Erotica often gets slack for being smutty or a cop-out from having to use any true literary skills. Some people believe that erotic writing is simply the stringing together of a bunch of cheap verbs and euphemisms. This could not be farther from the truth. Erotica, if done right, can be one of the most difficult genres to write. The author’s choice of language, mood, setting, etc. all has to be written very specifically and intentionally. The creativity of erotica relies on the magic of your words. The human body can only be used in so many ways, and chances are that no matter how revolutionary your positions or fetishes seem, someone has probably already written about them. You have to use your language to weave a story that is compelling and creative if you want to hold on to your audience.
(Already a pro? Submit your erotic prose to our Amour Novel Contest for the chance to win a publishing deal.)
I had the opportunity to interview erotica author Elissa Wald, and I think she says it best in an article she wrote for LitReactor entitled The Do’s And Dont’s Of Writing Erotic Fiction:
“There’s nothing wrong with getting off – I always hope my readers are getting off on what I write! – but I want to affect people between the ears as much as between the legs.”
Write something that is as titillating for the mind, as it is for the fun bits. It will satisfy your readers. Think of it like this: your demographic isn’t teenage boys, and they won’t get off like teenage boys either.
I hear you! Here are four quick and helpful points to make sure your story doesn’t fall short (insert penis size joke here…).
1. Define your kink
What is your fetish going to be? People seeking out erotic novels are looking for a particular way to get their rocks off. They don’t want some Plain Jane story about a couple having missionary sex day in and day out. They are looking for something different, something they probably don’t experience in their everyday lives. Like all novels, erotica is an escape from the real world into a world of adventure. This is what Elissa had to say on why she thinks erotica needs a kink to succeed:
“…most erotic novels are based on soft bdsm sensibilities. The hero is always taking / ravishing / overcoming the heroine, rendering her helpless, having his way with her. I think as a mainstream culture we are all more steeped in these dynamics than most of us realize.”
Even though your readers may not practice bdsm or explore sadomasochistic tendencies in their day-to-day lives, chances are they’ve thought or fantasized about a certain fetish and it is your job to bring that fantasy to life. According to Robert Wood, editor at standoutbooks.com, being specific can also increase your book sales. In his article “What Readers Want From Erotica (And How Writers Can Give It to Them)”, Robert wrote:
“…for those willing and able to write to individual kinks there is an existing audience ready to read everything they publish.”
Meaning: If you can get your readers off in your first novel, chances are they’ll seek out your second and third in search of further satisfaction.
2) It’s not the size of the boat…it’s the EMOTION of the ocean
Yes – you are writing about the act of sex, but don’t let your story become a pile of actions without any emotion behind them. Your readers know how sex works…sophomore biology was an eye opening experience for all of us…so let’s give them more than verb after verb describing the penetration, the bites, the kisses, the hair pulling. Don’t get me wrong, that is all crucial to the experience…but a lot of what will get your readers fired up is the emotion behind the acts. Tell us what they are feeling, where they’re feeling it, and the thoughts running through their heads. Describe all five senses to get the most dynamic scenario. It might sound like a weird concept…but shut your eyes and think back to your last sexual encounter. What do you remember? The smell of salt and herbal shampoo…the taste of cigarettes and cheap beer…the sound of the shower as his roommate started his day…the touch of his chest, smoother than silk…the sight of his long hair falling in your eyes impairing your vision…WOAH, feel that? Now that is something. The details may not seem important, and aren’t necessarily going to drive the plot or character development, but they will transport your reader to the world of pleasure that you are building.
3) Easy on the euphemisms
Don’t let your story become comedic because you’re using every word under the sun to describe the male and female sex. Remember the scene from Austin Powers when there is a foreign object, flying through space, shaped like a giant “JOHNSON!”? It is a hilarious scene, but so not the mood you’re looking to ignite in your readers.
Wald finds little need to name the sex organs at all. When asked if she has a “go-to” substitute for the sometimes medical sounding terms of “penis” and “vagina” she told me the following:
“I think in my younger years, I very occasionally used the word ‘c***’ but I find very little need to name the female sex organ at all. ‘He penetrated me just slightly.’ ‘I felt his hand between my legs.’ ‘I was wet.’ I just tend to circumvent that impossible noun.”
Wood also shared his thoughts on the topic:
“If you want to write the best erotica you’re capable of, use your favored euphemisms. You’re going to be able to ‘sell’ your characters and their passion better if you’re using the words that come naturally. Alternatively, if you want the widest possible audience, go ‘medical’. Even a word like ‘panties’ can completely turn off some readers in a way they can’t move past. That said, I think digital publication lets erotica authors have their cake and eat it. Most word processors can replace all uses of a word in under a minute, so there’s nothing stopping you writing (and releasing) two versions – one with euphemisms, one medical. Let the reader choose their poison.”
How to approach the use of euphemisms is entirely up to the author, and if you’re unsure about how to proceed, I think that Robert’s idea of releasing two works is very intriguing. You can publish two versions, or give the different copies to a handful of beta-readers to see which one they prefer. Reader feedback is some of the most valuable input you’ll receive during the writing process.
4) Be consistent
Consistency can be even more crucial in erotica than in other genres because your audience may be less forgiving. You’ve gotten them riled up and turned on, so if your consistency dips and you don’t end each moment with as much heat as you started you’ll be leaving your readers with literary blueballs.
I asked Robert Wood his thought on this idea:
“I think usually (USUALLY) with erotica, you’re working with vignettes. Short scenes that may be part of a larger story, but can survive on their own. Even longer erotic stories like Vox or Fifty Shades of Grey tend to be broken up into ‘scenes’, because that’s how our erotic imaginations work – those scenes get called back to re-experience. Because of that, it’s the erotic author’s job to set up those vignettes – that’s where you can’t falter. Tell us who these people are, set the scene, make that moment resonant and immediate, and you’ve done a good job. A lot of erotica is quietly episodic in this way, and appreciating that is part of writing it well. Falter in the middle of an episode, in the ‘build up’, and yeah, you’re going to frustrate the reader. Falter between episodes, in the period that’s a natural ‘lull’, and I think the reader is prepared to be a lot more forgiving.”
Fun Observation: I have taken notice lately that novels are being referred to more as “written porn” and while I think it has a nice ring to it, I know that others shy away from using that word as they like to have a clear distinction between porn and erotica. I asked Robert Wood what he thought about it:
“The language around erotic art tends to suggest that in ‘erotica’ you have a hint of explicit content, and in ‘porn’ you have an excess of it. Since those are subjective judgements, we’re left debating quantity rather than quality; what’s the extent of the sexual content, rather than what’s the nature of that content – what are the parameters of ‘good’ or moral porn? I think that’s an important discussion, and treating ‘erotica’ and ‘porn’ as mutually exclusive isn’t going to get us there. So in some ways, I’m glad to see erotica described as porn. I can, at least, see that as a pathway to more helpful language. If one person is reading porn and one person is watching porn, we can start talking about how those works might be understood on a shared spectrum, and hopefully improving one or both with that in mind.”
Alright guys, let’s end this with a bang (cheesy, I know…but I couldn’t stop myself.) Here’s a condensed version of the points listed above for you to quickly reference when you’re writing your erotic works:
1. Define and utilize your kink
2. Heavy on the emotions
3. Easy on the euphemisms
4. Consistency is key (no readers blueballs)
Massive shout out to both Robert Wood (check him and Standoutbooks out here and here) and Elissa Wald who gave me the opportunity to pick their brains to give you guys a credible post. These guys are pros and you can definitely learn a thing or two from them.
Happy writing! Have fun with it – if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line in the comments and I’d be happy to share some of my steamy input.