Ian Smith, ERWA Flasher Gallery Editor
Having a twice-daily commute of around fifty minutes, I’m in the habit of listening to audiobooks. I think I listen to more books than I read.
Given my other options of (a) road noise, (b) talking to myself, (c) overly-enthusiastic breakfast show presenters, or (d) politicians trying not to answer questions, audiobooks are a pleasant default choice.
Assuming the narrator works for me, of course, but that’s a different matter.
I recently listened to Audible’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, very nicely narrated by Stephen Fry, which runs for almost 72 hours. Four novels and five collections of short stories, with personal introductions by Mr Fry, a life-long Holmes enthusiast.
I’d never read any Sherlock Holmes, so I was curious to see what they were like.
All but one were written in the first person from Watson’s point of view, supposedly describing their escapades years after the events, reconstructed from memories, notes and records kept at the time. The other was written in the first person from Holme’s point of view.
Among the things which struck me was the way the stories reflect some of the changes in society over the time-span covered by the books, such as telegrams being replaced by telephones.
But most writers will know what I mean when I say that what struck me very clearly was that these stories can be described as “tell, don’t show”.
The earlier ones in particular seemed to follow this pattern:
1) someone turns up and presents them with a puzzle;
2) Holmes rushes off to solve it, leaving Watson to amuse himself;
3) Holmes returns to Baker Street and explains it all to Watson.
Although this approach results in snappy short stories, I didn’t exactly find them engaging.
Inevitably, there’s no shortage of books written (at least in part) to make money for authors telling other authors how to “show, don’t tell”. Attributed to Chekov, the idea was popularised by Percy Lubbock in his 1921 book The Craft of Fiction, which drew both criticism and praise from established writers.
I think the wikipedia entry for “Show, don’t tell” explains it rather well:
“Show, don’t tell is a technique used in various kinds of texts to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. It avoids adjectives describing the author’s analysis, but instead describes the scene in such a way that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions.”
Of course, Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories around a century ago, when writing styles were rather different. Although it’s a long while since I read HG Wells, I recall War of the Worlds and The Time Machine were rather heavy on the narrative story-telling and light on insights into the characters’ experiences.
I think Emma Darwin, in her thisitchofwriting blog, has captured the idea nicely:
SHOWING is for making the reader FEEL they’re in there: feel as in smell, touch, see, hear, believe the actual experience of the characters. … we persuade the reader to read the story we’re telling AS IF it really happened, even though we all know it didn’t. That means working with the immediate physical and emotional actions and experience of the characters: your rage beating in your ears, the wind whipping your cheeks, a beggar clutching at your coat.
TELLING is for covering the ground, when you need to, as a narrator … It’s supplying information: the storyteller saying “Once upon a time”, or “A volunteer army was gathered together”, … it’s a little more removed from the immediate experience of the moment.
Here’s a single example:
The parties were dazzling and opulent. They spilled out of the house, into the garden and even the beach.
In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. … The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive … floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside … the lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.
Now, which one works better for you as a reader? The factual one, or the more colourful and descriptive one?
No points for guessing which one F Scott Fitzgerald used to describe the parties in The Great Gatsby.
I believe Hemingway was notable for his “show don’t tell” style, but I must admit I’ve not read any of his work. One of my mild rebellious tendencies is to avoid anything people tell me I “must” do.
The style relies on the reader being able to imagine the character’s experience. If the writer can get it right, they don’t need to include all the nitty-gritty details, as the reader will readily fill in the gaps using their own imagination.
I’ve only posted one review on Amazon for a book I didn’t actually finish. It’s also the worst review I’ve posted, and the headline was:
“The title is the best thing about this story. Interesting enough story idea, poorly written.”
No, I won’t share the title here… but feel free to ask privately.
The book is nominally 327 pages, but I only managed two chapters. There was one line of dialogue in those two chapters, short and wooden. The bits I read were all tell and no show. Straight “tell”, with no effort to even describe what the characters were thinking. As far as I could tell, the blurb summarised the entire storyline, so I had a good idea of what I missed out on.
Obviously, we can mix “show and tell” in our writing in a way to help us tell our story. Sometimes an infodump or a section of narrative keeps things ticking along, keeping your reader’s attention until the next scene, incident or event. But you can always use a character to help “show” your fictional world in science fiction, fantasy, or even historical stories, by persuading the reader to see this world through the character’s senses.
In the end, it’s something you can use in your writing as much or as little as you want.
It’s your story, after all.
Even today, this approach has its critics. In 2017, Cecilia Tan argued in Uncanny Magazine that the common writing advice to “show, don’t tell” is both a cliché and an inherently colonialist idea.
Or, if you enjoy an entertaining conspiracy theory, you might like to think about the suggestion that “show, don’t tell” was propaganda funded by the CIA during the Cold War.
Like all these writing rules, “show don’t tell” has its place.
You want to tell your story as well as possible, after all.
by Ashley Lister
Last month I mentioned that characters can be built through four elements: appearance, speech, action and thought. As we looked at appearance last month, I figured this month would be a suitable time to consider speech.
The basic rules to writing speech in fiction can be summed up in one word: clarity. So long as your reader understands what your character is saying, you’re doing it right. And one of the most frustrating ways of messing with clarity comes when readers give their characters regional accents.
The following examples comes from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’
‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively.
‘There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’ll not oppen ’t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins till neeght.’
‘Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh, Joseph?’
The first and third line of dialogue belong to the broad Yorkshire character Joseph. Those who are familiar with Wuthering Heights will probably be familiar with the intrusion of Joseph’s dialogue in this otherwise entertaining tale.
Perhaps I’m biased here. I grew up in Yorkshire and Brontë’s representation of Joseph’s accent strikes me as being a long way from what I encountered from friends and family. But, more importantly, I find this to be a distracting piece of text. Instead of concentrating on Joseph’s message, I’m trying to work out how to pronounce ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld.’ This is a novel and I’m supposed to be engaged with the story and the characters. I shouldn’t be trying to work out how to say words.
Elmore Leonard in his 10 Rules of Writing says, “Use regional dialect and patois sparingly” and it’s a rule I would fully support. Dialogue is intrusive and, regardless of how much fun the author things the reader will have in decoding a phonetic transcript, the truth is most of don’t want that added nuisance.
If it’s important to your character to have some regional flavour in their speech, allow them to use the vocabulary of an area rather than the dialect. For example, in the extract above, Brontë could have written, “The maister’s down in the fold.” We’ve got that single word ‘maister’ which suggests a Yorkshire accent, but is sufficiently close to ‘master’ so we’re not puzzled by the content. And we know that Joseph isn’t going to simply utter one word in this dialect and then articulate the remainder of his speech in BBC English. To my mind, this is a more effective way of conveying regional difference without interrupting the reader’s suspension of disbelief and their immersion in the narrative.
This is not to say that no one should ever write characters with a regional accent. I’ve just come back from a writing conference where a very clever lecturer explained that no writing rule is an absolute and there will always be scope for subverting rules under some circumstances.
I agree with what he said and I believe, if you’re writing a piece and it’s essential that your character says, ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him,’ then you should follow your authorial instinct and produce the story in that distinctive fashion. However, if your beta-readers and your editor say that some parts were a little confusing, or dragged them out of the story, I don’t think it will take long to work out where the problem is.
I’ll talk more about creating characters through speech next month but for now, as always, if you want to share any of your dialogue in the comments box below, I’m always happy to read and respond.
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, her two cats, a plethora of birds, a squirrel, and a chipmunk. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. Sign up for her newsletter.
Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Coming soon: Happily Ever After: A Collection of Erotic Fairy Tales. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.
Last month, I talked about using Twitter to maximize your author presence. This month, I’m going to talk about using Facebook to do the same. I prefer Facebook to Twitter because it’s more interactive and I don’t have a word limit on what I write. I also am in touch with all my writer, editor, and publisher friends on Facebook.
I have an author page but I don’t use it. Never got much use out of it. I prefer my regular timeline. I spent about a decade building that page so that’s where I hang out. I use my name alone but some authors include the word “author” with their names. Example: Elizabeth Black – Author.
My current profile picture is of one of my book covers. That works well to identify me. You could use a book cover or a recent head shot. I change profile pictures every month or so to keep things lively.
My banner is a photo of some of my book covers plus both of my pen names; Elizabeth Black for erotica and romance and E. A. Black for horror and dark fiction. My banner is eye-catching and it gets my point across that this is my page and here are examples of what I have written.
Like I said about Twitter, don’t make all your Facebook posts about your book. Endless book spam turns people off. Talk about things that interest you. I talk about my cats, baking, the beach, gardening and much more. I also talk about my progress with my writing. Sometimes I’ll include an excerpt from what I’m working on to pique interest. A healthy mix of fun stuff and book stuff will inspire people to come to your page and talk to you. Ask questions. A few days ago, I posted about cotton candy grapes (yes, they are a thing and they really do taste like cotton candy). I asked if anyone had eaten them and if they liked them. Responses ranged from “Delicious!” to “Eww!” LOL That’s how you get a conversation going.
Update daily or at least frequently. I update several times per day. I also respond to other people’s timeline posts. Some writers talk about politics on their timelines. I don’t. I want my timeline to be neutral ground. In my opinion, it’s risky to talk about politics on your timeline since you may alienate potential readers. Not everyone feels that way. If you want to cull your friends list, go on a religious or political rant. That guarantees you’ll lose a few friends. Sex, on the other hand, is game. Talk about it all you like, especially if you have something very interesting to say.
I’ve found that Facebook groups are by and large a waste of time, especially author groups. They are primarily book spam dumping grounds and no one reads them. You aren’t going to find readers on Facebook groups. If you are able to find groups where there are conversations, jump on them. Granted, they’re probably all writers but you can meet some interesting and valuable people in those groups. Organizations and events may have their own groups. I’m in a few horror groups that are busy. Keep in mind book promo may be prohibited except under specific circumstances. For instance, Wednesday is Pimp Your Book day in one of my horror groups. Writers are to keep their pimping to that particular post.
Facebook has its limits. For instance, the number of people who actually see your posts is quite small but use that to your advantage. It’s possible to meet people in the industry on Facebook and they often have valuable and interesting things to say. Like their posts and comment. Facebook is best when you use it to have conversations whether on your timeline or someone else’s. I’ve met many publishers and editors as well as authors on Facebook. Not agents, though. That’s Twitter.
Above all, enjoy Facebook. Don’t let it be a time suck and don’t let negative posts depress you. Read only what you want to read and engage those people. While Facebook has its limitations, it can be useful.
I encountered a problem with my cloud storage that I’d like to warn you about as it could happen to you. While trying to finish my latest tome, one of my beta readers pointed out an inconsistency in the story. I referenced a scene where one of the guys was previously pegged, yet my “proofer” pointed out that the chapter didn’t exist in the story.
I could have sworn that I wrote that chapter as I knew what happened yet going back through the document, I came up blank. WTF? I said, the scene was completely gone? Luckily, my beta-reader is a lot more organized than I am and was able to pull the chapter out of a previous file that I had sent her.
Thankfully, I was able to reinsert the chapter into the story somewhat like Foxy inserted her strap-on into Greg’s ass. Quick thinking by my beta-reader insured that Greg could be able to take another “insertion” by a tag-team of girls. For the uninitiated, “pegging” is when a man is butt-fucked by a woman with a dildo.
But how did this fulfilling scene get lost? Has my computer suddenly gotten its collective brains screwed out? After all, I was writing this on an iFruit computer.
While writing, I often switch between a laptop and a desktop computer depending on where I’m at. Dragging all of the cables, tower, and monitor into the bathroom was raising suspicions among my coworkers especially with the extension cord into the stall. Plus, the fact I kept dropping the mouse into the toilet didn’t help.
My MacBook Air laptop balances on my knees quite easily and allows me to pound out my smut everywhere I go. But how to easily transfer files between my laptop and desktop required some additional software.
I use DropBox cloud based storage as a storage point between computers. Storing the document in DropBox allows the Internet based software to seamlessly transfer the files back and forth between computers.
DropBox stores a copy of your files in the cloud as well as any computer it’s installed on including PC’s, Mac’s, Android, and I assume iPhone’s. When you edit a file, it’s on your local computer and DropBox uploads any changes to its cloud copy.
Whenever another computer is connected to the Internet, DropBox automatically synchronizes the files to insure that the latest copy is transmitted to all other computers.
The most obvious issue occurs when the same file is opened with two different computers. DropBox doesn’t lock files so the user must insure that there is only one copy of an individual file open at any one time.
In most cases, DropBox will detect this and will store “conflicted” copies of the file. Then you have to open the copies and merge the changes to end up with a single file which contains all of the changed and new data.
Preventing this problem is quickly learned and you always remember to close the file before switching computers.
This typically works seamlessly except when it doesn’t. I’ve come to realize there are a few flies in the ointment. First, make sure that you wait long enough for DropBox to upload the changed files before shutting down the computer. This will ensure that the cloud has the latest version.
If you’re going to be using a laptop and are not sure if WiFi is going to be available, fire up the laptop at home and allow DropBox to sync all the files before walking out the door. This way your laptop contains the latest copies of the files.
What I’ve recently figured out is that DropBox automatically limits the upload speed and generally speaking, this option should be cleared. It can take an inordinate amount of time to upload files and my laptops will often go to sleep before the process is finished, which leaves the state of the changed files in limbo.
By unchecking the upload limit, my WiFi uploads occur almost instantly and insure the cloud has the latest copy. While a little bit of an aggravation, being able to edit your smut on the go allows you to be productive when traveling or killing time at Starbucks.
If you are like me and enjoy working on the go, using a cloud storage such as DropBox makes life a lot easier, especially if you follow the rules.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a fellow author say, “I’m not good at grammar.” I might even be able to afford a trip to Eroticon next year! Seriously, it seems that many writers find the entire question of conventionally correct grammatical structure intimidating. Some of them simply give up, relying entirely on their editors. Others try to convince themselves grammar doesn’t matter, that a reader who’s thoroughly seduced by their great story (or aroused by the amazing sex) won’t notice the blunders.
Alas, I think this is far less true than these authors would like to believe. Even if a reader doesn’t recognize an error as such, she’s likely to have a vague feeling of discomfort, a sense that “something’s wrong” with the sentence. Worse, a grammatical faux pas may end up confusing the reader, pulling her out of that zone where she’s connected with your characters to wonder exactly what’s going on.
Grammar is not just something dreamed up by high school English teachers to torture their students. English (as well as most other languages) relies on syntactic structure to convey meaning and resolve ambiguities. Consider the following example:
Rick couldn’t believe how good it felt to drive his big rod into the brunette’s pussy. It has been so long since he’d had a woman. Now he had two! The blond bombshell massaged his balls as he fucked her harder and harder.
This is adapted from a book I recently edited. The paragraph pulled me up short. “I thought he was inside the dark haired woman, not the blond,” I thought. “And how could the blond be fondling his balls at the same time that he’s screwing her?”
Of course, re-reading the paragraph made it clear that there was a problem with a pronoun reference. Pronouns should refer to the most recently mentioned noun with matching gender and number. That’s not the case here. The problem could be fixed by swapping the clauses, so the blond gets mentioned after the pronoun instead of before:
Rick couldn’t believe how good it felt to drive his big rod into the brunette’s pussy. It has been so long since he’d had a woman. Now he had two! He fucked her harder and harder, while the blond bombshell massaged his balls.
Another solution would be to replace “her” in the original structure with a noun phrase, e.g. “her girlfriend”. Now “her” does refer to the most recently mentioned noun (the blond bombshell).
The point is that by the time I figured out what the paragraph was trying to say, I’d lost the thread of the scene. The heat had dissipated. This is definitely not what you want if you’re an erotic author!
I’m sure that some of you authors reading this post are rolling your eyes. “Pronoun reference?” you may be thinking. “Matching gender and number?” You’re being assailed by visions of fat, grouchy Miss Mackleswain from tenth grade, the nasty old witch who made you diagram sentences ad nauseum and memorize the names of all the different tenses and constructions. “I couldn’t make sense of it all then, when I was young and smart,” you’re thinking. “I certainly can’t remember all those rules now!”
Relax. Take a deep breath. I have some good news for you.
Grammar is not about rules. It’s about relationships.
If you’re an editor or a pedant (and I’m something of both), it’s nice to be able to apply the correct term to a particular construction. However, that’s not necessary in order to write grammatical prose. You can produce beautiful, perfectly grammatical sentences, one that would make even Miss Mackleswain weep with delight, without having any idea of the so-called rules governing the structure.
In fact, so-called grammatical rules are nothing but abstractions developed after the fact to try and make sense of the way language is actually used. That’s one reason why there are so many exceptions! Grammarians and high school teachers like to present grammar rules as prescriptive (that is, as iron clad expressions of what you should do), but in fact grammar is descriptive, an attempt to systematize the complexities of linguistic structure.
And why do I say that grammar is about relationships? Because that’s what most constructions are trying to convey.
Consider the concept of independent versus dependent clauses. An independent clause expresses a single idea that can stand alone.
Louisa was desperately horny.
Louisa’s boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week.
English allows you to use the conjunction “and” to combine two independent clauses:
Louisa’s boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week and she was desperately horny.
This compound sentence states two facts of supposedly equal importance, leaving the reader to figure out why they’ve been conjoined. In this case, you might expect a further sentence explaining the situation, for instance:
Normally, they met for sex every Tuesday and Thursday.
A dependent clause, like an independent clause, has a subject and a verb, but the idea it expresses has some logical relationship to another clause. The nature of the relationship depends on the words used to join the two clauses into a single sentence.
Louisa was desperately horny because her boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week. (Causality)
By the time her boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week, Louisa was desperately horny. (Sequence)
Louisa was desperately horny long before her boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week. (Also sequence, but with a somewhat different meaning.)
Louisa was desperately horny even though her boyfriend Jim had been in Hong Kong for a week. (Contrast/conflict)
This last, somewhat peculiar, example suggests that maybe Louisa has somebody on the side, but that she hasn’t been able to hook up with him or her!
Verb tenses are another example of grammar constructs that are used to establish relationships, in this case relationships related to time. You don’t need to know the names of the verb tenses to understand the temporal relationships in the following sentence:
(1) Genevieve was still a virgin, even though she had slept with several men.
The whole narrative is in the past, but it’s clear that the sleeping with several men occurred before the time of the story.
It would mean something different to say:
(2) Genevieve was still a virgin, even though she slept with several men.
This is also grammatically correct, but implies that Genevieve continues to sleep with the men at the time of the story, that it’s an ongoing state of affairs.
Contrast the previous examples with the following:
(3) Genevieve is still a virgin, even though she has slept with several men.
In this case, we’ve pulled the story into the present, but the time relationship between the events hasn’t changed from sentence (1). Her experiences with men still occurred before the main time of the story. However, we have to use a different tense to express that relationship, because we’ve changed the first clause from past to present.
To extend this further:
(4) Genevieve is still a virgin, even though she has slept with several men. Her mother had told her to keep her pajamas on until she was sure she’d found the right guy to be her first lover.
Now we have three points in time, neatly signaled by the verb tenses:
Present: Genevieve is a virgin.
Past: She has slept with several men.
More distant past: Her mother had given her instructions about staying dressed in bed.
Actually, this example actually includes a fourth, more complicated point in time, the hypothetical time when Genevieve is sure she’s in bed with Mr. Right. As far as we can tell, this event hasn’t happened yet. English has clear ways to grammatically mark this sort of hypothetical statement. (Not every language does.)
If you’re a native English speaker, you will have no difficulty understanding the relationships in sentence (4), despite its complexity. Furthermore, you’ll know something is wrong if you read a sentence like this:
Genevieve was still a virgin, even though she sleeps with several men.
The relationships in this sentence don’t make sense. The first, independent clause already happened, while the second, dependent clause is happening now.
The key to writing grammatical prose resides in that feeling that “something is wrong”. You don’t need to know the grammatical terminology or the rules, but you do need to develop your grammatical intuition. You need to learn how to evaluate your sentences based not only on the basic content, but whether the relationships are sensible and have the intended meaning.
How can you do this? By paying closer attention when you read, both your own work and work by other people.
Try to notice when you get that niggling feeling that something’s not quite right. Reread the sentence or paragraph that’s bugging you, considering the implied relationships between clauses, sentences and events. If you can’t figure out the nature of the problem, ask for help, but don’t just ignore that slight discomfort so you can get on with the story. (Don’t be lazy!)
Furthermore, you can strengthen your grammatical intuition by reading really clear, well-structured prose. I recommend works from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Literate prose from that period is often far more complex than would be appropriate for modern readers, but Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Edith Wharton and Henry James were grammar virtuosos. Educate your ear to the nuances of tense, the layering of logic. Notice how a sentence with five or six clauses can still be immediately comprehensible. You don’t have to study the structure, or figure out how it works. Just allow these exemplars to sink into your brain.
Don’t worry about the rules, just the relationships.
Of course, you also need to practice improving the grammar of your own work. Learn to recognize the mistakes you commonly make. Sensitize yourself to grammar gaffes. Finally, don’t become discouraged. Improving one’s writing craft is a lifelong process — one that can bring great joy and satisfaction.
Recently I got an email informing me that there was a new comment on my article entitled “Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica” which appeared on a website for women over 50 called Zest Now. “Thanks, interesting thoughts!” wrote the gentleman. I’ll take all the positive feedback I can get, even if the article had been published five years ago as part of my campaign to promote the ebook release of my novel, Amorous Woman. I only vaguely remembered what I’d written, so I revisited the site. (The link to the article doesn’t always work, so I’ve reprinted the article in its entirety below in case you’re interested in how my advice holds up.)
I stand by all six secrets and was frankly surprised at how economical the writing was—I have a tendency to ramble on when I’m talking about sex. I was also amused to remember that when I wrote that article about being inspired to write your own erotica after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I myself had not read Fifty Shades of Grey. However, a friend I trusted had told me that reading about the relationship between Ana and Christian was very interesting to her, so I built from there.
In my defense, so much had been written about Fifty Shades, I felt I knew it well enough to use the social phenomenon as a basis for my suggestions. Also, we erotica writers had been urged to take advantage of the Fifty Shades boom to elevate our own personal brands. I wanted to be optimistic and hope that the bestselling trilogy would whet the appetites of new erotica readers who might then seek out the types of anthologies where my work was published. Could the Fifty Shades wave lift us all?
Five years later I have to say that Fifty Shades mostly just fucked the rest of us over.
Now I don’t have data to back me up, but my sense it that publishers are all the more disappointed when erotica anthologies or novels don’t become the next Fifty Shades. It’s rather like the film industry. The period of openness and artistic risk in the 1960s and 1970s that gave us Five Easy Pieces and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice was destroyed by the blockbuster Jaws, which I recently watched. It hasn’t aged well.
The 1990s marked the advent of the Erotica Revolution, with presses like Cleis and magazines like Yellow Silk and Clean Sheets showing us that “nice” girls and boys could write thoughtful, steamy stories. Again, this might just be me, but the literary quality of Fifty Shades branded all erotica as a mediocre guilty pleasure for mommies. Literary erotica editor friends who’d been getting commissions from mainstream publishers suddenly found the river had run dry.
I still remain optimistic for the future of literary erotica. History shows us that cultural setbacks can be succeeded by leaps forward. In the meantime, I stand by my words of yore: “Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.”
Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica
(Zest Now, June 3, 2013)
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, who will turn 50 this year, has shown that the world loves a sexy story. Reading erotica is a great way to spark your libido, but have you ever thought of writing your own? As a 51-year-old wife and mother who’s been publishing erotica for over 15 years, I can confirm that there’s nothing more sexually empowering than putting your own steamy story down on paper. Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.
Here are six secrets for bringing your unique erotic stories to life:
Find A Safe Space. Although our generation came of age during the Sexual Revolution, most of us still hesitate to express our positive sexual desires. Find a safe space, both physical and mental, to create your world of pleasure. Close the door against the voices that urge you to feel shame for feeling good. In this protected place, you are free to get in touch with your fantasies, memories, images and scenes that turn you on. Suddenly everything is possible.
The Pleasures of Research. Erotic writers transform sensual experience into vivid words and images, but it takes practice. First, read some erotic books to learn what you like in style and content. Which stories do you wish you’d written? Which scenes turn you on and why? The assignment gets better. The next time you make love to your partner or yourself pay close attention with all of your senses. Where is his skin the softest? When does the sound of his breathing change? Slow down, enjoy each sensation. Try out a new position you have in mind for your story to get the logistics right. Homework has never felt so good.
Start Slow and Let It Flow. Start slow with a sketch of a sex scene or a list of scenarios that turn you on. Erotic stories can be about real experiences, but they are just as often about fantasies, dreams, forbidden desires. Let the thoughts and images flow. Experiment and discover. You’ll surprise yourself with the magic you create.
The Real Secret to Good Erotica. Dirty words only take you so far. The real secret to a compelling erotic tale is the relationship between the lovers. Critics panned Fifty Shades of Grey, but the characters’ deep feelings for each other enchanted millions. Write about a couple you care about, their desires and conflicts and how they overcome them to be together, and your reader will be right there in bed with you. As older women, we bring a wealth of life experience to the writing process. Use your wisdom!
Share It With Your Lover. I’ve published over 150 stories, but my greatest joy is still that gleam in my husband’s eye after he’s read my latest story. A story is also a great way to suggest a new bedroom activity or introduce a fantasy. Use your judgment as some partners can be uncomfortable. If you think your partner might be open to it, start out gently, with a sketch of what you enjoy doing with him, rather than, for example, a hard-core BDSM scene.
Share It With the World. Today it’s easier than ever to share your work with a wider readership. Post your story on Literotica for appreciation and feedback. Self-publishing on Amazon is another popular option. For more traditional validation by professional editors, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Calls for Submissions. Remember all writers face a lot of rejection, so keep trying!
Midlife brings a flowering of confidence and creativity for women. Writing erotica is a rewarding way to renew your passion as well.
There’s a captivating episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in which Captain Picard attempts to establish relations with a race that communicates entirely in metaphors.
As the Federation representatives pose clear, direct questions to the Tamarians, they respond with phrases that puzzle and frustrate the enterprise crew, such as “Rai and Jiri, at Lungha.” Or, “Shaka, when the walls fell.”
It is only after Picard and the Tamarian commander are forced into a life-or-death predicament do they, out of mortal necessity, work through their misunderstandings.
Lately, I’ve felt a bit like the Tamarian, as more often cultural references I toss out are met with a “Huh?” or just a look of befuddlement.
For instance, I lately referred to Aristotle Onassis in the presence of two young medical students, both of who asked, “Who’s that?” They were in their twenties.
Another time, remarking on a side effect of a medication I’m taking, I complained, “This stuff has swollen my feet and ankles so much my legs look like they belong on Cabbage Patch Kids.”
Again, I was met with a stare and “cabbage?”
A couple of summers ago I was vacationing in a lovely Hudson Valley town and had worked up a thirst for a nice summertime cocktail. I ordered a Tom Collins. The bartender, a young woman, asked “What’s that?”
Had the drinks of my youth fallen out of currency? Had I outlived them?
We all make cultural references. They are the metaphors with which we communicate. And when they falter or fail, it is disquieting in a profound way, not unlike being rendered mute.
Young people of every generation have had their own cultural references and their own slang, but it seems to me as communication technology has progressed faster than our ability to keep up with it, language has become more compact, less layered, shallow and banal.
I was born after the golden age of radio, but I knew about radio shows, such as “The Shadow” and “The Inner Sanctum.” How? My parents used to talk about them.
If I were to mention Paladin or “Have Gun, Will Travel” to anyone younger than sixty, I expect I’d draw a blank stare. Are parents not passing the knowledge down to their children?
Cultural knowledge, which includes such trivia as the names of old television shows, and dead personalities, is part of the collective consciousness of our civilization. I think we all lose something if it decays and evaporates.
And it can leave an old codger like me feeling, well, rather isolated. There’s a proverb that says you only truly die after the last person who has any memory of you dies. I’d add to that, when your cultural memories are no longer shared.
A degenerate like me should be able to enjoy smutty stories in all their dribble-inducing glory. I love nothing more than to immerse myself in the libidinous creations of like-minded perverts, and to delight in the depths of their filthy imaginations.
Writers are creative. They have thoughts and write them down to create fiction. The story is there to entertain readers. When writers have dirty thoughts it’s even better, because putting those thoughts into words creates fucktion. This type of story is there not only to entertain readers, but also to arouse them.
I enjoy stories that I can get into: stories I can see clearly in my head as I read the words. I like to be enveloped in the author’s world and share the experiences through their characters.
But I enjoy many other kinds of stories. I like sluts, slags and slappers. I love horny hotwives and bi-bimbos. I’m happy to read about them getting serviced by studs, bulls, firemen, dwarves and cheating husbands. I like threesomes, foursomes and more-somes, and I love reading an all-girl finger-fest (I suspect I’m a lesbian trapped inside a man’s body).
So as you can see, there must be squillions of stories out there waiting for me to lose myself in.
Unfortunately for me, I have two problems when it comes to reading erotica (I actually have many more, but I’m only going to tell you about two of them).
The first is my ‘realism radar’, which I find difficult to turn off. Put simply, if I don’t believe the story, I can’t immerse myself in it. My radar goes off when characters fall into each other’s underwear at the flimsiest of circumstances (like in a 70’s porno). Or when the guy is hung like a baboon and can copulate for three hours straight—having several copious ejaculations along the way—without the need to stop for a breather or a biscuit.
I want a plot that involves plausible situations and believable performances from the participants – even if they’re less satisfying for the characters. I enjoy a story where the guy comes too soon and the woman has to satisfy herself with an angle-poise lamp.
The second problem I have when I’m reading is my ‘inner picky bastard’, which seems to be something I cannot switch off.
I can be reading a hot scene in a very good story when all of a sudden the spell is broken, and I’m kicked out of the moment by thoughts like: ‘There shouldn’t be a double t in clitoris,’ or ‘I think knobcheese should be hyphenated’. A simple typo can blip me out of the groove, and so then I have to work hard to re-immerse myself.
It’s typos that I’m going to discuss in this post.
Typos are an inevitable part of the writing process. We’re all trying to get our thoughts down into a legible story and our fingers sometimes slip, or our brain runs quicker than our hands. We’ve all done it, and we’ll all continue to do it.
I appreciate how easy it is for typos to slip through – especially in early drafts. When authors read through their own work their mind knows what it should say, and their eyes skip happily past glaring errors that they’d pick up immediately in others’ work. I’m as guilty of this as the next parson (see what I did there?).
But it’s important to pick up as many typos as we can when we proofread.
While it’s easy to accept that one or two errors will slip through to the final draft, I find it disappointing when there are so many that it ruins the story. My ‘inner picky bastard’ is so frustratingly ever-present when I’m reading, that I’ve actually abandoned books I’ve paid good money for. But that could be because I’m an anal, sad twat…
Funny examples of spelling mistakes and typos on public signs are forever being posted on FB and Twitter. Even computer programmers aren’t immune:
A good way for catching typos is to get someone else to read it. Many authors have their own beta-readers who pick up typos as well as plot holes and inconsistencies. This help is invaluable. For others who don’t have beta-readers, ERWA’s email critiquing group, Storytime, is a great place to post an early draft.
The standard indication of a simple spelling error in Microsoft Word is the dreaded red squiggly underline.
If you encounter the red squiggle beneath a word that you know is spelt correctly (such as ‘knobjockey’ or ‘cuntweasle’), then you can right-click on that word and add it to your dictionary. That way, the only time it’ll show a red-squiggly underline in the future is if you spell it differently. You can use the same strategy for characters’ names to make sure you spell them consistently throughout.
Word can often miss typos which create legitimate alternative words. A common mistake I make when I’m typing is to drop the last letter of ‘they’ or ‘then’.
Word reserves the blue squiggly line to indicate where it thinks you’ve used the wrong word. It’s helpful, but you need to use your own discretion as to what you want the sentence to say. As an example of its limitations, below are five sentences. I’ve used bold italics to indicate where Word applied a blue squiggly line:
I saw her running through a wood. [This is what I meant to say]
I saw her running though a wood. [Word spots the grammar error: conjunction used as verb]
I saw her running through a would. [Word spots verb form incorrectly used as noun]
I saw her running through would [No mistake identified!]
I sore her running threw a wood. [incorrect verbs still identified as verbs – no mistake indicated.]
Another common case of blue squiggly lines comes with apostrophes. The programme sometimes suggests you should have it’s when you’ve written its, and vice versa. Word will also raise punctuation queries; if you start a sentence with ‘What’ or ‘Why’ or ‘Who’, it often suggests you need a question mark at the end.
The story I submitted for consideration to the Twisted Sheets anthology contains the following sentence:
‘Mindy groaned around the cock in her mouth.’
I remember looking at the sentence and wondering what I’d done wrong to earn the blue squiggle. I re-read it and thought it said what I’d wanted it to say (no missing words, etc), so wasn’t sure why it had been questioned. When I right-clicked on ‘cock’, the programme suggested I may have meant ‘clock’. Obviously Bill Gates has never heard the crude punk-rock version of Bill Haley’s classic 🙂
Options for spelling (US, UK or Canadian), number format, quote marks, use of italics, hyphens, ellipses and dashes are all things you should know before you start the story, especially if you’re writing for a specific call. These elements in particular need to be proofed carefully, because Word will not have the capacity to assess compliance with a house style.
Tips on Proofreading
I’ve done some professional proofreading for a local medical writing company, using my scientific background, and have also proofread quite a few papers, theses and dissertations for colleagues, friends and family members.
One of the most common suggestions is to put the story away for a couple of weeks, then go back to it. I never have time to do this as I’m often rushing to meet deadlines and release dates. But what I always do, when I first sit down to write, is to read through what I wrote during my last session. This is a first read-through, and lots of typos get cleaned up at this stage.
Below is a list of tips that I’ve found online and in books over the years. I’m not saying you should use all of them (I certainly don’t) – but some work well for me. I suggest you use the ones that work for you.
I tend to rely on the first two, but I have used the pencil and ruler methods for papers with lots of scientific detail and chemical names.
You probably already know what your most common mistakes are, so you’ll be able to look out for them. Things like missing quote marks, missing commas before dialogue tags, putting each character’s dialogue on its own line, repetition or over-use of certain words. Missing full stops at the end of paragraphs.
I know I’m guilty of all the above. A common mistake I make is to hit the wrong key: more often than not, I’ll hit a semi-colon instead of an apostrophe, giving me don;t, can;t or it;s. At least these errors are easy to spot immediately thanks to the squiggly red underline.
Microsoft Word is also a useful programme to check to see if you overuse certain words. I use words like ‘realise’ and ‘just’ far too often. In a recent story I posted in Storytime, someone pointed out I’d use ‘watch’ a lot of times.
To check if you’re guilty of this, when you have your Word document open, press CTL+F (or click on Find at the top right of your Home toolbar (with the binoculars icon), and choose the same thing from the dropdown menu.
This will open the Navigation panel on the left of the screen. Type any word into the box, and it’ll tell you how many times you’ve used that word within the document. It’ll also show each sentence that includes it, as well as highlighting each instance in the document itself. You can use the arrows to click up and down to see all the uses, and if you change any, the number of uses reduces.
Here’s a screenshot of what you’ll see:
I hope this post – my first one – doesn’t come across as a dig at anyone for not proofreading their stories thoroughly. I appreciate that not everyone has access to a second, fresh pair of eyes to do it for them. But by spending that extra time on checking for and removing needless errors, it makes the manuscript so much more readable – especially for people with an inner picky bastard that won’t shut up.
How many of you have fantasized about somebody making a movie of your erotic masterpiece? I certainly have. In fact, many years ago, I even went so far as to write a letter to Phil Harvey, founder of Adam & Eve, asking if they’d be interested in the film rights to Raw Silk.
I never got an answer, alas. Still, it’s not an impossible scenario. Indeed, here at ERWA we have an adult film luminary in our midst. Kay Brandt has been directing porn flicks for a long time. Right now two of her films are in the top ten most popular films at Adam & Eve.
Her newest film “The Seduction of Heidi”, based on Selena’s Heidi and the Kaiser, is currently in post-production. Stay tuned for news on its release.
So – you never know. Maybe you can interest Kay in one of your stories. I hope she’ll stop by to share what she looks for in a possible script source.
She’s a lot more accessible than Phil Harvey!
By Ashley Lister
Over the past few months I’ve used this space to look at point of view. As an essential for writing, I think point of view is one of those things that needs to be right from the first line, which is why I looked at it early on here. However, there is one thing that most writers agree is more important than point of view – more important than any other feature of fiction writing: character.
Character is the reason why most of us pick up stories. We want to read about new and exciting people doing new and exciting things. We want to meet someone with whom we can fall in love, share an adventure, or solve a mystery. We want all of these things so badly, it’ fair to say that characters are vital to fiction.
There are four things that we use to create characters in fiction: appearance, speech, action and thought. I’m going to cover these individually over the next few months and the first one I’ll be looking at is appearance.
As human beings we’re very visual creatures. Appearance is important to us because this is how we quantify the world. We pay lip service to the idea that ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’, and yet this is how most books are judged in bookshops. We insist ‘it’s personality that counts’ yet we exist in a culture where potential partners are matched or discarded by a right or left swipe, and you can guarantee that no one is saying, “I didn’t like the look of his/her personality.”
This is the physical description of one of the characters from my latest novel: Doll House.
John pulled the car to a halt outside a pair of tall, imposing gates. He stepped out of the vehicle and stood illuminated in the headlights as he fumbled with a lock and chain. He was an angular man: tall and slender and unnatural in his gait. In his corduroy slacks, sports jacket and a Harris tweed flat cap, he looked like a man who knew how to dress for the countryside even if the environment seemed not quite right for him.
I’ve done this deliberately, to make John look like a man ill at ease in his surroundings. He’s an agent, so it will be difficult for writers to like him anyway. But, in the description, we’re treated to an image of a man that we don’t fully trust because he seems uncomfortable and false in his surroundings. To my mind that’s good, because this is a character that I don’t want my readers to trust.
This is how I introduce the romantic lead in A Taste of Passion.
Her vision was beginning to adjust to the lack of light in the room and she could see the lines that weathered his face. His eyes were wrinkled by the suggestion of constant smiles. She could see he had raised one steel-grey eyebrow, as though encouraging her to continue. She wanted to believe he was grudgingly impressed with her abilities but the lighting in the dining area was too dim for her to read much from the shadows that cloaked his face.
This is Trudy’s first encounter with Bill Hart. I wanted to make him seem like a mysterious character, which is why she’s meeting him in the dark and only getting glimpses of his features. He’s not a youthful character but he’s wearing his age well. The fact that his eyes are wrinkled by the suggestion of constant smiles suggests a pleasant disposition.
Which leads me to a brief writing exercise that I use in classes occasionally. Write a character in a single, short paragraph (no more than three sentences). Give us an idea of the physical, make it so your reader can see that individual, and try to make them distinctive. It’s a tall order but it’s not impossible.
And, if you feel like sharing your work, please post your results in comments box below.