The plot’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the arousal of the king…” (or something to that effect)
I’d like to, every so often, get up on my soapbox and just go off on some random musings about the craft of writing in general and, more specifically, the craft of writing porn. While I admit an enormous amount of smutty writing out there is gawdawful, I also firmly believe that there is a lot of quality porn to be enjoyed, as well. In my humble opinion as a non-professional purveyor and connoisseur of porn of all kinds, one of the differences between the dreck and the good stuff can be found in the consideration the smut-monger puts into the craft itself.
One of the elements of that craft is plot.
It’s a cruel truth that the enormous majority of bad porn out there boils any notion of “plot” down to some version of “insert tab A into slot B, repeat as necessary.” The classic example is the sort of stories found in Penthouse Forum and the like, and which is even more easily found these days on the internet.
I wouldn’t dream of inducing any urge to doze off by dissecting any of the dozens of dictionary meanings of the word, “plot.” For purposes of this discussion, however, this is how I’d like to think of the word.
“Plot” is one of those quirky words that can mean its own opposite. The old English term originally creating a plan or map outlining boundaries of land and then came to refer to the tract of land itself, as well. “I can plot that plot for you” is the same as saying, “I can map that land for you.”
That quirky distinction can also be broadened and kept in mind when crafting a story, as well. From one perspective, the plot is the end result. The goal. The bottom line. The ultimate success or failure of the cunning master plan, either of the storyteller or the story. From the other perspective, the plot is the plan to get to the execution of the end result.
Or, if you want to get all Julia Cameron/Natalie Goldberg about it, plot is the map to get the reader through the writer’s world. The plot ends where the writer chooses to end it. If the writher chooses to continue allowing a tour of his or her world, the plot continues. If not, “The End” and on to the next story.
In any case, it’s a true journey, and not just a random bumper-car ride in an enclosed area.
In my humble opinion, one of the many, many, many things that makes a connoisseur and purveyor of porn such as myself a real snob is the fact that I can get pornographic stories anywhere. Literally, anywhere. And they all have the same “plot,” or rather, “sort of plot,” that comes down to something as simple as, “Insert tab A into Slot B, repeat as necessary,” or some variation thereof.
“Although I love your magazine, I never thought those stories you publish were real until this one time…”
So, if we all want our smut to be a cut above the rest, (and if we are all HERE at THIS website, that’s EXACTLY what we want), let’s consider a few elements of plot.
E.M. Forster said, “The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot.” Put another way, “The king had a lover and the queen had a lover is an erotic story. The king had a lover and the queen had a lover and they happened to be the same person is an erotic plot.” Which sounds like a more interesting way to get aroused?
Okay, J.T., you may be saying. That sounds easy enough. How can you come up with a decent plot for an erotic story?
Good question. Let’s back up a bit. How can one come up with a decent plot for a story in general? Anyone who’s ever spent any time studying the craft of writing can think of several reference books off the top of his or her head that might offer plot ideas. There are even more websites that make the same sorts of offers.
One famous text called, The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti documents thirty-six, count ‘em, thirty-six distinctive dramatic or plot situations, in astonishing detail with copious references. A brief (very brief) summary of one such situation.
TWENTY-THIRD SITUATION: Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
(The Hero; the Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice).
The entry goes on to list several examples of literature including Aeschylus, Sophocles, and on and on and on.
Mind-numbing, is it not? Not to be recommended.
Of course, part of the point is that there are certain plots that are more or less universal; that can be found in most, if not in virtually all forms of storytelling, erotic or not.
Getting back to what Mr. Forster said, whether one says there are ten master plots or twenty or thirty-six (!) they all seem to break down to one central idea.
Something Different Happens.
The queen didn’t just die. Everybody dies. The queen died of grief. Something Different Happened.
A randy young kid goes out with his buds like he does every night, getting into the same kind of trouble every night, and then Something Different Happens and he meets the girl of his dreams who just happens to be from the wrong side of the tracks.
A privileged young man gets to judge a beauty contest, but Something Different Happens and the contestants are goddesses and the winner promises him the wife of the King of Sparta as his prize.
A passionate young bride’s wedded bliss with her husband is cut short because of his war injury. She expects to live the rest of her life like any other soldier’s wife and buck up under her frustration but Something Different Happens and she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the gamekeeper.
To me, just one more humble purveyor and connoisseur of erotica, the difference between the same old stroke tale and a story worth reading comes down to the sense that something different is happening. Something out of the sexual ordinary.
At this point, the Devil’s Advocate in my head is jumping up and screaming, “But what about Character? You haven’t discussed character!”
Indeed I haven’t, which I plan to address soon. For the time being, I want to just throw out there a few thoughts.
For anyone writing or reading an erotic story, what is something different that would make you want to continue doing so?