So You Want To / Write a Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll Story
Ahh, the Darker and Edgier
side of the arts (especially music and writing). Maybe you find the works of writers such as Hunter S. Thompson
, William S. Burroughs
, and Ken Kesey
interesting, or maybe you want to tell the true story of your time as a groupie or write bandslash that actually resonates with people other than just the Yaoi Fangirl
alone. There's many stories that fall under this generalized umbrella - the Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
story can be anything from its own self-contained story to a smaller part of a larger piece of any kind of drama possible.
A Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
story must at least use the following tropes in some way, or generally tends to do so.
When writing a Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
story, you have three options for your story in general.
/ positive portrayal: You're wanting to make the reader part of the party, and/or give the story a generally fun, approving, wild atmosphere, or at least do so to set them up for the Drama Bomb
when you deconstruct it. Your sex descriptions/scenes will be explicit or riding the very line between explicit and not, and can feature almost any combination of the sex tropes imaginable, though kink and A Party, Also Known as an Orgy
are almost givens, and Everyone Is Bi
/ Everyone Is Gay
is definitely workable in some contexts (everyone actually in
the story is bi or gay e.g. it's about a bisexual couple, it's set in an accepting setting). Everyone will have Std Immunity
or it's not mentioned. For alcohol and drugs, tropes such as Alcohol-Induced Idiocy
(or drug induced), the Bar Brawl
for fun, the Drinking Contest
/ Drinking Game
(or a variant involving drugs), Drunken Montage
, the Drunken Song
/ Ode to Intoxication
, Wine Is Classy
, Everybody Smokes
, Random Smoking Scene
, Smoking Is Cool
, Artistic Stimulation
, Better Than Sex
, Contemplating Your Hands
, the Dr. Feelgood
as a source of drugs, the Drunken Master
(a character is better
at something drunk/high), the Functional Addict
(any addicts portrayed will tend to be this if you're going for a completely positive story, or there will be no addicts at all), Higher Understanding Through Drugs
, Hookers and Blow
(obviously for this story), Immune to Drugs
, Intoxication Ensues
(a MAJOR one), Junkie Prophet
, The Stoner
, Erudite Stoner
, Stoners Are Funny
, Wacky Fratboy Hijinks
, What Did I Do Last Night?
, and many
/ negative portrayal: The story is itself the Drama Bomb
, or is in a work leading up to it, and/or is being retold in a regretful way, or there's other reasons you want the story to show the less pleasant sides of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
. You can still do explicit sex here, or you can cut away and use a lot of Fade to Black
and discretion shots. If you want to do explicit sex, you can play with the sex tropes to make the sex awkward/unpleasant/strange (but still good, or alternately awful for at least one person involved), possibly due to the alcohol/drugs. (For example, some drugs, in the absence of adding ED pills, will almost always invoke The Loins Sleep Tonight
for a male-bodied character - ecstasy/MDMA is absolutely notorious for this due to its effect on serotonin.) You can also, in a negative portrayal story, invoke characters being victims of the Rape And Sexual Harassment Tropes
or contracting an STD, though you need to be very careful to avoid Unfortunate Implications
. For your booze and drugs tropes, you will be using stuff like The Alcoholic
, Alcohol-Induced Idiocy
, the Bar Brawl
as a less fun/funny event, Can't Hold His Liquor
, Drinking on Duty
, Drowning My Sorrows
, Drunk Driver
, the sad version of the Drunken Montage
or Binge Montage
, In Vino Veritas
, Off the Wagon
, Sorry Occifer
, Unsuspectingly Soused
, Cigarette of Anxiety
, Good Smoking, Evil Smoking
(and a non-tobacco variant on this is possible if the story is not anti-all drugs, e.g. the weed smokers are "good" and Erudite Stoner
or Stoners Are Funny
, the people smoking crack cocaine or methamphetamine are the "evil" smokers), Compressed Abstinence
, Compressed Vice
, Drugs Are Bad
of this story is pretty much that drugs or some drugs or irresponsible use is bad), Going Cold Turkey
, and many, many others, usually subverted or inverted. You may also want to take a look around the tropes under Medical Drama
since this story could well end up in the hospital... or in the morgue, so Death Tropes
might be a place to look too.
Balanced portrayal (some of both): Your story can pick and choose from any of the above, combining them in a way to tell a story that has good sex, not so good sex, and everything in between, that has some characters who drink, smoke, and do drugs and some that don't, that has everyone from the Functional Addict
and non-addicts to the most stereotypical of addict, that can be anything from a realistic take on drugs as opposed to drugs being one big party or Drugs Are Bad
. It can be a Slice of Life
or a "Shaggy Dog" Story
or a true story very deftly disguised.
Anatomically Impossible Sex
: Make absolutely sure you know how sex works before taking on a story like this, and/or fade the sex to black.
(when unintended): Also, unless your goal IS for the sex to be mechanistic and emotionless and boring and weird (which can
be done well in a negative or balanced story), you want to make your character and the readers/viewers get into it, find it enjoyable.
Artistic License – Pharmacology
and Marijuana Is LSD
: RESEARCH ANY DRUG YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT.
No that doesn't mean use it, it means pop on over to the vaults of Erowid
and, if you're running anonymizing software or can justify it for writing, bluelight.ru and drugsforum and other places with users discussing their experiences. Official government/medical information may be useful to a degree, but you have to keep in mind all of it is written from a perspective of Drugs Are Bad
and can only help a little for positive or balanced portrayals.
Everyone Is Bi
/ Everyone Is Gay
without justifying it, even if your story is slash or yaoi,
: It's very easy to slip into this, especially if you really are writing in an accepting setting (e.g. your story is to be posted online instead of being an attempt at mainstream genre fiction or lit fic) and you like the idea. Unfortunately, it carries some major Unfortunate Implications
, throws reality out the window entirely and breaks all suspension of disbelief, and pigeonholes your story if done wrong. To do it right,
you need to justify it in some way (e.g. it's at a gay club/resort/etcetera, the character in the story is gay or same sex preferring bisexual so of course the character is not seeking out tons of heterosexual sex or the het is offscreen, everyone in the band is an out bisexual, etcetera...)
- This doubly important in historical settings, such as the 1970's Glam Rock scene for example, as attitudes to LGBTQIA+ people at certain times could vary heavily depending on context, and could be patchy in terms of overall acceptance, which type of behaviour is accepted or which kind of people were accepted.
(or no gay people): Alternately, if Everyone Is Having Lots Of Sex
there's going to be some people having sex with people of the same sex, and no, not all of them are going to be lesbians
. Statistics are roughly that anywhere from 1 in 10 to 3 in 10 people in real life will be bisexual or homosexual so, unless you're writing solely heterosexual porn, don't ignore that at least some people might not be heterosexual.
The Critical Research Failure
in general: if you are writing about musicians, for example, at least know a little bit about what they are, what their culture/subculture is, how they play their instruments, just general stuff other than the sex, drugs, and the music. One should know how any drugs depicted are used and how different methods of use can cause different results.
The Rape And Sexual Harassment Tropes
, if depicted positively or neutrally: There are a select few exceptions for this (such as your character being very very very evil and an Unreliable Narrator
, the story happening in an culture/era when it could be argued that the culture/era itself permitted such behavior, such as your victim character not understanding that what happened really was an assault, for example) but generally, if you depict one of these tropes as a good
thing or just a way for the boys to have fun... it's going to make your story at the very least a lot less enjoyable for a lot of people, and full of Unfortunate Implications
. And if you're writing Real Person Slash
or even worse, a roman a clef based on true persons, if you throw in these tropes without proof, you can be sued.
These tropes should be handled with the care afforded dynamite - and usually have no place being depicted as "fun" or "partying" behavior.
in general: They are very, very, very easy to stumble into. You might want to check out Avoid Unfortunate Implications
- Having your musicians be something other than rock, metal, or hip-hop/rap is one mentioned at the beginning of the article, and one that would bring a fresh take on the idea. Especially because this can be Truth in Television - for example, EDM and outlaw country can easily rival rock and metal for amounts of drug users and sexually promiscuous people.
- Setting the story in a setting different than the usual. For example, the Visual Kei band is touring America for the first time, or alternately, the protagonist is an American in the underground in Japan. This carries some major pitfalls of doing the research on the locale, but if done well can help the story.
- Having the characters with the worst problems (or at least some of them) survive in a negative or balanced but mostly negative story. This is a sometimes Truth in Television subversion that also handily gives balance to the story and makes it more deep than An Aesop about "don't do drugs"/"don't live the party lifestyle" - it can instead become something about the fragility of life and the luck of the draw, that a character who does all the "right" things (e.g. tries to quit, gets rehab and therapy, gets religion instead) dies or gets seriously messed up, while the character who has used and is using every drug under the sun in every way possible is alive and (somewhat) well as long as he has his fix.
- Having a character be the Ethical Slut, interested in having sex for their pleasure and that of their partners, rather than just the often sexist/misogynistic "pump and dump"/"use 'em and lose 'em" attitude many of these type of stories have toward the sex involved. Or deconstructing someone who takes the selfish approach toward sex.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
- The Family-Unfriendly Aesop is your friend, unless you're writing an entirely negative story, you'll be using many of these. Although, you can include straight Family Friendly Aesop aesops about friendship, about looking out for other people, about finding joy in the moment in any kind of these stories.
- Everybody Must Get Stoned or the Stoner Flick: A story centered around cannabis culture, with in-jokes and other stuff that is most truly funny/mindblowing/interesting to those watching under the influence or who have once been.
- Wacky Fratboy Hijinks and Sex Comedy: Anything by, say, Judd Apatow might be an example.
- The Road Trip Plot / The Quest: The band is on tour. A writer needing inspiration packs up and hits the road to find it. Many, many similar ideas, but the common theme is there's a road trip, a tour, some form of travel, and it becomes this story.
- Drugs Are Bad (or a certain drug/irresponsible use of drugs is bad), Casual, promiscuous sex is dangerous and meaningless, and/or celebrity/art/music/fame is empty and shallow: If you're writing a negative or balanced but heavily negative leaning story, this is possibly the territory you will enter. Keep in mind the pitfalls of Unfortunate Implications, which are just as common here as in positive stories, but it is possible to tell such a story and have it be believable and real.
- What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: You're bringing the reader/viewer as close as you can into the world of being on the drugs involved, with a psychedelic, trippy ambience for the story, a Kudzu Plot at best, and possibly everything degenerating into either enjoyable or horrific batshit insanity. This can tie in with the next...
- The "Shaggy Dog" Story and Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Many of these type of stories will become like this.
Set Designer / Location Scout
- Generally, in Real Life drug user settings, there's somewhat of a "junkie hierarchy" akin to the famous "geek hierarchy," except it has several different "sliding scales." Those are drugs used, method of use, how much of a life outside getting wasted someone has, and/or their financial status. This enables for much internecine conflict/refusal to accept one has a problem/disinterest in legalisation/other issues. A rough version is as follows. Note this has no basis in law, or sometimes even fact - no more than the "geek hierarchy's" reasoning as to why erotic furries are somehow "worse" or "more worthy of mockery" than Star Wars fanboys.
- Drugs used:
- Nutmeg, morning glory seeds, datura, DXM cough syrup (-0, often mocked for being too "chickenshit" or underage to get alcohol or marijuana, or in the case of datura, for being Too Dumb to Live)
- Alcohol to anything but being a raging alcoholic, caffeine, tobacco, legitimately prescribed psych meds or painkillers (0, often assumed to be a "normal" or "square" or "novice" if not an undercover cop or similar)
- Marijuana/cannabis (1 to 2, depending on the "life outside being The Stoner" scale)
- MDMA/LSD/shrooms/the other "hallucinogens" or "entheogens" (2 to 3, generally considered a "psychonaut" or "raver" or "party" type or alternately a "hippie")
- Painkillers/stimulants/other legal pills used for recreational purposes (3, possibly 4 depending on how "addicted" the user seems and method of use - if they are simply popping pills, it's likely to be seen as more of a 3, a mid-range "fun" user, than a 4 verging on being a junkie)
- Powder cocaine (usually 3 to 4, again depending on how addicted the user seems)
- Alcohol to the degree of being a homeless, blackout gutter drunk (5, a stereotypical "alcoholic bum")
- Crack cocaine (generally considered a 5, a "crackhead" simply due to the behaviour of some users and the unfortunate messaging that crack was somehow "worse" than powder because poorer and darker-skinned people preferred it)
- Crystal methamphetamine (5, usually considered a "junkie" or "tweaker" unless the use is VERY limited or temporary)
- Heroin/morphine/fentanyl (5, generally considered a junkie with any use beyond a one-time experiment)
- Bath salts (either a -0 with "stupid teenagers" or a 5 with someone who is truly messed up from them)
- PCP/propofol/other general anesthetics... (Readings Are Off the Scale, if someone's known for drugs like these, they are considered Too Dumb to Live even by other addicts and junkies.)
- Method of use:
- Eating/drinking/taking as pill or consumable tablet or the like (0 usually, and often considered either the "safest" or the "wimpiest" way to take drugs, depending on to whom you are speaking)
- Smoking/inhaling (1 to 3 depending on the drug in question)
- Snorting (automatically a 3 to 4 as most drugs that are snorted are pretty high on the above scale - one doesn't snort cannabis for example)
- Injecting (5, to the point that it's actually considered, among most drug users, that the "line" between "having fun" and being a junkie is sticking a needle in your arm - injection drug users are often heavily looked down upon by other drug users as well as society at large)
- Other (rectal, intraocular, via the genitals (Readings Are Off the Scale, again, generally someone using drugs in this way is considered to be so far addicted nothing else works, to be near-insane, or alternately, to be trying to be seen as a badass at the possible cost of their life or organs.)
- Lifestyle/financial status
- The rich (0, generally considered to just be having a good time with Hookers and Blow unless they go to jail or rehab, and sometimes even then)
- Middle class with hidden/secret use of anything except meth or heroin and/or the middle to upper class version of The Stoner (0 to 1)
- The Slacker broke version of The Stoner (1 to 2, mocked possibly but generally seen as harmless if annoying by other users and sometimes even by society)
- The Alcoholic or prescription abuser/user of powder cocaine/ whose use is known but who remains a Functional Addict (3, considered to be going into the danger zone, but often still socially tolerable enough by others to the point of being enabled)
- Anyone poor or abjectly broke using the stimulants or opiates (4, generally considered to be on the edge of the next category)
- "Crackheads" for crack cocaine or "cokeheads" or "fiends" for powder, "meth heads" or "tweakers" or "speed freaks" for methamphetamine, "junkies" for heroin/opiates, gutter drunk alcoholics (5, with the trope Addled Addict in full force, and with their behavior alienating even most more "casual" users of even the substance they prefer.)
This is actually important when depicting characters who are drug users, as it allows you some idea of what you are depicting and what viewers with experience (or even with none, but who are being introduced to the world) will think. There's obviously a ton of flexibility and ways to invert or subvert the "hierarchy," but it's important that to keep in mind if you're showing, say, someone injecting drugs he or she will almost automatically
be assumed to be someone with serious drug issues, while if you're depicting someone smoking even the same substance, you'll likely need to do a little more to establish the seriousness of their problem, especially if the character is rich or has a full life aside from the substance, for example.
One very clever way of subverting the "junkie hierarchy" is to juxtapose steps that absolutely don't align in it - for example, depicting a rich, Wine Is Classy
alcohol user (e.g. an square on both the "substance hardness" and "lifestyle" sliding scales agreeing to consume alcohol rectally (off the scale on off-the-wall consumption methods) for the sheer "Holy Shit!" Quotient
(pun not intended), or alternately a person who is acting like and whom you've set up to be read as a crackhead/tweaker (a 5 on the lifestyle scale) be revealed to somehow simply be having a very unusual
reaction to/overdose of nicotine or caffeine (the 0/"square" legal stimulants).
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson is a Trope Maker.
- "Naked," by Kevin Brooks. It looks at the 1970's punk scene in London in a negative light.
- "The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star" by Nikki Sixx and Ian Gittins, is a biography of a member of one of the most famous bands of 1980's Hair Metal.
- Withnail & I is known for depicting a fairly realistic, grungy look at late '60's alcoholism and drug use in the U.K, although it may have limited application, as neither of the main characters are "on the scene" and are basically isolated except for their drug dealer.
The Epic Fails
- Go Ask Alice (the book, not the Columbia University website) is known best for failing horribly at everything from drug pharmacology to sex education, and to be, despite its occasionally lurid for the time descriptions, a thinly veiled anti-sex, anti-drug, and general abstinence tract written by a very clumsy writer. It's also notorious for making the false claim of being the Real Life journal of a real teenager, which was a complete lie.
- Reefer Madness: Oh, where to START. This film failed so much at its over the top, absolutely wrong depiction of cannabis that it became a joke and a Stoner Flick for the sheer stupidity and inaccuracy that made it something that could never be taken seriously, and where Watch It Stoned is the best advice related to it that there is.