22 Jun How To Write Erotica: The Ground Rules.
FOLLOWING THE RULES OF WRITING EROTICA
‘Yes. All right.’
He caressed her shoulder gently as they walked. ‘Maia, if you move in with
me, I’m going to keep you like an animal on a very short tether. You’ll have
no autonomy at all in that house. Not much outside of it. Remember there’ll
be constant restraints, rules, humiliations, punishments. All the time, do you
understand? You’re not going to draw a free breath.’
She was trembling beneath his arm. He held her more firmly and kept her
‘Following rules doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s coming either . . .’
Jacob, A., As She’s Told
There are more rules governing erotica than are applied to any other genre. However, as our male protagonist Anders says in this passage: following rules doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s coming.
As with all rules, the following are not written in stone. Many writers break them more often than they observe them. However, it’s worth noting the rules to see how some writers have used them to good effect. It’s also useful to know which rules are in place before we attempt to break them.
Rules for erotica can be grouped under the following general headers:
- Touching taboo subjects
- Researching sex scenes:
- Personal experience
- Reading adult literature
- Watching adult films
Touching taboo subjects
When I was sixteen my mom confessed to me that she had a vibrator, which
a friend had given to her, but which she never used. She just liked to keep it
around ‘for laughs.’
Within a day I found the vibrator and immediately plunged it into my own
ass while in a fit of vigorous masturbation. I could spend the rest of my life
in analysis and never get to the bottom of that one.
Keck, K., Oedipus Wrecked
There are some subjects that the majority of genre erotica publishers won’t accept. The main five are:
- sex involving underage participants;
- non-consensual sex;
This is not to say that no one ever writes stories about these subjects. These themes do appear in some erotica but they’re more commonly found as dark elements of other genres, either with or without erotic connotations.
Incest has been presented in dramas since Oedipus Rex. It continues to be a recurring theme in contemporary soap operas and modern-day crime thrillers. But it’s seldom accepted in genre erotica.
Sex involving underage participants, as well as non-consensual sex, is the mainstay of misery memoirs and tragic child abuse diaries. Again, these themes are also common in murder mysteries where such acts are used to justify motives. But they’re rarely touched by the mainstream publishers of genre erotica.
Paranormal romances, especially those including vampires, werewolves and their human lovers, continue to blur the boundaries between what is bestiality and necrophilia and what is an extended fantasy of modern romance. However, it’s unlikely that any contemporary genre erotica publisher would consider a title that touched on themes of human/animal interaction or a scene where a living person sexually desecrated a corpse. These acts are more indicative of serious mental health issues rather than being suggestive, daring or exciting.
This list is not exhaustive and it’s worth bearing in mind that all publishers are different.
- Some publishers refuse to consider material with scatological content (stories where sexual pleasure is associated with urine or faeces). Other publishers happily accept such stories.
- Some publishers don’t want submissions that include references to pain or blood. Other publishers are comfortable with these subjects.
- For most publishers, because we all have subjective views of propriety, there will be subjects that they don’t feel appropriate for treatment in erotic fiction.
It’s worth remembering that different publishers know their readers are turned on by different things. A successful writer will take these considerations to heart, learn the requirements of those different publishers and pitch their material to the right market.
Obviously we live in a world with freedoms of speech where any writer can craft a story that touches any of the above themes as well as darker ones that aren’t mentioned here. It’s noted that these themes could all be addressed in literary erotica with its emphasis on the more realistic aspects of sex. However, for a writer attempting to make a breakthrough with their first genre erotica piece, it’s unlikely that she or he will find a publisher willing to work with a text covering one of the aforementioned themes.
Researching through discussion, reading and adult films
Instruction in sex is as important as instruction in food; yet not only are our
adolescents not taught the physiology of sex, but never warned that the
strongest sexual attraction may exist between persons so incompatible in
tastes and capacities that they could not endure living together for a week
much less a lifetime.
George Bernard Shaw
Bernard Shaw’s thoughts on sex education apply equally to instruction in writing about sex. Research is important for writers regardless of genre. It’s essential for writers of erotica because writing about erotica touches on a subject that many people are reluctant to discuss.
The walls of every creative writing class echo with the cries of ‘Write what you know.’ It’s a saying that gets repeated until it stops making sense. But writing what you know can be quite limiting for anyone wanting to write erotica. Is it possible for one writer to know about every sexual act? This is where writers turn to research.
Research in erotica usually falls under the following headings:
- Watching adult films
Experience – personal and anecdotal
When they finally broke apart both of them were gasping.
‘Before we do anything else,’ Lisa began, ‘I have to tell you that I work to
the twenty minute rule. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?’
‘The twenty minute rule?’
‘I never stay with any man for longer than twenty minutes at a party,’ she
explained. ‘Twenty minutes from now I’m going to kiss you goodbye and
thank you for your time, and then I’m either going to go and find my
husband, or I’ll find another man to spend twenty minutes with.’
His fingers lingered against her bare arm.
Lister, A., ‘The Twenty-Minute Rule’
The passage above comes from a short story I wrote for Swing!, Jolie Du Pré’s anthology of fiction about sexual swingers. The idea for the story came to me while I was researching a non-fiction book on swinging couples in the UK. At the time I’d been talking with a lady who explained that she got the most from her evenings when she set a half-hour limit with each person she met at a party. It was a condition that was not dissimilar to the one mentioned in the story I eventually wrote. The idea of a self-imposed restriction, especially a restriction in the hedonistic abandon of an erotic sex party, struck me as unusual enough to qualify for an interesting story.
As was mentioned previously, one of the first questions writers of erotica get asked is, ‘Have you done all the things you’ve written about?’
Personally I have neither the time nor the anatomical capabilities to have done all the things I’ve written about. I’ve written about things I could ever physically experience. I’m a man, and have always been a man, so when I’ve written about pleasure from a female perspective it’s not something I’ve personally experienced.
Obviously I don’t talk about sex with people who don’t want to talk sex. But when I’m dealing with fellow professionals who feel confident
expressing opinions about these personal subjects, I take full advantage of their knowledge and experience.
Reading is essential to being a writer. For anyone wanting to write erotica you need to read erotica whenever possible. Seeing how other writers present sex on the page is the clearest way of seeing what works and understanding what doesn’t work.
Read the following that you :
- Find entertaining.
- Think might be too literary to be enjoyable.
- Think might be too salacious to have any merit.
- Read and acknowledge what works and what doesn’t work.
I was once interviewed on the radio as part of a panel of experts discussing poetry. One of the panel members said, ‘‘I don’t read poetry. I only write it.’’ This lack of involvement in his chosen genre showed in the quality of his work. His writing was unremarkable, unimpressive and mostly inaccessible. It was not based on an understanding of contemporary or proven approaches to the subject. It also made me wonder why he thought people would want to listen to his poetry when he didn’t care to listen to anyone else’s work.
Reading can also provide writers with inspiration for erotic stories.
- Read agony aunt columns where people write to newspapers and magazines with the sorts of dilemmas that would make fascinating
novels in their own right: My girlfriend is having an affair with my wife: what should I do? I’ve fallen in love with my boss but he doesn’t notice me: how can I make him leave his civil partner?
- Read medical research papers on studies of pleasure, sex and sexuality. None of us knows everything about sex. Becoming a ‘sexpert’, or at least being an educated amateur, will increase the tone of authority in your writing.
- Read kiss-and-tell stories in the tabloids to see what’s supposedly happening in the bedrooms of celebrities. Reflect on these allegedly true stories and decide which you think are sexually arousing and which would be unlikely to work in the type of erotica you want to create. Incorporate the useful material into your writing and leave out the details that don’t appeal to you.