WARNING: this is a long blog post and the subject matter concerns the sexual act.
Ellora’s Cave published my first erotic romance, Secret Submission, in September of 2003. The following March I attended my very first Romantic Times Convention, held in New York City that year. With wide eyes and a fledgling’s eagerness, I went to this massive gathering of like-minded people, ready to take my place in the pantheon of published authors.
On the afternoon of my first day at the convention, after having spent the morning attending workshops geared toward making me an even better writer, a group of authors hosted a “meet and greet” opportunity. I took advantage of the opportunity not only to meet the authors hosting the soiree, but to meet others as well.
One author in particular stood out. We’d exchanged pleasantries and she told me a great deal about her books and who she wrote for (meaning her publisher). Then she looked at me and asked me what sub-genre of romance I wrote in. Blithly, I answered, “Contemporary Bondage.” I didn’t know jaws could drop that far.
To her credit, she recovered quickly and said, “I didn’t even know there was such a genre.” I assured her there was and that I wasn’t the only author writing in it. She smiled, made a polite excuse to leave and headed across the room.
That was my first glimmer that writing erotica wasn’t perhaps as accepted as I thought it might be. In those early years, however, I found many people who’s glances became decidedly judgmental when they found out what I wrote. Heck, I even wrote a piece entitled, “So You Want to be a BDSM writer?” for Amazon, partly to warn other beginning writers what they might be in for.
So if you really want to walk this path, remember, you’ve been warned! J
But you’re still here and you’re still reading, so let’s get into the subject of today’s workshop, yes? How is writing erotica different from writing other genre?
The easy answer? The sex. In erotica, there’s lots of sex. Lots and lots of sex. And then there’s some more sex, followed by a generous helping of sex and finished of with, you guessed it, sex.
So what’s the difference between erotica and porn? Or heck, even erotica and some mainstream romances that get pretty darn steamy?
Think of the romances your mother read, or grandmother read if you’re under 35. In those traditional romances the hero and heroine kissed, went into the bedroom, the door shut and the chapter ended. When the story picked up, it was morning. The reader knew full well what happened behind that door, but that’s where it remained – out of sight.
But readers wanted more and romance authors complied. Read most modern day romances and the hero and heroine kiss, go into the bedroom and the reader goes in with them, standing at the bottom of the bed and watching as they make love. We’re voyeurs, still apart from the act, yet getting to see the love.
“More, more, more!” Cried the readers. And so erotic romance was born. The hero and heroine kiss, they enter the bedroom, and the readers go under the sheets with them. Body parts are referred to, passion is ignited, we watch the hero’s hands as he fingers her pussy and brings her to a climax.
Some people, of course, feel that crosses the line to porn yet there is a very distinct difference between porn and erotica. Porn is sex for sex’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the only purpose of porn is to excite the libido by showing the sexual act.
Erotica has that same sex, yes. It isn’t erotica without it. But in erotica, the sex is not gratuitous. It has to be part of the story. All the sex that occurs MUST occur within the confines of the plot or character development.
Think of it this way. In porn, the book/movie exists only to show you sex. In erotica, the book/movie exists to tell you a story and, by the way, there’s a lot of sex involved. The characters must be believable, even if they are doing acts the reader only dreams of doing.
Balancing the physical with the emotional
One of the tricks to writing erotica is getting the emotions to balance with the physical actions. This is perhaps the hardest part when you’re starting out. Writers get so involved in one or the other that the scene becomes confusing. How did his hand get over there? How does she feel about that?
Which, of course, leads to another trap beginning erotica writers fall into. Make sure the positions you put your characters into are actually possible. You’d be surprised how often you’ve changed their positions in your imagination, but have forgotten to write it down. Wait, her hands were tied behind her back, how can she put them around his neck???
My advice is to write the positions first. Take your time and note their reactions, their feelings as they go through the sexual scene, but get the physical action recorded so it flows continuously. Then go back through and add in the good stuff. Remember, sex without passion is porn at its worst, so this is where you really want to amp up the heat index. Make us feel what they’re feeling. And use all your senses.
Remember, people having sex make noises. Slurping, sloshing, smacking noises. Let us hear them. Be wary, however, of setting these words outside the action. Describe the snap of the whip as it splits the air in two over her head rather than going for the onomatopoetic, yet thoroughly unsatisfying single word followed by an exclamation point: “Crack!” That plain word is the sign of a lazy writer.
Speaking of word choices, a word here about “sexy” vs. “non-sexy” words. Readers have become sophisticated over the years and the purple prose of yester-year no longer rings true to today’s audiences. So please, no more “mounds of pleasure,” or “cave of wonders.” No more “throbbing manhoods” or “family jewels.” Women have breasts and vaginas or pussys. Men have penises and testicles or cocks and balls. Call ‘em what they are, folks.
Sidenote: I’ll never forget the first time I read aloud from my work in Second Life. I was used to writing the words and didn’t think twice about it—until I got to the word “cock.” Writing the word and saying it out loud in front of a group of people are two totally different things. I could see it approaching on the page and turned bright red on my side of the computer screen. My mind desperately tried to figure a way to rewrite the sentence and avoid saying that word. Alas, my brain froze, however, and my mouth kept rattling on, the word getting closer and closer. Finally, I took a deep breath, rushed through the sentence and just kept going really really fast, hoping no one would notice.
Of course, they did and I got teased about it for quite some time. They made me feel more comfortable with saying the words out loud and by the time I stopped giving readings in SL, the words no longer bothered me.
Still won’t say them in front of my mother, though. J
The cardinal rule of writing applies to erotica probably even more than it does to any other genre: If you’re bored writing it, readers are going to be bored reading it. To put it crudely: if it turns you on? You’re going to turn on your readers, too.