Exposing Skin: writer as exhibitionist

Burlesque and vaudeville artists; montage from 1894 police gazettes

What’s your pleasure? Dance of the seven veils, shimmy and shake, action with the feather boa, a contemporary booty shake or something more daring?

Exposing oneself is an essential element of the writing process, and learning just how much to reveal is a trial-by-error process. If we show too much of ourselves then we become vulnerable, laid bare. If we are too daring we risk driving away those who may have conflicting values to our own. If we cover up or play it too safe we can appear one-dimensional, or even boring; a definite crowd-stopper.

As an introvert I often struggle with finding the right balance when writing posts that are sent out in to the blogosphere, where I have no further control of my words or how they are interpreted.

Developing and publishing a story, whether short form or epic novel, is also an act of exposure. We are told to write what we know. So lived experiences, relationship patterns, observations of people and nature, overheard dialogue, and behavioral responses are all used by the writer in the process of storytelling.

Then there is the need for writers, especially Indies, to market themselves, to sell not only their books but a desirable image of the self as writer. To do this one almost needs to adopt a ‘look at me’ song and dance approach, as its not easy to get attention in the ever changing social media environment; where we are constantly competing with many other authors, bloggers and writer-types.

So much to balance, so many risks to take. Such an act is not for the timid; writers must be part exhibitionist and part artiste. Perhaps taking a few lessons from the world of burlesque could help a writer to find the right balance?

Traditionally burlesque meant more than the tease show that many might associate with the word. Burlesque comes from the word Burla, which in Italian means a joke, trick or to prank someone. In Spanish it has a similar meaning; to mock, taunt or ridicule. Originally burlesque was common in both the literary and theatrical world. It was an extravagant and often ludicrous interpretation of a subject. Parody in motion, with tongue-in-cheek, it was often slightly naughty, whilst staying within the boundaries of socially set norms of the time. As societies changed, those norms slowly relaxed; and burlesque as an artistic but sometimes raunchy dance evolved.

However burlesque is not to be confused with a strip show, as it relies more on the element of tease; aware that the beholder’s imagination is capable of more erotica than full exposure could provide. True tease is an art form, relying on movement, facial expressions, lighting, strategically placed items and a great sense of timing. Keeping up such a tantalizing pace may look effortless but it takes a lot of work to master. Control is everything: of the dance, how much to expose and stage fright. And, most importantly, being in control of the audience.

Storytelling is similar to this dance known as burlesque. The writer needs to maintain control, knowing just how much to reveal of the characters and plot, and when. And how much to exposure of themselves in the process. Like peeling off layers of clothing, starting with the elbow-lengthened gloves, a writer needs to focus on the dance whilst being mindful of the audience’s responses.  A writer knows that revealing a little at a time is much more tantalizing than exposing everything up front. A good storyteller keeps the reader wanting more, and allows them to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps.

A bump and grind is not necessary, for the more artistic performance is built on strategically placed veils, and is much more entertaining and memorable. Being skilled in wardrobe also goes a long way, too. Knowing what costumes to provide your performers, the stars of your story, is a crucial element. As are the props you provide them with, for these will move the plot along. Humans are image driven, so need the right stimuli at the right time; which the storyteller creates with the appropriate selection of words. Although caution is needed, as too much imagery doesn’t allow the audience to use the power of their own imagination, while a scantily dressed story can become a real turn off.

So a writer needs to master the art of tease, to get the exposure right; to be able to tell stories that people will pack the seats for, and perhaps let out the occasional wolf-whistle of appreciation. Knowing how much to expose of the self is as important as knowing how much to reveal of the characters in a story; all done at the right pace. This writer won’t be tempted to resort to the old bump and grind, for she is in total control of this performance. Developing my artistic style, to tantalize the reader, making them want more, is much more entertaining.

Image downloaded on 17 February 2013 from: http://www.fotosearch.com/photos-images/burlesque.html#comp.asp?recid=55139160&xtra=


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