by Jean Roberta
The Saskatchewan Writers Guild, to which I belong, has a long history of paying writers to do readings and run writing workshops in public places, including schools and libraries. Several years ago, I was hired to be “Writer in Residence” for one week in a public high school.
Now that I am known to the guild as an erotic writer, I’ve been invited to give a talk on how to write erotica in the “Write After Lunch” program in the guild office in June. Here is the catch: these talks are supposed to last for twenty minutes at the very most. They are scheduled between noon and 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, presumably so that attendees can squeeze a little writing advice into a flexible lunch hour.
What to say about erotica in twenty minutes? Of course, so much depends on the audience: will these be journeyman writers who have already written for publication, but haven’t written explicitly about sex? Will they be fledgling writers? I simply don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone in the guild office can foresee who will show up.
Since I can’t assume a lot of knowledge in the audience, I think I will tackle the myth that a story can be made erotic by the addition of sex scenes. As several other people have mentioned in this blog, the sex in an erotic story or novel has to be consistent with the rest of the plot and the cast of characters. Actual sex or a sex fantasy in the mind of the narrator has to be foreshadowed from the first paragraph. Who is attracted to whom else, and how is that attraction expressed? There is usually an obstacle to the fulfillment of desire, if only in the form of social conventions that tend to prevent new acquaintances from ripping their clothes off and doing it in the streets. Think about how you can use the obstacle(s) to prolong the erotic tension.
If I have time, I will mention stereotypes: characters with enormous body parts (boobs or dicks) are likely to seem like cartoons, which is fine if your intention is to write parody.
To think outside the usual, consider Elphaba the green witch in the musical Wicked: she grows up thinking of herself as ugly, but eventually, she meets a man who finds her beautiful in a different way from the women he has been raised to consider attractive (e.g. Galinda the Good Witch). Think about how to create an Elphaba character: an apparent loser in the competition for a date whose appealing qualities can be shown to another character as well as to the reader. Another way to describe this exercise is the way Lisabet does it: how can you subvert the conventions of various literary genres, or turn them upside down?
I suspect I already have enough material for at least a forty-minute talk, which means that I will have to cut to the chase, much like the writer of a flasher.
I’m glad I have so much time to prepare. Brevity is probably not one of my more noticeable qualities as a writer, so this exercise will probably be good for me. Luckily, there will be time for Q & A after my talk. I assume that’s when I can tackle questions about research, and whether (or how) to describe sexual activities outside one’s experience.
If you had never read or heard any advice on writing erotica, what would you want to know? Comments welcome.