen so much of the negative portrayals we are kind of primed to see more of the negative when a character engages in BDSM because it helps them deal with a dark part of their past rather than seeing it as a positive that the character finds emotional and physical solace in the practice of BDSM.
      I’ve read a number of BDSM books which feature characters who engage in BDSM because they enjoy it…but do all books have to feature characters who engage because they enjoy it physically? Or can some characters engage because they find peace, solace, emotional fulfillment in the practice? I’d like to think the latter.
      Again, I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. I think we are both here because we care about how BDSM is portrayed.

      • Sarah Frantz says:

        do all books have to feature characters who engage because they enjoy it physically? Or can some characters engage because they find peace, solace, emotional fulfillment in the practice?

        I guess I don’t see these as mutually exclusive. I guess I see those who are drawn to BDSM because it’s their sexuality and sex really isn’t any fun without it engage in it for peace, solance and especially emotional fulfillment. I guess with the Dalton, I saw her as portraying them as mutually exclusive. So…it made me mad.

        • Laurie Sanders says:

          I don’t see physical experience and emotional experience as mutually exclusive. Most experiences include both physical aspects and emotional aspects as well as mental and spiritual aspects. When I teach writing classes this is one of the things I teach. The deepest stories tend to include scenes which show physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the characters and their experiences.
          I didn’t see Dalton’s book as portraying physical aspects of BDSM and emotional aspects exclusive of each other though I do see how some of what she said, especially in the opening or closing remarks (can’t remember which now) could be taken that way. I think what she was trying to do with the book was to ask us to look not exclusively at the emotional and spiritual aspects of BDSM but to look harder at them than we normally do. One way to focus us on the emotional, psychological, and mental aspects is to make the characters’ bigger reason for BDSM the emotional reasons rather than the physical ones…thereby reducing the focus on the physical.
          The characters all seemed to enjoy physical aspects of BDSM once they became involved whatever their reason for getting involved in the first place.
          I think the primary focus was on the emotional experiences of the characters rather than the physical ones. It’s usually the other way in most BDSM books. I found it refreshing. It didn’t make me mad. That said, I can understand why it would make you mad if you saw the physical aspects and emotional aspects conveyed as disconnected and exclusive of each other. I’ve been angered at more than one book which only focused on the physical aspects – desire – sexual arousal – without really showing me what ticked emotionally for the characters…

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