Writing lessons from author-seductress extraordinaire Catherine Tramell ‹ Literary Hub


The first time I heard the phrase “suspension of disbelief” wasn’t from a teacher or in a book. It was Sharon Stone explaining it to Michael Douglas from the back of a police car. “It teaches you to lie,” she explains. “You make stuff up, and it has to be believable.”

My writing aspirations were born not between the pages of Louisa May Alcott or Charlotte Bronte, but of a mysterious blonde woman who left an indelible mark on my psyche from the moment I saw her on screen. . Thirty years later, Primary instinctCatherine Tramell is still one of cinema’s greatest femme fatales. She’s beautiful, bright, and rich, with a mystery behind her ice queen demeanor. Plus, she may or may not be a serial killer.

As we quickly learn in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 film, Catherine writes thrillers, has a doctorate in psychology and possesses unbridled confidence. She calls sex “kissing” and prefers to do it for pleasure rather than love – an attitude usually reserved and expected of men, which in turn surprises the men investigating her for murder. She is sexually fluid, avoids underwear, and enjoys light bondage. Today, female sexual liberation is more empowered than chastised, but in the 90s a woman who had carnal desires had to be portrayed as evil – hence films like The last seduction, poison ivyand Primary instinct himself.

For me, there were other more convincing aspects in the character: I defined her as a writer before a seductress. Catherine, 37, may not have been the typical inspiration for a 13-year-old girl, but seeing her sparked something, a part of me that until then had only been sated by Nancy Drew flea market hardcovers. I saw myself in the budding young detective. But once I met Catherine, my interest shifted from solving mysteries to creating them. (I also tried to mimic her look, dyeing my natural red hair platinum blonde with unfortunate results, but that’s another story.)

As Primary instinct turns 30, let’s celebrate the writing lessons we can glean from Catherine Tramell.

Lesson 1: Everything can be copied, but don’t be an asshole

In the infamous interrogation scene, Catherine, surrounded by a room full of dark men, responds to claims that she slept with the murder victim solely for research purposes. “I am a writer, I use people for what I write. Let the world beware. I’m neither a sociopath nor a brilliant seductress, but this quote has been etched in my brain since the 90s – a sadder, R-rated version of Nora Ephron’s reminder that “everything is copy.”

Catherine’s booksThe first time, Love Hurtsand Shooter) dangerously mix the connection between art and life, each mimicking events from their own past (whether coincidence or project is never confirmed). Immediately after meeting Detective Curran (Michael Douglas), she says he’s the inspiration for her latest script about a disgraced cop who falls in love with the wrong woman…then she kills him.

Ephron’s famous idiom tells us that real life is the best source of inspiration for a writer, and in turn, anyone and anything is fair game, even though, as we know, this mentality can come with its own set of problems. Catherine is unable to relate to anyone outside of the context of using her for her work, highlighting the real dangers of viewing everything in your life through the lens of potential content.

Catherine Tramell cries

Lesson 2: Use your grief

Catherine’s novel The first time is about a boy who kills his parents to see if he can get away with it. After revealing this to a suspicious Detective Curran, she admits she wrote it after the (allegedly accidental) boating accident that killed both her parents. This is another example that suggests she could be a serial killer, but it could also mean that a writer is channeling her personal grief into her fiction.

Today, my writing teacher and mentor tells his students to take painful things from our lives and turn them into great stories. But years before I took her classes or tried to write a personal essay, Catherine taught me that the best way to write is to draw on your real-life experiences, which made me inspired to take the leap into personal writing years later (including how my lifelong obsession with sexy mysteries got me through stressful times, like IVF treatments).

Catherine Tramell and Roxy

Lesson 3: Find your collaborators

At one point, Detective Curran, now bordering on obsessing over Catherine, confronts her with her dubious circle of friends, which includes her lover Roxy and her older friend Hazel, both of whom have dark pasts: they murdered their families when overwhelmed by a mysterious "urge."

Catherine explains this simply, saying that she surrounds herself with those who provide insight into her characters, and even inspire creativity. It’s another part of the writer’s process that draws parallels to a widely adopted piece of writing advice that changed my career: seek out those with similar interests and aspirations. Of course, this is about writers, not reformed murderers. Still, the tangible conclusion remains: finding your community of writers is one of the best ways to hone your passion and talent.

Basic Instinct Newspaper Clippings

Lesson 4: Do your research

Catherine’s workspace is a writer’s desk Where a serial killer’s wall of obsession, depending on how you look at it. In movies, the proverbial box of evidence revealing the killer’s guilt is always uncovered in the third act. But Catherine’s treasure trove of information about the troubled Nick – news clippings about the tourists he accidentally killed and endless personal information – is all dismissed as an author at work. It can be interpreted as sinister, or maybe just a practical journalism trick.

Catherine Tramell ice pick

Lesson 5: Kill your darlings (or not)

Attachment to a person or a memory can make writing difficult for even the brightest minds. In this case, reference Catherine Tramell; she never allows emotions to interfere with her process. After their passionate date, Nick arrives at his lover’s house to be (initially) fired: “My book is finished,” Catherine says. “Your character is dead.” But for the first time, she’s breaking her own rules – a final lesson from the author extraordinaire.


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