Monthly Archives: June 2015
I’m just in from our back garden, fingers stained red from a hefty picking of raspberries. That’s right! It’s time for me to subject you to more garden porn, complete with pictures and sticky fingerprints on the keyboard. Most of you know that I grow my own veg and that I’m quite often inspired by getting down and dirty in the veg patch. I’ve written stories, chapters, entire novellas about the naughty things that can happen in a vegetable garden, or in a flower garden, or any garden for that matter.
Everyone loves to walk through a well-tended garden, and knowing you lot, as I do, I figure it’s probably a safe bet that, like me, you’re looking for all the nice little hidey-holes and private places where on might have a grope or cop a feel. Oh, you might not necessarily use them, but you’ll think about what it would be like if you did. You might be admiring the size of the courgettes or the cucumbers, or possibly even thinking about the dual use of the ordinary garden variety (You see what I did there?) carrot with it’s lovely orange shaft penetrating the earth while the lush fronds above ground are so very green and flogger-like. Who doesn’t love to play with their food?
My veg patch is sometimes well tended, but more often than not it looks a little rough around the edges, and as much as I love to wander through a well-ordered patch, it’s even more fun to shove and push my way through an overgrown garden. While there may not be an orgy of phallic veggies waiting to be picked, there are lots more places to hide and grope and play.
Personally, I think there’s something about a garden overgrown, a building left derelict that invites trespass. A five-star hotel is one thing, and believe me, I’m not dissing the pleasure of a fine mattress, but there’s something primal about a fuck on a mossy stone bench behind an overgrown hawthorn hedge, or forget the bench, the grass will do just fine, and it’s softer. Uncomfortable? Hell yes! But there are a lot of things that are worth doing in spite of the discomfort.
Maybe it’s about connection. Maybe that’s the appeal of a garden to me, you know, feeding ourselves with what we’ve grown, and garden porn … well if we eat from the earth, why not rut a little closer to the earth? It works for all of our animal cousins.
Maybe it’s just the time of the year. Maybe there’s something about watching the birds in the garden go at it, or seeing the plants grow from seedlings to fruiting courgettes or beans or corn plants. Perhaps it’s that first ripe strawberry teased out, fondled and plucked from the bed and then popped into your mouth, all juicy and sweet … or maybe popped into the mouth of a lover. Certainly soft, ripe fruit dripping and succulent is responsible for a multitude of sensual metaphors. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, and even more so at the thought of sharing that ripe juicy fullness mid-grope on that mossy stone bench behind the hawthorn hedge.
Several years ago while walking a bit of the North Downs Way not terribly far from home, my husband and I came across a hedgerow overgrown with wild plums. There must have been a quarter of a mile of scraggly trees, heavy with swollen fruit, buzzing with hungry insects. We ate all we could, licking the sticky sweet from our fingers, laughing like children, feeding each other and teasing. Then we stuffed our bags and took some home with us. All
throughout that next week, we ate fat, squishy plums and reminisced about our walk. The sensuality of the experience, the unexpected lushness of being offered up a feast in the middle of nowhere, the feeling of discovering a treasure trove has stuck with me. I have that feeling whether we’re picking wild blackberries along the canals and walking paths or harvesting sweet corn from our own little patch, that sense of awe at the abundance, the largesse of nature, that feeling of participating in something far more primal that just eating what’s good for me. The sensuality of what grows, the fecundity of the season can’t help but inspire the libido, and the muse takes full advantage of it, pointing out the subtle and the not so subtle inspiration of planting and digging and picking and eating and … playing with what we eat … playing with someone else with what we eat. With all that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that gardens figure so prominently in story and that so much of what’s written about gardens is sexy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go wash up the raspberries and share them with hubby. Happy summer, everyone! Share a peach, pop a cherry, appreciate the shape of a courgette, admire a carrot for the parts you don’t eat. Even though sometimes it’s easy to forget, at the end of the day, we’re still a part of nature, and sometimes that’s just fucking sexy! Enjoy!
Just want to let you know that ERWA (website and email lists) will be transitioning to a new host this week. There may be intermittent disruptions with the email lists as well as the ERWA web site, but by the time it's concluded, we hope some of the nagging problems we've experienced over the past months will be history. Thanks for your patience.
(And in just a few days, you'll be able to enjoy the summer edition of the ERWA website, and my Erotic Lure newsletter. Stay tuned!)
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
This post is another
article about my time at The Muse
And The Marketplace writers conference held in Boston in the spring of 2015. The
last time, I talked about writing query letters. This time, I’d like to talk
about pitching non-fiction work to magazines and web sites.
Although it’s been a
few years, I have written for non-fiction publications, including magazines and
web sites such as On The Issues, SexIs, Good Vibrations Magazine, and Alternet.
I’ve written about feminist, sexuality, and relationship issues. I’ve always
found that non-fiction magazine and article writing paid better than fiction
writing. Most of my earnings came from my non-fiction writing, including blog
posts and other work I had written for the British sex toys company Bondara. I actually started out writing
non-fiction articles for magazines long before I wrote my first fictional
story. I’d like to get back into this someday, and the tips I heard from the
speaker at The Muse And The Marketplace who spoke about writing for magazines
will be a great help.
There are many
different types of articles. There are personal essays, investigative pieces,
op-eds. Choose what you want to write. I’m focusing on personal essays and
investigative pieces since I had written both.
One key to writing
for magazines is to make your article personal. Keep in mind that editors
receive pitches for the same topics, especially if they are newsworthy and
current, and you need to make your pitch unique. An example is to tie in an
anecdote to the non-fiction topic you are writing about. Base it on your
personal experience with the topic at hand. This will personalize your article
and give it warmth so that it doesn’t come across as cold, detached, or rote.
When I wrote about the blow
job and Altoids mints myth for nuts4chic magazine, which was a British pop
culture ezine, I based part of my article on personal experience. I had done
the Altoids bit with my husband with comical results.
So you’ve chosen
your topic and how you can personalize it. What do you do next? Do your
research. That’s what Google is for. Interview people who are experts in the
field or find articles they’ve written. I had visited Snopes, the urban legend
site, to learn more about the Altoids blow job myth. Snopes didn’t have much
and I didn’t agree with quite a bit of what the site said, per my own
experience. Still, the information was useful.
Now, to pitch your
story. First, research magazines to determine which ones would be a good fit. The
Muse speaker recommended Slate for never-before-published writers. I was
already a staff writer for nuts4chic so my article had a home, but I’ve written
pieces that required a cold pitch. I visited Alternet, Slate, and Salon.
Alternet was the best fit for my article about why men fake orgasms.
When you pitch, don’t be vague by stating, for example, “I want to write
an article about why men fake orgasms”.
What’s interesting to you about the topic? For me, it was unusual that
it happened at all. Most people think of women faking orgasms for a multitude
of reasons. I found sexuality forums where men freely discussed with me their
reasons for faking the Big O. Those interviews personalized the topic and made
it much more specific. Also, specify research and such that supports your
points. I referred to The ABC News Primetime Live Poll: The American Sex Survey.
It helps if you’ve
written pieces similar to the one you are pitching. You may want to include up
to two examples of your writing on the topic in your pitch, whether published
or unpublished. Or do what I do and give links to previously published articles
so that the editor may read at his or her leisure. Proving links prevents your
pitch letter from being too busy and long.
Be prepared for
rejections. The Muse speaker submitted ten times to New York Magazine before
one of his pitches was accepted. I submitted often to Alternet and saw plenty
of my pitches rejected, but some were also accepted.
Find ideas. Read a
lot on your given topic. Hot current topics in the news always make for great
articles ideas, but remember to make yours unique. You may have a hard time
seeing your pitch accepted since everyone and her sister is writing about the
same topic. Take it from a fresh angle – one that hasn’t been tried before.
Write an unpopular opinion on a given topic. The Muse speaker loved to write
about people he disagreed with.
Don’t sell yourself
short. Look that websites and magazines that pay, preferably those that pay
well. I often received upwards of $200 and more for a 1,000 word article. The problem with “for the love”
sites is that you get what you pay for. Granted, some writers may be excellent
but you’ll also run into substandard, poorly researched crap. You have a better
chance of being in good company with a reputable magazine or website that pays
well. There is a vetting process in paying markets that you may not find in
non-paying markets. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but remember those
It’s fun to branch
out from fiction into non-fiction. You can gain an entirely new audience who
will not only follow your non-fiction pieces but they may also buy your books. Jump into the deep end of writing non-fiction.
The water feels great.
Sinful Press is looking to publish erotic novels of over 60k. Advance offered.
We are interested in well-written mainstream romance, dark or paranormal erotica with strong characters and a good plotline. Sex scenes must be believable, explicit and in keeping with the chosen sub-genre.
We do have a preference for female protagonists but could be persuaded to accept male protagonists if the story is strong enough.
While we don’t expect you to have professionally edited your novel, we do expect to see minimal spelling/grammatical mistakes. In other words, we want to see a final draft not a first draft.
We will also consider novellas of 20-60k. At present we are only looking for romance, BDSM, and paranormal erotica. These will be on a royalty only basis, no advance, and while they will have the same amount of care and attention as our novels, they will only be available in ebook format.
More information can be found on our submission page at:
by Jean Roberta
Do you think about your characters’ clothing when you write erotic stories or poetry? As a girl who spent her formative years cutting out pattern pieces and sewing them together to make (hopefully) chic ensembles for myself, I am often disappointed by descriptions of clothing in the erotica I read. Either there is just enough information to emphasize the body underneath (cleavage-revealing tops and short or slit skirts on the heroine, trousers on the hero that bulge noticeably at the crotch), or there is a detailed description of clothing with no indication of what it actually signifies to the contemporary viewer. (A swimsuit at the beach is expected. A swimsuit in an office would probably be considered scandalous, and the wearer would be expected to explain his/her relative nudity. In historical fiction, a maid and a duchess –or a stableboy and a duke — would not be dressed alike, unless one were trying to pass for the other.)
I’ve been thinking about clothing ever since I agreed to review a fascinating book, Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution by Jo B. Paoletti, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. The author has written several books on the sociological significance of fashion, including Changes in the Masculine Image in the United States, 1880-1910(her Ph.D. thesis, 1980) and Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America (2012).
The current book, Sex and Unisex, is about the drastic changes of fashion that took place in the 1960s and early 1970s, led by innovative designers, who were mostly gay men (although this was never openly mentioned at the time), and the hordes of teenagers and young adults who had been born just after the Second World War, and who wanted to look different from their parents.
As a member of that generation, who shopped for clothing patterns the way my classmates shopped for 45-rpm vinyl records of the latest Top Tunes, I am so glad that a scholar has analyzed trends which, at the time, were routinely dismissed as trivial, but which often produced over-the-top reactions from those in authority.
One current myth about the 1960s that Paoletti debunks is that girls and women were not allowed to wear pants (trousers) until some brave individuals (feminists and/or lesbians) paved the way for the rest of us. Contemporary images from mail-order and pattern catalogues show “play clothes” for boys and girls under the age of puberty that look identical. Little girls, especially in the U.S., could wear Western-style shirts with jeans and even add a holster with a toy gun, and this look was socially acceptable all through the 1950s and 1960s. There was a practical reason for advertising unisex clothing for the under-12 set: families of the Baby Boom tended to be large, so parents appreciated sturdy clothes that could be passed down to a sister from a brother, or vice versa.
Pants for adult women were also widely accepted – in the right social context. Images of Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood bombshells from the 1950s and early 1960s in snug “pedal pushers” were titillating, but not really considered obscene. At the time, these photos presumably showed what the stars looked like in the privacy of their homes, in “casual dress.”
Puberty was a dividing-line, and so were school and church, as distinct from the playground, the campground, and the suburban neighborhood. Girls who had developed womanly curves were expected to wear skirts and dresses much more than formerly, and most schools (public and private) had a dress code that demanded skirts on girls from kindergarten on. The rationale was that pants on girls (and denim pants on anyone) were “casual dress,” and students of both genders were supposed to take the educational process seriously. (Note that denim pants were originally sold to men with strenuous physical jobs, so the widespread adoption of jeans as a middle-class teenage uniform could be seen as a shocking rejection of white-collar respectability as well as a refusal to grow up.)
Needless to say, religion was also taken seriously, so attendance at church or temple required gender-specific attire: suits for little gentlemen, dresses for little ladies. Special events (first communion, weddings, high-school proms, even extended-family dinners at home on holidays) required formal, gender-specific clothing on everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.
The spread of jeans and mini-skirts, feminist rebellion against traditional gender roles, and the “sexual revolution,” which accelerated after the invention of the birth-control pill in 1969, all progressed at approximately the same time. This is probably why minor variations in style (the length/shortness of girls’ skirts, the length/shortness of boys’ hair) were thought to represent philosophical positions that the Establishment was not willing to accept.
I’ll never forget my father’s explosion over my secretary outfit (as I thought of it) in the mid-1960s, when I was fourteen. I wanted to look like an independent woman working in an office. (My unmarried aunt was a secretary, and I imagined that this job involved a high salary and considerable decision-making power.) I made myself a straight skirt that ended just above my knees, with a back zipper and a kick-pleat for easy walking. It was made of pink wool, fully lined in acetate satin. (I knew the names of several famous designers, and I wanted to be Mary Quant when I grew up.) The skirt went with a long-sleeved blouse in a paisley-print polyester which I thought could pass for silk. The blouse had a notched collar and cuffs. Nothing about this ensemble violated the school dress code, so I couldn’t imagine why my parents would try to prevent me from wearing it to school.
I put on my new clothes to show my parents. My mother chewed her bottom lip while my father yelled loudly enough to be heard from the street. Neither parent seemed at all impressed with my dressmaking talent. The gist of my father’s sermon was that I was still a child, and therefore my outfit was inappropriate as well as indecent. He announced that I would never be allowed to wear it anywhere. (Later on, he seemed oblivious when I left the house in my new clothes.) Apparently, when my father saw me dressed like my idea of a secretary, he saw “Sex” written across my girlish bust, or my pink-wool-covered hips. He might also have seen “Pregnancy,” “Drugs” and “Bad Company.”
If possible, the boys who joined the “peacock revolution” in men’s clothing faced even more opposition. The threat of homosexuality was the elephant in the room which terrified fathers in grey flannel suits when their sons wore flashy shirts, open to the waist, with tight hiphugging pants and “long” hairstyles that included bangs and sideburns. Paoletti devotes a whole chapter to court cases in which young men fought a variety of institutions for the right to wear their hair any way they chose. For many employers, most school administrators, and virtually the whole top brass of every branch of the military, “long hair” on males represented everything that was likely to destroy civilization. The clothes that usually went with the hair just seemed to confirm the opinion of strait-laced elders that a whole generation of young men was refusing to accept adult responsibility, including the patriotic requirement to become warriors.
On the subject of length, I need to end this post before it becomes unreadably long. Suffice it to say that styles of presentation (including clothing, body types, hairstyles and facial appearance) in every era carry enormous symbolic baggage. Clothes are never just arrangements of fabric (or leather, metal, wood, or plastic). Wearers of controversial fashions can be accused of transmitting messages they never intended. Clothing styles of the past can be misunderstood as being either more or less radical than they were at the time.
When writing an erotic story, I am tempted to give too much information about what the characters are wearing, and I have to remind myself that a fashion show in words would probably be read as a digression from the action. Certain styles of face, hair and body display might also mean something different to the reader than they do to me. (My secretary outfit carried a horrifying message for my father than I didn’t even foresee at the time.)
Do you pay attention to the way characters display themselves in your reading-matter? As a writer, how do you approach this subject? Responses welcome.
by Kathleen Bradean
There seems to be two types of erotica (actually many more than that, but let’s pretend the world is simplistic). There’s the sort that’s about sex. Then there’s the kind of story that’s about something else but that something else is revealed through sex.
I have nothing against stories that are just about sex. There’s something rare about that honesty. But I’m thinking lately a lot about the other kind because that’s what I tend to write. Often times, especially when the sex is BDSM, the story is about an inner journey, which when you think about it is empowering and positive for the reader.Sometimes the story is about revenge, which can be fun to read. it’s two self-indulgent fantasies wrapped into one.
Less often, I see stories about alienation, guilt, or depression. In the hands of a skilled writer, those emotions can lead to shattering works. I’d like to see more of them.
The one emotion I can’t recall ever seeing is anger. More specifically, female anger. In her novella Beautiful Losers, Remittance Girl touches on it, but it’s coupled with shame. I fully understand why. That’s the way women are socialized to experience it. We get angry then immediately try to deny it and turn it against ourselves. I don’t see female rage expressed in non-erotic works either, unless it’s an extremely negative portrayal of a woman being unreasonably bitchy just for the hell of it Or because she’s mentally unstable due to hormones. It’s always an insulting portrayal.
Why is that? Can’t we ever just be angry because the situation is enough to make any reasonable person mad? And can women ever express anger without it being a negative portrayal? What is this huge taboo against female anger?
I don’t know. I wish I had answers. Have you ever written a story where a female character had every right to be angry and she expressed it in a healthy, mature manner that didn’t make the reader think she was in the wrong for feeling that emotion?
This post was originally on the Dirty Birdies blog.
I have a question: what are your thoughts on authors that write in multiple genres and pairings under the same pen name? Does it bother you? Will you still read that author? Will you just pick and choose what genres/pairings from that particular author that you like? Or do you read anything and everything from your favourite authors, no matter what they write?
I’d really love your opinion on this. I’m asking because there seems to be no standard in the publishing industry. I “know” lots of authors because of the wonder that is social media, and some of them (myself included) write lots of different things under the same pen name, whereas others create new pen names when they branch out into something new.
I wouldn’t say I write different genres, exactly, because so far I’ve only written erotica and erotic romance. Though I write in lots of subgenres; contemporary, paranormal, femdom, maledom, BDSM, etc, etc… but I do write different pairings. It’s waaay too late for me to start splitting those up now, and I wouldn’t, anyway, because it’s hard enough work maintaining various websites and social media accounts for a single author name, let alone adding more to the equation. I just make sure to emphasise genres and pairings when promoting new releases, and I always put that information on my website. I can’t control what details my publishers put on their websites and third party retailers, but wherever I can, I make the information available. So hopefully I’m providing my readers with the details they need to ensure they’re only buying books they’re interested in.
So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you wish authors would use different aliases, or doesn’t it bother you?
Also, just for the record, if I moved into something like crime fiction or mainstream romance, I would start a new pen name. But while it’s remotely smutty, I’m sticking with this one 🙂
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
When I’m reading or critiquing fiction, I find myself particularly sensitive to the temporal structure of the story—the flow of events through time. Effective structure provides a feeling of unity, even if the story does not follow Aristotle’s strict definitions (one action thread, one location, a time span of no more than one day). In a well-structured tale, each event links strongly to the others. Each scene contributes to the whole. Characters grow and change according to organic, believable trajectories. The plot may be intricate and complex, but the resulting impression is one of satisfying coherence.
In contrast, poorly structured fiction may include unexplained gaps, extraneous events, unsettling jumps from one time to another or one character to another, shifts of perspective that don’t tie back into the overall narrative. Another characteristic that reflects poor structure is a story that continues long after it should have ended, dawdling along when the conflicts have already been resolved and the outcomes are no longer in doubt.
The skill with which an author structures her work has a major impact on my enjoyment. Yet this is an aspect of craft not often discussed. In this post, I want to consider some of the different patterns a story may take through time, suggesting when or why you might want to adopt each one. I’ll also consider the potential pitfalls in each approach.
Let me begin by defining story structure. In my view, story structure is the ordering of events that affect characters, as they are presented in the story. This includes potential shifts between focus characters. Two stories might have the same basic plot and characters but employ very different structures. Consider, example, the recently revived fairy tale Cinderella.
Structure 1: Cinderella’s father remarries, then dies. Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters relegate her to the role of kitchen slave. A herald arrives at the door announcing the Prince’s ball. The evil step-family heads to the ball, leaving the ash-smeared girl crying at home. Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears to comfort the girl and provide the necessary fashions and transportation for Cinderella to attend the ball, where the Prince is smitten and waltzes with her all evening. At the stroke of midnight, as the enchantment dissolves, Cinderella flees, but leaves her glass slipper behind. The love-lorn Prince appears at Cinderella’s home, searching for the mysterious beauty by trying the slipper on each young woman in the kingdom. The shoe fits and Cinderella’s identity is revealed. She marries the Prince and they live happily ever after.
Structure 2: Cinderella scrubs the pots in the scullery. She hears the royal secretary knock on her step-mother’s front door and announce the Prince’s search for the mysterious beauty who fled from him at midnight. Cinderella remembers in wistful detail her triumph at the ball, the thrill of dancing in the Prince’s arms and the terror at having her lowly identity revealed at midnight. She listens at the kitchen door as the step-sisters fail to fit the slipper. Gathering her courage, she emerges and requests a chance to try on the shoe. Her lovely little foot slips into the crystal slipper, the Prince claims her as his bride and they live happily ever after.
Structure 3: It is the day after the ball. The Prince muses in his room, refusing to eat, remembering the gorgeous young woman who fled from him at midnight. A retainer arrives, telling him about finding the isolated crystal slipper on the road leading away from the castle. Meanwhile, Cinderella is scrubbing pots in the kitchen, sighing at the recollection of her prince, sadly sure she will never see him again. She hears his voice outside in the parlor as he arrives at her step-mother’s home with the shoe. Gathering her courage, she emerges from the kitchen and asks to try the shoe. The Prince recognizes her immediately, before she’s even made the attempt. He sweeps her into his arms for a kiss, claims her as his bride, and whisks her away to the palace where they live happily ever after.
The three examples above represent three frequently-encountered temporal patterns. Structure 1 is linear. The events are presented more or less in the order they occurred. Furthermore there is a single focus character, Cinderella.
Structure 2 is what I call a loop-back. The story begins part way through the temporal sequence of events, then via a recollection or a flashback, recounts earlier events that led up to the present, before moving on. Once again, there’s a single focus character.
Structure 3 illustrates a parallel structure, in addition to a loop back. There are two focus characters. The narrative shifts from one to the other and back. In this example, the events experienced by each character are concurrent (that is, they cover the same basic stretch in time), but parallel structures can also be used for temporally disparate events, as long as there’s a strong logical or emotional connection between the two event streams. For example, my novel Incognito uses a parallel structure in which Miranda’s sexual adventures in the present time mirror the confessions she reads in Beatrice’s Victorian-era diary.
Even given the mere outlines above, a reader gets a different feeling from each structure. The first follows the simple, traditional course of a fairy tale. Each event triggers the next in a sequence. The second, in contrast, feels more modern, and perhaps, more interesting. If one were not already familiar with this plot, this structure might generate more suspense. The third structure produces a major shift in intent. The Prince changes from a mere appendage to the plot, the medium for realizing Cinderella’s dreams, to a character in his own right. The parallel time streams, if implemented with skill, could have the reader wondering whether, in fact, the two characters’ goals and desires will converge. (If, like me, you’d recently enjoyed the film “Into the Woods”, you’d recognize that this convergence might not be inevitable!)
These three basic structures can be combined and ramified, especially in longer work. In the hands of a skillful author, temporal patterns can become very complicated indeed (consider Audrey Niffenegger’s astonishing novel, The Time-Traveler’s Wife). On the other hand, playing too fast and loose with the ordering of events can produce a narrative disaster, confusing your readers and diluting the impact of your stories.
When might you want to use each of these basic structures? The comments below are suggestions, not rules, and represent my personal observations.
Linear structures work well for shorter work, for instance stories in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range. In these cases, you usually don’t have the word count to get fancy with time. Your focus is on your characters, their crisis and its resolution. Furthermore, in this sort of work, it’s often best to take Aristotle’s advice in stride and keep all the events within a relatively short time span—an evening, a day, a week at most. Short stories where there are large temporal gaps between scenes often feel awkward to me. The breaks in the action dissipate the story’s emotional intensity. What’s happening to the characters during those lapses in time? Has the crisis been somehow suspended?
Linear structure can also be applied in novel-length work, especially when maintaining suspense is important. If you write a novel in the present tense (difficult but something I’ve attempted several times), linear (or parallel linear) structure is the only possibility, since readers are experiencing the events at the same time as the character(s).
A linear structure offers the overarching advantage of clarity. It’s also simple to construct and to implement. Most novice authors intuitively use linear patterns when they begin writing. This is the structure most often found in oral storytelling, part of our ancestral roots.
The main risk in using a linear structure is boredom on the part of the reader. To avoid this, it’s important to select and describe only the events that truly contribute to the story, and to continually build tension toward the (narrative) climax. With a linear story, it’s also critical to recognize when to end the story, as noted above. Once the main conflict has been resolved, end quickly. You do not necessarily have to tie up every single loose end.
The loop-back pattern works really well in short fiction because it immediately throws the reader into the action. The initial scene, which needs some dramatic intensity to be effective, can snag the reader’s curiosity and trigger her questions, questions which will be resolved during the loop back to explain the genesis of the situation. I use this pattern a lot in my own work. For example, my story The Last Amanuensis, recently released by Fireborn Publishing, begins as follows:
My hands no longer tremble when I pierce his papery skin. I’ve learned how much force to apply, how to tilt the hollow needle just enough to fill the tiny wound with color without blurring the line. I know what he can bear. I can read the change in his breathing that tells me he needs a break.
He’s reached that point now. I straighten from my awkward position, crooked over his bared buttocks, and set the gleaming apparatus down on the bedside table next to the flickering candles. With Preceptors on patrol twenty-four hours a day, we dare not risk the gas lamps.
“Some water, sir?”
Moving with care so as to not to smudge my work, he twists to take the glass from my gloved hand and drains the contents. “Thank you, Adele.” The weariness in his voice sets up an ache under my sternum. Seeing what it costs him, I would dissuade him from this endeavor if I could. I’ve also learned, though, that it is useless is to argue with the professor when he has set his mind on something.
Hopefully, at this point, I’ll have the reader wondering. Who are these characters? What are they doing and why? Who are the Preceptors?
In this story, I use about 1000 of the 5000 words in the first scene. The next 2000 words explain the genesis of this relationship and situation, bringing the narrative up to the present (the time when the story starts). The final 2000 words move the tale forward toward its climax and resolution.
However, there are a variety of potential pitfalls in using this pattern. Balancing back story with forward action is probably the most serious problem. If the loop back takes too long or involves too much detail, the reader may lose the sense of immediacy evoked by the initial scene. One solution is to use multiple, shorter loop backs. This can work but risks confusing the reader.
Novel-length works frequently include loop backs/flashbacks to provide background on events or characters. The impact of these backward-looking sections depends on their frequency and length, but the same caveats apply. It’s important not to lose forward momentum. A novel usually has a more complex and detailed plot, so narrative trips back into the past may not have as much of a noticeable effect on structure or the corresponding impression of the readers, but there are exceptions. John Le Carré’s book A Perfect Spy, which I recently finished, flits back and forth across a period of about fifty years in the life of the main character. This could have been extremely confusing, but Le Carré made it work, gradually revealing the experiences that had brought his protagonist to his present state.
Parallel structure is most effective in longer works, depending as it does on the existence of at least two focus characters or subplots. Usually (though not always), one of the event strands will be primary, while the other will provide a mirroring or contrasting perspective. Parallel structures are fairly common in romance, with alternating chapters offering the heroine’s and hero’s points of view. Books that provide contemporary plus historical narratives (like Incognito) offer another frequently encountered example.
What are the problems with writing parallel structures? Consistency can be one issue, at least in stories where two characters experience the same or related events. (Of course, a skilled author might deliberately introduce inconsistencies in order to reveal certain aspects of the characters.) Balance is another potential problem. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, parallel narrative threads do not necessarily have to have equal weight—length or thematic importance—but once the author has made a decision about the intended weight, she needs to be careful that one thread does not assume more importance than planned. In traditional romance, for instance, the heroine’s perspective tends to be more emphasized than the hero’s, even when the narrative alternates between them. If the hero’s story begins to take over, this may weaken the book.
One of my goals in writing this article is to point out how important it is to understand the temporal patterns we authors choose, not just in order achieve the effects we want, but also so we can recognize when we’re violating our own decisions. Extraneous scenes, time gaps, unmotivated shifts of focus and similar issues become easier to detect when we have some idea of the pattern we’re aiming for.
I don’t mean to suggest that story structure is always the result of a conscious decision. However, I’ve learned that when a story feels somehow wrong—awkward, flat, without a clear point—the structure is often to blame. Sometimes, playing with patterns in time, experimenting with a different structure, can dramatically improve the impact of your writing.
Today is Friday, June 19th. TGIF, and thank goodness, it’s Sexy Snippets Day!
This is your chance to share the hottest mini-excerpts you can find from your published work.
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.
Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!
Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It’s an open invitation!
Of course I expect you to 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!
After 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 out.