Writers have to be vigilant about straying into the Land of the Creeps.
I thought about this pitfall today when on a mundane stop at the grocery store. In the produce department my eyes kept going toward a chunky blond woman in a U2 Tshirt who selected ears of fresh Spring corn and shucked them with an artful sort of dexterity. I almost forgot what I came into that section to buy.
Long ago I read a draft chapter in which the author fell into the creepiness. Here’s the example. The scene was supposedly about watercolor painting, and the female character let her mind drift as she painted. Eventually she became hot and bothered, in a sexual way, and was home alone, so you can surmise what came next. The author later talked about the scene with regret and chagrin. She carefully avoided admission of anything in the scene that had to do with herself. Who wants to admit being creepy?
A couple of people suggested that my novel Houston Chemical was a bragging exhibition and nostalgic exercise in repressed sexual desire, or some such thing. That the women were mere bedroom objects (as if women don’t have men as sex objects; in reality we live in a world of sex objects). It wasn’t meant to be any of that. It is a story of one guy’s transition from bad to better to worse; a Byronic hero in search of happiness but foiled by his own indiscretions. I will argue that most characters have some sort of dimension to them other than being bed-hoppers, but that doesn’t mean the Creepiness Factor isn’t there for some readers.
I think the writer’s realization of their own Creepiness is more unsettling than any Creepiness experienced by the reader. You can have the reader for a while but soon their attention is somewhere else and keeps moving and moving on. The writer is stuck with their own product – at least until they fix it (caught and repaired with relief in draft stage).
Some never fix it. Seems that would be a detriment, but reactions are unpredictable. Consider Chad Harbach, who wrote lurid, creepy stuff, but the critics (apparently oblivious to situations like Penn State’s locker room, and willing to celebrate the fictional aspects of a college dean gobbling the goop of a student) loved the book anyway.
The realization that one has written oneself into the Land of the Creeps is forgivable, of course, but disturbing. The next time one writes, it’s a bit like driving after getting a speeding ticket.