Do you like a good whodunnit, murder mystery, or spy thriller? There is a huge market for books and films like these, and obviously many people love them. But if you’re a writer who’s not littering your text with corpses or carefully planned clues and red herrings, how do you engage suspense–the tension that makes your reader want to keep reading?
Of course there are plenty of literary works (novels, plays, scripts, etc.) that don’t feature dead bodies all over the place. But just as dead bodies might be typical of a thriller, murder mystery, or detective novel, there are specific conventions to be observed in other genres too. In vampire fiction, there have to be bite scenes; in epic poems or fantasy novels, there have to be battle scenes; in Westerns, you gotta have gun-slingers and shoot-outs; romance novels can’t lack heaving bosoms and star-crossed lovers.
What about naturist fiction? Even if it’s a naturist murder mystery or nudist paranormal romance (!), I find it somewhat inevitable to construct suspense around scenes of disrobing – scenes that also function as epiphanies for characters learning the practice of social nudity. I decided to consult three fellow writers / crafters of fiction about social nudity to see what they think about disrobing suspense, with the aim of featuring their opinions, and sampling their works, in a series of posts. All three responded promptly and with many insights – my gratitude to them for the wealth of material! I will feature one contributor per post and follow up with a concluding post.
First up is Cor van de Sande, who has posted numerous single-author as well as collaborative stories about social nudity at Nudist Clubhouse. He is the former moderator of a naturist author forum, where, he says, the typical naturist story did not develop any kind of psychological context for the characters. A clothed character would observe a nude character sunbathing and “instead of going ‘EEEEK!’ and running the other way, walks up and says ‘I see you’re naked. That looks like fun. Can I try it? Sure! Oh, look! We’re naked together… Isn’t this fun.’ End of Chapter.” The next chapter would feature a new character with the same response, and so on. Beyond the poor writing, the general problem plaguing these kinds of stories, says Cor, is the constant need to “specify (usually once per paragraph) that the character was nude.”
Cor rejects the category of “naturist fiction,” asserting that what is today called science fiction (or speculative fiction) is the true genre for writing about social nudity, because science fiction is so diverse that its only commonality is the search to explore “the question ‘What if…?’” Cor lists Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Piers Antony (and I’d add Philip José Farmer) as just a few examples of writers whose works often either explore issues of social nudity, or include social nudity casually as something of a default condition in society.
Cor recently finished a 98,000-word story called “San Francesco” [link] about “a Caribbean island where the Prime Minister, a woman in her early thirties, declares martial law and orders every single person on the island to disrobe, or be subject to exile. Once a person has disrobed—and in this case, martial law is to remain in force for six months—there is no further call to mention that the person is nude.” The extreme measure is enforced with the aim of isolating a “serial rapist who has been terrorizing the women of the island.”
The text below is a brief sample from “San Francesco” (text abridged from episodes 15 and 16). The Prime Minister, Elysia Farnsworth, announces her emergency measures and then “practices what she preaches”:
“We now come to the crux of San Francesco’s ‘Emergency Measures Act’. What are the measures that I plan to impose on you, San Francesco’s citizens? […]
“Since I cannot jail someone I don’t know, the only thing I can do is neutralize his main weapon, his anonymity. Since he wears a black costume to hide his identity, I will make his black costume illegal; I will make the wearing of any costume within the limits of San Francesco illegal. Clothing was originally used to protect man from the elements, but this is no longer the case. Nowadays, clothing has become a symbol; it identifies a person’s worth, his role in society. It also hides the wearer’s identity; because we look at the costume and no longer at the person wearing it. I reject these symbols, I reject clothing. As of today, everybody is to be nude at all times. This order is compulsory and will apply to all persons on the island with the exception of babies wearing diapers.”
“The obligation to disrobe will come into effect at midnight tonight. I would have made it sooner, but I must allow time for the news to be spread and for San Francesco’s citizens to evaluate the implications, just as I have had to do when I first decided to promulgate this special law. Any person caught after this deadline will be arrested, investigated and given the chance to disrobe or stay in custody until he or she does disrobe. No criminal charges will be laid; at most, he will be charged with disturbing the peace. For the next six months, I will have no one, no one at all, wear any artificial barriers and thus perpetuate the stereotype that some persons are better than others.”
As Elysia Farnsworth, Prime Minister of the island of San Francesco, said these last words, she stepped away from the podium. In full view of all and sundry, she slowly unbuttoned her grey tweed jacket, draping it over the podium, she continued on with her white silk blouse. After depositing her blouse on her jacket, she unbuttoned her skirt and stepped out of it. At this point, she paused and looked at the assembled multitude, then reached behind herself, unclipped the strap of her bra and deliberately pulled it away from her shoulders. Finally, pushing her thumbs into the waistband of her panties, she continued to push downward as she lifted one leg, then the other. Adding her panties to the pile on the podium, she straightened up and stood in front of her audience in nothing but her high heeled sandals, as if daring them to say anything.
She stood there, immobile, until the House slowly came back to life, first, a shuffle, then, a cough, a twitter until, finally, the background noise became such again that individual sounds could no longer be identified. At that point, she stepped back up to the microphone and said “Thank you and good afternoon.”
The warm climate and relatively small area of a Caribbean island make this fictional proposal an intriguing possibility! And Cor emphasizes that after this point in the story, he foregoes clumsily constant references to states of undress, not needing to “mention Ely’s nudity except incidentally until some seventy episodes later when the Emergency Measures Act draws to a close and Ely dons a waist-high sarong.” No doubt about it: this is a creative and theatrical example of disrobing suspense that plausibly proposes an innovative context for social nudity.
Next post: Stephen Crowley