5 ways that thinking about striptease will help you write a better story.
Striptease and story go back a long way. For example in the Sumerian myth of the descent of the goddess Inanna into the Underworld.
“Eriskigal, goddess of death, allows Inanna to journey farther into her domain, but insists that at each of the seven gates to the underworld, Inanna must lose one piece of her raiment of power until she is naked and bowed low.”
— Gail Carriger, The Heroine’s Journey
And if Oscar Wilde in his play is to be believed, Salome’s dance of the seven veils was an elaborate striptease (though the Bible is slightly less clear on this).
So striptease and story have a long history, and stories have portrayed the art of getting your kit off since way back.
But what can striptease teach us about writing a good story?
1. Don’t come on naked
The first rule of striptease is don’t come on naked.
If you do then you’ve got nowhere to go. All the anticipation and tension is gone. There’s no tease, and no strip. Just some poor pathetic person showing their bits.
The thrill is in the anticipation, not the action
The lesson for writing is don’t give away everything up front. There is a tendency for inexperienced writers to want to try and explain everything in the first chapter. But the art of the story is in asking questions and controlling the reveal of the answers.
You want to give your reader time to appreciate the clothing before you strip it back. Trust that your reader will want to come along with you for the ride.
Don’t give everything away. Hint at what is to come but then prolong the tension.
2. Costume and Props
The second rule of striptease is use costumes and props.
If you come on wearing regular jeans and a t-shirt then don’t be surprised when nobody pays any attention. Dress up. They are not called exotic dancers for nothing. Wear something that will get attention.
The costume gives you a chance to express your style. How are you as a striptease artist different to all the others?
Also, use props. We had the example above of the seven veils, but it could be fans, feather boas, whips, poles, or truncheons. They add spice and give you more to play with in the dance.
Costumes change a strip down into a performance
The equivalent in story is to make sure your character has something interesting about them. Don’t introduce an average character doing average things in their average job in an average town. What makes your character different to everybody else?
How do they express their style through what they wear? Why are they memorable?
In your story, what props could you give your character that will add to their mystique? Is there something unusual that they always carry?
3. Layer up
The third rule of striptease is to wear enough layers.
The longer you want your striptease to last, the more layers you will need. One layer is unlikely to be enough. But there is a balance here. Too many layers and the audience may lose interest.
Go slowly. In addition to wearing a costume that takes longer to remove, remember to take off each item very slowly to build anticipation.
Tease your reveals, build the tension
How long a story are you writing? If you are writing a short story then one layer might be enough. You don’t need many reveals in the story.
But if you are writing a novel, then you better have plenty of layers. In order to keep the reader’s interest you are going to have many reveals, some small, some big.
Each reveal is going to involve teasing the information. Don’t give it away all at once. Give hints, brief glimpses, before you show all.
4. Put on a show
The fourth rule of striptease is to put on a show.
If you want to keep the punters watching then it is not just a matter of removing your clothes and throwing them in a pile like you are going to bed. You need to give them time to appreciate your moves.
Learn to dance provocatively. Make eye contact with the audience. They should feel included.
In writing your story, make sure you are showing them the details, not just telling them what happened. Give the reader chance to appreciate your writing. Provoke your audience.
Dance with the reader.
Make emotional contact with them. Make sure they are aware how your characters are feeling. They want to engage with the story.
5. Have fun
The fifth rule of striptease is to have fun.
Good striptease will have a lightness, and a confidence, that brings your audience along with you. If the performer is having fun then the audience will to. They will forgive you tripping over your clothes if you are smiling.
In your writing, don’t get too bogged down in the task. How you experience the writing will come across to the reader. If you are bored, the reader will be bored. If you are enjoying yourself, the reader will be enjoying themselves.
Smile with your writing and they’ll forgive your mistakes
One final thought on writing and striptease. At the end of the dance, when all is done, you will be left standing naked on a stage.
“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself… That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
— Neil Gaiman