Monthly Archives: January 2015
I’m guessing no one reading this blog has any doubt whatsoever why I’ve been writing a lot about billionaires the past two weeks. I’ve written a billionaire post for the Brit Babes blog and for my own and, since the Big B is a timely subject right now, I thought that for my monthly ERWA post, I would try to summarise why I think billionaire romance is so appealing.
The billionaire romance is loved and loathed far and wide. Though it’s always been a huge part of the romance cannon, it burst onto center stage in all its glitz and glam with Fifty Shades of Grey, and since 50SoG, the number of novels, novellas and stories available with the word ‘billionaire’ in the title is boggling.
It’s safe to expect the number of billionaire novels to skyrocket yet again with the Fifty Shades of Grey film due out on Valentine’s Day. That being the case, I found myself wondering the other day while I was doing the ironing just what it is about billionaires that we find so appealing.
OK, I suppose that sounds like a stupid question. People are always curious about how the other half (or in this case less than 1%) live. That’s only natural. And who hasn’t fantasized about how their lives would be different if they won the lottery or a long lost relative died and left them with a fortune? So here are just a few of the reasons I think billionaire romances appeal to readers so much.
THE MYTHOLOGY: BILLIONAIRES AS GODS:
In the secular modern world where the belief in magic, monsters, demons and gods is pretty much reserved for us paranormal fans, I would like to suggest that the realm of the billionaire romance is mythology and magic for contemporary romance readers.
As with the gods of mythology, the rules don’t apply to billionaires. Wealth and power allow billionaires to do the seemingly impossible, wining and dining the objects of their lust and sweeping them away to the proverbial Mount Olympus in their helicopter or private jet. Zeus seduced Leda in the form of a swan. Eros rescued the bound Psyche and swept her away to his glorious palace to live in incredible splendor. All sorts of magic and miracles can be performed with wealth and power, and who better to perform such feats than a sexy, brooding billionaire?
The general theme in billionaire stories is that the billionaire, like the gods of old, becomes obsessed by a mere mortal, an ordinary person living an ordinary life. The billionaire then sets about seducing the object of his or her obsession with whatever magic or miracle money and power can buy. In billionaire romances, the billionaire is no more willing to take ‘no’ for an answer than Zeus himself was.
THE PARANORMAL BILLIONAIRE
I would like to suggest that the reverse is also true. Money and power are the billionaire’s equivalent to fangs, claws and magic. Our love of vampires, werewolves, angels and demons and all things paranormal is just a different twist on the billionaire romance. With fangs and claws and magic, the rules no longer apply, and when the rules no longer apply, the situation changes drastically.
THE RULES DON’T APPLY
If money is no issue, then the rules that apply to most of us can be bent and broken. And who doesn’t fantasize from time to time about being able to break the rules without consequence? While money may not be able to buy love, it can certainly buy sexual satisfaction in more than fifty shades and way more colours than gray. There’s something very edgy and exciting about the idea of buying sexual control over another person. It’s a Dom/sub relationship based on wealth. When we live in an age when money is power and money is control, it’s not surprising that money is also very sexy. Neither is it surprising that many of our fantasies involve ‘being bought’ in some way.
Billionaires don’t have the financial constraints the rest of us constantly live with. If a billionaire can buy it, he or she can have it. Helicopters, jets, palatial mansions in south France, yachts the size of the QE2, a private island in the Med — all just an afternoon’s shopping spree. There’s something very appealing about the freedom that money buys, which leads me to my next point.
LIVING THE LIFE
The typical billionaire story involves a billionaire loving or at least lusting for someone who is very average. Again
the connection between the contemporary billionaire romance and the myths of gods seducing mortals is strong. And while we read that story, we fantasize ourselves right into that role. We become the character who is wined and dined, whisked away in the private jet and shopped for by a very exclusive personal shopper. In essence, we get one helluva makeover, readying us to walk in the rarified air of the billionaire’s world. It’s the luxury and adventure of our fantasies along with the hot nasty steamy sex of said fantasies.
In billionaire novels the polished, airbrushed look of wealth is associated with the look or our dream guy or girl. We want our billionaires to conform to our personal fantasies of what sexy and rich look like, and it’s amazing, though not surprising, how often the two go hand in hand. If we’re going to have a fantasy man, he might as well look good AND be rich. And of course, he will lust obsessively after US! It’s gods and mortals getting nasty all over again.
Perhaps one of the big differences between the gods and mortals and the billionaires analogy is that our billionaire must suffer. No silver spoons in these stories. Our billionaires must have suffered tragedy and loss, been raised by crack whores, lost a loved one, had an abusive childhood, secretly suffer from self-doubt, self-loathing, horrible nightmares, think themselves unworthy of love. In the eyes of readers, there has to be a cost for wealth. Most of us can’t really imagine what it’s like to have that much money and power. If we’re being honest, we resent the hell out of people we feel have it but don’t deserve it. We find it gratifying to know that, yes, the wealthy really do put their pants on the same way the rest of us do, and they don’t get off without suffering. We need to see that suffering to make that love connection.
SALVATION IS AT HAND
Enter the love interest, just your ordinary girl/guy (insert your own name here) whose soul purpose in the story, as in all love stories, is to rescue the hero from himself, lift him above his self-doubts and heal him. The heroine’s job is to aid the wounded hero, even if he’s a surly billionaire, in becoming a better person, and lead him/her to a shared HEA. There’s something very satisfying about a billionaire who has everything, but is totally lost and impoverished until the love of his life saves him and brings him true love.
BALANCE OF POWER
It’s essential to the story that the love interest has something to offer to the billionaire that he needs, craves, can’t buy with his money. No one really wants to read a story about two perfect billionaires falling in love with each other in their perfect billionaire world. I’m convinced the billionaire story works because if offers the non-billionaire reader a balance of power. There’s something outrageously satisfying about an ordinary person having exactly what a billionaire needs, but can’t buy, what a billionaire is willing to give up all his/her wealth to have. The HEA in a billionaire story is the balance of power that happens when the billionaire and the ordinary heroine come to a state of equilibrium that allows love. Because the contrast in the beginning is so great, the achievement of this
balance of power can be spectacular to watch. And the HEA can be very satisfying because of that contrast.
In mythology, I’ve always been particularly fond of the stories in which the mortals, one way or another, infiltrate the realm of the gods. These days the distance between the very wealthy and the average person seems as great as the distance between the shepherd in his field and the heights of Mount Olympus. Divinity and magical powers are replaced with all things money can buy, which is a helluva lot if you have enough of it.
The billionaire romance affords the reader a visit to heaven, or to Mount Olympus or to paradise – chose one. We are transported to a place, which we can only otherwise go in our fantasies. We go to the penthouse and the palatial mansion right along with the billionaire’s lover. We become the billionaire’s lover – his Psyche, his Leda, his Persephone, his Anastasia Steele, and we visit the realm of the gods – a place where we don’t belong, but we want to. So, along with the heroine of the story, we have to find a way to stay there in paradise with our billionaire.
The moral of the story may well be that billionaires need love too, but I think it’s more likely that the moral of the story is the gods are alive and well and living in their penthouse apartments. Just ask Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
by Jean Roberta
[NOTE: This blog was supposed to go live on January 26, but too much multi-tasking caused me to miss my turn. Please excuse me for posting late.]
Those of you who read this blog are probably aware that a writer’s mind is a busy place, somewhat like Hyde Park Corner in London, England, where random strangers can show up and argue with each other. (That’s the only real-world location I know of that is designated for such activity.)
Apparently there is a stampede among writers to self-publish and sell the work on social media, including the various Amazon sites. Even non-writer friends have advised me to do this and thereby make lots of money. Hence the following internal argument.
Inner Cheerleader: Jean, you don’t have to limit yourself to working with established publishing companies. They just want to make money by selling your work.
Jean: Yes, just as the university that employs me just wants to recruit fee-paying students to sit in my classes. Everyone has a financial motive, even charity organizations. They “just” need to make a profit so they can spend it on good causes.
You sound like various bystanders who have reminded me that I don’t have to limit myself to: 1) writing about sex, 2) writing about women, 3) writing about lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or trans folks, 4) writing about Canadians (or about Canadian settings), etc. (Sarcastically) Why don’t I expand my range by writing stories about White Anglo-Saxon male American billionaires who fall in love with younger, poorer women? Oh, that’s been done.
Inner Cheerleader: But you need to keep up with current trends. What sells? Why couldn’t you tap into the zeitgeist? You can’t depend on publishers to promote your work. They don’t do that any more. Your colleague knows a woman who claims she is planning to retire from teaching in a university because she can earn a living by writing about sex with Bigfoot. There’s a market for that.
Jean: I don’t understand the appeal. I don’t think I could write that stuff convincingly.
Inner Cheerleader: If sincerity is your thing, you could exploit it. Why don’t you post a series of articles about your experience in the sex trade?
Jean: That was in the early 1980s. I don’t want to become known as Ye Antique Harlot from Times of Yore. It’s bad enough that the local media sometimes contacts me when there is a change in the laws about prostitution – because they can’t find anyone currently making a living that way. I really don’t want to speak on behalf of marginalized people young enough to be my grandchildren, who are already silenced by legal threats and social stigma.
Inner Cheerleader: But people want to read about sex. You need to have more of a public image. Why don’t you have some sexy photos taken of yourself, and post them in every place that will accept them?
Jean: You seem to be forgetting my age. You have no solid evidence that thrusting my greyish-brown bush (surrounded by cellulite) or the thin skin of my cleavage in the face of the public at large would lead to sales of my writing.
Inner Cheerleader: Photoshop is your friend. And you could be mysterious about your age.
Jean: The birthdates of published writers appear in their books. It’s a way of establishing legal identity.
Inner Cheerleader: Well, why don’t you write a tell-all autobiography, focusing on sex?
Jean: That sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Besides, my actual life is less satisfying in several ways than the stories I make up, which I why I write fiction in the first place. Most people like a plot arc: character sets forth on a journey, encounters difficulties, dragons and orcs, but discovers inner resources, soldiers on, and reaches a place of resolution. That is not a summary of my life, or any actual life I know of. Metaphorically, a life journey can be like that, but we all live in the mundane world.
I like to discuss my life-experience indirectly, by writing: 1) fiction, and 2) non-fiction. Sometimes poetry, though that seems to attract few readers these days.
Inner Cheerleader: I give up. I tried to help you. Don’t blame me if you never become a successful writer.
Jean: Dear narrow-minded aspect of my psyche, your conception of “success” is not the one accepted by most of the scholars I know. Whether my words succeed in lasting longer than I do, only time will tell.
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
Print versus ebook? That’s the big question. According to Waterstones, ebook sales have plummeted while print book sales have soared. Then again, according to The Guardian, print book sales have declined as readers migrated to ebooks.
The Guardian described the dilemma in this fashion:
A review of 2014 from book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan shows that while the decline in sales of print books in the UK slowed last year, with value sales down 1.3% to £1.39bn, and volume sales down 1.9% to 180m, the performance for printed adult fiction was markedly worse. The adult fiction market was the worst-performing of all areas of the book business, down by 5.3% in 2014 to £321.3m, with volume sales down 7.8% to 50.7m. In 2009, printed adult fiction was worth £476.16m.
The decline is even greater when paperback fiction is removed from the picture: according to Nielsen, hardback adult fiction sales plummeted last year by 11.6% to £67.9m, with just three titles – by crime and thriller bestsellers Lee Child, CJ Sansom and Martina Cole – selling more than 100,000 copies.
“The ebook has quite demonstrably hit the commercial end of the fiction market,” said the Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones. “Almost any drop in adult fiction sales can mainly be put down to the migration to digital, which is obviously still continuing. We think consumer ebooks this year will be worth £350m, with most big publishers reporting ebook growth of double digits – and almost all of that will be in fiction.”
Which way is it? Are ebooks on their way out or are print books on the rise?
Articles like these have predicted the end of the ebook “trend” since digital formats became popular with the emergence of the Nook and especially the Kindle. That simply is not the case. Information Today reports that “The most recent AAP data, from December 2014, covers the first three quarters of 2014 and shows that revenue from 1,209 publishers was up 2.8%. “In terms of formats, ebooks were up, hardbacks were down, and paperbacks were up. Total ebook revenues increased by 5.6% over 2013 (to $1.2 billion from $1.13 billion),” The Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder notes.”
Deloitt’s 2015 Canadian Technology, Media, and Telecommunications predictions indicated that print book sales would climb four times higher than ebook sales. High end literary fiction such as Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” sell well in print. Children’s books also continue to do well in print.
Print books have their benefits as well:
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as holding a paperback or hard cover book in your hand if you’re a writer.
You can sign print books. Yes, you may sign ebooks with an ebook signature but it’s just not the same.
Having physical books for potential readers to handle and buy at conventions makes it easier to sell books than pushing ebooks on browsers in the same venues.
There is satisfaction in the feel of a print book. The tactile sensation of holding paper and the “new book smell” are very appealing.
Sadly, some do not consider ebooks “real” books. A physical print book may hold more psychological clout than a digital book.
It seems that people are not reading less. A contrasting report showed that readers are migrating from print books to ebooks. Ebooks are the wave of the future, and they have many benefits:
You can store hundreds of books on an ebook reader, which is great if you don’t have much room for numerous bookcases.
Readers of erotic fiction in particular are especially attracted to ebook readers because these ereaders give them privacy. They don’t have to worry about getting the raised eyebrow from onlookers who see a paperback with
scantily clad women and muscle-bound beefcakes on the covers. Ebook readers are lightweight and easy to use.
You can adjust the size of the font with an ebook reader. This especially benefits those with poor eyesight.
Some ebook readers light up, eliminating the need for a book light.
Ebook readers don’t crease or get coffee stains on the pages.
As before mentioned, erotic romances sell well in digital format. According to erotic writer Selena Kitt, sales of erotica alone have driven the rise of the ebook and ebook reader more than any other genre. Despite that fact, major retailers have cracked down on questionable titles including incest, pseudo incest, bestiality, and rape fantasy as well as the new trend monster porn (think Bigfoot or a T-Rex as the love interest, and you have this very strange subgenre.). Despite the pitfalls and fickle nature of some retailers, erotic fiction continues to be the top
seller of all the genres.
Despite many doomsday predictions, ebooks and ebook readers aren’t going away. Not by a long shot. Print books will always be popular, but ebooks are here to stay. It really doesn’t matter whether or not a person picks up a Kindle or a paperback. As long as they read, book retailers, publishers, and writers will be happy.
by Kathleen Bradean
For the past two years, my family’s drama has been building to a bad ending. A real life bad ending. In a book, it would be a great ending, somewhere between a trashy Dynasty catfight and the bleakness of Fargo, a train wreck that Dominick Dunne would have appreciated.
The friends that have followed the play-by-play of this drama have asked if I’d ever consider writing a screenplay or a book about it. It’s no fun to live through, so stepping back to look at it as a writer gives me some much needed distance. Looking at this sprawling mess from that distance, I can see the strengths and weaknesses of it as a piece of entertainment. (And believe me, from a gallows sense of humor perspective, some of us in this family find whats going on both grimly amusing and horrifying in equal measures.)
It’s amazing how a seemingly normal family can be torn apart when they’ve been nurturing a Cuckoo egg in the nest. (Some cuckoo birds are brood parasites which lay their eggs in the nests of different species. When the eggs hatch, the larger cuckoo hatchling pushes the other chicks out of the nest or crowds them out to get all the food, often exhausting the unwitting foster parent birds with it’s constant demands for more as the step-siblings that didn’t get shoved out starve to death.) Any reader with siblings could relate to this warning tale, and elderly parents could learn a thing or two about defending themselves from predatory children. So this story would work as fictionalized true crime or as non-fiction.
But writer me also sees the structural flaws in this story as a story.
1) It sprawls over many years as the build-up to the denouement. That could be condensed, or the writer could opt for a James Michener (does anyone remember his work now?) length tome.
2) there are so many fascinating side stories that could be woven in, but they might hopelessly muddy the narrative. Which of these stories would the writer chose to write? The alleged financial crimes against the sister? The alleged elder abuse and alleged financial shenanigans committed against the mother? Any of the many other alleged scams and frauds now coming to light? How do you pick? How do you narrow down the focus while preserving the wide scope? And which trial would be the dramatic highlight?
3) there’s more than one villain. One is so over the top as to be almost unbelievable to the reader. Seriously. After a while, a reader would say “Come on. in real life, no one would do that.” We often find ourselves saying to the latest events “Really? Really? Un-fucking-believable.”
All this musing has been a good thought exercise on storytelling. While side stories and just one more example of heroism or villainy might seem to drive home the point, we have to keep our narratives focused and tightly written. I’ve often said that writing a novel is like hiking through a forest. Many writers begin their work knowing the starting point of the tale and where it’s supposed to end up, but picking the path between those two points is often a mystery that unfolds as the writer writes. Finding that right path is as much art as it is craft. The tale should not wander off the path to pick pretty flowers. Nor should it take the scenic route. It’s okay to tell complicated stories, but those demand the most focus in the narrative,
I hope some day to be able to report a happy ending to our family drama. Life doesn’t usually give us closure though. I think that’s why people crave stories. They have a decisive end.
I don’t talk about personal stuff online, really, so I’m sorry for being vague when I say the second half of 2014 was really tough for me. On a positive note, I got through it and came out the other side, and now, the only way is up.
But, the crappy few months had a knock on effect. I managed (somehow!) to keep on top of all my client work, my editing, etc, but my writing output went waaaaay down. My time was less, and because of all the stress and worry, my inclination wasn’t there, either. So, when I did my round up post for 2014 on my own website, where I tot up my achievements, publications, etc, my total word count for the year compared to 2013 was much lower.
I’d expected it, of course. Yes, I was disappointed, but I certainly didn’t beat myself up. How could I? I had a damn good reason for not writing as much. Plus, somehow, I actually ended up with more publications in 2014 than 2013! (32 vs 30, if you’re interested). I also bagged my very first writing award – a Golden Ankh for my erotic short story, A Taste of Rome.
So, while 2014 wasn’t a complete loss, it could have been better. And I intend to make sure 2015 is lots, lots better. And how am I going to do that?
Yep, that’s pretty much the plan! I can’t change what happened, and I can’t get that lost word count back, but I can do my best to make it up for it this year. I’ve already had one book release, and another three will be hot on its heels, with others lining up as things fall into place with my writing and my various publishers.
So, look out for what will hopefully be a very productive writing year from me! And, as the title of my post says… Keep On Keeping On!
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100
publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several
editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic
Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and
co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house.
She owns Erotica For All, is book
editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth
of The Brit Babes. Find out more
Join her on Facebook
and Twitter, and subscribe to her
newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9
By Lisabet Sarai
I realized that I hadn’t written a craft-oriented post for the ERWA blog in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that today. My topic: making your sentences work to accomplish both your narrative and emotional goals.
When I teach writing classes, I begin by stating that, in English, the sentence is the basic unit of meaning. A (simple) sentence consists of a subject and a predicate. The former identifies what we are talking about, while the latter expresses what we want to say about the subject. A subject may be a noun (“spanking”), a pronoun (“she”), a simple noun phrase (“the riding crop”) or a noun phrase with modifying clauses (“the riding crop that dangled casually from her belt”) A predicate may specify an action (“heated his butt”), a relationship (“was his first Mistress”), or a state of being (“was obviously new”). Both subject and predicate are required in order to have a complete idea. The subject “spanking” may conjure a variety of theories regarding the point to be made, but we really don’t know what the author intends without the predicate.
Compound sentences combine two (or sometimes more) simple sentences using conjunctions or adverbs that specify a logical relationship between their components. English provides a wide variety of relationships including coordination (“and”), opposition (“but”, “although”), sequence (“before”, “during”, “after”), and causality (“because”, “if”). A compound sentence expresses a meta-idea that includes not only the individual concepts captured in the component simple sentences but also the relationship determined by the connector. Change the connecting words and you totally change the meaning.
Peter fantasized about spanking but he had never been to a BDSM club.
Peter fantasized about spanking because he had never been to a BDSM club.
Sentences – naive and experienced
We authors use sentences for both telling a story and for evoking specific emotional responses in our readers. When I wrote my first novel, Raw Silk, I was thinking mostly about the first goal, not the second. Certainly, I was trying to evoke various moods, but I didn’t consciously manipulate the structure of my sentences with that in mind. As a result, all my sentences tended to be fairly long and complex, regardless of what was going on in the story.
Paragraph from Chapter One:
Kate extricated herself from the car’s comfortable embrace. The house was small, almost a cottage, but had two stories, and was surrounded by lush gardens. A huge tree with gnarled, contorted limbs stood before the building, bearing drooping masses of vines and creepers. She breathed deep, savouring the sweetness of flowers she could not name. The humid air caressed the bare skin on her arms. She heard the chittering of insects, and softly, the music of flowing water. There must be a pool or fountain, she thought, smiling to herself. She noted a balcony on the second floor, overlooking the garden.
Paragraph from Chapter Four:
Somtow rocked his pelvis in time with her strokes, but otherwise remained still. He watched her as she rode him, harder now, grinding herself down on him, finding exactly the right position, the right angle, for her own satisfaction. Now he reached up and caressed her breasts gently, trapping the nipples between his first and second finger. Katherine responded by pinching his nipples, hard. His back arched, pushing his cock deeper into her.
Paragraph from Chapter Nine
The rubber felt foreign, solid and unyielding, no respite, no escape. Noi hammered into her, then pulled out slowly, so that Kate could feel each of the ridges as it caught and then released the edges of her hole. The huge dildo stretched her deliciously, but she wanted more. She pushed her hips back toward the woman fucking her, begging for deeper penetration, harder strokes.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with these sentences, but they have a sameness, a similar rhythm and style even though they play very different roles in the story. In the sex scenes, the length and complexity of the sentences have the effect of distancing the reader from the action.
In the fifteen years since I wrote this book, I’ve learned to use shorter sentences, even fragments, in sex scenes, to evoke a sense of urgency and breathlessness.
Here’s a bit from my latest novel The Ingredients of Bliss:
The sting dwindled when he nuzzled the sensitive spot just below my ear. As I’m sure he expected, my clit twitched in response. I arched up, trying to grind my pelvis against his bum. He raised himself to a half-kneel, breaking the contact between our skin, while still holding me more or less immobilized. His cock was now fully engorged. Barely a foot from my hungry mouth, it wept pre-cum onto my chest. I whimpered and struggled against his inexorable grip. I really didn’t want to talk anymore. I just wanted him to fuck me. Again.
Notice the difference? I’ve deliberately chosen shorter sentences and more concrete nouns. The paragraph feels more immediate and intense than anything in my first novel.
The style in the passage above isn’t necessarily typical of all the prose in the book. Here’s a bit of description:
Buildings of brick, stone and stucco made the street into a shadowy canyon. Overhead there were decorative cornices and wrought iron balconies, remnants of another, more prosperous time, but at the ground level, most had roll down metal shutters, locked tight. Neon-hued graffiti decorated the blank steel panels. Fast food wrappers and crumpled newspaper stirred in the gutters. The temperature had remained balmy but fog had crept in from the harbor, bringing the smell of rotting kelp and giving halos to the scattered street lights.
As I’ve become more aware of my sentence structure, I believe that my writing has improved. I have more control over the reactions I’m trying to elicit from my readers.
Tips for more effective sentences
I called this a craft article, so I suppose I should try to distill my own strategies into a set of recommendations that might help other authors. So here goes!
Comprehensibility comes first. Before starting to play around with sentence structure in order to achieve particular effects, be sure that the literal meaning is clear and easy to grasp.
Avoid using complex noun phrases as sentence subjects since they burden the reader’s memory. Here’s a sentence from a story I recently edited for another author.
But what had been a nice little itch to scratch in private had bloomed within me and grown as uncontrollable as my hair.
This sentence is completely grammatical, but struck me as awkward and confusing because of the long subject – especially since that subject begins with a pronoun.
I suggested revising it as follows:
But the little itch I’d scratched in private had bloomed and grown as uncontrollable as my hair.
Multiple pronoun references in a single sentence that refer to different individuals can reduce clarity. Words that can act as both nouns and verbs (e.g. “present”, “market”) sometimes cause problems. Finally, cognitive research has shown that long sentences are more difficult to comprehend, regardless of their structure. I am not suggesting that authors “dumb down” their prose, but complexity must be weighed against comprehensibility.
I’m sure the average length of my sentences has declined as I’ve gained in skill, even as the variation in length has increased.
Match the pace of your prose to the pace of the narrative. I’ve already addressed this issue above. Brief, concrete, punchy sentences work well for action scenes (including many sex scenes). Longer, more intricately structured sentences are more appropriate for description and thematic explication. Also, you may want to use more complex sentences for flashbacks than for live action. Recollection does not generally have the same intensity as experience, unless the character is lost in fantasy.
Use sentence fragments with discretion. A sentence fragment is a bare subject or bare predicate, or else part of a complex sentence – a dependent clause without the corresponding independent clause that controls it. Without context, a fragment does not express a full idea, and strictly speaking, fragments are not grammatically correct. However, a partial sentence can be highly effective in the right circumstances, particularly inner dialogue.
Sympathy welled up inside me. I pushed it aside. I had to be strong. Stern. Maybe even cruel.
In their ice-blue depths I saw a flicker of something—something that both warmed me inside and turned up the volume on my arousal. Gratitude, maybe? Or complicity?
If you’re deliberately using sentence fragments, don’t let some over-zealous editor cite rigid grammar rules to red-pencil them out of existence. At the same time, be aware that overusing fragments can render your prose much harder to understand.
Avoid joining clauses with “and” unless they are logically equivalent and have strong semantic links. Compound sentences are powerful tools for expressing subtle connections between concepts. However, the “coordination” relationship, using “and”, is the weakest way to join two ideas.
Authors often use “and” when they are actually trying to convey temporal sequence:
She landed another stinging slap on my bare ass and I cried out in agony.
This sentence might be more effective if the clauses were split apart:
She landed another stinging slap on my bare ass. I cried out in agony.
Alternatively, you can make the temporal relationship more explicit:
When she landed another stinging slap on my bare ass, I cried out in agony.
Reserve “and” for cases where there’s a strong connection between concepts expressed in the joined clauses:
He’s my beloved Master and I’m his devoted slave.
Vary your sentence structure and length within a paragraph. A paragraph in which every sentence has a similar structure quickly becomes boring. Erotic books are full of passages like the following:
Now he sipped at my mouth rather than swallowing me whole. He feathered his tongue over my lips, coaxing me to let him enter. He breathed into me, warm and sweet, gentle as drifting clouds on a spring day. He held me close, so close I could feel the heartbeat under his sweat-damp shirt, and bathed me in his devotion.
Every sentence in this brief paragraph has “he” as the subject. I revised the passage as follows:
Now he sipped at my mouth rather than swallowing me whole. His tongue feathered over my lips, coaxing me to let him enter. He breathed into me, warm and sweet, gentle as drifting clouds on a spring day. Holding me close, so close I could feel the heartbeat under his sweat-damp shirt, he bathed me in his devotion.
Now the sentences have a more varied structure. One technique for achieving this variety is to use modifying phrases (like “holding me close”) to introduce some of the sentences. Another technique I’ve employed here is to use what some editors would label as an “Independent Body Part” (IBP), using “his tongue” rather than “he” as the subject in the second sentence. Like any other construction, IBPs can be over-used, but in fact they are an example of a type of figurative language called synecdoche , which involves using a part of something to represent the whole, or vice versa.
(Check out my blog post here for more about IBP.)
An exercise in wrangling sentences. Just for fun, I decided to take one of the passages from Raw Silk I quoted at the start of this post, and revise it according to some of the recommendations above. Here’s the result:
The rubber felt foreign, solid and unyielding. No respite. No escape. Noi hammered into her, again and again. With each invasion, the ridges on the obscene toy caught then released the edges of Kate’s hole. The huge dildo stretched her to the limit, but Kate wanted more. Shameless, she arched back toward the woman fucking her, begging for what she craved. Deeper penetration. Harder strokes.
This still isn’t great literature, but are the sentences more effective? Is the tone more urgent, more involving? I’d argue that it is.
The structure of your sentences impacts the effectiveness of your prose. Work to create sentences that are easy to understand, that match the pace and tone of the narrative, and that use devices like fragments and figurative language to add variety and spice. Be deliberate in your choices. You have more control than you may have realized.
It’s that time again – time to heat up the Internet with your hottest erotic prose. Today’s the 19th of January, which means it’s Sexy Snippets Day!
The ERWA blog is not primarily
intended for author promotion. However, we’ve decided we should give
our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so
to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.
On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day’s post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link, if you’d like.
Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It’s an open invitation!
follow the rules. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or
includes more than one link, I’ll remove your comment and prohibit
you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I’ll say no more!
you’ve posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole
to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang
By Donna George Storey
I finally read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve avoided doing so for years. The youngest of three daughters, once I figured out I didn’t have to do everything my older sisters did, I’ve been fairly stubborn about following my own path. Just because everyone else was reading the book, for pleasure or market research, didn’t mean I had to. The disappointed, and often scathing, reviews by people I respected certainly supported my boycott. And I knew enough about popular literature to roll my eyes when someone insisted I had to write my own trilogy that was “better” to show the world what really good erotica was and thus earn myself more money and glory than E.L. James could ever imagine.
Then, this past Christmas, someone close to me bought me a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. As a gag gift. Ha, ha, ha, I laughed. But as I stared down at that glossy gray tie on the cover, affixed with a label that the book was “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture,” I decided that this was a sign from the universe that I must judge this publishing phenomenon firsthand.
So, what do I think?
I can see why so many readers find the story appealing. And, while it’s not the greatest book I’ve ever read, I’m finding it raises interesting questions for me about writing, and is even, at times, a compelling story.
Granted I came into the experience with rock-bottom expectations. But I understand why a classic story of a rich, handsome man discovering that an unassuming young woman is the one person on earth who can truly touch him would find a wide audience.
Mind you, all the criticisms of the book are true. The characters are unbelievable. The plot is uneven. The endless repetitions of lip biting, eye rolling, and capering inner goddesses are seriously annoying. The real endurance test for me is the overuse of “mutter” and “bemused.” Holy crap, what’s wrong with the beautifully invisible “said”? And could you dig a little deeper for some other reaction from your characters? My writing group would have had a field day with the prose and likely would have had poor Ms. James in tears.
I have no doubt the book gives an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM, an area in which I have no expertise. Any of the things I do know about—majors at Princeton, for example—are equally inaccurate. Then again, I can’t tell you how many times people told me they “learned a lot about Japan” from Arthur Golden’s equally fantastic Memoirs of a Geisha. Talk about enduring pain.
I know that there are many, many erotic books that are better written in every way and are far more authentic representations of the BDSM world. But for better or worse, E.L. James wrote the first erotic blockbuster. Try as we all do to learn the dark secret of its success, I’m not sure anyone really knows why. If we did, the publishing industry could seamlessly move from one mega-bestseller to the next, yet the next phenomenon always takes us by surprise.
Above all, reading this book underscored a lesson I’ve been learning since I began to seek publication. An individual editor may insist that every word be chosen with the care of Flaubert, but The Market doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the “quality” of your prose. It wants a story that grabs readers’ hearts. Fifty Shades got the romance audience with its Twilight sensibility spiced with explicit sex scenes. It roped in the not insignificant group of readers who thought they might be getting a glimpse into an unprecedented world of forbidden sexual delight and decadence. A lot of the scathing reviews judged an unpretentious romance as literature, an erotic fantasy as some earth-shattering sexual breakthrough. Of course the book would disappoint on these terms. The results are what you’d expect from the restaurant critic for The New York Times giving McDonald’s a serious review.
Now, I have very much enjoyed the snarky as well as thoughtful critiques of Fifty Shades. But on another level, why judge the book as if it wants to be more than it is? It clearly doesn’t. If we want it to be more, then scolding or mocking Ms. James or her fans won’t help. The only thing an erotica writer can do is take it upon herself to write the book we want it to be. More believable? More critical of capitalism? A female character that a self-respecting twenty-first-century woman can relate to? All worthy, but, sorry—I’m talking to you, my friends who want me to get rich–that book will not make anyone a fortune.
The good news is that now I know what I’ll tell people the next time they ask me what I think of Fifty Shades of Grey, as they always do when they learn I write erotica. I’ll say I thought the book was Jane Eyre, modernized, sexed up, without literary pretension (except a few references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles). Okay, maybe there’s a generous dollop of Heathcliff thrown in, too. Basically it’s a riff on the classic stories that lie at the heart of all novels with a huge readership—redemption (A Christmas Carol), an underdog who prevails (a personal favorite and always popular), a quietly lovely girl with a good heart who wins a powerful, yet lonely alpha male (most romances ever written). And perhaps on a broader level, the book allows all of us to play out in fantasy a deeper social truth: that we’re all getting screwed by our plutocrats, except, unlike Ana, we don’t have any choice in the matter nor do we get at least three orgasms a day in the bargain.
Another happy outcome is that I have a new appreciation for E.L. James. Apparently she didn’t set out to make millions nor to give ordinary women the world over the permission to admit they’d read a book with explicit sex scenes—which may indeed be the most lasting impact of the book. James simply devoured the Twilight series in “one sitting” and was inspired to write her own romantic fiction. In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, her husband (not coincidentally pimping his own novel) said somewhat defensively that she wrote Fifty Shades to entertain herself and a few friends and that she had a lot of fun writing it. As a writer, I sense her commitment to and pleasure in the story. This is not always the case with more “important” literary novels I’ve read.
So, yes, having finally read it, I won’t and can’t write a “better” Fifty Shades of Grey. I will continue to write stories that express my sensibility in both content and style, and I will continue not to give a damn about how much money I make from writing. Yet I can still share with E.L. James the love and joy of writing a tale that I hope will give those readers I do touch, however many or few, a pleasurable reading experience.
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
Looking for erotic stories that will make you burn and sweat, laugh and cry? That will leave you breathless and aching for more?
The Treasure Chest at the ERWA web site has just been updated with the very best tales from the 2014 Galleries.
Check it out!
I’ve never had a chance to go to college so everything I’ve learned I’ve had to teach myself as best I can. Most of what I’ve been able to grasp about the art of narrative fiction I’ve learned from studying books on craft. One of the best books, maybe the best book, on writing erotic fiction I’ve ever read is “How to Tell a Dirty Story” by Suzie Bright.
This book is especially good for people who are coming to the craft new and want to learn how to tell erotic stories with humanity and compassion. This book is filled with discussions and specific writing exercises that are practically therapeutic. The exercises themselves, whether you ever publish a word or not are priceless journeys of self-exploration.
One of the really outstanding exercises in this book is one I want to share here and how it works. It’s simple, straight forward and in its way – universal. It is offered in the context of erotic fiction but it could just as well be about any topic you want to explore.
There are three topics. With a paper and pen, reluctantly a keyboard, write for about five minutes without stopping on these three topics. Write close to your unconscious and let your mind travel. Here are the three topics, and you can learn a lot about yourself from them:
1. Spend five minutes or so writing about an erotic act, that, if you had a chance to do this, actually do this in real life – you would jump on it. Without hesitation, oh mama, I would definitely do this thing and it’s a thing I could do.
2. Spend five minutes or so writing about an erotic act that if you had a chance to do this you’d, well, whoa, maybe, yeah but I – uh – maybe under the right circumstances. But if those right circumstances could be realistically met, yeah, I’d take a deep breath and definitely do this. Then. If then. If the right circumstances were met.
3. Spend five minutes writing about something impossible. Something you would never do but it’s hot to think about. Either its something too balls-nasty to do in real life, or maybe its something that can’t be done in real life.
I won’t tell you what number 1 and 2 are for me – but I will tell you about my number 3.
My highest spiritual value is compassion. Compassion in the Buddhist sense of empathy, not pity. Connectedness with the people of the world, especially the people in your world. Acting and fiction writing are unique art forms in that they require you to inhabit other people. Either the characters that you are creating or the character that someone has created that you are playing. How does it feel to be that person.
My number three?
I would like to be a woman.
Just for a while.
A few hours. A day maybe.
I don’t mean transgender. I’m perfectly happy being a man, I don’t have any issues with that. What I mean is, I’ve experienced myself and the world I live in as a male being. I’m a male persona inhabiting a male body. I pee standing up. I’ve experienced pleasure and release with a woman from the experience of being a man. But what does it feel like to be a woman if you;ve never had that experience? To have a woman’s original persona, inhabiting a woman’s original body? What’s it like to have a period? What’s it like for a young girl when she has her first period? Is it scarey? How does it feel to move through the world as a woman? How does the world respond to you as a female? It must be different in many ways from being a man. How does a woman’s body experience erotic pleasure and release? It must feel different in so many ways.
A woman has to experience her own vulnerability, to open herself and receive. Receiving the thrust of the phallus, then if she’s pregnant a life inhabits her within. Up until recently it was very common for women to die a gruesome screaming bloody death in childbirth. Up until the turn of the century a woman becoming pregnant after 30 was regarded as a death sentence. What would it have been like to live two hundred years ago and be thirty years old and discover you’re pregnant?
That’s compassion. That’s empathy. That’s spiritual. What’s it feel like to be that guy over there? How does it feel to be that guy with the funny accent and funny clothes? How does he feel to be an immigrant, a stranger in a strange land?
To me that’s spiritual.
And by the way, when I wondered what it was like to be a woman – I asked people. I did my home work, wrote a story about it and sold it.
What would your third wish be?