Bland heroines and Rodgers and Hammerstein and what I write
This is a response to a piece by Remittance Girl on “Sleeping Beauties of the 21st Century” found here:
Over my years of speaking to perverts (grin) I often shock the room by admitting that I did not like O as a character in the miss-titled Story of O. I find her to be so devoid of character and faceless that by the time they slip an actual mask over her face, it seems rather pointless. Passive doesn’t even begin to describe her; she is like a Real Doll with a limited vocabulary sound file embedded inside. I never got a clue as to whether she enjoyed what was happening, was curious about it, wanted more, wanted less, wanted out…she just endured, sometimes with mild distress, but never with anything like joy or despair, passion, anger, jealousy, frustration, humor, bitterness…just…nothing.
Frankly, I thought the book was a romance between Rene and Sir Stephen. The woman they share – or rather, the woman Rene gives to his half brother – is a courting gift of submission, not even the binding element of a threesome.
Perhaps the bland, featureless woman makes it easier for some readers to place themselves into that role. She has simple flaws, like Bella’s clumsiness, which can be appealing, and minor self doubts, which can be sympathized with. But she will be easy to step into as an identity character because so little of her is really fleshed out. The reader doesn’t need to put a whole life story aside to fantasize about living this life – all she needs to do is think, “Well, I can be clumsy. I am just like Bella. In fact, I also play the piano and speak Russian and make fanciful cocktails and have a doctorate in Bioethics. I am much more well rounded than Bella. Edward would love me even more.”
A blank main character makes it easier for the reader to create her own Mary Sue story, which is what James did – she wrote a Mary Sue fan fic for Twilight, substituting kink for vampirism.
In the 60′s and 70′s a lot of (straight) porn was made where the “leading man” was, shall we say, not very conventionally attractive.(CoughcoughRonJeremyCough) The word was, the average straight man watching these movies – because only men watched them – did not want a *rival* on the screen fucking the ladies. If the leading man was ugly, any man could say, “I am much better looking. I could totally get all those chicks.” Fantasy acquired. Orgasm imminent.
I am not that kind of a reader or watcher; I don’t need to have a character subsumed for me to be able to identify with them; and I write for readers like me. This became clear to me when my agent asked me if I could write something “like” 50 Shades, and I realized my mind was blank. Every scenario I came up with wouldn’t work. Now, I see why. I was mentally rebelling against the woman-as-blank-slate part of the equation. I never liked the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” The lyrics gave me the creeps. But they would apparently make a great romance book.
You wait little girl
On an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on
Your life little girl
is an empty page
that men will want to write on