Friday, May 18, 2012

How Shame Plays a Part in Writing

I had a crazy idea for Nanowrimo to do either this summer or November. It’s so far outside of my style that I have no intention of getting it published. It’s just a fun exercise.

I have a dilemma, though. (Beyond the fact that I’m supposed to be revising Sacred Fire.)

The book would be about the Biddenden Maids. According to legend, they were conjoined twins from a rich family who lived in England during medieval times. I’ve read its normal for Siamese twins to get married, so I thought one of them could marry a man the other didn’t like. The other would later fall in love with him (of course), and this would cause chaos.

That’s what I call a messed-up love triangle.

When I heard about Siamese twins getting married, I wondered the exact same thing I’m sure you are all wondering. Don’t lie. You know what I’m talking about.

As I’m going back and forth on whether or not to write a novel that will spend a significant amount of time in the bedroom, I’m reevaluating my standards. Some of my readers might remember I have yet to take a firm moral stance on how much sex is okay to put in books. It shouldn’t be too graphic, too vulgar, or too gratuitous, but what does that actually mean? How much do I personally believe is too much?

Since I don’t plan on anyone seeing this book but me, I did consider throwing moral caution to the wind and writing whatever I want. But that goes against my philosophy that you should never write something you’re too ashamed to stand by.

I first developed this philosophy in a college creative writing class. One of the students read a poem he wrote about sexual frustration. I actually thought it was good. Sexual frustration is something we all go through, and I appreciated his openness in talking about it. At one point he described peeking through his window blinds watching the college girls go by and wishing he could be with all of them, which I found hilarious because I’ve seen guys doing that.

What I didn’t like was how in the last two lines, he drastically changed his stance and said he actually wanted to fall in love and be with only one woman. Obviously I think that’s the best moral choice, but it told me he was too embarrassed by his piece to fully support it.

I told him, “Look, if you want to be a pervert, be a pervert and stand by it, but if you’re ashamed of this, you shouldn’t have written it.”

In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have called him a pervert in front of the whole class, by I believe in what I said. Never write something you’re ashamed of, and never be ashamed of what you write.

If I decide to write this conjoined twin story, I will write it asking myself, “Do I have the nerve to support this, or will it embarrass me?” Because once I write it, it’s mine, and I’m not going to hide what’s mine.


  1. You should check out Darin Strauss's CHANG AND ENG which is about a pair of cojoined twins. And I think you should go for it! There's nothing wrong with writing something you don't show anyone. Everyone is entitled to have secrets.

  2. You could write it in a non-embarrassing way if you want. It doesn't have to be graphic. It sounds like a fun project, and I would write it non-embarrassing myself. There is plenty of potential for humor, and I would want to share it!

  3. This is a great post! I love your story idea - sounds amazing, even if it's just for you!

    I write about sex in my wips. For me, I let my characters tell me how much is too much. For example, a shy wallflower character wouldn't get too graphic during her first time (or maybe she'd go crazy and let it all out, who knows!). For me, as long as I'm letting my characters say what they want and need to say, I can stand by it. I'm not ashamed of anything I write as long as it's true to the my character. That's my litmus.

  4. Conjoined twins fascinate me. Have you ever heard of Brittany and Abby Hensel? They're conjoined twins living currently and they share their whole lower body. They have separate upper organs; however, besides their brains and heads, it is contained within one body. It is sort of amazing. And so is your story idea. ^^

    I've given you an award:

  5. Thanks for the award, Brooke! I have heard about those twins... last I heard, Brittany was engaged. That would be so weird. I have so many questions that would be inappropriate to ask.

  6. You raise an interesting question, and I thought I had an opinion when I started typing this reply. However, I'm not sure I do now. I've written some stuff in the past that would probably embarrass me to be discovered (and now I've remembered it still exists, I'm thinking of burning it) but that's because it's autobiographical. I'd probably be happy to write anything at all, as long as it was required by the story. In the case of conjoined twins, that part is important!


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