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Tue, Jun. 9th, 2009, 03:49 pm

an ordered list and an unordered list

I want to start a discussion about something, and I'm having a hell of a time framing my question effectively. Bear with me if I flail a bit here.

Here's two things I've been thinking a lot about lately:

  1. What is "realism" in fiction? How desirable is it, how important? What are the different things we are referring to when we use that label? Is there anything distinctive about our standards for realism in porn, as distinct from other genres of storytelling?

  2. What is identification, and how does it work? The usual model (at least in a pornographic fiction context) goes something like this: You start reading a story. You pick a character whose role best matches your tastes, either by gender or some other criterion, and then you project yourself into the story thus, imagining yourself doing and done-to as that character is.

    I think what actually happens is more complex and subtle than that. I'm not sure how eccentric that is of me, and therefore how much work I should actually be putting in to being persuasive on this point.

These are old. What's new is trying to bring these lines of thought together. I had a conversation with a friend lately where she talked about how certain failures of realism blocked her from identifying with female characters, and therefore from enjoying those stories. She cited this as one of the advantages, for her, of reading M/M slash over heterosexual fanfiction.

Previous attempts to write this post foundered 'cause I have a lot of thoughts and ideas here, but an uncharacteristic lack of grand unified theories, so the posts ended up meandering for a while before trailing off in mid-paragraph. I want to try starting some discussion here instead, and see if that brings stuff together. Here are some questions...

  • What kinds of realism are important to you? Are your expectations different depending on the genre you're reading* in?
  • What makes a character compelling to you? What have you encountered that drove you out of the text?
  • If you enjoy both porn that includes your gender and porn that doesn't, does that divide color the way you approach the characters?

I'll probably have more as I try to pull these threads apart.

* or watching movies or listening to podcasts or what have you

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC)

Realism, to me, mostly means consistency. There are a few other key points, too, but that's the big one.

Characters should largely behave in ways that conform to some underlying personality, and changes to that personality should progress in a reasonably logical sequence, and each character's personality should be at least a little bit different from the rest so that I can tell them apart.

Events should unfold in ways that conform to a coherent, internally consistent system of physical laws. That system should pretty much look like the real world, with a few minor exceptions permissible here and there; in the case of science fiction or fantasy settings, deviations from reality such as magic and faster-than-light travel should be clearly demonstrated and come with rules of their own.

There are very few things that make a character not compelling to me, but particularly easy targets are as follows: Demonstrate vulnerability and I'm there. Demonstrate adaptability and I'm there. Demonstrate protectiveness of loved ones and I'm there. The converse of this, of course, is that if a character seems to be psychologically inviolable, adheres to rigidly set patterns of thought and behaviour, and/or doesn't give a rat's ass about anybody but themselves, I will probably go and find another story.

Oh, and I'm weirdly fascinated by characters who are mentally ill (or just mentally a little nonstandard) and/or almost complete assholes. (The difference between almost and completely is whether or not the character has people s/he really does care about.) Dexter Morgan is a perfect example of someone who hits almost all my buttons: sociopathic, yet cares deeply in his own twisted way for a select few individuals, demonstrating both protectiveness towards them and vulnerability about them. If adaptability was one of his major character traits, you couldn't pry me away from him with a crowbar.

I don't really approach the characters that differently in m/m, f/f, or m/f porn. Which characters I identify with in a story depends more on whose point of view the story is written from than it does on the genders of the characters involved. Then again, my vantage point is a little peculiar: I identify as both male and female depending on whim and context, so the fact that I identify equally well with both male and female characters comes as no surprise.

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)

A lot of the character qualities you're talking about (quite reasonably) are, I think, organizable under the banner of "likability." I would guess that the qualities that you list are mostly similar to stuff you look for in friends. Are they also qualities you tend to find sexy, if I may ask?

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)

Yes, you may ask.

I'm not entirely sure of the answer, though. What I find sexy is a lot more context-dependent than what draws me to a character in terms of enjoying their part in a story and/or identifying with them. All those qualities are things that I can find sexy under the right circumstances, but I'd hesitate to generalize that I usually do.