On Planning a BDSM Scene

by | Apr 15, 2016 | General | 1 comment

You know how on Project Runway, when the contestants are creating a
collection, they keep being urged to make it cohesive? Cohesion is a big part of how they envision each piece of
the collection being connected and part of a whole. So it doesn’t feel
disjointed. So you get a clear sense of who the designer is. So you know who
they are making clothes for.

As a top, when I’m planning a BDSM scene, I’m attempting to create a
similar kind of cohesion. I want the play to feel connected, not like a series
of disjointed activities. I want the play to be an expression of who I am as a
top. I want the play to be specific to the bottom, and specific to this
particular moment with the bottom. It needs to be about both (or all) of us.

It can be easy to be caught up in a clever idea, or a particular goal,
or want to use all the tools available, or have a clear arc in mind. But goal
focused or highly scripted play often prevents us from being in the moment and
present with ourselves and those we are playing with. So I try not to overplan.
I want to leave plenty of room to respond in the moment. When I’m teaching BDSM,
I often tell folks: 

Let your intention
float alongside or in front of you. Grasping for it may sink you.

So, I generally lean towards a loose plan, instead of a script or
concrete goals. I’ve built scenes on a few tools I want to focus on. I’ve created scenes based on the emotions I wanted to harness. I’ve
planned scenes based on sensations I want to give. I’ve conceived of scenes
that are based on the kind of connection I wanted to create. These are loose intentions,
ones that I can let float next to me, and still really be in the moment during
BDSM play, let myself be guided as much by context and the responses of my
partner and my own desire right then, as I am by the intention. And even this
kind of loose intention can sometimes weigh me down in the moment if I become
too attached to it, so I try to enter a scene knowing that I may need to let it
float away from me altogether.

Many of my erotica stories mostly consist of a scene; there may be a
bit of a lead in, or sometimes a longer lead in, but often the bulk of the
story is the scene. That’s where the character arc happens, that’s where the
conflict occurs, that’s where I do much of my characterization. The scene is
the center of the story, and it needs the sort of plan that a real life scene
needs, one that is dynamic and responsive, one that allows for discovery and
flow, one that isn’t too heavily scripted or goal oriented. It needs to feel
cohesive, in some ways even moreso because it’s the center of a story.

I often do the bulk of planning for my stories much like I plan a
scene. I get a clear sense of point of view, and who the characters are as
individuals, but also their dynamics, the context for their play. I also have a
loose plan, an intention for how the
BDSM is going to be cohesive, deeply woven into the story as a whole. I choose
the thread I am going to draw throughout the scene so that it feels whole and
not disjointed. I think about the intention I am going to use for the BDSM scene,
and consider: How is the intention going to illuminate internal conflict for
the characters? How is the intention going to create opportunities for the
reader to get to know the characters? Does the intention fit this context, this
setting, and these people at this specific moment?

The intention I select for the BDSM scene gives me a path towards how
to set up the scene for the reader, how to create an arc for the scene, how to
build momentum in the scene. It is the thing I keep my eye on as I let the
story flow, and let the scene unfold, put these characters together and watch
what they do, in the moment, as they play off each other, respond to each
other, engage in their play dynamic together.

Let me give you a few examples from my recent collection, Show Yourself To Me.

My story, “It’s My Job” was written with a very particular intention for the scene: leather.
In particular, the bottom’s deep love for leather. This intention gave the story
its structure and tone, and its beginning with a focus on gay leather traditions
and the legacies of particular pieces of his Daddy’s leather. This intention made
the choice of all leather toys: gloves, boots, leather sap, braided cat, quirt.
This intention is what led to a long luxurious leather worship scene where the
bottom licks from his Daddy’s boots all the way up his chaps to his leather
jock. But it was the dynamic between the characters that drove where the story
went. The repetition of the boy describing that it was his job to care for his
Daddy’s leather, to stand still and take it for Daddy, all the specific things
that are his job in this role that is full of worship and service, that is what
led the story to its conclusion, to the center of the internal conflict of this
character. I fought where this story wanted to go, because I wasn’t sure I was up to writing it
that way, but it insisted, and I found I had to listen.

The plan is not in charge, it needs to be responsive in the moment, and
be real to who these characters are, to what their dynamic is. Sometimes the
scene builds to somewhere unexpected. Part of the point of the looseness of the plan is to
allow that to happen.

I wrote “Willing” with a desire to really focus on trust and the difficulties
of vulnerability and connection. It centers the internal struggle of a vampire
to let himself trust this boy he meets, who seems like he might be the willing boy
of his dreams. The intention of the scene was to show a dance of intimacy,
where he comes close, and pulls back, repeatedly. This is what led to a dance
metaphor in the descriptions of rough body play, what made the up-close nature
of knife play a central part of the scene, what drove how blood sports are integrated into this story. This dance of trust helped lead to
this particular moment where the top transitions from knife play to caning. This moment feels like the core of the story, revealing the
ways that this scene is different for the top, has higher stakes:

Mine, I think again. And catch
myself. I watch him, building on his fear, and remove my touch. There is only
the knife sliding along him, forcing him to remain still. There is only the
knife as silence lays on him like a blanket. I step away, moving quietly, and
leave him alone. We will see how much he needs connection, how much fear I can
build. We will see, I think slowly to
myself, how much distance I can tolerate.

My play is
usually about connection. About driving myself inside. About opening someone up
to my gaze. My tools are up close and personal. Play is my source of
connection, and I usually hurl into it, deep and hard.

I don’t want
to show myself yet. This must be done slowly. I want to see what he can do. I
want to wait before I commit myself to what I have already thought. I will come
to that on my terms, in my time.

I collect my
favorite canes, needing air between us. Needing the sound that whips through
the air and blasts into flesh. Needing controlled, careful cruelty. Canes are a
special love of mine. It takes a lot for me to risk thin sticks of wood, easily
broken to form deadly weapons. Canes are about my risk, too. Their simple
existence menaces. Their joy is unmatchable.

The planning makes the rest possible, creates the framework so that the
story can reveal itself. The looseness of the plan lets the scene breathe, lets
the characters struggle. It is that inner struggle that I love to write most.

My story “What I Need” is all about the intense desire for claiming of a trans stone butch
top. It is driven by the urgency in that desire. That’s what led to the choice
of first person present tense. That’s why it’s written to bring the reader up
close by addressing it to “you”. That’s what drives the pace of the scene, from
the start. That’s definitely what led to
the choice of toys. For the most part, there are none. This is a scene built on
getting up close and person, deep inside the bottom with the most intimate of
tools: the top’s body. It starts with throat fucking, and breath play not with
tools but with the top using hir body to cut off airflow. It continues along
this vein with rough body play, and is filled with this desire to mark and to
get inside, to claim through fucking and pain and culminates in blood sports.
That intention around claiming shapes the story, and what is revealed in its
midst is how vulnerable the top is in that desire for that level of connection.
That vulnerability becomes the tender core of this story, gives it depth and
struggle and reveals the POV character to the reader, a character who pushes hir own edges around how much clothing ze takes off during play.  

The plan is a path for the scene, but the scene may veer off the path.
Or the path may be reveal itself to be a bit more complicated that we might
have thought when we began. The plan gets me moving as a writer, helps me
focus, works to create a container so that the scene, and the story, can go
where they need to go.

About the Author Xan West

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1 Comment

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    "The plan is not in charge, it needs to be responsive in the moment, and be real to who these characters are, to what their dynamic is. Sometimes the scene builds to somewhere unexpected. Part of the point of the looseness of the plan is to allow that to happen."

    I love this observation, because I've seen this happen in my own writing. Characters break out of the paths or roles I've set up for them. I've learned to recognize the sense of frustration that comes from trying to force a story to follow my preconceived plan, and to let it go.

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