21 Jun How To Write Erotica: Picking A Genre
‘I’m talking about Parnell’s story. Did it give you any ideas?’
Charlotte shrugged. ‘It made me question the dubious mentality of our
hosts and their guests. Or did you mean something other than that?’
Serena shook her head. They mounted the stairs and she pushed her sister
into the shared bedroom before daring to raise her voice above a whisper. ‘I
want to try it.’
Charlotte rolled her eyes. ‘Have you been mixing travel sickness pills and
‘I mean it. I want to try it.’
‘Didn’t the idea excite you? Didn’t it give you a thrill thinking about it?’
‘No.’ Charlotte frowned and then asked, ‘What idea?’
‘The idea of being spanked beneath a full moon. Doesn’t the thought send
your pulse racing?’
Ashton, L., ‘A Stout Length of Birch’
We read fiction to enjoy the experiences of fictional characters. In a good horror story, we enjoy the thrill of being frightened. In a good romance we savour the magic of love. And, in good erotica, we share the pleasure of a character’s sexual excitement.
Erotica usually focuses on:
- The thrill of sexual experiences;
- The dynamics of sexual relationships;
- The mechanics of sexual interplay.
However, while erotica is thought to be all about the sex, it’s often about a lot more than that. Over the following pages we’ll look at how sex is currently being written. We’ll look at some of the more popular ways of approaching sex in fiction and we’ll consider some exercises to help writers craft successful erotic scenes.
LITERARY EROTICA VS GENRE EROTICA
Euphrosine and Delbene were soon to offer me what I was seeking. Eager
to undertake my education, the Superior one day invited me to luncheon.
Euphrosine was there; the weather was incredibly warm, and this excessive
ardour of the sun afforded them an excuse for the disarray I found them in:
apart from an undergarment of transparent lawn maintained by nothing
more than a large bow of pink ribbon, they were perfectly nude.
‘Since you first arrived at this establishment,’ Mme Delbene began, kissing
me rather carelessly upon the forehead, her eye and hand betraying a
certain restlessness, ‘I have had an unabating desire to make your intimate
acquaintance. You are very attractive.’
Marquis de Sade, Juliette
Before starting to write any erotic story it’s worth establishing some goals:
- Are you writing a story because you believe you can produce a work of literary erotica in the style of the Marquis De Sade, Nancy Friday, John Cleland or Leopold von Sacher-Masoch?
- Are you trying to produce a piece of genre erotica that will hopefully emulate the success of The Story of O, The Happy Hooker, Belle de
Jour or Fifty Shades of Grey?
- Are you hoping to write personal fiction to simply titillate a partner with a raunchy shared fantasy?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. A writer might aim to achieve one, two or all three of these in the same story, although it’s easier to approach them one at a time. In erotica all of these are viable goals even though there are no guarantees of literary acclaim or financial success or reader titillation. However, knowing why a story is being written is always a useful starting point. The differences between these three types of writing make them fairly distinct.
- is usually the most critically respected of the erotic genres.
- tends to use an elevated language and style.
- will often show sex as being an unpleasant experience or an experience with negative repercussions. Oftentimes, literary erotica will show sex as being boring or disappointing or dissatisfying on some other level.
Justine, by the Marquis de Sade, is subtitled The Misfortunes of Virtue. Throughout Justine, every time the heroine makes a decision that should be seen as morally correct, events conspire to punish her with some act of sexual barbarism.
Juliette, the Marquis de Sade’s story of Justine’s sister, tells the story of a woman who embraces vice. Consequently she savours a happy life because she’s abandoned virtue and piety. On the only occasion when Juliette does the morally correct thing in this novel she suffers repercussions for her actions.
Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, is the story of a man who yearns to be subjected to sexual cruelty. He willingly subjects himself to misery in the name of erotic experimentation.
It’s obviously a huge oversimplification to say that literary erotica only ever deals with sex in a negative light. There are many titles that could be used to argue against this opinion. But more often than not, any work that is categorised as literary erotica does tend to fit this pattern.
The Genre Erotica…
- is usually more accessible than literary erotica.
- tends to promote an ethos of social responsibility. Characters in genre erotica will rarely indulge in the use of recreational
drugs and characters in erotica will practice safe sex whenever practicable and possible for the story.
- particularly contemporary genre erotica, is usually more sex-positive than literary erotica. In genre erotica, characters enjoy the whole gamut of sexual experiences and go from one exciting liaison to another. Usually characters in genre erotica discover that each sexual adventure is more fulfilling than the previous one.
Consider the way Anastasia savours each encounter with Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey. Even though conflicts develop within the story, the sex remains wholly satisfying for Anastasia and Christian.
In The Story of O by Pauline Réage, O is subjected to increasing levels of sexual discipline but her pleasure increases with each episode.
There are commercial reasons for these choices. Editors want readers to return and buy future books from their imprints. It’s commonly believed that readers are more likely to return if they’ve enjoyed a happy story rather than a sad one. This response is the supply and demand aspect of filling that market need.
Again, this is a massive generalisation but, as a rule of thumb guide, it’s a useful way of separating literary and genre erotica. Modern editors with commercial priorities want to give readers stories that are filled with positive sexual experiences so that they’ll come back for more.
- Personal fiction is often written for the entertainment and arousal of lovers. These stories are usually the sexual recipes for what one partner wants to try with another.
- The commonest feature about personal fiction is that the focus is on sexual intimacy and there’s little in the way of story to support the activities and interactions being described.
- Under this category we also find Fan fiction. This is an area of writing where stories are written by fans to include existing characters or settings. This is an area where Kirk and Spock can become intimately acquainted or where characters such as Bella, Edward and Jacob progress their intimacies to the next level.
While there is a thriving community of online writers producing Fan fiction, it must be remembered that the use of another writer’s characters in fiction, especially in erotic fiction, can carry legal implications. Admittedly, some authors are happy for their work to be developed in this way. But there are other authors who will use the full weight of appropriate copyright laws to protect their creations.
In this blog the focus will be on the middle ground of well-written genre erotica. There will be regular references to literary erotica. There will also be a constant eye on ensuring the reader is aroused, as would befit personal fiction. To my mind, whether the writer intended a piece to be genre erotica or literary erotica, if the reader isn’t aroused then it’s not really erotic.
THE RIGHT RUDE WORDS
‘C’mon folks, I’ll rack ’em up again. See how Cal, here, got one right in
there? Popped that cherry good? Here y’go, show us what y’got.’ I caught
just enough movement to know she was tossing her long dark hair and
twitching her hips for emphasis. ‘Stick that ol’ dart right in! Ri-i-i-ght in
‘Right in where?’ asked a wise guy. ‘Show me again’!
‘If you can’t find the spot on your own, hot stuff,’ she shot back, ‘maybe you
better go home and practice some more on your favourite sheep.’
Green, S., ‘Pulling’
Erotica is often wrongly associated with a need for rude words. It’s fair to say that erotica does use a distinctive vocabulary. Readers often come to erotica looking for graphic descriptions of sexual arousal. Those same readers expect to encounter well-crafted scenes of physical intimacy. Consequently, writers need an appropriate language to label those particular body parts and to accurately describe what those body parts are doing. However, because many of these terms are commonly associated with taboo language, some writers struggle to work comfortably in this genre.
The rudest words in contemporary English refer to sex acts, parts of the body and bodily waste. Historically taboo words have been associated with religion and illness, although these terms are no longer considered so offensive.
Erotica doesn’t really need any rude words. If colourful language is used in erotica it only ever accounts for a very small proportion of the overall content. The most essential thing to remember is that all words, rude or not, should be appropriate in the following contexts. They Should Be Appropriate For…
- The story being told;
- The author;
- The audience.
Appropriate for character
- A medical expert and authority on all matters sexual is not going to discuss his ‘thingy’ and her ‘lady pocket’.
- A Regency period hero is unlikely to discuss the ‘rocket in his pants’.
- The lady’s maid he’s courting is never going to say she’s been accessed in more places than wi-fi.
These are obvious anomalies and anachronisms. But they illustrate a point about the words that characters are likely to use. Depending on background, personality and their attitudes to sex, characters will have different sexual vocabularies. This point will be discussed further when we look at describing characters through speech.
Appropriate for the story being told
In a gentle romance, the narrator is more likely to use a softer vocabulary than would be encountered in a story of hardcore, graphic BDSM. Again, this is not about one group of words being better than another: it’s all about using a language that’s appropriate for the story being told.
Appropriate for the author
As authors we only need use the words that are appropriate for the storyworlds that we’ve created. No one can force us to use words that we
dislike. No one can force us to use words that don’t convey the exact sentiment we want to express. Some authors avoid all taboo language in
their writing and still tell a compelling erotic tale. Others use a full lexicon of swearwords to achieve the same affect. Neither way is wrong or right as long as the author is happy with the finished story.
Appropriate for the audience
It’s difficult to tell what will work for an audience and what won’t. Often, by the time a story has reached its intended audience, it’s too late for an author to change words. The best indicator here is the opinions of editors who have a clear idea of what readers expect.
One of my favourite editors refuses to accept work that includes the word ‘pussy’ to identify female genitalia. Another editor I’ve worked with advised writers to change the word ‘cock’ to ‘prick’ whenever possible because he thought it was more aesthetically pleasing.
This is not to suggest that an author should always bow to the demands of an editor. Each of us has a clear idea of what readers deem acceptable but that doesn’t mean authors or editors will always be correct. As writers, all we can do is use a vocabulary that we feel justified in presenting to our readership.