I jotted these thoughts down so as not to forget.
|Rules of Thumb for Writing contextual erotica. (Draft)
Purpose: Percy Goodfellow....telling others how to write anything....PLEASE! No doubt a seasoned writer is rolling his/her eyes in disbelief. At best they are thinking the old Biblical quote "...physician cure thyself!" Surprisingly this is the whole purpose. As I experiment with writing erotica I am finding what works and doesn't work for me. If someone wants to follow along then climb aboard and perhaps you can avoid some of the pitfalls I've encountered. If you find yourself bored or can no longer suspend your disbelief there are always other alternatives.
Readers and writers both tend to shy away from writing sensual prose that lifts the sheets on a sexual experience. I submit that to become a better writer one must go there at times in order to get beneath the skin of the characters. We have been conditioned since childhood into believing that sex is too deeply personal a subject to be discussed openly…That the subject is best left to a man and his wife, to dealt with in the bedroom and if anything needs to be amplified it should be done with appropriat materials, the lamp turned down and discussed in whispers.
As a consequence when they see erotic material openly displayed the alarm bells go off. Anyone who writes erotica, they reason, is at best someone with an ulterior motive designed to lead them astray or at worst a pervert with evil designs that lead to moral compromise and other forms of shameful behavior.
Times might be changing but the old stereotypes are still alive and well, and readers tend to be uncomfortable with their sexuality and ready to run in the opposite direction at the first evidence of its appearance.
Still writers have been experimenting with erotica, sometimes called sensual prose, for a long while, some more successfully than others. It is commonly used in novels creating a slow burn of frustration in the background that excites the reader below the conscious level and hooks them on what otherwise might be an uninspired story line. Yet if it can make an unredeeming story interesting enough to hold a reader's interest, it is a tool worth considering.
At writing.com the most common form of erotica is what I term a "Stand alone Vignette. These are fun compositions but in my view this style does not transition well into a more serious work. These vignettes are often the products of contests that use prompts and put limits on word length. The results are designed to excite the reader and are judged accordingly. What the reader gets is an intense mainlining of sensuality that is designed to tittiliate. These are a hoot to read and write and doing it well requires a level of skill and experience as well as a familiarity of what the judges are looking for..., as well as how much the traffic will bear. If you like to smother your pancakes with syrup and butter you will love reading these stand alone vignettes. However, it is my opinion that learning to write in this form does not adequately prepare a writer for a chance at publication. What it takes to write a contest vignette is not what it takes to write a novel. I say this because the audience for the vignette is not the same as the general readership of a longer and more traditional work. If the criteria for judging rests heavily on sensual excitabiliy then what it takes to impress the judges of this unique form is not necessarily what is going to impress a publisher. Thus I see opportunities offered by WDC in giving writers a chance to experiment with the form, an opportunity many other sites disdain to even consider. Learning the art of the form could give aspiring writers an edge in a territory that is not well developed by writers in contemporary literature. Many excellent authors have been intrigued by the potential erotica offers but were unwilling or able to take advantage of them. Janet Evanovitch comes to mind. In this years Writer's digest guide to Writing Contests Benjamin Kowalsky under Winners Spotlight says..." On Genre: ....I've wound up doing some erotica too...though whenever I'm writing erotica I always get giddy and can never finish."
Percy Goodfellow's Rules
Write like you would under the 18 plus classification.
Write like you cook…don’t get carried away with the spices.
Like sex does not consume twenty four hours of the day so erotica should not overwhelm the story.
A good prompt should frame the window of a story but not smudge the glass. In other words it should outline the perimeter in which the story is expected to emerge without limiting creativiy by telling the contestant the details of what should be included. A single word is not enough to frame expectations but requiring specfied components and events should be avoided. Visual prompts are good to the extent that they create a strong and vivid image.
If you like what you write don't let anyone convince you that it's not great stuff. If you don't get positive reinforcement in a contest or from a class don't be hard on yourself. People are as diverse in their tastes in erotica as they are in everything else. Remember that good erotica is good writing and don't think for an instant that using hyped adjectives and shocking language will cover up the flaws in a poorly written attempt at literature.
What makes the writer giddy will not have the same effect on all readers…some will be left non pulsed, others will be ambivalent, some will be titillated and still others shocked, repelled or disgusted. One thing is certain, however. If it doesn’t get your juices to flowing it will certainly not have a desired effect on anyone else and the work will be better off without it.
A writer must come in under the radar and begin to work the reader into the mood. It is mood, the secretions of subtle hormones and enzymes by the body into the brain that make a rather crude physical act into a desirable moment of pleasure. Humans have a compelling need for sex but need to warm up slowly and not have it thrust suddenly and overwhelmingly upon them. Since the purpose of sex is to procreate, babies, children, sons and daughters in the work, help create a conducive subliminal atmosphere to the erotic element.
Writing contextual erotica is like making a fire cracker. The power must be mixed properly the fuse must burn at a uniform rate and the packaging must be tight and free of excess moisture to insure compression sizzle and pop. By excess moisture I mean go easy on the adjectives and use metaphor and other devices where appropriate. Let the reader’s imagination do most of the work. Once they get the picture move on with the story.
Don’t lose the erotic thread even if its only a thin fiber in the episode. Let it smolder coming uninvited to mind or appearing when least expected…as it does in life.
Emphasis the emotional pull…the spiritual draw and downplay the physical without being afraid to go into the bedroom. Humor is often present in the bedroom. Take advantage of it…it breaks the tension and can make for a tender and memorable moment. The physical action of intercourse needs emotional and spiritual grease lest it become too painful to experience or obscene to look at. The conflict between should we or shouldn’t we is like a subplot. Use the frustration to create compression.
There is a dark side to our human nature that can be very exciting to our sensuality. This is a powerful opiate and should be used carefully…this is to say that the reader should be prepared slowly for its introduction…its coming should be foreshadowed giving the reader a smoldering dread of anticipation and readiness to go somewhere they would ordinarily consider out of bounds
People actually talk during intercourse, let the dialogue show rather than having the exposition tell.
People have thoughts during intercourse...sometimes they think fantasys or imagine they are doing it with someone else, much to their partner's chagrin if they ever suspect...and they do...people are not stupid...This aspect can be poignent or humorous.
Seduce the reader along....create a frame of mind where they want the intercourse to happen allowing them to participate vicariously. I suspect most readers are frustrated in other aspects of their lives and are drawn to erotica because they have used the sexual experience successfully in their lives to vent pent up anxieties, and frustrations. It is the spirital happiness that comes with it and the emotional release that are more important than the physiological trigger. For many it is that moment's tenderness that might be absent in their lives and it harkens them back to a time when there was a joy and intimacy that might not be present any longer.
The human spirit is that part of us that is drawn by the awe and wonder of being alive. When our bodies experience the physiological trigger known as ejactulation or orgasm we are amazed and taken in by an instant of sublime pleasure. Visions flash across our conscious and briefly we surrender our individuality to a corporate identy as the flesh reaches out and takes us beyond ourselves. "I and me" become briefly subordinated to "we and us" and deep down to the hope that what has happened will lead to the creation of something more in life than we have...something we can't achieve as individuals.
Sex is a unique moment in the human experience. In addition to a spiritual dimension there is an emotional one. The emotions want to get into the act. It can be tears, anger, tenderness or a reaming out of hostility and it is the emotions that lead the spirit to fullment. Then there are the senses...they want to get into the act as well. What happens at the end is a physical perk often thrown into the process by our creator. It is a slap on the back by God saying to lovers..."well done...I knew you had it in you."
Compression is the key to writing contextual erotica. Frustration is to erotica what compression is to making a firecracker. A plastic explosive, “C-4“ can be taken from its wrapping and molded like clay, rolling it into a little ball. This ball can then be ignited in the open and it will glow with an intensely hot flame that can be used to heat a cup of coffee. If however you attempt to extinguish it prematurely, say by stomping, you will unwittingly apply the element of compression and blow your foot off.
This analogy is the best I can think of for writing contextual erotica. To keep it from blowing up in your face, you have to control the compression and yet some compression is necessary to go from the heat to the fizzle to the pop.
In writing compression is the frustration of transitioning from what our body wants us to do to procreate to achieving that goal. It involves heat, fizzle, sizzle, smoldering, sputter, a disappointing little pop or a huge bang. If you have the other ingredients, and the device is well crafted the compression will be the key for having your erotica do what it is you want it to do in the story. You regulate the erotica by controlling the speed of the burn and you use frustration to speed up or slow down the process.
Defining Erotica. Erotica is literature that explores how the human body and mind is wired to the procreative drive. It describes a compulsive yearning to join with another, driven by a sexual energy to conceive a child or substitute proxy. It is an energy that compels human beings to make a connection that satisfies an urgent desire to leave a legacy of our lifetime.
Our sexuality uses our senses, emotions, spirituality and energy to achieve this connection and it grows in intensity when fueled by abstinence and frustration. The need for physical love between sexes leading to offspring is a major player. Women and men often see the need in different terms. To a man it is a doorway that opens with a “jerk” and closes with a “bang.” To a woman it’s a window that opens to the future. The female is directly tied to the consequences and thus sees the act in different terms.
In writing a scene there are the mechanics...how the sentences are written and arranged, how the vocabulary is used to arrange the props and setting the action into motion.This has to do with craftsmanship and there are those who have the technical skills in abundance and turn out an elegantly composed written product....On the other hand there is the passion that must be woven between the lines, threads captured for posterity that animate the structure of the composition and get the heart to pumping. Elegance alone is not enough, it must be embued with passion. Often when I am crafting the story line I find myself working with a sterile structure....the composition is well composed but it hasn't ignited and become combustable. I can feel the heat as it attaches to the framework of the story line and like blowing on the coals of a fire I find myself coaxing the the flame into the work. There are also cases where I see heat in a work, that some of the more elegant writers would die for, burning brightly but so poorly packaged that it will never achieve compression, take off and explode. Many inexperienced writers have the fire but lack the vocabulary, talent, writing skills, experience, and sophistication to take that energy and weave it into the tapestry of a compelling written product...So it takes both and one or another alone doesn't get the job done. There is a final ingredient and that is artistic talent. There are some who aspire to be artists who can't draw and will never be able to draw thought they be given an infinite amount of time and practice... We are endowed by our creators with certain talents, for which there is no substitute..... Yet even if you have, technical skills, passion and creative talent, it still requires alot of hard work to pull these together and elevate your writing to the highest tiers of excellence. The acid test is publication and this is what all writers should aspire to achieve.
The senses: The erotica writer must make full use of the reader’s senses to evoke sensual imagery. This should become second nature but it doesn’t hurt to use a check list of sorts going back over a piece and insuring that the full range is include. I include intuition because that elusive sixth sense is often referred to and since there is a powerful spiritual component to erotica it is an important sense to consider.
Sight: The sweat glistened off her body.
Touch: She felt him surge inside.
Sound: She cried out with a groan
Taste: Her mouth tasted of Listerine mouthwash
Smell: Embracing her hips he smelled a woman’s excitement
Intuition: She had that look that left no doubt about her need.
The Emotions: Emotions are a little more challenging than Senses. They are more elusive and difficult to define. A writer should make a list and add to it as his writings give evidence of their presence. Often they have opposites that can be connected with a line and a mid point. The midpoint is ambivalence and the intensity can be measured towards the extremes.
Love and Hate: I am not sure this is a good example. The Greeks had at least three definitions for love. However whatever definition you use it definitely connects with erotica.
Physical Love: Sexual Love
Maternal Love: Love of babies and children
Filial love: Brothers, sisters, comrades in arms.
Agape love: Sublime…love of ideal
If hate is the other end of love's thread the erotica writer can see the connection that the dark side of our characters has to our sensuality.
Joy: Ejaculation and Organism are a very intense form of physical pleasure and are a bench mark for Joyfulness. However joy can be emotional as well as physical. It can also be spiritual. Thus in writing erotica there are at least three threads in which joy can be explored and developed.
Sadness: If sadness is the other end of the Joy thread then again we can see the tie to the dark side. It is frustrated joy that goes down the scale past ambivilence into an ever increasing negative spiral of agony. A child lives and gives us joy…it dies and the joy we knew is gone…we are frustrated by the loss…Frustration can be as evocative as joyfulness as the great tragedy writers discovered. Instead of a physical or emotional release we get a cathartic tension that begins to smolder and build. instead of an expression of happiness we get an expression of sorrow. This frustration is used effectively by many Romance writers to hold reader interest, believing the reader must experience the bitter in order to appreciate the sweet.
When I read a work that has erotica I see the same shortcomings repeatedly. I hesitate to review erotica because I don’t want to discourage the writers. Plus they will think I am harping on word choice that for many writers is sacrosanct….here is what I see most.
A repetition of the same words, in a short space. Ideally the vocabulary of the story will use a word one time. This is because the right word creates the perfect image and once that image is passed to the reader it gets pasted to the video screen of imagination and is noted…seeing the same image repeatedly is a waste of the reader's time. The words that are the biggest offenders are pronouns like “she” and “her” and words like “feel“ and “Inside” Reading back over their work a writer needs to develop an ear for these repetitive words and make substitutions to the extent possible. It is not unusual to see “Inside” used four or five times and “She” or “Her” with the same repetition in the space of two sentences.
Another deficiency is the use of modifiers for emphasis. This is where we get into too much butter and syrup on the pancakes. I am reminded of the story of the salesman who made a big sale and rather than move on continued to pitch and in the process oversold the product and excited the ire of the customer. It is important in writing erotica, just as it is in writing anything, to choose a word that says what the writer wants. Using poor word choice and trying to amp up with modifiers can get old fast to a reader. Save the modifiers for special emphasis and keep your writing crisp and full of fresh imagery.
Next a writer should consider dispensing with language that is unnecessarily graphic. For example “He stuck his dick in her cunt and she screamed “Fuck me!“ as she writhed up and down, her pussey twitching in a throes of ecstacy.” Dial it down with something like…“He entered and she answered with a sigh of delight.“ Both of these sentences create the same image. One uses a bludgeon and the other a stiletto. The typical reader is looking for elegance and art in their genre and like a sophisticated movie goer have little tolerance for porn..
Try thinking about saying something once and letting it go. For example, “She felt his member moving inside her body. “ the idea is that she felt his phallus during intercourse. You don’t need to tell the reader where she felt it unless it was positioned somewhere unexpected…like her ear. Saying “She felt it moving…” expresses the idea and allows the reader to complete the thought vicariously.
The use of Metaphor extends the vocabulary of the erotica writer and softens the graphic impact at the same time. For example. “Her tits stuck out and her nipples were juicy..” Instead, "Her breasts hung like cantaloupes and the tips, moist leather."
Word Count: If the word count is 839 as in the Quickie Contest, blast away for about 1100. Then go back and ruthlessly cut.
Write like a bell curve....Write like you experience sex....The front of the curve slopes slowly upward....there is a climax the vignette tapers off quickly. Avoid marathon sex bouts that have no word limit and the sex continues nonstop for 5K words.
Even with a contest vignette there needs to be a developmental phase for characters, scene, and story line before getting to the grip and strip. For a rule of thumb maybe 2/3 development 1/3 sex.
Try and work sensual prose into foreshadowing in the first 2/3.
When you reach 1100 cut out everything that does not tie directly to the story line....if you cut too much use the extra words to amp up the last 1/3 (sex)
Don't be afraid to go somewhere just because it doesn't happen to be your persuasion. If you're straight and the reader suspects you're gay...congradulations on a convincing piece of prose.
Letter to a Reviewer,
I am in total agreement with your philosopy on story line and erotica....I also feel constrained by the word count limit. By the time I get the story line sorted out there isn't always much left for the erotica. In the" Musicians" this was clearly evidenced in the lack of connection between the two instrumenalists and it utterly failed to meet the "Excitability" criteria...and on that basis your rating was generous. Even if the theme had been more in line with your preferences it would still have been deficient.
The reason I write contest erotica is because the genesis of erotica is sexual energy and that is the passion which propels literature from sterile and bloodless prose into the realm of the "Wow!" Further the word limit constraint causes me to blast out 1100 words and then ruthlessly pare back to the minimum....In the process I cut out all adjectives, adverbs and every shred of redundancy that does not bear directly on the story. Hopefully it gets me to around 600 words...and then I judiciously go back and spread the grease where it will have the most effect.
All I want to do is write a good story and the erotica winds up being a by product....This is the reason I suffer from the same problem that you express...i.e. not winning very many contests....I shake my head at many of the winning entrys . However, I don't see it as much a function of the word count as I do the priority of tittilation over good story telling...of using erotica as a main course instead of a spice.
That's just me...and I don't care if I never win an erotica contest as long as my writing continues to improve as it seems to be doing.
I finally won a contest with the" Pageant" last week. To me it was demeaning to women but it dealt with an aspect of the dark side of erotica that many find compelling. Just as I write homosexual pieces, this area was to expand my horizon in the genre. Imagine my disbelief and total surprise when in two weeks it surpassed the 180 view mark...
I appreciated the candor of your review and welcome a critique that is honest and straight forward. Many thanks