That’s Bats: On Writing

It’s a well-known fact that bats don’t wear clothes. (Except, apparently, some off-kilter “Scottish bats” – lol, see below.) Other than that, this post has little to do with naturist fiction per se. It’s more of a post about the mechanics of different kinds of writing, but I will bring it back to writing naturist fiction at the end of the post.

There’s an anecdote about writers that’s fairly well-known in creative writing circles. I want to attribute it to the American novelist Jane Smiley, but I might not be correct about that. In any case, it goes like this:

We’re at a gathering of creative writers – it’s a reception in someone’s home, with people circulating among the kitchen, living room, dining room, and etc. The host is telling one of the writers about an incident that happened just a few days previously. She had been at home alone when she saw that somehow a bat had entered the house and was flying around, through the very rooms where the reception is happening. Over the course of the evening, the host has occasion to repeat the anecdote about the bat several times to different individuals or groups, and by the end of the evening, she has noticed a distinct pattern regarding how the writers react.

Some of the writers asked her how she felt when she saw the bat. Was she disgusted? Fearful? Did she feel pity? “I would feel nostalgic,” said one writer, “because it reminds me of my grandparents’ house where I used to spend my summers. There were often bats flying around in the house.” These same writers would almost always ask how her feelings changed once she managed to get the bat out of the house. Did she feel relieved? Empowered?

The other writers would ask questions about details and logistics. Where was she when she first saw it? What kind of bat was it? How big was it? How did it get into the house? Had she seen any bats in the house before? Above all, they wanted to know the precise manner in which she was finally able to get the bat out of the house. “Something similar happened to me once,” said one of these writers, “and I tried using a basket, but it was eventually the broom that did the trick.”

What the host could not fail to notice was that the writers who had asked about her emotions… well, they were all poets. And the writers who wanted details and logistics? Yep – novelists.

It’s a clever little generalization that rings true. Now, of course, a good novelist knows how and why and when to handle emotion, just as a good poet knows when to deploy certain details, and which ones, or how many of a certain kind. Emotion and plot (or at least a basic movement or conflict) must both be present in any good read.

I’m someone who used to write a lot more poetry than prose, and there are still times – lately, for instance, while working on the sequel to Skinners – when I have to stop and lay out a sequence of events, to make sure my characters can plausibly do what I’m thinking they should do. It can lead to endless factchecking. How far would one generally have been able to travel in a day, using a sloop, in the late 17th-century Caribbean? How many people would have been needed to “man” the ship? What kinds of wild game would people have hunted on Jamaica? What was law enforcement like in British Port Royal before the earthquake? etc. The research is often a mix of tedium and fun. It’s quite possible to wade too far into the research – there is always a point where something just has to be taken more or less on faith.

I’m tempted to say that writers of fantasy or science fiction novels (ahem, Paul) have it easier. Need to travel somewhere? Open a portal! Need to open a locked door? Use your magic wand or your superpower! But of course fantasy and sci-fi worlds have their own rules which can also be quite complicated and which the reader will demand to be coherent.

In the case of naturist fiction – of any genre – there is an ongoing concern to consider the logistics of the characters’ nudity. Seldom does it need to be addressed in the text, but the writer does need to be checking boxes behind the scenes so that the actions of the buccaneers / airship crewmembers / superheroes / what-have-you can still be accomplished, while naked, within the context of the particular work… and the good novelist must never forget to ask, as well, how do the characters feel about what they’re doing / what is happening? (And then of course, show the reader those feelings more than tell them.)

It can be enough to drive a good writer batty! But the end result, if it’s a good read, is always worth all the effort.

4 thoughts on “That’s Bats: On Writing”

  1. Great post Will

    I truly believe in the context when writing. Although my writing is directed more in my cartooning I still have to navigate that fine line of societal norms regarding nudity.

    I have to censor myself due to most guidelines in place on social media.

    I wrote a short story for the upcoming anthology Adventures Without Clothes and had to research on locations, time and distance which I took notes before writing began.

    Even though fictional, it is still about context.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Fabien! Yes, those locations, times and distances are important details that can affect the veracity of the plot, and the characters’ actions and motivations as well. I’m glad you submitted for the anthology!

  2. You’re absolutely right here, Will. Fantasy and Scifi have it easier. Definitely Fantasy. Most “real” scifi is still based on real facts, real distances between planets and real oxygen tank problems. That’s what’s called “hard Scifi”. The rest is more sci-fantasy, which I do most of, next to fantasy.

    And while figuring out the real life problems of people in the past is hard, it’s also hard to stick to one’s own rules of a fantasy world. It’s too easy to go overboard or too far.

    1. I know people comb through Rowling’s works or Tolkien’s works looking for inconsistencies – it’s tough, no doubt!

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