I’ve been having a bit of a problem with the “brokeback erotica” story. I finished it, but it sucked. I’d done all the research, I poured over the vocabulary and the rodeo sites, I read up on my history of the American West. But when I wrote the story, it was crap. I could tell when I picked it up yesterday to read – crappity crap crap, the whole damn thing. All the research is just slapped on over the story, and anyone who read it would be able to tell that the author knew nothing about cowboys. Nevermind that it’s erotica, and the purpose of erotica is – well, you know. You still have to have some air of authenticity in the world and the characters, no matter how hot and heavy the sex scenes are.
So last night I decided to tear it apart and do something a bit different. First, I threw away all the research. I mean, if I were to walk into some little Western town, I’d be able to figure out who was and wasn’t a cowboy without an encyclopedia, right? And if I wanted to screw a cowboy, I wouldn’t need to do “research”, right? (ye gods, I hope not….) So I put my character in the exact same position that I would be in, because for this story that’s the only place of “authority” I can speak from – that of an outsider looking into a foreign culture. Then I changed the POV and tense to something a bit more radical: it’s now present tense and second person. I did this primarily to shake myself into thinking differently about the story – I might not keep it, as I know how many readers loathe present tense and go apeshit over second person. But it’s forcing me to write the story differently. I can’t use the same old tricks when I’m writing in a POV that removes me a bit from the character and situation.
And then, I did something very strange: instead of rewriting the story in chronological order, I decided to chop it up and present it in a series of scenes that are in reverse chronological order. In other words, the “first” scene of the story is actually the ending, the second scene is the second-to-last moment in the “real time” life of the characters, etc. – all the way to the very last scene presented, which is the “first” scene for the protagonist. It’s exactly how Harold Pinter wrote “Betrayal”, if you’re at all familiar with the play. There are eight scenes in the story, parallel to the eight seconds a rider must stay on the bucking horse (or bull) in order to score in rodeo competition. That I’m using this specific event time to frame the story should give you a clue as to what the story is about (I’m talking about the emotional journey of the protagonist, though – not the sex). I think the reverse chronology is a nice way of letting the reader see the events that the protagonist goes through in a different light – they’ll already know the ending of her journey, so the things she says and does without the knowledge that we the readers already have of her will take on an extra dimension of meaning. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s also bittersweet.
All of this playing with style is helping me to write a better story – however, it may ultimately make it unmarketable for the anthology. That’s the drawback. I don’t know if my style will fit the style of the other stories, and if it doesn’t, mine is out. But I think I’ve done the right thing with all the radical changes. My story may not make the cut for this market, but at least it won’t be like anyone else’s. I’m sure it’ll find a place, someday.