Tuesday, March 07, 2006

So You Want to Write Erotica?

When I first started writing seriously, oh, about nine years ago come April, I didn’t set out to specialize in erotic fiction, although sex and relationships were always of great interest to me—and I never seemed to be able to write a story without at least one sex scene! I often heard otherwise accomplished writers say they were afraid to write sex or they couldn’t do it well and I assumed I would face those same obstacles because sex was somehow inherently difficult to translate onto the page. And it is, of course. But somehow I ended up publishing more erotic fiction than the “serious” stuff, perhaps because I find sex so much fun to write. A heck of a lot more fun than a dissertation or an essay on a parent’s death, that’s for sure. These days, although I still consider myself a beginning writer, people occasionally ask me for “advice” on how to write erotica. I don’t really have advice, but the other day on my morning two-mile walk, I was mulling over a few writer-to-writer ideas I thought I’d share on my blog. After all, it has been a while since I’ve done a writing-focused entry and I want to stay true to my title.

The first thing that occurred to me is that if you WANT to write erotica or good hot and/or honest sex scenes, then you’re more than halfway there. That desire will carry you far in terms of imagining the scenes and learning the tricks and finally doing the hardest work of all--edit, edit, edit. Plus, beyond the usual blocks to writing, sex brings along a lot of psychic baggage. Nice girls don’t have thoughts like this. Men are all sex-obsessed porn-addicts who think of nothing else but fucking anything that comes along. What will your mother think if you write about sex like you’ve actually had some, even if you’re forty and have been married for fifteen years and have three kids? Stuff like that. There will be moments when you’re sitting at the computer totally shocked and amazed that such images are coming from your fingers and that some day someone else might read them, even if it’s under a pseudonym. But the desire to do it and do it right will carry you through those moments of doubt. Telling the truth about sex is truly a noble endeavor, and one that’s not often attempted. Certainly not in the popular media which is where most of us get our messages.

Okay, on to more practical writing tips. In my early morning musings, I realized that I automatically do something now that wasn’t so automatic at the beginning. I put myself in a safe space to write sex, a place where I’m free to explore the shadows of my imagination. Many of the scenes and images I write do not end up in print, and I think it was all the more crucial in the beginning to feel safe in my experimentation. So, yes, lock yourself away from mom and the cops and your third-grade teacher and see what you discover. In the end, no matter how many stories you publish, no matter how many millions of dollars and fans you collect (more likely hundreds or dozens of both if we’re talking reality), the real treasure you’ll gain is a clearer vision of what turns you on and what sex means to you. And that’s something worth doing right there.

Wow, I’m such a cheerleader. You’d hardly know that I get depressed about writing at least every five minutes! But when the blues hit, it’s time to turn back to your erotica collection (you want to write it because you enjoy reading it, no?) and start reading it all over again. But this time you do it for work, not pleasure. You reread your favorite stories with the goal of learning all the tricks that make it soar. You can also read to learn what you don’t want to do. Long, poetic descriptions bore you? Cut them out of your work if you wander there. Dialogue turns you on? Put in a lot of hot, nasty repartee. All of the writing books I’ve read (and you’ll know from an earlier entry that I’m a how-to-write-book addict) say the best writing teacher is a great story. The same works for erotica, too.

Not that there aren’t special techniques that make for a successful (that is, published) erotic story. Some of the best advice I’ve read can be found in Susie Bright’s How to Write a Dirty Story. In particular, her discussion of writing orgasm was an eye-opener for me. While orgasm may be the climax of an actual sexual encounter, it seldom works that way in fiction. Who knew? I’d also add that a good erotic story does not fly from sex alone. Above all, you need freshness is language and scene, and the easiest and perhaps only way to do that is to have a good story as a foundation. You know, a plot with conflict, characters with personalities, a little mystery, a little something that goes wider and deeper than the story itself. It’s not always necessary to get your reader hot, but it doesn’t hurt. And editors seem to love it.

But there’s one other thing Susie said in her book that sticks in my memory and that is, it’s worth writing erotica even if you’re never published, even if you never intend to be published. Doing what you need to do to write hot erotica—which above all means paying attention to the sensations, scents, sounds and sights of sex—will enrich your life immeasurably. I wish you the best with the writing and the research!

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