Editing to Include Top Vulnerability

As a heads up, this blog post describes editing a story that includes edge play, intense D/s, psychological sadism, pain play, humiliation and objectification, and play with misogyny and whorephobia. It contains excerpts from the story that include misogynist and whorephobic slurs. The title of the story also contains a slur. The excerpts are marked by indentation.

At one of the hardest times in my life, I created a character that is perhaps the coldest, cruelest, most distant dominant I’ve ever written. In order to write the story from that character’s point of view, I gathered close some of the scarier places in my own sadism. It was one of the most difficult writing experiences I have ever had, pushed my own edges extremely hard. I wrote in my journal at the time: “I write these things down, and I am trembling, they scare me so much. It is so edgy just to write them. It is like I’m playing with myself, both top and bottom all at once, that careful control, that fearful surrender…”

The story that came from that place centers deep psychological edge play: humiliation and objectification, and play with misogyny and whorephobia. To write those things from the top’s point of view, and to do it in a way I could be ok putting out in the world, I needed to make sure that the story had some key elements: clear consent, awareness of risk, and textual challenges to the oppressions that were being played with.

I was not going to put something out into the world that did not make clear that these characters knew the edges they were playing on and the dangers that came with them, and were actively choosing to reclaim the tools used to oppress and do violence to them, reclaiming for their own pleasure. I needed to make sure that readers knew the ways these characters worked together to create a safe-enough container to hold this sort of play. I also needed the reader to be clear that real-world whorephobia and misogyny are not ok, and to disrupt those things as they might be working in the story as best I could.

It might seem tempting to recuperate this cold, cruel, distant, masculine dominant who is playing with intense and hard shit by making it seem like the top is doing it for the bottom. There are definitely lots of stories out there about tops who facilitate cathartic scenes as a way of creating an experience for the bottom. It’s a very common image of tops as helpful and caring because they are being cruel for the sake of the bottom. Quite like a hero savior, eh? Therein lies the problem. These narratives reproduce the very misogyny I intended to disrupt in the story. No one can be a selfless savior hero here. Instead, what we need is a team working together, where it’s high stakes for both of them.

One of the core things that supports misogyny, especially in stories that center masculine tops and femme bottoms, as this one does, is the image of the inscrutable always-in-control top with no needs or desires of their own. This top needed to be deep in sadistic desire. And also have actual needs and vulnerabilities, ones that could not be ignored or glossed over by the reader.

Because the trope of the inscrutable top that knows everything and needs nothing for himself is so prevalent in kink culture, I needed to assume that readers come with that framework in mind. Therefore, the story should lean heavily toward illuminating the top’s vulnerabilities and needs, and bring that element out immediately and often. In addition, it was vital to match the top’s vulnerabilities with the strength and support of the bottom, not just because they work together in that very human way, but because the matching trope is a submissive who is helpless and weak and needs things facilitated for her. To disrupt either trope is to help disrupt the other; they are a matched set of misogyny.

I tend to write stories like this in layers. I can rarely show enough about character the first time around, I’m too busy building the arc of the scene, laying out the framework. Then, I go back and do more showing, less telling, make things clear to the reader that were only clear in my own mind, let the story sit more in the important moments, flesh out the visceral and interior description. Illuminating the vulnerability of the top has become something I specifically edit for, often separately.

Here are some questions I consider before beginning such an editing project:

  • What are the areas of vulnerability that are likely to come up for the top in this particular story?
  • What risks is the top taking? What sort of risks are they? What is at stake?
  • What sort of emotional armor does the top have? How directly is the top likely to touch their vulnerability inside their own thoughts and emotions?
  • How might the top communicate their vulnerability to the bottom? Is there a history of seeking support from the bottom? Have the top’s vulnerabilities and needs been a subject of prior conversation or negotiation?

Once I get clarity on these questions, I approach the text with that in mind, looking for critical moments of potential reveal. Here are some moments that often present opportunities to illuminate the top’s vulnerabilities and needs:

  • Choice points
  • Negotiation
  • Moments when play is about to or has just leveled up in intensity or risk
  • Transitions in the scene, including set up, warm up, ramping down, aftercare, change of location, change in play style or tools, and any other transitional moments
  • Moments when they are approaching edges or have just begun playing on them
  • Navigating moments with other tops in the scene, handoffs, communication, etc.
  • Moments of surprise or newness

The idea is not to use every opportunity, but to seek them out and consider. I select a few to flesh out deeply. Then I do a read through, seeing where else I might add just a sentence or change a word or two, just to keep the readers finger on that pulse in the story.

When I approached this edit for “My Precious Whore” (the story I refer to above), I already had a set up for the story. In it, I gave a framework for the risks that each character bring to the play, established their relationship and how they create a safe container together, put the play in a deep context and seeded the reader’s understandings of the top’s vulnerabilities in the scene.

All of that was already present in the draft, so I moved to the part of the story where the characters began play. This is often one of my favorite moments for this sort of edit, because it disrupts the image of the top as inscrutable and invulnerable before it really starts solidifying for the reader. Take a look at the pre-edit version. Where do you see opportunities?

I can see the edges of her stockings peek out from under her skirt, tantalizing me. Her beautifully large body is offered up for my pleasure and I revel in the sight of it. I want her fear tonight. And her breath. I want her tears. I want to split her open, fluids dripping. I want to unleash my cruelty upon her. I want to reach deep inside and wrap her around my fingers.

I stalk over to her, and yank her up by the hair, dragging her stumbling to the wall. I tilt her head back, my body ramming her into the wall, my mouth at her ear, my cock digging into her ass.

“Spread for me, bitch. Yes, that’s it.  You love this, don’t you.  Fucking whore.”

My baton slides between her thighs, teasing.  I ready for the blow. The baton slams into her, hard relentless thud against her ass. It’s pounding her into the wall, thrusting her onto the edge of orgasm. That’s exactly where I want her. I stop.

I yank her up by the hair and turn her to face me. I grip her face in my left hand and she knows what’s coming.

“Dirty whore.”

I saw several opportunities in those 200 words. I had the skeleton of the action in the scene, but the reader doesn’t know what is going on for the top, besides desire, or how the top is reading the bottom’s responses. Here is the moment where I can illuminate the top’s vulnerability to balance that desire, and make it more complex. Where I can show how the bottom is strong and supportive. Where I can actively challenge the misogyny they are playing with. Here is a revised version of this moment in the story, where they first begin to play, where those 200 words have become close to 500 (additions in green), and what a difference that has made:

The edges of her stockings are peeking out from under her skirt, tantalizing me. Her beautifully large body is offered up for my pleasure, and I bask in the sight of it, sinking into my desire. I want her fear tonight. And her breath. I want her tears. I want to split her open, fluids dripping. I want to unleash my cruelty upon her. I want to reach deep inside and wrap her around my fingers.

I stalk over to her and yank her up by the hair, dragging her stumbling to the wall. I tilt her head back, my body ramming her into the wall, my mouth at her ear, my cock digging into her ass.

The first time the weapons are about to leave my lips, I tremble with it, feel slightly nauseous from the fear and adrenaline. I need her to hold me up, to get me through the push to go there. Every time I approach this edge, I need her close, need her body, her warmth. Need to feel her cheek against mine. Need to know we are in this together. I look at her hands, wait for the signal, the confirmation, holding my breath. She crosses her fingers, and I know that she wants this. Okay. I take a jagged breath and force the words out of my mouth, savoring their bitter metal as they emerge.

 “Spread for me, bitch. Yes, that’s it. You love this, don’t you? Fucking whore.”

At first, I float a bit above myself, watching as if it’s not me that’s doing this, watching my hands as if they belong to someone else. My baton slides between her thighs, teasing. I ready for the blow. The baton slams into her, hard relentless thud against her ass. It’s pounding her into the wall, thrusting her onto the edge of orgasm. That’s exactly where I want her. I stop.

I yank her up by the hair and turn her to face me. I ask silently, and she helps, her eyes yanking me back, holding me there with her, full of reassurance and love and desire, helping me to ground in the moment. To stay with her. I need to know she wants this, need to remind myself we chose this. She silently mouths the word “please,” and my name, once, twice, three times, and gives me a small smile, letting me know it’s okay if I can’t do it, if I’m not up for it. I breathe that in, dig my boots into the ground, and close my eyes. I can do this. I can ride this. It’s mine. I know what I’m doing. I’m in control. I meet her gaze and nod. She mouths the words “thank you,” and something loosens in my chest.

I grip her face, and she knows what’s coming.

“Dirty whore.”

How do I know that I’ve done well on this sort of editing? It’s actually much like what happens in the new version of the story: something loosens in my chest. The story feels less like an unsheathed weapon ready to bleed those who pick it up, and instead like something you can handle with more safety. No less dangerous, but with a safe-enough container so you can choose how you bleed from it.

Note: You may be interested in my other posts focused on a top’s point of view.

The original version of this was posted on another site as part of my blog tour for my queer kink erotica collection, Show Yourself To Me. As that post has been taken down, I am reposting here so that it is still accessible as a resource.

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3 thoughts on “Editing to Include Top Vulnerability

  1. Pingback: Centering Disabled Characters in My Erotica | Kink Praxis

  2. Pingback: #46: Guest Post: Ownvoices Advice for Autistic Writers | Story Hospital

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