Writing Erotica Right!
A Primer on Story and Character Driven Erotica
So, I am asked, how can you write about a bunch of folks bumping uglies. That kind sir is not Erotica, that is porn.
Erotica is much more mainstream now, finally. Just look at HBO. The L-Word, Carnival Row, Game of Thrones. The list goes on. These are Erotica. Hell, I was just watching Stargate Universe and talk about the nipples and soft porn craziness in that show. Wow.
I loved the golden-age of porn when they tried to tell a story, not just sex scenes. When folks ask me how do I write. I just say, "Like anyone else." Which pisses them off. But really, I do. I try to write character driven, story driven romance. The cool part about romance and by extension Erotica is that any book on how to write anything applies. There is no secret to it. And if you think about it, although it may be space (SG-U), contemporary romance (The L-Word), Fantasy (Game of thrones), or Historical Fiction/Fantasy (Carnival Row) ALL stories are about the characters and how they relate to each other. Sex itself has no tension. It's rather boring after a short time. But kill a few people and screw your sister in the meantime (Game of thrones) well now you have a great story with characters.
A simple formula for story
So Let's look at writing story and character (more story, I might do a separate character one later). If you look at my basic structural approach to writing you notice that the beats are about characters and not sex. In fact, only one is.
- Intro (her regular daily pattern, sure she might rub one here out but not usually)
- First problem/opportunity (she needs a date, she's lonely, she just broke up, etc.)
- First Action (How she addresses this, Enter the friend/sidekick?)
- Second problem/opportunity (The new guy/girl wow they are hot, Alpha? Asshole?)
- Second Action (I have got to have this person. She hatches a plan, flirts? repulsed, but he's into her. Some petting? or a slap is good here)
Perhaps more Issue/Action back and forth, each edgier than the last (bigger and bigger problems). Here is where you have to understand your tropes. What do the readers in the genre expect? Go to "Tv Tropes" and have a look. There is often the mistake, the accidental prego after being drunk, the misunderstanding. If your doing space drama or horror, there are also patterns (tropes) the readers expect. You're ratcheting up tension. At first it was a physical basic tension (her anxiety, the hot guy, her responsibilities, etc...) that transitions to sexual tension. Now...
- The twist (something you never expected, he was a she and still is, the misunderstanding can go here, something the changes the whole direction of the story. Oh shit, no way moment!)
- The sex/marriage (Now the bumping Ugly scene ensues. Remember, this is literally and figuratively the climax. After this your tension is basically spent (Pun intended)
- The conclusion... Happy ever after, or happy for now (her new world) This is not an epilog.
So there you have a short story. Where in it did I say how to write the sex. I didn't, but this is an erotica formula. Erotica is more honest and graphic about sex but it's still just a story. The characters and circumstance drives up the tension and excites the reader before we get to the deed so that the scene is really hot and you have the reader begging for the characters to get down.
So then I get, "Where did you learn this magic formula." Easy, college. If you look closely, it's just the hero's tale. Which is Normal life, Something disrupts it, reluctantly he acts, he overcomes the issues and he is transformed or changed by his experience.
Books with several sex scenes are simply more complex. They layer several stories together (More about this in a different post), or they have more I/A beats so let's say in DubCon/BDSM (like Fifty shades,) she does a little, a little more, a little more until all hell breaks loose. These are just Issue/Action pairs (I/A). Another thing to understand: that if you don't have an issue/opportunity AND its action, you have a plot hole. So keep them balanced. You may not resolve them that neatly, but resolve them you must. So that's the core, lets look at a few of the other things I get asked.
What's a Beat?
You hear about this a lot. Some say it's a scene. But it could be a chapter. A beat is really a part of a trope, a set of Issues and actions that complete one story concept and wrap it up in a bow is a beat. A beat either leads to a bigger problem or a resolution.
Basically, these are, in my mind, useless. At least the way most people use them. They tend to be expositions. You should be able to blend them into the story. Or these are just chapters. The one place I do use them is in a serial story. Kind of like "Last time on..." or the epilog can suggest a cliff hanger.
Cliff hanger s
Never do them in erotica, NEVER. "But you just said." NEVER. Note that I ended the story and said as much. Erotica and romance fans want the HEA/HFN. They want to feel good. They want closure. Note that in this case the epilog is the start of the next story, not the end the current one. Remember that sidekick. Maybe she wanted that guy too. Now what? Maybe the guy's friend wants the sidekick. Maybe mom has the lesbian hots for the new guy's mom or the side kick (three-way anyone, I feel a two girls seduce mom story coming on), who knows. Don't do cliff hangers in the main story.
Fuck no. Hell no. I will slap the pen out of your hand. There are no romances that strive for realism unless your doing a biography. The guy gets the girl and gets his rocks off. The girl has a mind blowing, world changing screw (probably with her sidekick, what an epilog that would be) Romance and erotica readers get enough realism in their life and it sucks which is why they are reading and not making monkey love right now. YOU are their outlet, don't be that bad relationship they put down. You should have realistic sex though. Many couples and individuals (men especially) are sort of using this as a sex manual. If your doing BDSM know BDSM. The safe word, The boundary talk, the condom (if this is not a close personal friend), the aftercare. I do try to make it real in the sex, sometimes she does not come (not often unless that's the point). Sometimes he stubs his dick and they break out laughing. Sometimes he's on her hair. Now I do get people saying "That's not realistic, she would not cum the second he puts it in." Oh. Really. It may not happen to you but it does happen. I have often written a scene thinking, "wow this is so perverse, this would never happen." Only to get people telling me that they do this all the time and then blow my mind by telling what else they do.
More on realism
So it is worth mentioning here, now, alt lifestyles be they gay, hotwife, Dom/sub, have styles and patterns (tropes if you will). fuck them up and folks will loose their shit. Know your kink. for example: Hotwife (consensual, mutual sharing of a wife for hubby), Cuckold (semi-consensual, often humiliation based sharing), and cheating ARE NOT THE SAME. Mixing and matching will piss people off. If you do cheat, there should be a consequence and it should hurt. But not an instant "Wow, how hot that you cheated on me. Lets screw." Ok. However, unlike real life there should be a reconciliation, slowly forgiveness even an admission it was kind of hot. So make the presentation of the sex as real as you can, but make the story a fantasy. Remember, gaydar ALWAYS works in erotica :)
Don't add gratuitous shit
If she gives a guy a blow job (issue), then there had better be a reaction to that later (Unless your showcasing her personality, but then that is the "Action" technically) . At least a nod to it. If it does not serve the story somehow, don't put it in. That's true for anything you write.
Dialog vs. exposition is what I am talking about. Exposition is quick reading (no one likes quick sex). Dialog is like putting a brake pedal down. Alternating dialog with exposition helps you build tension (rev the engine) and dialog gives you the chance (and the reader) to experience the characters directly. It also added a lot of words to the count. Although a lot of erotica is short (5k words) longer work sells better. The point to these two is that you can control the pace of the story. (I hate seeing stories that don't use both because the author missed so much potential for edging the reader) For more about this research the notion of "Show don't Tell."
Rules are meant to be broken
This "Formula" and the accompanying thoughts are only a starting point. A suggestion. From a writer of several decades to you. Because your creativity will lead you to different methods and refinements of process, it will change to suit you. But keeping something like this on stand by often helps you see how the story is going bad and how to fix it. Your style will change this. But it's a good start if you don't have one. And maybe a good add for your existing process.
Erotica stories generally do not make enough to spend 50-60 bucks on editing a 5ooo word story. They don't. There may come a point that your making bank and then knock yourself out. People loose their minds when I say self edit. So let me put this into perspective. Your not writing the great literary work. Your entertaining. So follow these rules and don't get crazy. Do this.
- If you have a twisted friend that's good use them.
- Write the story, use the spell checker.
- read it again tomorrow.
- Have the computer read it to you. There are reader programs all over, find one and listen. That will pick out stuff you will never see.
- Read it again.
Erotica readers have seen some shit. Most try to take mistakes in stride to get into the flow and forgive small things.
Why Erotica is great (or romance)
It is its own thing and I love the idea of the one-armed-read. The thought that folks get off to my dirty thoughts, Mmmm. Nothing more fun than that. It's my kink I guess. It's like being able to walk up to someone on the train and get them off. (I once spotted some reading my story on a train, sitting right next to me and had no idea who I was, still gives me goosebumps)
But there is a cooler reason to dip into the honey pot of Erotica. You can literally mix it with anything. That's right, anything. This is not true for any other Genre. Sure there is a girl and guy in the horror story. But start going away from the horror too much and reader gets pissed. Tell an erotic horror story and everything goes. Same for space, urban, historical, whatever. To me there is just so much latitude in the story you can tell that isn't allowed in the more lets say "Traditional" genre. Everything is better with sex.
There are 1000 books on how to write, and scores on smut. You will notice I spent very little time on the smut. (I will do some smut tropes later). That's because quality writing is all the same and that's the final question I get "How do you sell these stories?" Well, first I publish them, if they are not available they don't sell. I do put them up for free as well to get feedback. Second, I study my craft, read all the time and learn.
Don't kid yourself. It's difficult to sell sex. It has to be quality story and character driven development. You might get lucky, but it's a lightning strike.
Start small. Post to a site for free that readers into your kink will see. Listen to feedback (with a thick skin), write about people, and why they love. The love is just an expression of them, not an end unto itself.
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