The Do's And Dont's Of Writing Erotic Fiction

18 comments

Sex is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s vitally important to nearly all of us. It’s a driving force in our daily lives (even when we’re celibate), and its mysteries are infinite. So it bewilders me that — as a rule — erotica is seldom taken seriously, either by writers or readers. Intelligent, well-written erotica is a rare, rare thing (and I’ve been looking for it all of my life).

I believe that in order to write well about sex, we have to resist the version of sexuality that’s brandished at us every day by the advertising and fashion industry: most especially the idea that we can only be aroused by superficiality and perfection. How can we make sex — on the page as well as in life — less a performance and more a source of communion? How can we go deeper?

The following are some of my own tips for writing erotic fiction:


1. Respect The Genre. Respect The Reader

Bring the same attention and regard to writing about sex as you would to anything else you’d write. Assume the reader wants — and is capable of appreciating — something beyond a jerk-off vehicle. 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.

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.

2. Spare The Rod

The throbbing rod, that is, and all other coy euphemisms for body parts. Please don’t tell me about our hero’s member, or manhood, or hard hot tool or battering ram. Likewise, don’t refer to our heroine’s mound or tunnel or the center of her womanhood.

3. Dispense With Cliches 

Don’t say that he pounded her like a jackhammer, or that she lay back, spent. Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Make me think about something that wouldn’t occur to me otherwise.

4. Less Is More

Stay away from blow-by-blow descriptions of sex acts. The mechanics aren’t what’s intriguing. The emotional dynamics between people are intriguing.

5. Keep It Real

Two flawlessly beautiful people having ecstatic sex is just about the least interesting thing I can think of. The key to any fictional scene is tension and conflict. It’s okay for characters to feel awkward or angry or afraid within a sex scene. It’s all right for a man to be short or to wear glasses (meet Laura Antoniou’s Chris Parker), fine for a woman to have a flat chest or ample proportions. We are drawn to each other’s darkness, strangeness, sadness, and vulnerability.

6. Draw On All Five Senses When You Write A Sex Scene

The curve of a hip. The scent of leather. The taste of boot polish. The sound of rain on the roof. The texture of the grass in a secluded field. A compelling fantasy demands a certain immediacy. Put the reader where your characters are. 

7. Hone Your Dialogue

...and expect it to carry the scene. Again, the old in-out is not compelling in itself. What is the fantasy these lovers are enacting? What is the power dynamic between them? What secrets, longings, grudges, insecurities, memories are in play here?

8. Bring The Reader Into Another World

We read to be transported, and there’s no reason erotic writing shouldn’t demand the same original vision and creativity as any other genre. Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace and the Chateau of Roissy are richly imagined alternate realms with their own rules and rituals and hierarchies.

9. Avoid The Overwrought

I believe that the more extreme the scene, the more restrained the language should be. Both The Story of O and Nine and a Half Weeks bring a straightforward, understated narrative style to an outlandish tale and — I believe — take on potency and credibility for having done so.

10. Write Your Own Fantasy. Make It Authentic

If I’m working on a sex scene and I’m not turned on, I know it probably isn’t very effective. If you’re not hot and bothered while writing, chances are good that ultimately the reader won’t be either. Conversely, if you can bring yourself to write what genuinely excites you, no matter how strange or mortifying, readers are usually affected in turn. You can’t fake this. And you can’t play it safe. You have to be brave. 


These are the rules that I try to follow myself, and of course, they reflect only my own aspirations. If your goal is to write the next Fifty Shades Of Grey, then this isn’t the list to consult. But if you believe, as I do, that nothing is hotter than authenticity, discipline, inventiveness and depth, then I hope it will offer you something you can use.

Image of The Secret Lives of Married Women (Hard Case Crime)
Author: Elissa Wald
Price: $9.93
Publisher: Hard Case Crime (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 256 pages
Elissa Wald

Column by Elissa Wald

Elissa Wald is the author of MEETING THE MASTER and HOLDING FIRE. Her work has also been published in multiple journals and anthologies, including Beacon Best of 2001, Creative Nonfiction, The Barcelona Review, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Nerve: Literate Smut, The Ex-Files: New Stories about Old Flames, and Brain, Child Magazine. Elissa's new book THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN is out now.

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Comments

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 9, 2013 - 12:09pm

right on. great stuff. especially #6. great article.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson October 9, 2013 - 12:40pm

This applies to writing sex in any genre.

Belana's picture
Belana October 9, 2013 - 2:40pm

I write erotic short stories.  Gratefully, I have already taken into consideration, many if not all your suggestions!  I draw on my many years of being sexually active, as I am currently in my 5th year of forced celibacy!

Good article,

Thank you,

Shelley

sdayman@cfl.rr.com

Jeremy Edwards's picture
Jeremy Edwards October 10, 2013 - 6:50am

This is an excellent set of tips, and it's wonderful to see someone representing the high-standards approach to erotic literature in a mainstream venue. I humbly suggest, however, that it does a disservice to an important and expansive body of work to describe "intelligent, well-written erotica" with not one but two "rares" (and to state that "as a rule" the genre is "seldom taken seriously" even by its own practitioners)—after a couple of decades of erotica curation by editors such as Maxim Jakubowski, Susie Bright, Marcy Sheiner, Violet Blue, Alison Tyler, and Rachel Kramer Bussel, who have produced hundreds of collections that I think, whatever one's tastes, merit respect for the quality and the artistically serious intent of their contents. [Discl.: My work has been published by some of these editors.]

I'm well aware that in mainstream literary circles, the proverbial wisdom says that erotica is virtually always junk (above and beyond the manifestation of Sturgeon's Law). This is precisely why it bothers me to see the assumption reinforced at a site like LitReactor, by a top-notch author whose presence here ought to shed light on the robust, continuing tradition of credible contemporary erotic literature that she represents—or at least not serve to deny its existence.

Respectfully,
Jeremy

Dean Blake's picture
Dean Blake from Australia is reading generationend.com October 31, 2013 - 8:20pm

I've got to stop writing the word "rod".

Libby Smith's picture
Libby Smith September 7, 2014 - 10:30pm

very wseful thank you 

\

Ben Spencer's picture
Ben Spencer November 9, 2014 - 6:25pm

You say "spare the rod" and I agree, but--depending on the context--"vagina" seems too clinical, the c-word too crass.  What's a good go-to word for a woman's genitals?

Curious Mikki's picture
Curious Mikki June 1, 2015 - 10:54pm

Well written but I think you missed one important point.

Know your reader, above all I think this is one of the most important things; for example you say don't focus on the blow by blow - emotion is more important; not to all readers. You say focus on the dialogue, sometimes actions speakmlouder than words, so much so that a mute charactee might bring an interesting twist. Maybe if we simply alter dialogue to communication then we would be on the same page, sometimes communication is about motion, action as well as visual communication including body language. 

Finally and most important of all beautiful people have sex to, they really do, I know a few but more importantly beauty is different to each and every one of us.

All in all I agree with a decent amount of your advice but I think a reasonable addendum might be: in my opinion.

Holly Sinclair's picture
Holly Sinclair November 25, 2015 - 3:16pm

Just what I needed! Great tips. Thank you!

Frettchen's picture
Frettchen July 27, 2016 - 11:38pm

I doubt anyone else would derive any interest from reading my youthful few years keeping lonely mature ladies company.

I delivered the newspaper quite early am which brought me into contact with "Aunt" Mabel who initially gave me cocoa in the winter and lemonade in the summer.

My "lovely" complexion and slight figure were the assets which Mabel marketed until I was almost 18. I enjoyed every minute and I kept all the hundreds of secrets.

I would like to write some of the exploits and how I felt.

Would there be ANY interest in such a theme ?

Andreea Freedom's picture
Andreea Freedom January 17, 2017 - 9:58am

Love this article and love your take on how to write erotica :D thanks for the tips!!!

lily32749's picture
lily32749 July 30, 2017 - 9:52pm

Great article!

lily32749's picture
lily32749 July 30, 2017 - 9:54pm

Yes, i would be inteested  in your secrets!

B.B.Blondie's picture
B.B.Blondie from California is reading I read to my kids right now. November 21, 2017 - 11:11pm

Thank you for the information, you answered a few of my questions.

TEvans5's picture
TEvans5 November 26, 2017 - 8:39am

I just want to add one thing because it's been so, so important to me. I've read tons of writing advice, and all of your echoes countless others and is, of course, correct and wonderful. But, and this was so revolutionary to me, you don't have to get it all on the first draft!

So maybe "rod" is just what comes to mind when you write. Hey, you are fine with the word. So, for the first draft, just go with it. Write hundreds of rods. But before you post it somewhere, read through again and see if maybe there's a better word, or if you can vary your vocabulary a bit.

As you say, conflict is the engine of fiction in general, not just erotica. But if you're like me, you've read this, and then you've sat there staring at a blank page for an hour before giving up, trying to come up with a conflict. I'm sure others' lives are different, but for me, well, I'm in a happy relationship. My boyfriend and I typically have sex when we're both in a good mood and feeling especially loving towards each other. And the sex is great! but it don't make for good fiction. Nor does it make it very easy to dream up conflict when you're starting a first draft. So, write the damn thing. Maybe there won't be conflict in there, but there's bound to be the seeds of it. Or, maybe now that you're not faced with coming up with every little detail of the story, injecting some conflict won't feel like such a Herculean task.

Same goes for using the five senses. You're right, sensory detail adds reality to a story. But the last thing we need is to stop in the heat of drafting and think "Oh shit, I've only been focusing on the visual. What can I add for the other four senses?" And you've lost your momentum. Better to go back later and flesh out descriptions that are a little one-sensed.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't writers who can juggle all this stuff in your head during the first draft. I'm sure there are many. But I'm not one of them. My writing habits died off because I was constantly judging my shitty first drafts and not being deliberate with the revision process. I'm feeling so much better now that I know that all this wonderful advice can just as easily be followed on the second draft or the third. 

theexistance's picture
theexistance November 28, 2017 - 1:42pm

Who is Rod?

feet finder's picture
feet finder December 1, 2017 - 7:08pm

new to this site. your post is accurate for my approval anyway. I'm gathering interest my minds a bit wide ranged.
I'm looking for some say guidance for writing and never really thought of what readers look for or if it is a worth while doing and if it's worth putting on the net as a private site as I am very lonely living and is there a market anyone can say they find the story,fantasies the best to read for ideas ...

feet finder's picture
feet finder December 1, 2017 - 7:08pm

new to this site. your post is accurate for my approval anyway. I'm gathering interest my minds a bit wide ranged.
I'm looking for some say guidance for writing and never really thought of what readers look for or if it is a worth while doing and if it's worth putting on the net as a private site as I am very lonely living and is there a market anyone can say they find the story,fantasies the best to read for ideas ...