Fiction Is Not A How-To Manual

In full disclaimer I didn’t make this meme. Most of the things I post on this blog, are obviously things I’ve made or own, but this is just something I found floating around Facebook. I strongly agree with it, so I wanted to discuss it today.

The meme says “If your moral code is strong enough that you are able to consume media with themes of cannibalism critically, but know it is bad to do so in real life, then that same logic can be applied to other themes/nsfw depictions in fiction. Just say it isn’t your thing and go.”

Read more: Fiction Is Not A How-To Manual

I’m not sure that I’ve ever published a book that didn’t have at least one review complaining about how something wasn’t healthy, how it didn’t follow SSC, or how it was abuse for ‘some reason’. Set aside the fact that most of these complaints revolve around things that are personal opinions of the reader and not necessarily actually unhealthy or abuse.

It’s perfectly fine not to like a book for any reason. Stating why you don’t like it in the review is important for other readers who might appreciate that information. Reviews, in the end, are for the readers not for the author anyway.

But the comments are often phrased in such a way as to imply that showing anything but what they consider safe is a failing on my part, and possibly dangerous for me to publish. There are readers out there who really do think that authors have the responsibility to only show positive and healthy relationships. They can be highly critical of any situation that they feel would be wrong in real life.

Well… here’s the thing, this blog has a goal of teaching people about BDSM and a kinky lifestyle. I make every effort here to be open and accepting of all kinks, while encouraging safe practices, because the blog articles are non-fiction.

But my books are fiction. They are fantasies and what people fantasize about is not always a healthy dynamic. If you fantasize about safewords and your daydreams have SSC logos stamped all over them, then that’s fine for you, but that’s not how it works for everyone.

Just as an example, we have the fact that rape fantasies are right up there among the top fantasies for a large segment of people. Do they want to experience that in real life—hell no, not even a little bit. But in fantasy the feeling of having your choices taken from you, being forced and handled roughly can be incredibly exciting.

And again, if that’s not for you, that’s fine. But just because you don’t like reading fantasies about dubcon, noncon, rape, etc… doesn’t mean no one else is allowed to enjoy them. It’s one of those situations where we say “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” In other words don’t make people feel bad about what they enjoy, just because you don’t like it.

But what I find interesting is that it’s only in the romance genre, and especially in kinky romance, that authors are constantly being held responsible for educating new people in how to be safe. In no other genre is the onus on the author of fiction to also teach.

When you read horror no one is mad that the author didn’t teach the reader how to avoid being killed. When you read a detective novel no one expects the author to prepare you to solve crimes. When you read a story about a carpenter no one thinks they’ll be able to walk away knowing how to build a house—because these books are fiction and not learning tools.

But romance authors, and especially BDSM authors are constantly being lectured that they aren’t teaching people how to have a healthy D/s dynamic. That they encourage abuse or toxic relationships when they write things like dubious consent or unfair power dynamics.

Why should anyone expect to learn such an important thing from fiction?

Then we have “I worry about the new people who read your book and dive into the scene thinking this is how it works!” Again, why would anyone assume that they are ready to jump into such an important, and at times risky, adventure just because they read a few fictional books about it?

I would never make a huge life choice like getting involved in a D/s relationship without doing my research and studying all aspects of it first. That’s one reason this blog exists, to give people a resource to study if they are curious or interested, but there are many other resources out there available to learn.

There are plenty of non-fictional books about all aspects of the lifestyle. There are thousands of blogs. There are groups and communities where people will be happy to instruct you in their version of how a kink relationship should go.

The resources are there, and any adult should be able to find them without even looking hard. Which means that the responsibility for learning is in their own hands. As adults, who are making choices of their own free will, they should do their research to make sure they understand what they are getting into.

And the idea that authors of fiction should only write healthy safe dynamics just on the off chance that someone is silly enough to read a fictional book and rush off to mimic the things they read, is just unreasonable and inappropriate.

Sam in the Reins series is a cowboy. Reading that series won’t teach you how to ride a horse, manage a ranch, or be a Daddy. Mitch in the Action Daddy series is an actor. Reading that series won’t teach you how to act, do stunts, or tie someone up in shibari.

At times my couples will totally model a healthy dynamic of the standard kind. Mitch and Olivia, for instance, are a good example of a more experienced player guiding someone new into kink safely. I think he is a great Daddy. He takes the time to discuss safewords and walk her through things.

But I didn’t write them that way because I don’t trust my readers to understand the difference between fiction and real relationships. I wrote them that way, because that is the relationship that suited their dynamic.

Mitch is a caring Daddy Dom who enjoys guiding Olivia through new experiences. He’s patient and sweet with her, so of course he walks her through all the steps and teaches her.

Her education is for her benefit, not to ensure readers know how to act if they decide to get involved in the lifestyle.

But what about the author’s responsibility to…

When you write Children’s and YA books you have a responsible to teach and showcase good role models. That is because your target audience is too young to be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality.

They are used to learning through stories that give them examples of good behavior and bad behavior. For younger children it’s often the best way to teach them. You show them a character to emulate so they can see clear cause and effect.

If you lie… no one trusts you. If you are a mean… your friends get upset with you. If you are nice to people… you make them happy. It’s a simple non-complex way for them to learn how to integrate with society and imprint the morals that you want them to have.

For teenagers reading YA romance, you show them examples of healthy and non-healthy relationships in a way that makes it clear which they should choose. They have no experience with forming romantic attachments so you are teaching them the warning signs to avoid and the aspects they should emulate.

That’s all very important for young, still-maturing minds.

But that need to educate stops at the doorway to adulthood when it comes to fiction. These books are written for minds that are fully mature and well able to tell the difference between healthy behaviors and red flags. They are written for people who are old enough to know that research and education is required when attempting any new endeavor.

Stop expecting romance authors to shoulder the emotional labor of educating the masses. It’s not what they signed up for when they published a fantasy story.

Yes, I understand that when 50Shades went mainstream and hit it big, suddenly the kink community got a big rush of newbies who were confused about how things worked and did things wrong based on what they’d learned from those books. It’s still happening now with those books, and other books too.


That is unfortunate but again, entirely their own fault. The real resources are available. They could educate themselves if they chose.

If they are silly enough to think they can dive into the deep end of the pool, just because they read a book about a character who swims well, then no one should be shocked when they drown. And it’s no one’s fault but their own.

I’m going to be blunt, and this might offend someone out there. If so, I’m not sorry, because this should be obvious. Reading a fiction book and assuming it makes you an expert on the topic is silly.

If you read a few fantasy stories about BDSM and decide to jump into the scene with no other preparation or understanding of how it works, then you are being lazy. You are doing a disservice to yourself and anyone who might attempt to partner with you in good faith.

You are also putting yourself at risk for attracting predators and all of that is unfortunate.

But to turn around and slap the blame on the authors you read, because you chose not to do even the most basic research is the height of entitlement. If you pay a few bucks to be entertained, then the only thing you have a right to expect is a couple hours of entertainment. You don’t get to also demand a course in relationship safety.

I do understand that we all start out new, and BDSM romance books can be exciting. Many people have been inspired to add kink to their lives after reading something hot and delicious. But being inspired by fiction, and expecting fiction to teach you everything you need to know about exploring BDSM are two very different things.

Let your inspiration lead you to do some research. If some kinky romance book you’ve read excited you and now you’re curious… then go find some resources that really spell out the nitty gritty. You need to know exactly what you’re getting into, and you won’t find those details in something that’s meant to titillate and excite.

BDSM play in kinky romance is often idealized. Many people look for the fantasy when they read, not a copy of the reality they already have. I’m not saying that a BDSM book can’t lean towards realistic, but I am saying that it needs to serve the plot when it does.

That means often times important steps will be left out. It means you aren’t necessarily seeing the entire picture, and it means that what’s hot for the majority of readers will often trump a realistic portrayal.

If you have two very experienced characters who have been playing for years, chances are good they won’t be having long expositional conversations about safety and how things are done. They already know those things. It slows down the plot and makes the story drag for people who don’t care.

In the same vein there are some readers who really appreciate having a safe sex conversation, and a contraceptive conversation, but for most readers it slows things down and just highlights stuff they already know. You can absolutely make putting on a condom sexy in a book, but if every book you write has five pages of showing off their safe sex practices people will get bored with it pretty quickly and skip your books for being repetitive.

No one should be reading books like this if they aren’t mature enough to take responsibility for their own interests and do their research first.

To sum all of this up: Fiction is entertainment and should not be treated as a how-to guide. Romance authors are not responsible for teaching you how to navigate the world safely.

The only person that can keep you safe when exploring things like BDSM… is you. The responsibility to make sure you are prepared is in your hands. So please, do yourself a favor and make sure you are learning from the right places, not from fiction.

4 Replies to “Fiction Is Not A How-To Manual”

  1. I think at the beginning,just above Chapter 1 there should be a statement saying something to the effect that *this is a fantasy not an how to do book, please research* because kids will read these books. No parent can police everything a child is exposed to. From my own experience no one ever monitored my reading, not even librarians. I read absolutely everything, even things that I later discovered were considered salacious. However we had no TV so I was not exposed to all the things that kids are today so much of the salaciousness went completely over my head. I don’t think that would be the case today when you have 13 year old girls getting pregnant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I have a few problems with that. One is that you’re assuming kids reading this are the problem, but in reality most of the teenagers who come into the scene (hopefully after 18) tend to be healthier about it than the older people who come in late. These teens live online so looking up something they are curious about is much more normal for them than it is for older adults.

      But aside from that, even if I was worried about kids getting these books, children learn by 3rd grade the difference between fiction and non-fiction and it’s reiterated in every grade after. Long before kids are old enough to find these kinds of books interesting it’s been drummed into their heads the fiction is not real. So, what will a disclaimer do if they are already know that?

      Like most of Gen-X I read lots of inappropriate things. I read Flowers in the Attic before I was even a pre-teen. I was about 10 I believe. I read The Shining at 9. Even at those ages I knew it was fiction. I knew that I shouldn’t sleep with my brother. I knew that I shouldn’t murder people. I understood what fiction was and teaching that hasn’t changed.

      So, they already know it’s fiction. They already know what that means. And 99% of people skip over disclaimers without even reading them anyway.

      Now here’s my big thing. Are you advocating for disclaimers in all books? Do you want a disclaimer in Mystery that this is fiction and please don’t kill people. Do you want them in Sci-fi saying this is fiction, people don’t actually travel in spaceships so don’t try to launch yourself into space?

      Because again, one of my main points of this post is that people expect romance writers to do these things while not expecting any other genre to do it. If someone doesn’t understand the difference between fiction and reality than any fictional genre will be dangerous for them.

      One thing I’d like to add. You mentioned “I don’t think that would be the case today when you have 13 year old girls getting pregnant.” I’m not sure if you’re aware but statistically speaking teenage pregnancy has decreased by huge amounts. Girls under 15 getting pregnant have declined 78% since 1990, girls between 16-18 getting pregnant is down by 56% since 1990. So, I’m not sure how old you are but when you were 13 a girl getting pregnant at that age was a lot more common than it is now.

      One of the main reasons for this is that sex ed including access to contraceptives is much better these days. Which brings me back around to it not really being the kids that I worry about replicating these things. Sure, there are silly kids who get in trouble, but statistically speaking they are more likely to do their research than someone who has decided to spice things up at 35.


  2. If I trusted people to read disclaimers, I’d put a link to this important post at the start of every book.
    Why do people who accept fantasy, time travel, historical and other obvious invented aspects of a story, then complain about how the relationship, especially the kink parts of it, would work in R/L?
    My books are not instruction manuals. Period.
    Thank you for saying it so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

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