(…That’s a Story)
By Belinda LaPage (ERWA Gallery co-editor)
Yes, I paraphrased Crocodile Dundee. I’m Australian. What did you expect? Move along.
Scene vs. Story
Erotica writers, have you ever written a hot little scorcher only to be told by some dilettante that it’s not a story?
Readers, ever read a hot little scorcher, only to realise you don’t remember it the next day?
Well, it might be for the want of Developmental Editing. It might be for the want of Structure.
Erotica, you see, lends itself handsomely to short stories—about twenty to forty minutes reading time—because … well, you know why. That’s about five thousand words, give or take. Plenty to lay down a solid foundation, followed by some solid banging. Job done—write another.
And there lies the danger. We as erotica writers want to get to the fun bit, so we set the scene quickly and get the action started. The result for the reader is gratification, but not recollection. It’s not something they’ll come back and read again. It’s not something they’ll recommend to a friend.
Sadly, it’s not a story.
That’s the problem. It’s actually just a scene, and there’s a difference.
A developmental editor (or a lovely ERWA Storytime subscriber) will find those missing key ingredients that make a story and help you build your scene into something greater. Why wait though? If you know what these key ingredients are, then you the writer can add them yourself. Before you commit, no less.
You can create … (pause for effect) … a story plan!
* * * *
Still with me? Thank goodness, because story planning sucks big time. I’m surprised you didn’t nod off. To make it more interesting, I’ll devote the rest of this post to a case study.
This is an actual story I’m actually about to write (so don’t freakin’ steal it, okay?).
Stroking up a Scene
Erotic scenes are easy. I have dozens of them in my ideas folder. All you need is a sexy, novel way for your protagonist to get his or her rocks off and you’ve got a scene.
Here’s mine. Matt goes to the Sperm Bank to make a deposit, but instead of porn in the donation rooms, they have assistants (sexy ones). So Matt gets PAID to receive a hand job. Fun, right? I can make it more fun pretty easily; the Sperm Bank is run by a convent and the nuns do the jerking off. Why? Because masturbation is a sin, silly.
The Little Sisters of Grace Sperm Bank.
The title almost writes itself. We can make it more fun still by making Sister Mary Katherine a pretty young novice, and this is her first time at the altar, so to speak. A beginner like Mary Kate might very well over-commit collecting Matt’s donation, and a creative soul like me could easily bend this to a sweet First Time fantasy.
Now we have a sexy niche and kink, as well—First Time / Nun / Uniform Fetish. Let’s go write this sucker and make us some money.
What happens next? I bang it out (figuratively) and send it to my loyal band of beta readers, who say wonderful things like “lucky Matt”, and “Mary Kate was a treat”. Those guys are great for my ego. They’re not just being polite—they really enjoyed it. I write hot nuns like nobody’s business and they love that about me.
Buoyed up, I scribble a quick premise (blurb) and send it to a publisher, who gives me a “Thanks, but no thanks”. Maybe if they’re in a generous mood, they’ll bless me with a “Your characters and plot need more depth”, or perhaps just, “Under-developed”.
Then I cry for a bit, drink wine, and self-publish. Or …
What do you mean, ‘Under-developed’?
Or, I could get some help. Some developmental editing help. Someone who can explain to me the difference between a developed story and The Little Sisters of Grace Sperm Bank.
Now, I’m no developmental editor, so I’ll skip the mechanics of what they do, and stick to the small but important subset of stuff I can do myself.
I’m a simple person, and I need simple instructions, so I have this cool checklist of questions in a spreadsheet. I fill it in before I begin writing. It helps me find gaps in my story—or in this case, gaps in my scene that stop it from being a story.
Q1. Who is the protagonist?
Duh! It’s Matt. The protagonist is the hero—the main character. Clearly, Little Sisters of Grace is about Matt.
Q2. How is the protagonist constricted?
Matt is imperfect in some way that drives his actions. All protagonists should be, because perfect people don’t behave in interesting ways.
Constricted … um, he’s horny? No, he’s broke. And sploodge-for-cash is Matt’s idea of easy money.
Q3. What is the protagonist’s goal?
Seeking the goal gives Matt something to do – hopefully it’s an interesting enough thing to get us reading.
Well, Matt wants to jerk off, but that’s the means, not the end. His real goal is making some quick cash. Why? What does he want to buy? A book? A case of beer? Does it even matter?
This is my first red flag. Whatever Matt is going to do with the money, it’s not going to make a shit of difference to the sexy nun awaiting him at the Little Sisters. You can’t just answer these questions with any old thing—they need to tie together.
I press nervously on to question 4 without a goal.
Q4. What is the protagonist’s focal relationship?
Secondary characters play off the protagonist and give us drama. This one is easy: Sister Mary Katherine.
Q5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?
The antagonist stands in the way of Matt achieving his goal.
This drives conflict and makes the story compelling. I have a list of generic possibilities:
- Man vs Man (or woman, or monster, whatever), e.g. Little Red Riding Hood
- Man vs Self, e.g. Bridget Jones’s Diary
- Man vs God, e.g. Bruce Almighty
The list goes on: machine, society, the supernatural, nature, situation, fate. It’s good for blue-skying how conflict might guide the story.
In my case, who is going to stop Matt collecting? Red flag number two. The whole point of this story is that Matt gets his money, and that means he gets a hot ecclesiastical hand-job along the way.
My story clearly transcends antagonists. Who needs them? Moving on.
Q6. What is the conflict?
The protagonist acts towards his goal, the antagonist acts against them. That’s the conflict, and it makes a story interesting. It makes us invested in the protagonist and his quest. It makes us turn the page to find out ‘what next’.
No antagonist means no conflict. So now I’m really fucked. My system is telling me I don’t have story, all I have is an ending, albeit a happy one.
Back to the drawing board?
Okay, so Matt has no goal, no antagonist to stop him from reaching it, and no conflict to drive the story forward. And if we believe this blog, adding those things will turn Little Sisters of Grace into a story.
We didn’t have any luck thinking of a goal, so let’s skip that and find an antagonist. Maybe the goal will present itself later.
Pick one—how about Man vs Self? Matt could be the virgin instead of Mary Katherine. Let’s change his constriction from being broke to being inexperienced. So he’s reluctant, and the good Sister will need to try all sorts of tricks to coerce his donation. That could be the conflict. Matt can’t get it up, so Mary Kate gives him a blow job. MK’s hand and mouth work is unskilled, so Matt can’t reach climax. MK’s hand gets tired, so she has to use her … Okay, we can all see where this ends up.
Antagonist: check. Conflict: check. Goal? Still struggling. Matt’s goal now is to get his first real intercourse with a live girl, but it doesn’t explain how he ended up at The Little Sisters in the first place. Unless he already knew about their extraction technique, but that spoils much of the fun. It’s boring.
Tie it together: Goal – Antagonist – Conflict – Constriction
Start again. Let’s go back to my list of antagonists. Man vs man? Nope. Man vs Self? Tried it. Man vs God? Hold on a bible-bashing minute. Nuns? God? Surely this is a match made in heaven.
Matt vs God—let’s go with that. So God is acting against Matt. Does God want him to bone Sister Mary Kate? Or does He want to stop him? Mary Kate is doing His work, so clearly that’s what God wants. Does Matt want the opposite? No way, José, Matt wants MK like a duck wants bread.
So maybe Matt wants something else. Turn it around and look from another angle. God wants Mary Kate to do His work, so Matt wants …
Matt wants to do Satan’s work!
Yes, okay. Matt’s off about town and ready to do something evil, like rob a store, or bang a hooker, and God keeps thwarting him. His brakes fail and he crashes his car through a Little Sisters billboard. He tries to catch a bus, and the bus sweeps past at full speed, carrying off his bus-pass in the slipstream (with a Little Sisters sign on the back). Matt breaks down and cries, and a little old lady gives him money. Waiting for the next bus, Matt meets a homeless man and gives him the old lady’s money. Awww. The homeless guy gives Matt a business card: The Little Sisters of Grace Sperm Bank—$20 per donation. Hilarity ensues.
Now all we need is an ending.
Q7. How is the protagonist changed?
Well, clearly if Matt was doing Satan’s work before, he must have changed for the better. He must repent and denounce his evil ways. No more hookers for Matt; he’ll be doing the Lord’s work, from now on. Maybe he could convert his friends. The Little Sisters are certainly up for it.
Now do we have a Story?
Do we have something that will keep the reader reading? Sure. It’s fun, it’s action packed, and there’s a payoff at the end. Will we remember the guy who bangs a nun at the sperm bank? Maybe not, but we stand a better chance if we make him work for it. A hot fantasy like that shouldn’t come for free.
Next time you’re critiquing a story on ERWA Storytime that just doesn’t grab you, but you can’t put your finger on why not, try out my seven questions. It might be because its only a scene, and maybe you can help the author turn it into a story.