I’ve been writing some nudist fiction lately, and the experience has given me reason to think about nudist fiction in general. I know of a number of nudist authors out there right now, actively self-publishing their fiction. Some are extremely prolific, publishing several or even dozens of short fiction works every year. Others are more in the traditional author mode, writing and publishing a full-length novel every year or two, and doing plenty of promotional work in between.
I’m impressed with how vibrant and industrious the nudist fiction world is. I read as much nudist fiction as I can, and I like and respect the authors. I even count some of them as friends, if only online friends.
But writing good naturist fiction is difficult.
The problem isn’t about the writing or the stories themselves. Instead, it’s the essential problem with nudism and fiction. As I have written more fiction, I’ve found that there are a number of traps that are far too easy to fall into.
The problem is that there is nothing amazing, nothing even remarkable, about nudity once you’re a nudist. You’re naked? Well, sure, whenever you can be. It’s nice to be naked? Yes, that’s true. Others around you are naked? Sure, nothing crazy there. It’s barely worth commenting on. You’ve seen it all before.
That means that, as an author, I find that my stories tend to go in one of two ways: the “nudism is great” direction, or the “nudism is unremarkable” direction. Neither results in good storytelling.
One of the easiest traps I fell into when I started writing nudist fiction, whether I imagined my audience to be nudists or not, was to have characters who tell each other how great nudism is. Any character who is even halfway curious about nudism - say, a protagonist who wants to be romantically involved with a nudist, but is reluctant to shed his or her own hangups about nudity - becomes a reason to talk about how wonderful nudism is. And by the end of a story, I find all my characters agree: nudism is great, and we should all be naturists.
Any story needs a good antagonist, and the obvious choice is a character in a position of legal or moral authority who is against nudism. They’ll want to make a nudist beach clothing-required, or arrest nudists, or make them lose their job - the typical fears that most nudists live with every day. This is one of the few sources of conflict for a group of nudists, and the story quickly becomes focused on neutralizing the antagonist’s threat. But when I head down this road, the antagonist starts to sound like a cliche. I think this is because I’m not thinking about the antagonist as a real person, but trying to fit one into the nudist world.
Yet another trap is to keep adding characters who are nudists, wannabe nudists, prior nudists, and free spirits who really think nudism is something they want to try. You need multiple nudists just to have a useful range of points of view to examine the nudist ideas in the story. The problem is that it’s highly unrealistic to find so many nudists in one place, unless you set the story in a well-populated nudist resort.
It’s also far too easy to find oneself, as an author, lecturing the reader. Of course, I want my fiction to represent my values as an ethical naturist. But that just leads to long-winded lectures, from one character to another, about the positives of naturism. The health benefits. The improvements to mind and soul. The philosophical reasons for shared nudity. Their own personal inspirational story.
Of course, because I do believe what the characters are saying, they deliver the lectures to an eagerly listening audience, without any substantive objection. Just for variety, I’ll throw in a comment - “Yes, I agree, and...” or “Well what about [easily countered protest]?” But what I’m really doing is creating a backdrop for the speaking character to expound on his or her personal philosophy. But I know that this is unrealistic, because in real life, people tend to avoid maniacs who talk like this. (People often think that nudism is a kind of cult, and it doesn’t help to write about it as if it is!)
I realize that what I’m really doing is telling nudists that nudism is great. It seems extremely unlikely that anyone would be more interested in trying nudism after reading this kind of writing.
When I step back from my work and discover it’s gone in this direction, I realize it’s unlikely that someone unsympathetic to nudism would even get through the story. I think I’m really writing these stories for myself, not for the reader. The plot is a thin veil that covers the real reason for the book: to talk about my own interest in nudism.
There’s nothing wrong with a happily-ever-after ending, or writing about the positive aspects of nudism. But fiction also needs to be interesting and engaging. If I don’t sincerely tackle difficult ideas, it won’t attract a reader - and that’s not a success for a writer.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Too often I’ve started out a story where the main character is a nudist, possibly with a spouse or family, who are also nudists. They live in a nudist-friendly area, like the south of France or a nudist community in Florida. They have some nudist friends, but for the most part they don’t find anything remarkable in being nudists - it’s just a normal part of their lives.
Usually I’ll find some kind of minor conflict to bring in - say, something with the board of their local nudist resort, maybe a project that they are undertaking, maybe someone unfriendly that they have to contend with. So they deal with whatever issues they have, at least mostly successfully. Often I’ll bring in other nudists, or include a nudist gathering along the way.
In writing this kind of story, I take pains not to even reference people’s bodies or nudity, because the characters are so used to nudity, it wouldn’t occur to them to mention it. They might note some nude activities, like practicing nude yoga. Instead of the characters talking about being nudists - which, again, once you’re a nudist, you rarely do - I might have them note, in passing, nudist magazines sitting around the house, maybe some nude art on the walls. And they will cover themselves when a non-nudist stops by. But for the most part, nudism is there, in the background, just a regular part of their reality.
This approach accurately reflects, for me, how many nudists live their lives. When you’ve been nude around the house a few times, you stop thinking about it. When you’re nude all the time with your spouse, you don’t notice their breasts or penis any more than you would notice their t-shirt or boxer shorts. It’s nothing crazy, nothing to get excited over. It just is.
But when I realize that this is where one of my stories is going, my reaction is… why?
It might be a realistic depiction of nudism, and that’s a good thing. It’s an approving and sympathetic view of nudism, which I definitely want to promote.
But it’s always so dull. So very, very dull. If I were the reader, I doubt I’d make it past the third or fourth page.
Although I haven’t set out specifically to write this kind of story, it’s a common nudist trope, and one that I’ve found some story outlines straying towards as I plan out my work. The setup usually involves one person discovering that another person is a nudist, then reluctantly trying it out. (For the sake of tension, it’s typical to make them of opposite sexes.)
These stories inevitably drive towards a scene where the non-nudist first undresses in front of the nudist. Maybe it’s because for those of us who became nudists later in life, the memory of this moment remains so vivid. As an author, I’m tempted to describe every sensation, physical and mental. This almost guarantees a sexual undertone at the very least. Even if I keep the story from becoming overtly sexual, its interest and drive is from the sexual tension that the nudity generates between the characters.
I’ve played with a variety of situations when I’ve attempted to outline a story like this. One character discovers that another is, unexpectedly, a nudist. One character convinces another that nudity isn’t so bad in one specific case (art, swimming, painting a house) and gradually convinces them to try it. But whatever the situation, the dynamic is the same, and the same well-worn tropes always seem to accompany it.
Despite having ideas for stories like this, in the end I am not comfortable with this kind of nudist fiction. This approach could exploit nudism, and reinforce the damaging narratives that we nudists are only too familiar with (You’re perverts! You just want to see nude women! It’s really about sex!). No matter how I approach it, I think I’d be writing erotica, not nudism, with stories like these - and probably not very good erotica, at that.
In the end, naturism is… pretty boring.
Narrative is driven by character and conflict. All three of these story types lack one or both of these. In the “Nudism is Great” story, there are no characters, there are only empty vessels that are used to spill forth nudist philosophizing. The “Nothing remarkable” story can have characters, but the conflict is absent. And titillation stories have characters and drive, but the conflict is inevitably cliche, and probably damaging to nudism.
So what should I do, as an author?
I have started to think more about the nudist fiction issue, and I have a few ideas about where to go.
First, much of the problem for naturist fiction goes back to the old writing advice of showing, not telling. If a character simply talks about nudism, its advantages, its philosophical grounding - that’s showing, and it does little to connect with a reader. Instead, as authors, we must find compelling situations in (fictionalized) real life where those theories are actually played out. That doesn’t mean a professor at the front of a room lecturing, nor does it mean a person among a circle of friends talking. It means nudists, living their lives, and experiencing the conflicts that inevitably arise with being nude in a clothed world.
Second, one of the problems is characters. People are complex. People have deep-seated conflicts and insecurities, they have values that are at odds with the ways they live their lives. Even the most committed naturist must run into situations where they confront a difficult decision or judgement, or an issue where they need to reexamine their preconceptions - and where they have to consider the consequences of one choice or another.
(This goes for antagonists as well. Yes, there are those people in the world whose view of nudism is simplistic; they don’t make for compelling fiction. Antagonists should have legitimate and interesting reasons to oppose the protagonists. Remember, the villain is actually the hero of his or her own story!)
Finally, there is a core issue at stake here, one that is not just a problem for naturist fiction, but for naturism in general: naturists are too often unwilling to grapple with deeper issues around naturism.
Too often, we naturists believe our own press - we don’t question the assumptions we make about their lifestyle and community. Naturism is inclusive - but what about black, LGBTQ+, and single male nudists, all of whom are often turned away from resorts? Naturism is non-sexual - but what about the resorts that purport to be nudist but cater to the swinger community? Naturism is accepting - but what about the many naturists who body-shame and sexualize other naturists, often in subtle and pervasive ways?
These are the problems that really need confronting in the nudist community. So our naturist fiction has to address them, rather than the more simple issues - moral scolds who want to shut down a nudist beach, or people’s nervousness or unwillingness to be naked with others.
Non-exploitative nudist fiction is a relatively new idea, and there is plenty of room to grow. It also seems to have a long and positive future ahead of it, and I want to be part of that future. As an author who wants to help advance the naturist cause, I’m trying to figure out how to bring out the issues that matter, with characters who live and deal with the issues associated with naturism, rather than talk about those issues.
But have high hopes for nudist fiction. Our community is full of smart, diverse individuals, including many writers. Together, we can work to build a body of work that can reach a wider, intelligent, thinking public - and above all, tell some darn good stories.
Who are your favourite naturist authors and which books would you recommend? What were the positives and negatives about their work? What would you like to see in nudist fiction? Tell me in the comments!