Raising the Stakes
Hook your reader. Keep her riveted to your story, so engrossed that she forgets to eat or drink—while tempting her to indulge in other cravings. Leave her feeling totally satisfied, or better yet with a powerful desire to go read something else you’ve written.
This is the dream of every erotic author, indeed every writer whatever the genre. Alas, grabbing and holding the reader’s attention is far from easy, especially in a longer work. What’s the secret to writing this sort of what-happens-next, can’t-put-it-down tale?
Of course, there’s no one foolproof method for keeping readers engaged. Plot, characters and style all contribute. In erotic fiction, there’s also the question of how well the sexual situations and activities match the reader’s personal interests or kinks. One technique that I use, though, is deliberate escalation.
Escalation means holding back at first, starting gradually, then building up the tension (both narrative and sexual) as the book continues. The idea is related to the concept of rising action in the so-called narrative arc. The early part of the story—the exposition—introduces the characters and the conflicts that will drive the plot. Then events occur that make things progressively more difficult, complex or challenging for the protagonists. Effectively written, the rising action portion of the arc will cause readers to becoming emotionally invested in the characters, so that when the climax and resolution occur, the reader experiences a pleasurable catharsis along with them.
Okay, this all sounds convincingly literary, but how does it apply to erotica, which usually offers many climaxes? Most readers who open an erotic book don’t want to wait until the end for satisfaction. You’ve got to create some arousal early in the tale, or they’ll just move on to something more explicit. One of the traditional recommendations for writing erotica suggests you need a sex scene in every chapter. While I don’t believe in slavishly following this sort of rule, it accurately reflects the typical reader’s impatience, especially with a “stroke” story. (Literary erotica can perhaps afford to delay the physical gratification of its characters, but even so, must provide some measure of erotic tension to justify the genre label.)
Hence, stroke fiction often starts out with a “bang”—sex in the very first chapter, maybe even on the first page. This creates potential problems, though. What do you do for an encore? Even the most dedicated consumer of erotica can get bored with a tale that’s just one sex scene after another. Without some sort of rising action, some progressive increase in emotional intensity, it will be difficult to keep the reader hooked.
Most of my erotic novels offer sexual situations within the first chapter. However, I carefully design these initial scenes to be less complete, less intense or less transgressive than scenes I plan for later. For instance, I might begin with the protagonist observing someone else having sex and feeling vicariously aroused. Or I might start with a sexual interaction that’s exciting but does not lead to full-out intercourse. As the book continues, I gradually raise the sexual stakes—adding multiple partners, taboo elements, or scenes that fulfill a character’s more extreme fantasies. I also play with the characters’ emotions. Early in the book, sex is more likely to be casual. Later, it becomes more serious, with more psychological impact on the characters.
For example, my most recent release, More Brides in Vegas, has the following structure of sexual elements in each chapter:
Chapter 1 – Public nudity, fetish clothing and BDSM references, FF cunnilingus
Chapter 2 – Skinny dipping, fingering to orgasm
Chapter 3 – Private penetrative sex between bride and groom
Chapter 4 – Public FF cunnilingus, FF strap-on penetration
Chapter 5 – Best man gets blow job from mother of the groom; public fingering to orgasm
Chapter 6 – Mother of the groom gets it on with brother of the bride
Chapter 7 – Private spanking role play between married couple (Laura and Steve, friends of bride and groom)
Chapter 8 – Public fingering to orgasm, spanking threats
Chapter 9 – Erotic musical chairs
Chapter 10 – Public Dom/sub lesbian penetration of the bride
Chapter 11 – Lesbian orgy
Chapter 12 – Spanking threesome with Laura and Steve plus the brother of the bride
Chapter 13 – Private masturbation, tit-fucking, multiple penetration scene between best man and mother of the groom
Chapter 14 – Voyeurism; Laura has multi-partner DP sex with husband and friends
Chapter 15 – Sex between the bride and the best man
Chapter 16 – Public lesbian BDSM strap-on sex
Chapter 17 – Gang bang where Laura takes on an entire rugby team
Chapter 18 – Female voyeur watching MM anal sex, also watching bride with the voyeur’s husband
Chapter 19 – Four-way partner swapping sex (bride and groom, best man and his wife); DP and lesbian interactions
Chapter 20 – Conclusion – the wedding – public orgasm – references to future adventures.
This book has many characters. The escalation is most pronounced for Laura, who starts out with a not-very-visible orgasm in the swimming pool and ends up taking on the Glasgow Gladiators rugby team. Between these two extremes, she fantasizes with her husband about being spanked and fucked by the bride’s brother, then makes this fantasy a reality, then further explores her inner slut with a few more friends.
Other characters have their own arcs of escalation. In addition to being more extreme or intense, the sex scenes later in the book mean more to the characters than the earlier ones. For instance, the partner swap in Chapter 19 fulfills long-held but never admitted desires for all four participants.
This book definitely falls into the stroke category (as if you couldn’t guess). However, I tend to use the same strategy when I write erotic romance or literary erotica. For instance, my first novel Raw Silk, which is really a romance, begins with a dreamily remembered sexual encounter and ends with a wild sexual contest in which each of Kate’s three lovers tries to convince her to choose him over the other two.
In short, if you’re looking for a technique to keep your readers interested, consider escalation. Don’t pull out all the stops in the beginning. Start slow, build the action, and make every scene more intense than the last.
Your readers will thank you.