The Beautiful Experiment
(While The Beautiful Experiment was first posted on the Erotic Readers and Writers blog, Nov 2013, it was very much front and centre in my mind when I wrote Interviewing Wade)
I was bored. My flight had been delayed. I’d already been traveling forever, and I’d reached that point at which I was too tired to read, too tired to concentrate on writing, too tired to sit still without being twitchy. I didn’t want to drink, I didn’t want to eat. I just wanted to be done travelling. That’s when I began The Beautiful Experiment. I was seated off one of the main concourses, which was a constant hive of activity, of people coming and going, popping in and out of shops and scurrying to make tight connections. It was the ideal place to people watch. But with a twist. I decided to watch the masses to see just how many truly beautiful people I could spot.
Okay, I know everyone has a slightly different ideal when it comes to beauty, but we all know it when we see it. We all know that look that turns heads, that look that makes us want to stare, to take in all that loveliness just a little longer. I didn’t care if the real lookers were men or women. I mean if we’re honest, we look at both, whether we admire it, want it or envy it. So I sat and I watched. … and I watched … and I watched. Since that time I’ve carried out my little experiment in pubs, in museums, on the tube, in busy parks, and the results are always the same. There just aren’t that many real stunners out there!
I was struck by that fact in the airport that day, so I decided to add another dimension to my experiment. I decided to look for people who were interesting. It didn’t necessarily have to be their looks that were interesting, it could just as easily be their behaviour, their dress, something, anything that made them worth a surreptitious stare. And wow! Being delayed in an airport suddenly became a fascinating grist mill for story ideas and intriguing speculation.
I’ve carried out this experiment lots of time now, and the results are always the same. There are very few stunners out there, and even when I spot one, even when I find myself sneaking glances at a beautiful person, my eyes, and my attention, can always be drawn away by the interesting people.
In erotica and, in particular erotic romance, the characters are usually voluptuous, sculpted beauties and broad shouldered, wash-boarded hunks. It’s fantasy after all. But how long can a story focus the reader’s attention on washboard abs or perfect tits? Descriptions give us a handle. Descriptions are like the label on a file. They might attract us to the file, but if the file is empty, it won’t hold our attention. It’s what makes the described beautiful person interesting that makes the story.
In our genre, sex is a large part of what makes our beautiful people intriguing; how they think about sex, their kinks, their quirks, their neuroses, their baggage – all of those things make the fact that our beautiful people are interesting way more important than the fact that they’re beautiful. Add to that some seriously delicious consequences for that sex, some chaos and mayhem, a few character flaws that catch us off our guard, that draw us in and voila! A gripping story is born!
Perfection in a story, in characters, is the equivalent of a literary air brushing. No flaws = no story; no rough spots = nothing to hold our attention. Our characters’ beauty is only their handle. Their flaws and their intriguing quirks are what catapult us into the plot, what make us want to stay on for more than just a look-see and to dig a little deeper, to really know those characters and become emotionally involved with them.
Recently on the tube in London, I tried my little experiment again, just to make sure. More data is always a good idea, and good science has to be repeatable, doesn’t it? Taking into account my own preferences and prejudices, the results
were the same. I can remember a half a dozen really interesting people, people I could very easily write a story about. There wasn’t a single stunner among them, which leads me to the conclusion that we’re more interesting in our flaws than in our perfections. We’re more interesting in our experiences and the way they manifest than in the static beauty of the moment. It also excites me to think that I’m surrounded by interesting people all the time. A story is never farther away than the next intriguing person. Is this an ordinary-looking person’s version of sour grapes? I don’t think so; I hope not. Truth is there’s an astonishing transformation that takes place in the company of truly interesting people. Before long, right before my eyes, those truly intriguing people become the beautiful people. There’s always a story in that.