We know her the second she struts onto the page, or screen. She’s hot, exciting and mean; the air around her crackles with dark energy. She might have a domme’s treasure chest of dangerous toys, or she might only use her razor sharp mind to wield her distinctive brand of ecstasy. But one thing is certain: love with this honey-bee is going to sting. She’s the Bitch.
Some people might argue, but I think this type of character is different from both the Femme Fatale and the Bad Girl. She’s not wicked by the default of selfishness or avarice; hurting people physically or emotionally gives her pleasure. It’s her life force.
The negative energy of a full-fledged Bitch can zap any story with freshness and unexpected turns, but it works especially well in erotica. Why? Nasty people (and nasty sex) can be exciting. Also, because sex writing reveals human nature in its rawest form, the Bitch is more easily embraced by readers than in other genres. And ultimately, all fiction loves a bad guy (or girl) for the same reason: he makes things happen.
The greatest danger for the Bitch is to become a cardboard cut-out, a sneering, snarling, black-hatted whip-swinger. Unless you’re writing a parody, stereotypes are the death-knell of a story, especially as erotica matures and becomes more sophisticated by the day. Below are two ways to use this character, and some helpful hints to keeping her fresh.
The Bitch as an Object of Desire
If your character is bewitched by this woman, the first thing you ask yourself is WHY. This is critical, because it’s the question the reader is going to be asking, too. Unless your protagonist is highly masochistic, the Bitch has to be powerfully attractive for some other reason. Is she rich? Is she beautiful? Does she give the impression of alluring helplessness to reel her prey in? Is she thrilling, offering a “walk on the wild side”? Be innovative in this aspect of the story and you’ll be leagues ahead.
Avoid visual stereotypes. The long-legged vamp in black leather or the Armani-suited corporate lioness might telegraph your Bitch image instantly, but it’s also tired. How can you create a fresh version that still has erotic power? Try playing opposites — the Bitch as a frail child-woman, or a beautiful, indispensable personal secretary. What makes the Bitch is her hunger to hurt. Her exterior can be anything which serves that purpose, and the more unique, the better.
Express wickedness in small, subtle ways as well as dramatic ones. As in real life, little cruelties go a long way: showing up late, or not at all; public humiliation; broken promises. And remember the pleasure/pain principle — as she stings, she also sweetens. A reason for the transgression, or perhaps a reward for putting up with it, will keep your hero on the hook.
Motivation. The most interesting — and dangerous — Bitch is the one we have compassion for. Your story becomes vastly richer if we have some understanding of why she behaves the way she does. This doesn’t mean a psycho-analysis of her rotten childhood but a glimmer of insight goes a long way. Is the thrill like a drug for her? Is she panicked when she’s not in control? If you can give her one or two moments of human vulnerability — fear, insecurity, neediness’she’ll be more interesting and believable.
Remember to let the Bitch behave in unexpected ways — that’s her power. She’s not bound by convention or social niceties. Let her push the envelope, and be the wild card at the table. And if you’re aiming for a truly Noir effect, think about this truism: The worst evil is that which masquerades as goodness.
The Bitch as Protagonist
Creating a nasty or unsympathetic main character — who is also compelling — is considered one of the most difficult coups in fiction writing. That’s because the core of a good read is intimacy: We want to feel close to the protagonist, even identify with her. How can we identify with a Bitch?
Yet when it works, the payoff of the Bitch heroine is profound. It forces the reader onto new ground, seduces him to see through a fresh perspective, often against his prejudices. To create that cathartic and unforgettable read is a writer’s greatest achievement.
Because your reader will initially resist a nasty character, you have to counteract with someone so enthralling he can’t look away. One powerful attribute is intelligence. We love to read about smart or cunning people. And a potent form of intelligence is humor, particularly wit. But if you try to TELL the reader your Bitch is brilliant and wry, it will fall deathly flat. You have to SHOW it, through the protagonist’s dialogue or the snappy, sharp-edged tone of the writing.
Another hook is the “novelty” of your protagonist’s perspective. If she views the world in a distinct and unique way, we’ll be intrigued. Here’s an example:
I saw Marissa leaning in a corner of the ladies room, sobbing. Her mascara had run in black streams over her peach-powder cheeks and cherry lips; she looked as delectable as a half-melted ice cream cone. I hadn’t treated myself to a double-scoop in ages.
In this case, the Bitch doesn’t have the “natural” response — compassion — but sees the crying woman as dessert.
I mentioned earlier that part of a Bitch’s power comes from her element of surprise, that she doesn’t play by the rules. That attribute becomes more difficult to accomplish in a main character, because We’re so close to her. And yet it’s still vital! The “trick” is to keep your protagonist’s plans secret from the reader, and simply let her act. Cut transitional scenes if you have to. Don’t show us driving to her lover’s wife’s baby shower, just have her appear at the door.
One aspect of the Bitch that we should be intimate with is her pleasure. The reader should experience the physical and emotional gratification with her, moment by moment. This is true of all main characters but especially this one, because she is not like us. (Theoretically.) Put your writer’s imagination to work — her thrills may not even be linked to sexual acts. The more vividly you can recreate her arousal and satisfaction, the closer you get to illuminating her for us.
I truly believe stories are about change. The protagonist isn’t the same person at the end that she was at the beginning. But that doesn’t mean your Bitch has to turn into Mary Poppins. Think of subtle ways to enlarge or shift her perceptions. Perhaps she simply comes to understand herself better, or a new aspect of her power. Or she may realize there are some battles she can’t win — yet.
Above all, let your creativity flow with this character, and your story will sparkle with her dark, dynamic power. The Bitch may chill us, but she thrills us, too.
“Beyond the Basics” © 2005 Tulsa Brown. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Tulsa Brown is an award-winning novelist who has also written for film and media, and has led many writing workshops for adults and young people.