Caveat: This is not a story, so I'm very sorry if you think of it as such and are disappointed. There are some elements of fiction in here, so if you'd like to think of this as an incomplete story with narration and side-notes, that's fine. Likewise, this is not intended to jab at anyone whatsoever, merely to inspire thought and maybe debate, as well as to instruct. This was merely a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, to give me a chance to put some things into print that I've thought about and just never really typed out. But hey, I'm avant-garde. What can I say?
Oh, and apologies in advance about the way the writing may seem to ramble, and for that matter, the language I sometimes use. Uhm. Sorry. ^_^
Obviously, although the second definition does often make its way into the scope of some of our desires, we'll be mostly dealing with the first, here. And for that matter, while the subject tends to be petrification, there is nothing to say that the replacement of organic materials cannot have plastic or metals substituted for the minerals, for example mannequinization or gilding. But either way, just look at the definition for a moment. It sounds so cold, clinical and, well, impersonal that way, doesn't it? Replacing organic matter with dissolved mineral matter, in effect creating a fossil with what was once a being. Nothing at all to do with the art and the magic surrounding such a feat, but just hard science. Here's a plant or animal. Infuse it with minerals. It's petrified.
Oooooo, I'm impressed. There's no soothingness to that definition, no warmth or vigor, just the cold clammy facts, and that is why people often raise their eyebrows when we suggest that it pushes our buttons to see someone captured in stone. There's no suggestion in the definition of the immortalization of someone into a static medium, no talk of the art of the sculpture or display modeling; the sudden cessation of movement; the capturing of life so perfectly into such a perfect artistic form.
But what Websters can't do because of the brevity of their definitions, and what people often don't realize is that there is a scope well beyond the simple replacement of organic substances with mineral ones, including, say, plastics. Fortunately we do realize this, and often pull that into play in our stories and art: we extrapolate, devise, consider. We theorize and fantasize what it would be like for a person, male or female, to undergo that sort of thing... We devise what it would take a person to lose sight of their moral fiber (if indeed, they had any to begin with) and create a sculpture from someone. We imagine what it would be like for the viewer to catch sight of a Gorgon, or a basilisk, or to have a spell cast upon them, a ray to hit them. For the most part, we consider how such a power would affect those around the petrifyee.
Or do we?
That's what I'm looking to discover. That's what I'm hoping to find out. And that's what I'm hoping to spread, too. An idea of what, in my opinion, makes for a great and creative ASFR story.
As a statement of personal taste, I personally prefer a victim's transmutation into stone, usually by magic or mythical means, for the victim to be unwilling and not necessarily to deserve the fate. I prefer the transmutation to be permanent, and for the transmutation to be unwilling, into an utter object, incapable of movement, and often, thought. I have heard this manner of thought, in effect, compared to both rape and murder in the last month and a half, but that's neither here nor there. I've done enough advocating on that side of the ethical fence. I've essentially decided that I have no more use for being a moral and ethical authority, and have embraced my lot in life as a immoral and indolent sexpot.
In those tastes, I know that even among my peers, I'm in the minority, as more people prefer willing transformations ("Oh, Johnny, there's nothing I'd rather be than a statue!"), non-permanent transformations ("It's okay, Judy. We can change you back in an hour or so.") and for the victim to retain cognitive thought. (Somehow, although my mind and body have turned to stone, a remarkably nonconductive substance, I am still receiving the electrical impulses of thought! Remarkable!) Yet, I'm not here to either debate the quirks of one side versus the other, or even to try to make sense of the realism of a fairly magical fantasy by using scientific method. What I'm trying to do here is see if by infusing enough realism into thought methodology, maybe I can help inspire more thought-provoking writing on all ends of the scale.
So how can I do that? There are several ways. The first and probably best way is to look at some of the 'clichés' (ouch, I hate that term) of the genre, and see what makes them cliché, and how, with a little thought, those levels of 'sameness' in ASFR writing can be strayed from to make people realize that your fiction breaks the mold of the genre. And so I bring you...
Just from a sample cross-section of stories, you can see a bridge of consistency trying to make its way into view. Regardless of transformation type, willingness of the petrifyee, whether the victim is a deserving one or not, or whether the victim is able to have cognitive thought after their transformation, the average petrifyee tends to be between eighteen and thirty years pf age, female, and be-- if not outstandingly beautiful-- at least more than just marginally attractive. Often, they are of model caliber beauty, or for that matter, are models or aspiring models. They tend to be either trusting or naïve, almost to a fault, at least as that applies to them becoming static artwork. They often, mostly for story's sake, have no discernable figures that care about them enough to worry that several years have passed and still they have not returned home or paid off their credit card bills or fed their goldfish, all the while people are raving over the new mannequins at Rogelio's or the new statue in the art gallery downtown.
In the cases of less permanent transformations, often the victim (or petrifyee) is prone to sudden bursts of trust, curiosity or eagerness to try new and exciting things... or conversely, they are forgetful, ditzy, or blithely oblivious of the power of whatever petrifying paraphernalia they are near. They often live by a tennet of "as long as it's reversible, it can't be bad." They don't mind, or secretly desire, objectification of their bodies and the voyeuristic tendencies of others. They often think it will be "fun" to become a display mannequin, statue, or the like. (Episode 7201, Harriet's Just Not Bright, in the Medusa Chronicles, details such victim correlations in a more tongue-in-cheek manner.)
That is not true of all stories or art, granted; it would be utterly impossible to tie together all the quirks of a set of stories as disparate as those we find at the LTBSA. But that thread of similarity does seem to tie many stories together, and a question that many often put forward is, very simply:
Are all these 'heroines' just stupid or what? And for that matter, are they carbon copies?
Perhaps, to an extent, they are, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. After all, as petriphiles, we expect to see a heroine of an ASFR story undergoing a transformation, and almost all of us want it to happen to women we consider beautiful. And maybe, in its own way, that in itself lends to the sameness we're (Or at least I'm) trying to avoid... but the question becomes, can it be helped? You might say, but wait, are you looking to make us STOP transforming? If we consistently wrote ASFR stories in which no one was transformed, we'd be ridden out of town on a rail... even if we're doing it to escape that sameness.
No, I want women transmuted as much as anyone... sometimes even too much, according to at least one of my friends. But I say, yes, it can be done. It just requires forethought and carefulness. As much as I hate tooting my own horn-- and ask any of my friends, I really do-- but some of the best comments I ever received for To Be Loved were that the characters were both memorable and likeable, and that in turn made the story that much better to read. For me, that was a huge compliment. Every bit as good as "I loved it."
So I hope I'm not throwing you a load of horsecrap. I'm gonna try to tell you what worked for me. And that's what I plan on showing you now, starting with characters.
Quickly. Name me ten professions that you have seen in ASFR stories. There's a few that stick out, no doubt, such as Artist, Scientist, Salesperson/Marketer, Shop/Setting-Owner and, obviously, Model. But there is a horrible amount of similarity to the people we tend to run across in our stories, isn't there? And no offense to mannequin stories, many of which I like, but when I see a department store, I almost feel like beating my head into something solid. The archetypes are just so transparent anymore it's not funny. Shop Owner/Salesperson/Visual Displayer coerces Hapless Shopper/New Employee into becoming mannequin by guile/written contract/change room technology/etc. Like I said, no offense, because I like mannequin stories too. But I grit my teeth when I see those same tired placeholders filled time after time.
That's not to say those stories are the only ones. That's just an example. But it proves a point. If we can all stretch our imaginations a bit more, we can turn a same-old, same-old character into something special and memorable. Even if, in the end, they end up approximately the same way.
Turning, I saw her.
Erin was the best-looking girl at the sorority. She was twenty-one, with beautiful green eyes and long blonde hair that fell in cascading waves to the midpoint of her back. She was a head smaller than Joe, at 5'8", and her body was perfectly curved in all the right places. She usually dressed in elegantly stylish clothes, mostly ones that accented her perfect 36-C breasts and slightly rounded hips, but today she was wearing a pair of blue-jeans that fit her like a second skin.
"Hi, Joe, cutie," she said, sashaying to him with that sultry wiggle to her hips that had made more than one frat boy drool. "What's in the bottle?"
Okay, no offense to anyone's paragon of virtue up there, but I already want to see Erin turned into a birdbath and have a pair of overweight ravens shit into her open mouth. Why? Because to me, that's not a woman. That's a cardboard cutout, an idol of perfection with a set of measurements. First off, inside of three paragraphs, I've met the most beautiful woman in college, who is just so perfectly curved, and has perfect hair, and not only dresses elegantly, but today has chosen to wear tight jeans. And on top of that, my God, she thinks the narrator is a cutie. You know two things by looking at these paragraphs: One, Erin has never, ever, in her entire life, had a case of acne, and two, Erin's going to end up the transformee du jour. Why?
Because she's perfect. We might as well keep her that way. And here's something all of you writer types should keep in mind: readers equate themselves with the characters they read about. They try to relate to them. And since none of us are perfect, we can't relate to perfect characters.
So does that mean make all our female characters scarred, obese, with terminal dermatological conditions? No. That would be an extreme. But neither am I suggesting to hinge everything your character or petrifyee is on his or her physical appearance. Physical beauty is a huge plus, but when you think about it, physical beauty will have more effect on a picture than in literature. If I say 'imagine the most beautiful woman you know', my guess is that no two of us will come up with the same mental image, right? So if that's so, why do we put such stock in writing down this sort of thing in our stories:
Jill was twenty-five, a stunning five-foot-six redhead with trim hips and a thirty-six inch bust.
Okay, raise your hand if you think that sounds like something you'd read off the backside of the Playboy centerfold layout? What's next? Turn-ons and Turn-offs? And why would we need a list of her measurements, anyway? As you saw, she's perfect.
Does this little tirade mean I think physical description is wrong? Oh, hell, no, not at all. In fact, to some extent, it's necessary. But it should move within the confines of the story, not be the story. It shouldn't hit like a pop-up spam window on a porn page. Try to expound on the physical characteristics of your heroine through the story, not in a single paragraph or two that come across like a personal ad. When I read a story, I really don't need to know SWF/19/NYC, hairstyle, breast size and complexion as much as I need to actually care what happens to her.
How do you do that? How do you get people to care about a character? It's not always simple, but probably the best way is to let the reader grow with the character. That means you establish physical, mental and personality traits, bit by bit, building a character from the ground up, and then, you stick with them.
Yes, physical, mental and personality traits. The whole ball of wax. Like the old saying, we are the sum of our parts. And there should be a hell of a lot more to a character's parts than just their hair color, a set of measurements and clothing. That's what makes people relate to the character, and more importantly, care what happens to him or her. And I'll be up front. When you quote breast sizes to a reader, you've almost immediately pegged yourself as someone not to be taken seriously as a writer. There are far better ways to say a woman has a curvaceous body than by giving her bust size. Writer's Digest offers several books like The Fiction Writer's Silent Helper and Character Traits to help you find less centerfoldesque ways of referring to a woman's shape, if you have trouble.
Okay, no '38-DDD' descriptions, then. So what sort of character traits, you ask? Well, anything, really. The sky's the limit. Anything and everything you add to a character makes them more three-dimensional and real, less like a cardboard stand-in that says 'do me next' in 72-point Times New Roman.
Think about it. How many ASFR stories feature an ingenue who is asthmatic? Who is a devoted Christian? Who has poor eyesight? Who has an inferiority complex? Who sees extraplanar creatures? Who quotes Byron and Shelley? How many stories feature a would-be victim who is paranoid, bulemic, agoraphobic, incarcerated, happily married, or obsessive-compulsive? Who is showingly proud of her Japanese heritage, who delights in collecting New Orleans jazz CD's, who got himself kicked out of Catholic School for flipping off a nun? Broaden your horizons! Or take a standard theme and twist it: a good quarter of the stories have apparent nymphomaniacs... what about a nymphophobic? Or someone who's terrified to have sex and suddenly finds that a transformation might be the only way for them to enjoy it?
These are called quirks, personality faults and flaws. They're sometimes hard to deal with, because sometimes, in fact, quite often, you have to come up with a reason why a character has such a flaw. Why is Jill asthmatic? Because her mother smoked while she was pregnant. Why is Jack an overbearing arse that likes to hit people? Because he found out when he beat his first wife that he could get away with it and it empowers him. Why is Connie a nymphophobe? Because she lived with a mother that constantly told her that sex was an evil, evil sin, and the first time she had sex it hurt and she bled. Will these sort of things necessarily make it into the story? Not necessarily. But you, the author need to know them, because those sort of things will help define how your characters react to what you're going to put them through in the story ahead.
Now then, you've considered something 'different'. What then? You've created those quirks, now stick with them. How many times, especially in reading Damsel in Distress fanfiction (I know, there are some real gems out there, really, but I'm making a point here), have you seen Wonder Woman™ appearing in the story, in her usual, strong-willed, larger than life, warrior-woman manner? And then, by the end of the story, she's whimpering because the villain has (insert evil deed, often some manner of sex) to her, she just can't take it anymore, she's just not powerful enough, not strong enough, beaten, etc. etc, ad nauseum? (We now know why men aren't allowed on Themiscrya. One good ride and Amazons turn into 50's housewives.)
Although ASFR is not nearly so prone to such quick turns of personality-type (can a brotha get an Amen?), it happens, and with disastrous consequences:
(At this point in our story, Jill has been introduced a quiet, somewhat introverted and very thoughtful and innocent woman. Of course, she's never felt the power of the POSSIBLE PETRIFICATION SEQUENCE LYING IN WAIT! Let's see what happens:)
"But who will test the serum to see if it's potent?" the doctor asked.
"Doctor! That serum will turn whoever tries it into a love-slave/sexdoll/mannequin/statue!" Jack said, aghast at his use of slashes in dialogue. "It's not ethical to use it on a human!"
"I'll try it." Jill chirped. "It might be fun!"
Speaking as a writer, reading over that, I have just caused myself to bang my head on the keyboard. Twice. Wait. gfsduihg. There. Three times. Oh, yeah, she's quiet and introverted. Or at least she would be if it wasn't for the fact that she was runner-up Miss Texas, she regularly gallivants around in her underwear-- if not her outright nakedity-- and has perfectly glorious round orbular breasts that she delights in jutting out through her halter tops. All my introverted ex-girlfriends wish they were her.
Seriously. I've seen as bad, if not worse. Women who the author has painstakingly tacked the word shy to, stripping naked at the drop of a hat or a five-dollar bill. Women suddenly deciding that although they've never experienced it (or even readily thought about it before), being a mannequin, statue, love doll or whatever is suddenly the only thing that they want to do in life. Men who have never had an evil bone in their bodies suddenly gaining the compulsion to squirt their best friends in the world with a substance they've been warned has odd side-effects. Strong people showing no fight whatsoever as they are mind-controlled, petrified, mannequinized, whatever. For God's sake, avoid that.
What makes people like a character? Being able to relate to a character. And what makes people able to relate to a character? Making that character lifelike by giving them real quirks, faults and personalities, and then not forgetting them.
For now, I hope that gets you started. Any enquiries about the subject of characters and writing can be made to me at my e-mail address, email@example.com. I hope you found this a little helpful. Next up, Cause and Effect. See you soon!