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How do you Respectfully Write a "Dirty" Character? (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
So I dreamt up this character for my story. A young woman in her 30's, she is important to my protagonist (maybe her cousin or close friend). On surface level, when she's around her best friends (like the protagonist), this woman seems tremendously nice, loving, sweet, and caring. But when she's away from them, she turns into a different person...please note, she doesn't secretly hate her closest friends or anything. It's more alone the lines of her not understanding or going down the wrong path.

I think what happens to her is that she gets fired and loses her job, and she's looking for a new way to make money. Please be respectful when I say this, but I think she may turn to sex work to get her by. I am not sure how I should portray that? Do I show any scenes of her having sex or preparing to have sex? I am extremely respectful to writing women and want to make sure I do this right. This character is in control of her situation 100% of the time, she's not going to get raped ever (she's intelligent enough to avoid such situations) so everything is something she commits to. By the way, I'm not a fan of rape scenes (or female characters getting raped) because when I read that in books...even though such things happen in real life sadly...I feel rape scenes are very disrespectful to women). But everything my characters is something she commits to. I think what happens is she gets obsessed by it and changes as a person (for the worse). Eventually, I think she slips on her birth control and gets pregnant. Ultimately, she will have an abortion because she cannot afford it, she doesn't want to be a mother, she's scared of the whole situation. I think my audience would respect my character choosing to have an abortion, I know abortions are a controversial thing, but it's a woman's health right 100%.

I want my audience to feel sympathetic towards this character, she's young and a bit misunderstood and goes down a dark path. Once she does sex work, she starts "using" her friends a bit and kicking them to the curb (note: she never ever has sex with her friends), her attitude changes a bit. Please remember she's doing all this sex work behind the scenes, and does everything in her power to keep it a secret (she even changes her name for her sex work). You could say she kind of turns into a villain. I think this sex work will really consumes her and start making her do unhealthy things like gambling, smoking, drinking, and losing a lot of weight, losing a lot of sleep...she has a very youthful appearance and that slowly starts to fade as she's doing this sex work because it's stressing her out but she's consumed by it and can't get out and won't let go...she's addicted to it...she may develop some really bad disease that sends her to the hospital and I'm hopeful she'll survive.

Since I'm a massive supporter of childfree women and since this character is one of them, I'd prefer to keep her alive. I want to make it perfectly normal for a female character to not want kids. Not sure about doing an abortion scene but there are women who don't want kids in real life who do get them, and those women should be respected for their decision 100% (I know not everyone will agree with that...). This would be a great character to have a "What have I done?" moment and learn from it before it's too late.

Lots to say and I hope that makes sense. If this character of mine does sex work to make a living, how do I accurately and very respectfully portray her and her occupation? What scenes can I write and how far do I go into detail?

Interesting topic, so please feel free to share your words of wisdom. Thanks! :)
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
So I dreamt up this character for my story. A young woman in her 30's, she is important to my protagonist (maybe her cousin or close friend). On surface level, when she's around her best friends (like the protagonist), this woman seems tremendously nice, loving, sweet, and caring. But when she's away from them, she turns into a different person...please note, she doesn't secretly hate her closest friends or anything. It's more alone the lines of her not understanding or going down the wrong path.

I think what happens to her is that she gets fired and loses her job, and she's looking for a new way to make money. Please be respectful when I say this, but I think she may turn to sex work to get her by. I am not sure how I should portray that? Do I show any scenes of her having sex or preparing to have sex? I am extremely respectful to writing women and want to make sure I do this right. This character is in control of her situation 100% of the time, she's not going to get raped ever (she's intelligent enough to avoid such situations) so everything is something she commits to. By the way, I'm not a fan of rape scenes (or female characters getting raped) because when I read that in books...even though such things happen in real life sadly...I feel rape scenes are very disrespectful to women). But everything my characters is something she commits to. I think what happens is she gets obsessed by it and changes as a person (for the worse). Eventually, I think she slips on her birth control and gets pregnant. Ultimately, she will have an abortion because she cannot afford it, she doesn't want to be a mother, she's scared of the whole situation. I think my audience would respect my character choosing to have an abortion, I know abortions are a controversial thing, but it's a woman's health right 100%.

I want my audience to feel sympathetic towards this character, she's young and a bit misunderstood and goes down a dark path. Once she does sex work, she starts "using" her friends a bit and kicking them to the curb (note: she never ever has sex with her friends), her attitude changes a bit. Please remember she's doing all this sex work behind the scenes, and does everything in her power to keep it a secret (she even changes her name for her sex work). You could say she kind of turns into a villain. I think this sex work will really consumes her and start making her do unhealthy things like gambling, smoking, drinking, and losing a lot of weight, losing a lot of sleep...she has a very youthful appearance and that slowly starts to fade as she's doing this sex work because it's stressing her out but she's consumed by it and can't get out and won't let go...she's addicted to it...she may develop some really bad disease that sends her to the hospital and I'm hopeful she'll survive.

Since I'm a massive supporter of childfree women and since this character is one of them, I'd prefer to keep her alive. I want to make it perfectly normal for a female character to not want kids. Not sure about doing an abortion scene but there are women who don't want kids in real life who do get them, and those women should be respected for their decision 100% (I know not everyone will agree with that...). This would be a great character to have a "What have I done?" moment and learn from it before it's too late.

Lots to say and I hope that makes sense. If this character of mine does sex work to make a living, how do I accurately and very respectfully portray her and her occupation? What scenes can I write and how far do I go into detail?

Interesting topic, so please feel free to share your words of wisdom. Thanks! :)

HI. First of all, I agree with Earp. This is your character, do as you will. I do have some issues, however with a few of your comments. I think you are injecting your own personal belief system into your character, and it does not always have to be that way. It might be helpful if you took the time to create a background story for your character, so you can better determine how she would react to events that come up in her life.

You say you feel "rape scenes" are very disrespectful to women. You might reconsider that rape is disrespectful, but so much more than that. "Scenes" are just part of the story. Writing about a rape, if it is integral to the story, has value. If your story contains events that are distasteful to you personally, perhaps you can show your characters strength in how she overcomes them.

Sue :)
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Spend some time reading. Authors are often all trying to solve similar problems in writing and it doesn't hurt to read a variety of published work to see what kinds of solutions made it into print.

Also, spend some time researching how to craft a character so that they show up on the page as a person instead of as an avatar for causes or opinions. No one will really want to read a character who seems like a thinly disguised Facebook rant.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
What Earp said. Just write what you want to write, although the fact you've used 'dirty' in the thread title perhaps indicates more research is needed. A little deeper understanding of prostitution wouldn't hurt, both male and female. Plug into reality and not mainstream thinking. It's hackneyed and cliched. Be daring. Be bold. Be different.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Write your character as a person, and don’t define her by her profession. Beyond that, follow the advice others have already given.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
I'd say just write it. if you want to portray her as a strong, empowered woman who chooses an unusual occupation, that's fine. If you want her to be a worthless slut, that's OK too. She's your character.

She is not a worthless slut. I didn't like you saying that. You know there are women in real life who have an Only Fans account or do porn or do paid sex (Amsterdam red light district)...when I think about those women, what do I think about them? Are they worthless human beings? Hell no. If I learned one of my female friends had an Only Fans and did sex stuff secretly and she got paid for it, that's her choice and I'll still respect her as a human being. I'm not going to trash a woman for doing sex work if that is what makes her content. Of course I'd rather her do other occupations but if that's how she wants to make a living, I will respect her.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
She is not a worthless slut. I didn't like you saying that. You know there are women in real life who have an Only Fans account or do porn or do paid sex (Amsterdam red light district)...when I think about those women, what do I think about them? Are they worthless human beings? Hell no. If I learned one of my female friends had an Only Fans and did sex stuff secretly and she got paid for it, that's her choice and I'll still respect her as a human being. I'm not going to trash a woman for doing sex work if that is what makes her content. Of course I'd rather her do other occupations but if that's how she wants to make a living, I will respect her.

He's merely giving you the polar opposites to press home a point. It's interesting that you've chosen to skip the first polar opposite in order to take exception to the second ... ;)
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
HI. First of all, I agree with Earp. This is your character, do as you will. I do have some issues, however with a few of your comments. I think you are injecting your own personal belief system into your character, and it does not always have to be that way. It might be helpful if you took the time to create a background story for your character, so you can better determine how she would react to events that come up in her life.

You say you feel "rape scenes" are very disrespectful to women. You might reconsider that rape is disrespectful, but so much more than that. "Scenes" are just part of the story. Writing about a rape, if it is integral to the story, has value. If your story contains events that are distasteful to you personally, perhaps you can show your characters strength in how she overcomes them.

Sue :)

Love what you said in the last sentence about her overcoming events that are distasteful to me personally (which includes rape). I'm not a fan of writing a rape scene for this character but if it shows her strength in overcoming it, I suppose that's what I should do. And if she gets pregnant from this rape, she will abort it (abortions are something I'm 100% okay with, it's a woman's health right) even though her family may pressure her to keep the baby, she's doing what's best for herself, her life, and her body. I know some of my audience may have an issue with an abortion scene, but hell it's my character and that's what she would do in her situation. a lot of female characters in my stories don't want kids, and hey some do. This character I'm discussing just happens to not want them. If she accidentally got pregnant, she would easily abort it.

Thanks for making this point.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
Spend some time reading. Authors are often all trying to solve similar problems in writing and it doesn't hurt to read a variety of published work to see what kinds of solutions made it into print.

Also, spend some time researching how to craft a character so that they show up on the page as a person instead of as an avatar for causes or opinions. No one will really want to read a character who seems like a thinly disguised Facebook rant.

Do you have any character crafting resources I could look up that you suggest? Would love to know!
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
First, she wouldn't necessarily have to 'slip' on birth control. Antibiotics and some other medications can render birth control ineffective while being used, perhaps she was even taking a medication for an STD that caused it.

Second, if she falls into a life of addiction/alcoholism, the smart side of her that somehow avoided getting raped as a sex worker (which is already going to put her at a higher risk of rape or violence) is not going to be leading the show. When addiction/alcoholism starts playing a role, smarts doesn't always factor in and it makes your character exceedingly more vulnerable. I'm not saying she shouldn't go down that path, but the circumstances you described will make her extremely vulnerable to rape or abuse. Writing rape is not comfortable, for sure, because the act is horrific, but you may not be able to protect your character from it, given her circumstances. You certainly don't have to write out a rape scene, but she could have flashbacks to parts of it, she could simply have certain feelings or behaviors that impact her as a result of it, your narrative could explain that it has happened... or not. It isn't disrespectful for you to write it if you do so carefully and respectfully - it was the character who did the rape who was the bad guy. I agree writing rape just to throw in a scary plot event is likely a bad idea, but your character is a sex worker with addiction issues...rape is a real risk for her.

As far as how much of her sex work to show, I imagine it could be impactful to show her getting ready for a sex work appointment(?) or meeting her hook-up/starting the exchange. The reader would know everything they needed to from that amount of information without you having to write out the entire exchange.

As far as abortion, I don't think there is anything wrong with writing a character that has to face that choice. It is a thing that happens in real life, and creates some major dilemmas for your character to process. I do not think you need to write out the abortion itself though. I think the power in having a character face abortion is the processing of her feelings on the matter and her fear/shame/sadness of actually having to make a choice like that. If you were to show her feelings, show her reaching out to a friend for support, and maybe show her approaching the building or even just heading off for the appointment, you could cut forward to a post abortion scene after that.

As far as her turning on her friends, the addiction and alcoholism seems a much more likely reason for her to do so than her simply doing sex work, in my opinion.

I actually just started reading a book last night called "The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang. One of the two POV characters is a male escort. It describes him getting ready for an appointment in chapter 2. While the book is a romance, so more explicit than other genres would be, it could be a model worth checking out (to see what you do and do not like about the sex work representation).
 
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Foxee

Patron
Patron
Do you have any character crafting resources I could look up that you suggest? Would love to know!
I'm referring to just reading, though. Tackle a stack of novels and read them.

If you want a specific resource, though, a great one is 'Story' by Robert McKee. There is a LOT to it.

Also, check out some of the Writing Excuses podcasts. If you're currently looking at how to craft characters then cherry-pick through the listings to find episodes specifically about that. There is a lot of good advice there and it's fun to listen to.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
You seem to be very afraid of hitting the disrespect line - or have a sensitive level threshold to that, I'm not sure, but writing a female sex worker character and/or rape scene isn't going to be an instant disrespect. It would take a certain handling to reach that bar, e.g closely describing the action, physical effect, sound, the character unreasonably being submissive slave and so on, which I believe you aren't aiming for that style, are you? So you're safe. Go on.

If you're not feeling comfortable writing such character, you can always begin writing all-positive vibe female protagonist to practice.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
First, she wouldn't necessarily have to 'slip' on birth control. Antibiotics and some other medications can render birth control ineffective while being used, perhaps she was even taking a medication for an STD that caused it.

Second, if she falls into a life of addiction/alcoholism, the smart side of her that somehow avoided getting raped as a sex worker (which is already going to put her at a higher risk of rape or violence) is not going to be leading the show. When addiction/alcoholism starts playing a role, smarts doesn't always factor in and it makes your character exceedingly more vulnerable. I'm not saying she shouldn't go down that path, but the circumstances you described will make her extremely vulnerable to rape or abuse. Writing rape is not comfortable, for sure, because the act is horrific, but you may not be able to protect your character from it, given her circumstances. You certainly don't have to write out a rape scene, but she could have flashbacks to parts of it, she could simply have certain feelings or behaviors that impact her as a result of it, your narrative could explain that it has happened... or not. It isn't disrespectful for you to write it if you do so carefully and respectfully - it was the character who did the rape who was the bad guy. I agree writing rape just to throw in a scary plot event is likely a bad idea, but your character is a sex worker with addiction issues...rape is a real risk for her.

As far as how much of her sex work to show, I imagine it could be impactful to show her getting ready for a sex work appointment(?) or meeting her hook-up/starting the exchange. The reader would know everything they needed to from that amount of information without you having to write out the entire exchange.

As far as abortion, I don't think there is anything wrong with writing a character that has to face that choice. It is a thing that happens in real life, and creates some major dilemmas for your character to process. I do not think you need to write out the abortion itself though. I think the power in having a character face abortion is the processing of her feelings on the matter and her fear/shame/sadness of actually having to make a choice like that. If you were to show her feelings, show her reaching out to a friend for support, and maybe show her approaching the building or even just heading off for the appointment, you could cut forward to a post abortion scene after that.

As far as her turning on her friends, the addiction and alcoholism seems a much more likely reason for her to do so than her simply doing sex work, in my opinion.

I actually just started reading a book last night called "The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang. One of the two POV characters is a male escort. It describes him getting ready for an appointment in chapter 2. While the book is a romance, so more explicit than other genres would be, it could be a model worth checking out (to see what you do and do not like about the sex work representation).

Would be interesting to write a scene with her having a pregnancy test and turning out positive and her having a negative reaction to it and crying. She doesn't want kids and what a bad thing to happen to her. If it was negative, she would be jumping for joy and so relieved.

Yes, I wouldn't write about the abortion happening. Overall, she stays on the good side of things and is a likable character. It does take a brave woman to get an abortion in a world that pressures her to keep the baby. No doubt, she feels a bit lost about it (if I go that route with her). I don't know if she keeps it a secret but she knows her family will hate her for getting an abortion if they know she is pregnant. She knows she has to get rid of it but she seeks reassurance from my main protagonist (who is also female and childfree) and that's why she goes through with it.

I appreciate your advice and your ideas. Thank you! Hopefully a male author writing one of his female characters like this...very respectfully...works.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
You seem to be very afraid of hitting the disrespect line - or have a sensitive level threshold to that, I'm not sure, but writing a female sex worker character and/or rape scene isn't going to be an instant disrespect. It would take a certain handling to reach that bar, e.g closely describing the action, physical effect, sound, the character unreasonably being submissive slave and so on, which I believe you aren't aiming for that style, are you? So you're safe. Go on.

If you're not feeling comfortable writing such character, you can always begin writing all-positive vibe female protagonist to practice.

Just whenever I've read a rape scene (or any sex scene for that matter...), it just seems a bit demeaning to women in general, especially to a woman who is against having children. I'm not afraid to write this particular character and her secret sex job. She is a woman who is in charge and in control of her situations, she is the dominant one. If I happen to place her in a rape scene, she would totally have to be off her guard and alone...wouldn't get too much into detail there. I imagine after a rape scene, she very well could get pregnant and then that sets up her making the big decision to get an abortion. She's absolutely terrified of having a child grow inside her and she can't afford it. She seeks reassurance about the abortion from her friend (who is my female protagonist) and gets the job done. I know her family will be/would be super upset about her getting rid of the fetus, but hey she did what she wanted to be done and that's a sign of growth. She finds herself a bit by doing the abortion. I have to be careful with this character but if I write her respectfully I think my audience would love her and be very sympathetic. And women who seek an abortion should be 100% respected.
 

Earp

Senior Member
Taking the politics out of it, the fact is there are worthless sluts in the world, and their slutness may or may not have to do with their chosen occupations. My point remains: your character, your decision about how to write her.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
If I might offer one piece of advice...quit respecting your characters so much. No offense, but when it's every other word it tends to lose meaning.

Pull your characters down off the pedestal and let them breathe. Contrary to popular belief, women aren't magical. They aren't unicorns. They're flesh and blood people with whatever that may entail. They make bad judgments. They fuck up. They lose the roll of the dice now and again. That's not an indictment of character - that's the price of living. And the more you deny them the agency of being human, the less convincing they get.

There's a difference in being fair to your characters and being their cheering squad. Give them an occasion where the best choice is still lousy. Put them in a hard circumstance of their own making. Set them across the table from an enemy who's not altogether wrong once in a while. And even if you have them act in accordance with their beliefs, put some barbs to it and show us how they bear up under adversity.

I'd also echo the sentiment about not leading with politics...but that may be a discussion for another time.
 
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Matchu

Senior Member
Threads inspire.
...

'Dirty.'

'Dirty, dirty...'

My obsession before the screen, click, click, click. Back and forth response, back and forth return, but this one times it crashed, fired through screen waters - forever imprinted upon the inside of this skull, bouncing on my eyes! Scratch it, scratch it away, away the pain, yes or write it down? Write it all down I have potential in craft. Purge. Scratch it down! Collaborate with a writer? Yes, yes, together we vision dystopian and a new fascist blueprint. A masterpiece of dark rhetoric, outsider art, I am man of million dolls, or a superhero even? I could be? I perceive world through my rigid lens, my yearning to be among, slashing to save, I am saviour Christ. Save the women. Slash them, save them, save the women from themselves, join the others in the drain, under my floorboards, my women.

'Rape..or any sex for that matter,' to para-quote should continue to be always [be] wonderful material in the right and the wrong hands. On the other hand, c'mon @Earp - I'm not so certain about these 'worthless sluts' you refer to? I was trying to picture the 'worthless slut' arch-type. I am a bit of a worthless slut if you want to pop around..? I can't quite see, driving past the neighbourhoods, 'ahh I recognise, definitely a clutch of worthless sluts in situ, and by definition in that scrag of jean hankie, carry on driver.'
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
Do you know anyone who works that job? That might be a good place to start.

I haven't looked into it but I have one female friend who has an Only Fans, if that counts? She's not open about it, kind of unsure about it. If I had to confront her I'd tell her "You do you". It's a strange way to make money, but if she enjoys it by all means. I think she just posts "sexy" pictures, nothing nude. She makes decent money off of it I think. Maybe I'll reach out to her.
 
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