Monthly Archives: August 2018
Last month, I talked about my dreams by day. Even before I honed my skills as an erotica writer, my waking reveries were vivid and explicit.
Yet I can’t recall a single explicit sleeping dream. At best there’s been a kiss and an embrace. No one has ever taken off any clothes. I feel a bit like the Meg Ryan character in When Harry Met Sally—although of course, only at night.
In pondering the nature of my night dreams, I realized there is a lot of suspense and implied sexuality. I know some people think dreams are boring—I find them endlessly fascinating, like a secret code where the same message has many translations. For those of you who do like dreams, I’d like to share two recent examples that have stayed with me to see what you think.
In one dream, I was lying on a single bed in a small bedroom, rather like a maid’s room in an attic. A man walked in and started opening the drawers of my small dresser over against the wall. I felt mildly violated, but said nothing and stayed motionless on the bed merely watching and waiting. Then the man came over, sat down beside me at the edge of the bed and looked down at me.
That’s it. But when I woke, I thought, “What a weird sex dream.”
In another, a man asked me to meet him in his hotel room for a meeting on political issues. I was worried he might take some sexual advantage, but he was perfectly professional, even though we were sitting on beds while I asked him questions about political action. Still uncomfortable, I excused myself to get something to drink and found myself in a huge hotel lobby complex, like the endless mall lobbies they have in Las Vegas or the train stations in Japan. I wandered through stores and bakeries and restaurants in an effort to get back to the meeting. When I finally found the man’s room, it was occupied by someone else, as if he’d never been there. I never found him again.
“Wow, I think that was sort of a sex dream,” I thought when I woke up.
My night dreams are more like old-fashioned romances than modern erotica: the simmering tension between me and a mysterious man, the unsettled nature of our relationship, the fade-to-nothing before anything actually juicy happens. Is it because I was raised in a time when sex was rarely openly discussed? Or is that I deal with explicit sexuality in my waking life so it’s other things that need working out at night?
Each of these men had the name of someone I’ve dealt with in real life, but I know the dream was not about that person, rather more of something he represents: the sense of a power differential and my being in a world where he has more control than I do.
Last month I argued that our waking dreams have interesting things to tell us. Night dreams do as well, but the listening requires even more patience and curiosity to find the truth at their heart. I remember one dream analyst recommending that you pay attention to the feelings a dream evokes rather than any of the “factual” details. I also find that approach more illuminating than a list of symbolic meanings—dresser drawers symbolize my vagina and hotel rooms sexual intimacy (although you could argue for both).
In any case, I can feel when a dream drips with sexual politics even if everyone keeps his/her clothes on. A good erotic story can achieve the same. (In case you’re curious, yes, as in the photo above, I always sleep in lipstick to look my best 24/7!)
Are your night dreams different from you daydreams?
I recently caught up to a much-acclaimed movie that I had missed when it arrived in theaters last year and came away wondering what all the fawning critics were thinking of when they praised it to the heavens. The movie was so full of improbable events and exaggerated characters that I just couldn’t take it seriously. One character in particular was portrayed as a violent, and intellectually challenged cretin through 90 percent of the film, but by the end had abruptly – and jarringly – changed 180-degrees to a savvy hero.
No … no way. I’m not believing this.
My disappointment got me to thinking of the many times I’d taken a book I had invested my time in, only to fling the damned thing across the room because I’d run smack into a wall of disbelief.
My wife devours mystery novels, but I avoid them. Too many times I’ve been disappointed by denouements that wrapped up the case using characters or clues that hadn’t been mentioned anywhere in the previous pages.
For me, a story is also ruined by a character who abruptly acts out-of-character. “Tis’ a far better thing I do …” without any foundation, but rather a sudden decision to stick one’s neck in the guillotine because it seemed like a good idea at the time, just makes me bitter for wasting my time.
It makes me suspect the writer got lazy after failing to tie up loose ends.
It’s also disrespectful to the reader, since the writer seems to think they’re idiots and won’t notice the glaring improbability.
Erotica asks readers to suspend disbelief to a degree even beyond what readers of science fiction or fantasy are willing to allow. Science fiction and fantasy asks us to believe in worlds that could exist. The important word there is could.
But erotica asks us to believe unlikely erotic encounters could happen in this world. And since we all live in this world, we all have a sense of what’s likely, unlikely, or just wishful thinking.
That’s why straight stroke stories never appealed to me, particularly the kind where two absolute strangers decide to go at it on the spur of the moment. Forget the mile-high club, too; what, with all the news about passengers groped on airliners?
I realize it’s fiction, but as G.B. Shaw once said, if it’s fiction, you can believe every word is true. Um … unless I can’t.
Looky there. It’s a flying rat.
I know you already knew it.
It was here that I knew that Colonel Plum did it in the bathroom with the pipe wrench and “WHAM!” That is how it happened.
I have some type of attention deficit disorder; however, I have not been diagnosed, but I do know…
Write over it.
Where was I?
I ain’t got no clues present to get me back to the beginning, but I don’t want to start at the beginning because it is way too long ago and I can’t catch you up to speed.
Anyway, this was to get you to understand that holding the audience’s attention, maintaining good grammar and the story structure are the three very important parts to writing a story. The audience is your fan base and beyond. You know not to tell your audience anything unless it will not come out. Your audience is who you write for and make sure that the plot moves along. Make sure that you’re writing for your intended audience instead of trying to please everyone.
We always talk about speech tags and their overuse of speech tags like “she hissed,” “he snapped,” “she stammered,” get irritating fast. Likewise, reading a character’s name too often in dialogue can be a turn off. Avoid more than the occasional “um” or “well,” or “er,” and keep dialogue realistic, but more coherent. Also, make sure the words that are grammatically correct. IF the language that you are relaying your story in is not your first language or you’re not completely fluent, make sure to get assistance.
Your writing style, tone, character motivations, or even plot might begin one way and, unintentionally, change at some point in the book. Be especially aware of small details like names, occupations, physical descriptions of people or places, which can all fall prey to inconsistencies over the course of 300+ pages. Something to look at for writing style is “Eats Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss and reading a few articles from Michael Hauge will assist in this category.
Make sure that when telling your story begin at a point that can be referenced back to in the story. Chronological stories are good, but there are some times the chronological order of the story will not bring the story to where it needs to be. If all the good stuff happens at the beginning, or if nothing exciting happens until the end, your reader will be frustrated with the rest of the book.
This is what gets me. Knowing when and where to begin your story. There are some that say that you should begin your first major plot point within the first 25% of your story or you can jar the balance of how the story arc falls. Some say that you can start your story chronologically and then work backwards to the event. Within each set of “rules” there is always time. Time is a factor in everything. If you give the audience too much too soon, then there is nothing else to read. If you make the audience wait until the last chapter to find out anything, you may lose your audience. You want to provide just enough, but no one ever knows when to say when and that is why we have editors.
I have gotten better at finding a balance in the information that I do provide my readers; however, that is after a lot of help from people in ERWA who help hone my skills for writing. There are other resources that can assist you if you have not subscribed to our Storytime List and those resources are:
“Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative” by Chuck Wendig and “The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface” by Donald Maass.
There is a TedX video that brings in circularity, symmetry and a few other things to light for writers. That link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUT6GQveD0E (I do not own the rights to this video, I am just sharing it.)
All in all, in order to write something that someone else wants to read, make sure that you can capture and keep their attention, make sure your vocabulary fits your scenery, that you are aware of small detailed changes so there are no mix ups, and start at a good place in the story so that it can keep going and then finish it with something memorable.
Made you look!
By Ashley Lister
Back in June, I mentioned that characters can be built through four elements: appearance, speech, action and thought. We looked at appearance in June and I touched on dialogue in July. The wonderful Lisabet Sarai shared an example of her dialogue writing in the comments on that post and it’s well worth checking out as an exemplar of how to construct character through dialogue.
I want to briefly touch on dialogue again this month, just because it’s such an important element of what we, as writers, produce. And the message I want to share is: know who you’re writing for.
When we’re reading, and we grow weary with a text, most of us flick through the pages until we reach the next piece of dialogue. If it’s good, we’ll carry on with the story. If that bores us as well, then the story gets put aside.
Which suggests, if we want to make sure our readers stay with the story we’ve written, the dialogue needs to be intriguing, credible and engaging for the audience we want to satisfy. Characters chatting about the weather and engaging in the sort of banal exchanges the linguists describe as ‘phatic communion’ can be used to give a frisson of reality to your story. But keep in mind that some readers are reading your story to escape from reality.
Whilst this might sound like conflicting advice, what I’m trying to say here is: know your audience. Write short snappy exchanges that engage your reader, OR write slices of reality that allow your reader to hear the soul of your character – but always be aware of what you’re writing and who you’re writing it for.
The reader who wants snappy dialogue is going to grow bored with the banality of a real-world exchange, just as the reader who wants a true reflection of reality will not be content with punchy one-liners and witty comebacks. I try to write with one particular audience type in mind, as can be seen in the following exchange from the early part of my recent novel, Doll House.
Ben didn’t want to be intrigued but he couldn’t help wonder about the building.
“Where are you taking me?”
“You sound like a fucking kidnap victim,” John yawned.
“It worries me that you know what kidnap victims sound like. Where are you taking me?”
“I told you where I’m taking you,” John spoke with weary resignation. “For the next three months I’ll be giving you what every lazy writer needs. I’m putting you in my personal country cottage. You’ll have the solitude and the isolation necessary to finish your latest novel. I’m taking you back to your writing career.”
Ben stared out of the window. He scowled at the sign saying WELCOME TO SANDALWOOD.
As always, I look forward to reading your comments in the boxes below.