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Editing Corner

…and the other one is playing a piano.

Alanis Morissette gets beaten up a lot over her 1995 hit, Ironic, which lists several ironic things (like a black fly in your Chardonnay, or the good advice that you just didn’t take) which just… well, aren’t. Ironic, that is. I’m going to give Alanis a pass on Ironic, though. (She’ll be pleased to hear that, no doubt). She nailed the one about the guy who was afraid to fly and died in a plane crash, and a few others were pretty close. That’s good enough for me.

Where we come to blows, though, is in another song from the same Jagged Little Pill album called Hand in My Pocket. Let’s check some more of those lyrics:

And what it all comes down to my friends, yeah

Is that everything is just fine, fine, fine

‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket

And the other one is hailing a taxi cab

I don’t think everything is going to be fine, fine, fine.

“Hop in, lady. Where ya goin?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t want a cab.”

“Well why’d ya’ hail me down?”

I didn’t hail you, it was my hand.”

“Crazy bitch.” The cab’s tires squeal as it peels away from the curb.

Do you see my problem? Alanis’s hand was acting autonomously. Right now all it’s doing is playing pianos and hailing taxis, but before long it’ll be pulling puppy dog tails and tripping grannies, and mark my words, all hell’s gonna break loose.

Autonomous Body Parts

You might say I’m being pedantic (“Belinda, you’re being pedantic”), but this lyric and the one about playing a piano never sat well with me, and that was long before I learned about Autonomous Body Parts in fiction.

It just sounds wrong. Hands don’t play the piano, people do, and it sounds weird when you attribute those actions to a body part.

What does this have to with erotica?

In erotica and erotic romance, we talk about body parts and their myriad delectable actions a lot. Kissing, licking, stroking, fingering, spanking, fisting—our body parts get busy, my friends, and we’re not always completely in control. We’re wont to see a lot of involuntary or reflexive actions, such as:

Her lower lip trembled.

Her pupils dilated.

His cock bucked and throbbed and exploded inside her.

And these are all fine. We would never say, ‘She trembled her lower lip.’

Indeed, it’s the conscious actions we need to watch out for.

Brittany’s hand reached for his cock.

His fingers clutched at her ample ass.

Her lips kissed his turgid member.

Sorry about that last one. I can’t bring myself to put prose that purple into my stories, so this blog is my only outlet. On their own, you might not notice one of these rogue body parts, but our erotic writings don’t contain single, isolated actions—they contain lots of them, strung together pages on end. Put three or more of these together and people will notice.

I haven’t got it all figured out just yet

Voluntary, involuntary, autonomous…I’m confused. How can I tell when it’s okay to attribute an action to a body part?

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

Should this be, ‘Brittany arched her back’? If she’s in the throes of orgasm, is it involuntary, or is she doing it deliberately to increase the pressure on her clit? God, this is so hard! (said the nun to the vicar)

Brittany blinked.

Blinking is involuntary! Should that be ‘Brittany’s eyes blinked?’ And how about this one?

Todd’s tongue slid into her mouth.

We can be pretty sure that Todd’s tongue wasn’t acting alone, here, but the alternative, (Todd slid his tongue into her mouth), whilst not wrong, is not an improvement. In fact, the original for all three of these cases sounds just fine.

It can depend on the verb. Every verb has a subject—the person or thing performing the action. In the case of Autonomous Body Parts, the subject is a thing—Todd’s tongue, Brittany’s hand—but for the non-autonomous version, the subject is a person—Todd, Brittany.

Here’s a useful trick: try using the verb in both a ‘who’ and a ‘what’ question to discover the subject.

  1. Who slid?
  2. What slid?

If the sliding was happening on a ski slope, then option 1 would work fine, but we’re talking about tongues, so ‘what slid?’ is the more meaningful question, suggesting it’s okay for the tongue to be the subject when ‘slid’ is the verb.

What happens when we change the verb to ‘licked’?

Todd’s tongue licked between Brittany’s supple folds.

Well, let’s ask it as a question.

  1. Who licked?
  2. What licked?

In this case, both might seem plausible at first, but look more closely. If you were given an obviously pre-licked ice cream, would you ask who licked it, or what licked it? So, when it comes to licking, the subject of the sentence should ideally be the individual who owns the tongue, not the tongue itself.

Let’s go back to our first example.

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

  1. Who arched?
  2. What arched?

Both seem to work. This suggests there are edge cases and they’re not uncommon. If you come across an edge case in your writing, use your gut, and perhaps fall back on the voluntary versus involuntary sub-rule above.

Everything is gonna be quite alright

Whichever way those edge cases go, most people won’t notice and pedants like me will cut you some slack. The important thing is you’re finding the obvious ones which are more common and far more overt: kissed, licked, blinked, nuzzled, reached, stroked, fingered, touched—if you want your prose to sound in any way erotic, these all demand a human actor.

Or a tentacled alien. I’m not judging, just don’t make it an autonomous body part.

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:

Telling
The parties were dazzling and opulent. They spilled out of the house, into the garden and even the beach.

Showing
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.

I received a plaintive cry for editing help from our esteemed ERWA Editor in Chief, Sam Thorne, the other day.

Hello oh wonderful soul of lasting genius1

I wondered if you knew how to search for words that were all caps and change them to lower-case italics, using the find-replace function.

(1 That, my friends, is how you suck up)

The problem for an editor is pretty clear: we are editing a manuscript that over-uses CAPS for exclamations, which is poor form, and seek to re-cast the emphasis with … well, emphasis. Specifically, lower-case italics.

For example:

“For the hundredth time,” cried Tom, “I’M NOT FUCKING SHOUTING!”

Would become:

“For the hundredth time,” cried Tom, “I’m not fucking shouting!”

How hard could it be, right? Well, here’s the thing—I’ve spent more time than is healthy mucking about with features in Microsoft Word, and I’m no stranger to the finer points of the Find-Replace dialogue box—but changing case in Word? Man, that’s a tough one.

With the benefit of a mis-spent youth recording and tweaking Office macros, I knew this problem was bog-simple to solve in a Visual Basic macro. To that end, I wrote Sam a quickie macro and flung it off back to the mother country, but then just yesterday while I was scrying for blog ideas, it came to me—maybe it CAN be done with Find-Replace. Well, part of it, anyway. Read on; you’ll see.

Like any good overly-complicated solution, while it’s ugly to look at, it comprises some individual techniques that are really quite beautiful—ones I will definitely keep in my arsenal for solving other problems—and I thought it might be instructive to share the joy.

If you’re the impatient sort, skip to the bottom and watch the video demo. 

Disclaimer: I’m using Microsoft Office 2016. Your version may look different.

 

Changing Case in Microsoft Word

You might have noticed an inauspicious Aa button in the Home ribbon of Word. It contains a little pull-down menu for changing the case of text.

Problem solved? Not quite; Sam’s manuscript contains LOTS of shouting in LOTS of different places. Highlighting every instance and clicking lowercase is the labour-intensive process she’s trying to avoid.

Clearly, we can’t convert the entire document to lowercase. That Sentence case looks interesting, though. What if we convert the entire document to sentence case? Unfortunately, it only seems to apply changes if the first word of a sentence needs correction, otherwise it changes nothing. Here’s some sample I text I played with:

Original:

What the HELL, Microsoft Word? This is NOT how I imagined my Saturday.

Lowercase:

what the hell, microsoft word? this is not how i imagined my saturday.

Sentence case:

What the HELL, Microsoft Word? This is NOT how I imagined my Saturday.

Lowercase, then Sentence case:

What the hell, microsoft word? This is not how i imagined my saturday.

 

That last one was close, but it ruined the proper nouns like Microsoft Word, and Saturday.

Trying to manipulate the entire manuscript isn’t going to work. We need a way to focus only on those uppercase words.

We can do this manually by holding down Ctrl and highlighting all the words we want to manipulate.

Gives us:

And since those converted words are still highlighted, we can convert them to italic in a single click.

It’s not a solution, as such, but it’s progress. Now, if only there was a way to select/highlight all the uppercase words.

 

Finding Patterns with Wildcards and Advanced Find

How do you find stuff in Word? Do you hit Ctrl-F? Or do you use the magnifying-glass Find command on the Home ribbon?

BZZZT! Novice—or as gamers would say—You filthy CASUAL!!!

Find will pop up the Navigation window in the left sidebar, which is fine if you’re looking for some very specific text, but it’s not exactly feature-rich. When you’re seriously editing, this is like bringing a knife to a gun-fight, aspirin to a crack-den, edible underwear to a dinner party…

You get the idea.

When you want to find something tricky, like for instance something in all upper or lower case, you’re going to need something a bit more capable.

Enter the Find-Replace dialogue.

You can get there from the Find sidebar by clicking Advanced Find off the pull-down menu.

You can also get there with Ctrl-H, but that pops up to the Replace tab of the dialogue by default. Let’s take a closer look at that Advanced Find tab.

 

Doesn’t look too advanced, does it? Well, no—not until we click the More>> button.

 

There are a lot of fun-sounding features here, but the one we’ll be using is Use wildcards. I’ll leave the rest to your curiosity.

If you’ve heard of wildcards before, you might be thinking of the asterisk, meaning “match any sequence of characters”. For example, a search for the wildcard SLEEP* will find SLEEPY, SLEEPER, SLEEPLESSNESS, and even SLEEP.

The Advanced Find wildcard does indeed support the asterisk wildcard, but it does much, much more—way too many to mention here. Since I’m only interested in finding words in all-caps, I’m only going to explain two of the wildcards (or, as they’re known technically, Regular Expressions):

  • [xy] – Matches a single character in the range from x to y in alphanumeric order. Eg. [A-Z] matches a single uppercase character.
  • {n,} – Matches the previous Regular Expression n or more times.

In this way, the Wildcard search:

[A-Z]{2,}

will find any string of two or more capital letters. Let’s try it out.

Nice. Notice how it doesn’t match the single caps character “I”?

This isn’t perfect—it won’t capture some edge cases where a single character is orphaned by punctuation (e.g. I’M, F.B.I., O’CONNOR, TOM’S, ISN’T). This is easily fixed with a more complex expression, but I won’t go into a detailed description. Suffice to say it handles embedded punctuation.

<[A-Z][!a-z]@>

It seems like we’re almost done. Now all the all-caps are highlighted, surely we just his up that Aa button and convert them to lowercase, right?

Wrong. Although we managed to highlight them, they are not selected as far as Word is concerned. If we try hitting Aa, we’ll just change the case of whatever words we had selected prior to the Advanced Find.

What about Advanced Replace? I hear you ask. It’s no help either. We can do a lot with Replace—apply fonts, highlighting, paragraph spacing, even styles, but we can’t convert to lowercase.

It seems like we’ve hit a dead-end. We need a way to progress from finding the all-caps words to selecting them in order to then convert the case and italics.

 

Select All using Styles

Fortunately, there is a tricky work-around—there is one way to bulk-select all text of a particular type by using Styles. Try this: pick out a Style that you have examples of in your document, and right-click it in the Style Selector in the ribbon.

See that Select All option? Click it.

Word will select all examples of that Style in the document. Once selected, you can make all kinds of bulk changes, like formatting, deleting, changing style, and of course, changing case.

If only we had a way to apply a special style to those all-caps words we found.

Hopefully you’ve connected the dots by now. “But what about the Replace function?” you ask. “Can we use it to find the caps, apply a style, and then use Select-All to snaffle them all up and convert to lowercase?”

You betcha! And here it comes.

 

Find Text and Apply a Style

Using the Find-Replace dialog again:

  • Ctrl-H to open Replace dialogue.
  • Find what: <[A-Z][!a-z]@> (finds all-caps words of two or more characters)
  • Replace with: (leave blank—open the Format->Style button and choose a Style you have not used elsewhere in the document, such as “Strong”)

  • Hit Replace All

Obviously, we’re only halfway there. The caps words are still caps; they’re bold as well, of course, because we chose the “strong” style, which is a bolded style. We could equally have made our own custom style that didn’t change the font style, but the bolded text makes it easier to see that it worked, so I like it.

Now, to convert to lowercase:

  • Right-click the Strong style and Select All

  • Use the Aa button to convert to lowercase, or even better, Sentence case.

  • Optionally use the Italic button to convert to italics (this is what Sam wanted instead of caps to emphasise the shouting).

Fantastic! We’re done.

Or are we? The words are lowercase now, but they’re still bolded. That’s because they still have the Strong style applied. We have one last step to complete.

 

Stripping a Text Style

If we click on one of those bolded words, we’ll see the Strong style highlighted in the ribbon.

 

Whereas if we click on the paragraph as a whole, it will still have the default style of the paragraph (usually “Normal”).

Microsoft Word calls these Text Styles and Paragraph Styles respectively. The Paragraph Style defines the font, size, colour, etc for the entire paragraph, but it can be overridden for selected sections of text using a Text Style.

We can strip the Text Style, returning the converted words to the paragraph style.

  • Right-click the Strong style and Select All Instances to highlight all your converted text.
  • Pull down the Styles toolbox using the small arrow in the corner of the Style selector in the Home ribbon. Make sure the Strong style is highlighted.

  • Open the Style Inspector dialogue by clicking the middle of the three buttons at the bottom of the Styles toolbox (the one with a magnifying glass).

This dialogue shows the Paragraph Style and the Text Style of the selected text.

  • Now click the eraser button next to the Strong style name in the third box. It will return the highlighted text to the default Paragraph Style, removing the bold highlight from the text.
  • Note that if you had added italics above, this will appear in the fourth box, but will be conveniently preserved by the removal of the Text Style.

 

Summary

That’s it! You’re done. All your uppercase words are now lowercase (or Sentence case, if that’s what you clicked). Those steps again:

  • Use Advanced find to identify all CAPS words (Wildcard find: <[A-Z][!a-z]@>)
  • Use Replace to apply a style not used elsewhere in the document (eg. Strong)
  • Highlight all examples of the Strong style using the Style selector
  • Convert to Sentence Case
  • Optionally convert to italics
  • Strip the Text Style using the Style Investigator

More of a visual person? That’s okay, here’s a video demonstration.

Happy editing.

Ian Smith

ERWA Flasher Gallery Editor

  Pretty well every story has action scenes.

  Action scenes as in action and adventure stories?

  Well, yes, obviously. But I meant action scenes in their most general sense. Scenes in which the characters do things the writer needs to describe to the reader.

  It could be as simple as picking up a pen, or taking a sip from a drink. Or it could be a rather more complex act, like engaging in fisticuffs, enjoying an amorous engagement, or piloting a space craft which defies the laws of physics through a ludicrously busy asteroid belt.

  Think of a scene from a TV drama or a movie. How often do the actors just stand still and talk? They’re usually doing other things, even if that’s only sitting around a table. They might move around while sitting in a chair, turn towards each other, pull faces, pause for a second or two in a conversation. The actors show you more of the story with these actions than their words alone do. Hopefully, it makes the scene more believable to viewers, too.

  Actions can also help flesh out a character. A tough guy handling a weapon will seem rather more menacing than one just talking. And your readers already know about that weapon if you want to liven things up for your characters a little later.

  In an ideal world, your description of the action will include enough detail to convince your reader that the character did it (or is doing it, if you write in the present tense). It’s one of the times when “show not tell” can really work, even if it’s harder to write. You may have done some top-notch research, but think carefully. You don’t want to bog the story down, or tempt your reader to skip a bit, or worst of all, decide they’ve something else to read which will be far more lively.

  For simple things, you can use sneaky little “action tags” to describe what your characters are doing and show who’s talking. These may save you from the dreaded overuse of “said”…

  Inspector Jones pulled out a notebook and pen. “What did you see?”

  Sophie looked away. “Whatever.”

  Gregory turned to his computer. “Let’s see what the CCTV recordings show.”

  Where a scene requires more detail, you’ll have to rely on a more conventional mixture of narrative and dialogue to show the action unfolding.

  When thinking about a scene I want to write, I often try to imagine I’m watching it, as if it were a scene in a TV drama. Then I try to figure out the “choreography”.

  Choreography?

  I mean what happens, who does what, when, how, and with which hand or foot, and so on. Then there’s clothing, furniture, other people and objects around them.

  Once I’ve got all this straight (or straight-ish), then I’ll try to describe it in writing. And usually realise I need to think about it a bit more…

  One thing I’ve come across not infrequently in romance and erotica are confusing descriptions of what the characters are doing.

  Examples:

  • If there are two women involved, which “she” or “her” does the writer mean?
  • If a couple are getting amorous while sitting in a booth in a diner, how much could they do without removing the table? Likewise cars and steering wheels, or the cramped seats in a typical passenger aircraft.
  • A guy cuddling a woman only has one hand free, and that has a limited range of movement.

  In any action scene, there’s obviously a balance to be struck between details and the big picture, and keeping the scene moving is an obvious way to go.

  One approach I’ve come across for dramatic action scenes is for the character or narrator to be quite matter-of-fact. Len Deighton and Lawrence Block narrate their violence in such a way. Admittedly, with Deighton, it’s more plausible and realistic.

  One thing you might find helpful is to remember that unless your character has been very carefully trained, anything sudden and dramatic will be pretty confusing and they’ll probably notice specific details far more clearly than the whole scene.

  I’ve read two books which described conventional action scenes in quite different ways. Actually, they were both audiobooks.

  Incidentally, if you’re wondering if audiobooks might be a new outlet for your fiction, you may be right. I feel that while the right narrator can really bring a book to life, the wrong one can totally ruin it. I found Rosario Dawson’s performance of Andy Weir’s “Artemis” utterly entrancing. And after getting wound up enough to shout at my car audio system, I’ll avoid anything narrated by the British actor Martin Jarvis like the plague.

  Back to my examples…

  One was a period story I will refrain from naming. It attempted to be light-hearted and jolly, and the writer appeared to be trying to use a style which “felt” 19th century. There was a particular scene where the main female character was the cause of a major punch-up between two gangs, one protecting her from the other. Despite the furious action, the writer described this character picking her way between the combatants in an almost leisurely fashion, as if the fighting around her was in slow motion. I very nearly gave up on it, but I didn’t have another audiobook to listen to at the time.

  The other was “Stay Cool” by Elmore Leonard. There’s a point in the story where the main character is having some difficulties with two lots of gangsters simultaneously. With each unaware of the other’s existence, he manages to engineer them into a well-populated shoot-out in a nightclub, with him right in the middle of it.

  So how did Mr Leonard show us this scene of death and mayhem?

  The character told his girlfriend about it afterwards.

  As first person dialogue, we only had what he chose to relate, and only from his point of view. Like almost any witness giving a statement to the police, he’d be an unreliable narrator. Let’s face it, a noisy, dirty fight like that is going to be really confusing and you’d really want to keep your head well down.

  So, say your character is riding a horse, flying an aircraft, driving a tank, involved in a high-speed car chase, parachuting, firing a bow and arrow, or a firearm, fighting, fencing, wearing armour… Not all at the same time, obviously. How can you make your more lively action scenes more engaging and believable to your readers? Or get them to imagine that’s how it feels?

  Research.

  If you know of other people with suitable experiences, you could talk to them, read their accounts in books, watch interviews on TV, and so on.

  Or you could find out for yourself.

  Have a go at horse-riding, sailing, power-boating, flying, or driving a tank or fast car. Join a paintball game and find out how confusing a multi-party shoot-out can be. A fencing coach, martial arts or self-defence teacher can give you some pointers and hands-on experience. Archery or gun clubs may well let you shoot holes in targets (safely).

  So, think about what you want your characters to do, find someone willing to let you do something similar (at a reasonable cost, ideally), and go off and have some fun. Then you can use your experience to help convince the reader that your character’s doing it.

  The action, not the fun.

  Unless they’re having fun too, of course…

In my last blog, I talked (okay, blogged) about the difference between a scene and a story—a critical difference if we seek to elevate our erotica above the merely erotic, to make it both satisfying and memorable. It talked about all the ingredients I collect for a story, like a main character, an antagonist, conflict and resolution.

‘Ingredients’ is a good word for these things, because it tells us what we need to get started, but not how to put it all together. For example, you wouldn’t introduce your bad-guy in the last chapter, right? Even when you have all the right ingredients, you still need to put them together properly to get a story.

Structure: A recipe for success

Ever heard of the three-act structure? It’s not new. It was coined by Aristotle, apparently, and is now a staple of modern screenplays. We can employ the same techniques to structure stories, even short ones. Rather than boring you with a long and dull description that I copied off Wikipedia, I thought it would be more fun (for me) to show structure in action by decomposing a well-known story (in this case, a movie) into some of its structural components to show you how it works.

Now it’s no secret that I’m Australian, and it’s also no secret that every last one of us is a knife-toting, crocodile-wrestling maniac. It should come as no surprise that I have chosen the 1986 classic Aussie rom-com, Crocodile Dundee, starring Paul ‘Hoges’ Hogan and Linda Kozlowski. I know you’ve all seen it; don’t try to deny it.

So let’s have at it. Since I’m too lazy to actually describe the three-act structure, I’ll refer as I go along to some excellent infographics from www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com by K.M. Weiland, author of Structuring Your Novel.

The Story

Here’s a cinematic blurb for Crocodile Dundee that I pasted together from a few sources:

Sue Charlton, a New York reporter, heads to Australia to interview the living legend Mick Dundee. When she finally locates him, she is so taken with him that she brings him back with her to New York. How will the Aussie bushman cope in the big city? And how will Mick cope when he finds himself falling in love with Sue?

Now, this is my third go at writing this blog, and what I’ve discovered in two failed attempts is that breaking down the plot of even a simple movie like Crocodile Dundee into its three-act components is a monumental undertaking. I wouldn’t finish writing it, and you certainly wouldn’t finish reading it. I’m just not that interesting. Instead, I’ll try something briefer and hopefully more interesting, by pulling some of the key scenes out from Act One and trying to identify them in the Weiland infographic.

Scene: The Walkabout Creek Pub

It’s the third scene of the movie, where Sue accompanies Walter Reilly to the Walkabout Creek Pub to meet Mick. Mick sweeps in in a boisterous, raucous rush of hilarious larrikinism, wrestling a stuffed crocodile, when he spots Sue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dv3v2if3WQ

They lock eyes and there’s a long, sexually charged moment that lets every viewer know exactly why they’re there—to see these two fall in love. This is a critical moment for the movie, because not only does it introduce the title character, it lets us know his goal (get the girl), and it is the pursuit of that goal which drives the drama.

In a romance story, a scene like this is known as a meet-cute (or sometimes cute-meet), a cute, amusing, and endearing way for the love-interests to meet. Woe be to she who writes a romance without a meet-cute.

Sue, to her great credit, steadfastly sticks to her purpose and is not wooed by the charismatic bushman:

“Listen, you do understand I want you to take me out where you were attacked, show me how you survived.”

“Oh well, I don’t know, just the two of us there alone? I’ve got me reputation to think about.”

This is our first sniff of the movie’s central conflict: Mick wants the girl, but the girl wants the story (not to mention, she has a boyfriend). In this way, the story’s antagonist isn’t a bad guy, or a monster, or a volcano, it’s situational. If Sue wants the story, she must spend time alone with Mick, and in doing so, she will have to endure his country charms. Surely only the strongest woman could resist!

Let’s look at K.M.Weiland’s Act One infographic. That link should popup a new window. I’d love to duplicate the infographic here, but I’m too damn lazy to ask Ms Weiland for permission. If you’re too damn lazy to click the link (hey, I’m the last to judge), then you’ll just have to imagine a timeline that shows how Act One is broken up into The Hook, The Set-up, The Inciting Event, The Build-up, and The First Plot Point. Curious yet? Clickety-click … I’ll wait … 

You’re back? Great. Now this infographic isn’t romance-specific, so we don’t see meet-cute there, but clearly the Walkabout Pub scene is part of the set-up; characters: check; goals: check; stakes: check.

But what about that Inciting Event? It’s supposed to be in here somewhere.  It will be the place where the antagonist takes its first bite out our main characters. The Walkabout Creek Pub introduces the situational antagonist, but it hasn’t slapped either of them down, yet.

Lesson: Not all critical scenes are on the right-hand-side of the infographic.

Scene: Sue Strikes out alone

After a day and night of outback adventure, Sue is recording her impressions on a tape recorder when Mick interrupts. (Apologies to US viewers, this link is blocked to you and I can’t find the scene elsewhere on the Internet)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl8rwEuPf84#t=25m15s (Apologies to US viewers, this link is blocked to you and I can’t find the scene elsewhere on the Internet)

“Yeah, but you’re not alone. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, but… I think I know how you must have felt… Or how I’d feel if I were out here alone.”

“You… Out here alone? That’s a joke. A city girl like you… You wouldn’t last five minutes, love. This is man’s country out here.”

“That’s right. I’m only a sheila. We’re heading for that escarpment today, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. See you there this afternoon.”

You’ll have to watch the clip, because what the dialogue doesn’t show is the death-stare Sue gives Mick when he says she wouldn’t last five minutes.

This is our antagonist, out to play, teeth bared, saliva dripping from its maw. How could these two ever love each other? Physical attraction is one thing, but love between a chauvinist and a feminist? Not going to happen.

I think we’ve found our inciting incident. Their differences have driven a wedge between them, and it’s going to take a miracle to bridge the chasm it’s created.

Lesson: An Inciting Event is key to any complete story, not just a romance. We set a character onto a goal, but where’s the fun if we just let him succeed? Mick Dundee taking the city girl out into the bush, falling in love and living happily ever after is NOT a story. The Hook may be the thing that gets us reading, but the Inciting Event is the thing that makes us care.

Scene: Echo Lake

After the Inciting Event comes a series of scenes where Mick regains ground in his romantic quest for Sue, not the least of which being the one where he saves her from a crocodile attack.

Each of these plays on the same theme, Sue’s conflicted feelings for Mick, and the sense of safety she enjoys to be protected by such a manly man.

These feelings come to a head at Echo Lake. Sue is resting on the bank and watching Mick spear-fishing. The look in her eyes and the backing score all say one thing: she wants this man. Problem is, Wally will be there soon to end their adventure, and then she’ll have to go back to New York alone and resume her normal life without Mick.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl8rwEuPf84#t=38m12s (Apologies to US viewers, this link is blocked to you and I can’t find the scene elsewhere on the Internet)

“Mick. When I go back, why don’t you come with me?”

“What for?”

“Well, it would make a great wrap to the story… You in New York City.”

“Oh. For a minute there I thought you were making a pass at me.”

“Well, I might have been. Would you mind?”

This is a huge moment for Sue. She’s tried playing the assertive modern woman to Mick, and it almost got her killed. But even though she’s the one making the move, everything in the scene still screams that she is playing submissive Jane to his Tarzan, which is the drama that drives their romance.

More importantly, it opens the plot of the movie. We’ve had the city-girl-in-the-outback, now it’s time for the bushman-in-the-big-smoke, which—apart from the romance—is the real point of Crocodile Dundee.

Looking at our infographic, we see that this is our First Plot Point. We’ve had the set-up and the build-up, now it’s time to crank the handle and let the story fly into the second act, which is where all the real conflict happens.

Lesson: The Inciting Event is not the plot; it simply opens up the story for the plot reveal. Because of this amazing thing that happened (Inciting Event), now we must embark on this adventure (First Plot Point). The closer you can tie these two to cause and effect, the more compelling the drama.

What Have We Learned?

Crocodile Dundee is cheesy and formulaic, and yet every time it comes on TV (and in Australia, that’s a lot, and usually late at night), there I am:

I’ll just watch to the croc attack.

I’ll just watch to Echo Lake.

I’ll just watch to “That’s not a knife.”

The reason I keep watching until they land in each-other’s arms in the New York subway, is because it’s a tremendously satisfying story. And it’s tremendously satisfying because it keeps giving you what you need, when you need it.

This is no accident.

Sure, you could ignore structure. You don’t want to write formulaic fiction that ticks boxes, you want to write a beautiful, organic story the way it needs to be told.

Well sure, you can. Don’t let me tell you different. But if your goals are less lofty, if all you want is to turn a good idea into a great story that people will enjoy, then look into this structure thing. It really works.

By Sam Thorne, ERWA Editor

As an
editor, the strangest request I’ve ever had from a prospective author was ‘can
you make this funny, please?’

That’s all
they wanted (other than a proof of the existing story). This chap had sent his
85k words of beautifully-composed gloom to a publisher who loved the story and
the premise, but wanted him to lighten things up in parts so that the true
gloom glowed. Yes, I know that sounds like a total contradiction.

I have to
admit—it was the most intimidating job I’ve ever taken on. Black humour takes
many forms so there were plenty of tools to apply to the job, but returning
this supposedly FUNNY manuscript to the writer gave me separation anxiety. Pressing
‘send’ from my gmail account was akin to wobbling my way onto a stage on
stand-up night and hoping I didn’t squeak into the microphone. Happily, the
author loved the little touches added to his MS, but as it transpired, he was
given a publication offer from an editor who was a fan of his original grim and
loveless offering. That’s not meant as an insult, incidentally—it’s how he
described his own writing (with pride!)

That was
many years ago. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books about how to
write comedy (none of which were particularly helpful), and looking
forensically at the forms of humour across a range of novels, coffee-table
collections, and TV programmes. This is not a hilarious business, I can tell
you. To paraphrase Jimmy Carr (co-author of the fantastic book ‘The Naked Jape’),
examining a joke or script is like dissecting a frog; by the time you’ve got to
the bottom of what made it tick—note the past tense—nobody’s laughing and the
frog has died.

So, before I
get into the meat of this article, I’d like to post a disclaimer. You are
unlikely to titter, guffaw, or snigger at any point. I’m just talking about tools you can use.

The most
intimidating aspect of creating humour is that humour is totally subjective. Of course it is. Whether or not your witticisms will elicit a grin in your reader depends on a few
factors:

  • Their life
    experience and prejudices
  • Their mood
  • Their
    natural tendency towards schadenfreude (the laughter reaction at someone else’s
    expense) vs their preference for kindness
  • Their sense
    of enjoying the ridiculous.

Different
people are tickled by different things, so it may help, as a starting point, to
associate different types of humour with different beasts:

The elephant

The elephant
is king of the farce. It’s situational humour brought about by characters with
entirely conflicting goals. Most sitcoms largely fit into this category. But
wait! Some sitcoms are considered to be lacking in substance, while others give
the impression of being up-beat and edgy. Why? Because the situations depicted
are those that the audience strongly relate to, which brings us to…

The owl

The owl is
the wise one, who’s seen everything and has the worldly knowledge. People
grinning at an episode of ‘Modern Family’ quite often do so because of the distinct
feeling of connection. The owl has been there, done that, and worn the tee shirt.
The owl is all about observational humour. The owl is the representative for a
huge branch of stand-up comedy. Yet, even if the situations discussed in a
monologue have the potential to make you laugh, whether you do so or not
depends on the delivery. Not everyone enjoys an observation which is harsh or
close to the knuckle. Which brings me to…

The snake

The snake is
the overlord of deliberately cutting humour. Schadenfreude belongs here, as
does the razor-sharp quip, clever word-play and black humour. The snake represents
one-liners, the put-down you wish you’d used while engaged in an argument. Stand-up
comedians with an abrasive edge belong here.

Primary
enjoyment of snake humour doesn’t mean you have a dark soul—perhaps you simply effective
sarcasm, or a twist on a cliché: I don’t
have much shame; I have to ration it.

The bat

The bat is
the creature of the zany. Think groan-humour. Think total surreality or
incongruity. Monty Python’s sketches (and The Holy Grail) largely belong in
this category, as does Airplane, the Naked Gun series, and so on. Stand-up
comedians who fire off a hundred puns in ten minutes fall into this category. If
the majority of your chuckles are generated from bat humour, then you have a
very strong sense of the ridiculous.

Classifying
humour sources in this way goes a long way to showing whyhumour is so subjective, and why some comedy series or films do
better than others—because they combine the beasts so well. Breaking Bad has a
situational concept (elephant), with a strong snake edge. Blackadder (which
remains one of the most successful British series of all time) combines all
four. I’m sure you can think of a few stand-up comedians who blend owl and
snake to perfect effect.

Hopefully
all this provides a framework for understanding what tickles you, and why. You
might want to keep this guide at hand for a few weeks while you’re reading or
watching films or TV. Get to know your
sense of humour. Make friends with it. Hell, give it a name, even.

So, in terms
of conveying your sense of fun on the page, what tools do you have? Within
dialogue, you have quite a selection:

* understatement (most prevalent in Brit,
Aussie or NZ humour)

* sarcasm and exaggeration (good for
snake or bat humour, depending on tone).

* indignation (arises naturally from
elephant humour, empathy deriving from owl humour).

Humour within
dialogue works best when your characters have very conflicting goals. This in
itself will guide the intonation in your characters’ speech, doing half the job
for you. If you’ve heard a good one-liner you want to use, build your scene around it. Create the context in which this is said. In constructing
a scene where you want your characters’ banter to work well:

  • keep dialogue tags to a minimum. The faster the conversational flow, the better.
  • let the punctuation
    create intonation and tone of voice as far as possible.
  • Play it
    straight. Have your MC laugh at other characters’ lines by all means, but limit
    the number of times that another character falls about laughing at your MC’s
    wit. If that’s going to happen, let the
    reader do it
    . However, if your MC gets into a pickle, there’s no problem
    with other characters having a laugh at their expense.
  • If you’re
    writing omnisciently, or writing memoir-style in the first person, you can get
    away with a far more visible narrator. In which case, you can apply the principle
    of contrast to your speech tags:

“He’d look wonderful in a harness.”

“Or a headlock,” I offered, marching
away before Stella could give me the be-nice-to-Dan speech. 

Some of the most
memorable and effective comic moments come from the laugh generated by
surprise. Without actively trying to be funny or consciously writing
lively banter, you’ll find that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of the concept
of incongruity. It’s hands-down the
easiest tool to use to create that note of levity in your work, whether you’re simply
to lighten the mood after a tense scene, or creating a bit-part personality to
bring the best (or worst) out of your main character.

The trick is
to present a very strange situation or personality with a totally straight face. The incongruity principle covers diversions from the expected such as:

  • an unexpected
    foe: like the hard man who’s reduced to impotent, furious, tooth-grinding
    compliance by his formidable four-foot-tall grandmother. The foe could be
    internal, too. Imagine being a real estate agent with claustrophobia. It’s not
    good if you have to ask your clients to walk themselves around the property…
  • a
    stereotype smashed to pieces: like the nonagenarian who’s hysterical at the thought
    of going into a nursing home because they might not let him take his X-box. Or perhaps
    the bloke who’s really shy at work but who gets arrested for public indecency…
  • an incongruous
    partnership: this is where the best bromances are born. The reader should be
    intrigued to find what two such totally different people could possibly have in
    common. Perhaps the brutish, widowed, aloof personal trainer develops a soft
    spot for the teacher at his son’s school, who’s about half his size and a
    nervous wreck. However, they bond in mutual indignation when someone parks in the
    disabled space…

So – how to
use all this information?

  1.  Write down things that annoy you. Groups
    of people who annoy you. Can you get any mileage out of making them opponents
    to your characters? Even if only as part of a scene to bring out your main
    character’s timidity / wit / annoyance / eloquence / indignant speechlessness?
  2.  Conversely, if a friend makes you crack up
    laughing, think what you were talking about. A situation? A mutual acquaintance
    struggling with a situation? Did they crack an awesome one-liner? If so, borrow
    semi-shamelessly (in other words, ask first).

Yes, humour
is subjective. It’s dependent upon delivery, context, timing and audience. But once
you’re on speaking terms with your own funny bone, your inspiration for
creating grin-worthy prose will increase tenfold.

(…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.




In praise of reading out loud

By Sam Kruit (ERWA Editor in Chief)

It’s the end of the year, so I’m going to keep this short and
light and highlight just some of the issues that programmed spell and grammar
checks can never save you from.

If editors aren’t in your budget, and beta readers do things
in their own sweet time, read your work out loud. Seriously. It’s the best
investment of time you can make towards the end of the polishing process.

You’ll catch over-long sentences. You’ll catch awkward
punctuation. You may catch words spelt correctly, but used wrongly. You’re more
likely to pick up on formatting issues. And by focussing on each word
individually, hopefully you’ll rescue yourself from the kind of goofs that
continue to crop up in journalistic writing all the time—ones that even bypass
the section editor or editor in chief.

Read, learn, and giggle if so inclined! Have a great festive
season.

Lesson 1:  one letter
out of place changes everything…

Before Miss
Colverson concluded her concert with a rendition of ‘At the end of a perfect
day’ she was prevented with a large bouquet of carnations by the Mayoress.

Today’s
weather: A depression will mope across Southern England.

Unless the
teachers receive a higher salary they may decide to leave their pests.

The Red
Cross found a bed for him in an institution specialising in the treatment of
artcritics.

Mrs Norris,
who won a brace of pheasants, kindly gave her prize bark and this raised £5.50
for the funds [this one’s 30 years old… so about £35, really!]

The bride
was very upset when one of the bridesmaids stepped on her brain and tore it.

Lesson 2: keep an eye on the relationship between subject and
description!

After
consuming about a hundred portions of chips, 28 pounds of sausages, rolls ice
cream and cake, the Mayoress presented the trophies to the boys.

A carpet
was stolen from Walsingham Hall over the weekend. Measuring six by six feet,
the thief has baffled the police.

Parents and
teachers are definitely to blame here. You find them playing on both main and
by-pass roads, throwing each other’s caps and dashing out after them, and many similar
games.

Today’s tip
tells you how to keep your hair in good condition. Cut it out and paste it to a
piece of cardboard and hang it in your bathroom.

‘We saw
over thirty deer come to the forest to feed in the early morning,’ said Mrs
Boston, and added that they had thick sweaters and several flasks of hot tea
with them.

A quantity
of drugs were discovered by a sniffer dog hidden in a cigarette packet.


Lesson 3: Watch the juxtaposition of information…

COUNCIL
‘DIGGING OWN GRAVE’

Smaller
body urged.

The
celebrated soprano was involved in a serious road accident last month. We are
happy to report that she was able to appear this evening in four pieces.

The boy was
described as lazy and insolent, and when asked by his mother to go to school he
threatened to ‘smash her brains out’. The case has been adjourned for three
weeks to give the boy another chance.

Lesson 4: there is such a thing as trying to say too much in
too few words…

PASSENGERS HIT BY CANCELLED TRAINS

BOLTING HORSE SAVED AFTER FALL FROM PONY

GRAPEFRUIT LATE TELLING POLICE OF INJURED MAN

PUPILS MARCH OVER NEW TEACHERS

POLICE MOVE IN BOOK CASE

MAN CRITICAL AFTER BUS BACKS INTO HIM


Firemen in
Yorkshire received over 20 letters of thanks today thanking them for their
efforts which destroyed five houses yesterday.

Oh my Word!

by | Oct 11, 2016 | General | 11 comments

By Sam Kruit (ERWA Editor)


The deed is done, the manuscript (MS) complete. But in the
course of submitting or getting feedback, it’s likely it’ll have to go through
the formatting wrangler a few times before it’s ready to post in Storytime, or fit to be submitted to an editor’s inbox. 

One of the most annoying things about writing is having to
rearrange the appearance of your MS to fit the layout requirements of those who
are going to read it. So, this editor’s corner article is devoted to the
practical art of making MS Word work for you. 

  • Pull up an old document,
  • make a copy,
  • switch on the paragraph marker (the fat, back-to-front P
    with the double stalk), which you’ll find on the home menu under ‘paragraph’
  • and prepare to experiment with tips and tricks.

Before beginning any
mass change in a document, it’s worth standardising things like your scene
breaks first. For example:

  1. Open find and replace
  2. In Find, Type a space
    and then your scene marker
  3. Find next (you might
    not have any leading spaces. If so, good.)
  4. If you find one, type
    your scene marker into Replace with no spaces.
  5. Repeat for spaces
    after your scene marker
  6. Repeat to find any
    incidents where you’re an asterisk short (* * * ), and any other combination of
    mess-up you can think of.


Once all your scene
markers look as you want them to, you can do your global reformats and fewer
things will slip the net.


Aghhh moment #1 –
scrunched post syndrome

You’ve posted your story to ERWA Storytime in good faith,
but when the email is returned to you through the list, you find that all your
line breaks have disappeared. The whole thing appears in one lump, with or
without indents, and you struggle to pick out the starting point of each new
paragraph.

Solution:

  1. Open Find/Replace
  2. In Find, type ^p
  3. in Replace, type ^p^p
  4. replace all.

This will double up your paragraph spacers so that it
appears normal on the email. If you find your story has indeed been scrunched,
simply re-post in the expanded version with a quick note to say that the
documents are the same, but that the format has been tamed. It’s worth just
emailing it from one personal account to another to experiment before you post.


Aghhh moment #2 –
‘more white space, please!’

The editor wants scene break markers separated from the text
with an extra blank line either side. Currently, yours look like these:

Waffle waffle waffle rhubarb waffle rhubarb Waffle waffle
waffle rhubarb waffle.

* * * *

“Rhubarb!” Waffle waffle. “Waffle rhubarb waffle?”

Solution:

  1. Open find/replace
  2. In Find, type ^p* * * *^p (this shows the single carriage
    return between the end of the last line, the scene marker line, and the break
    to the start of the next scene).
  3. In replace, type ^p^p* * * *^p^p (this will add in an extra
    line break for you)
  4. Find next, make sure it works, then replace all.

Aghhh moment #3 – ‘My
scene breaks have all shifted to the left!’

Whether you’ve just tried the trick above, or simply
discovered that your entire manuscript has to be left/fully justified
(whichever format your MS isn’t in at
the moment), it is rather exasperating to find that all your scene breaks have
moved from their tidy central spots. Don’t foam at the mouth just yet.


Solution:


  1. Open find/replace
  2. Click the ‘more’ button
  3. Copy your scene marker into Find (with no spaces either
    side)
  4. Go to the bottom of the screen, where it says ‘format’
  5. Select paragraph, and in the paragraph dialogue box (PDB for
    short!) go to the alignment selection and choose left/fully justified,
    depending on what your entire text has been converted to. Click ‘ok’.
  6. Now, in Replace, paste your scene marker again (still with
    no excess spaces)
  7. Go back to format, paragraph, PDB, and select ‘centred’ from
    the alignment section.
  8. Click Find next, and watch your asterisks ping back into the
    middle of the page.


Aghh moment #4 – the manuscript
conversion

Currently your manuscript is in the ‘online’ format. In
other words, all paragraphs are flush to the left margin with no indents, and
there is a blank line between each paragraph. In MS Word, this is also called
the ‘normal’ style.

BUT your editor/publisher/agent wants the full manuscript
set-up:

Double-spaced; Times New Roman 12; normal margins; indent of
a half inch at the start of each paragraph. No gaps between any paragraphs
except for scene breaks or special effects.

Oh, and their rules say ‘no tabs’. In other words, don’t
press the Tab key to create the indent.



Solution (select a sample of a few paragraphs to practice
this on):


  1. open the PDB
  2. under ‘indentation’ select ‘first line’ from the ‘special’
    drop-down box
  3. Under ‘by’, type 1.27 if that isn’t automatically set for
    you as soon as you choose ‘first line’. This is the standard half-inch indent.
  4. Under ‘spacing’, click the box that says ‘no extra lines
    between paragraphs of the same style’.
  5. Click ok.

You should now have several indented paragraphs with no gaps
between them. You can now change spacing and font as you require. To reverse this process (from US MS format to ‘online’):

  1. Select the paragraphs you want to change
  2. Open the PDB
  3. Under indentation and ‘special’, select ‘none’.
  4. Under ‘spacing’, make sure the tickbox for no spacing
    between paragraphs of the same kind is EMPTY.
  5. Click ok.
  6. You should be back to online format.

There are countless things you can do with Find/replace. You
can standardise the type-setting, removing extra spaces between punctuation and
following words. You can also use it to find an over-used word by typing into
both Find and Replace, but assigning a highlight colour to the replaced version
(go to format at the bottom, select ‘highlight’ and pick your shade.

By the time the next Editing Corner comes around, I’ll have
type-setting standardisation document I can share. And perhaps, in the next
editing corner, I’ll be able to dip into Find/Replace’s little magical world of
‘wild cards’. Until then, have more fun and less stress making MS Word behave
for you.


By Mikey Rakes

When to use pronouns and when to use names can be tricky in any fiction writing, but with same-sex stories, editing can become critical. This is one of my pet peeves and something I also struggle with as a writer of male on male erotic thrillers. Sometimes I have to put myself in the reader’s seat to understand where the confusion can come from and sometimes I’m surprised how even accomplished writers can fall into some pronouns pitfalls.

Many writers have an all-encompassing view of their world and who is moving around in that special space. On occasion, we forget the reader can’t see the big picture. Editing is something we’d all like to have someone else do, but as writers it is our responsibility to make the manuscript the best possible product before we send to our editors. Unless you’re writing and publishing, of course, in which case: it’s all you, baby!

A prime example of a bit of a mix up came from a book I just finished reading, where the author started the paragraph with Character #1 doing something and in mid-paragraph changed to the ‘he’ pronoun, but although confusing, the ‘he’ was clearly Character #2.

Sex scenes are tricky, too. He came. He jacked him off. He felt sooo good inside of him. Which him? Him one or Him two? Or how about this one: ‘She exploded all over her fingers.’ Is this a masturbation scene? There was a Heather and a Sarah at the beginning of the paragraph, so who exploded on whose fingers? This type of ambiguity has a tendency to confuse the reader and pull them from the scene you worked so hard to write.

Poor pronoun placement can kill a sex scene. I hear all of you right now: but we can’t be using their names ALL THE TIME! No, you can’t, but you can use them more freely than usual when writing same sex stories. It’s important your readers know who is whom seamlessly, so they aren’t having to think about it. How you construct your sentences and paragraphs can help tremendously. If you start out a paragraph where Randy is nuzzling Jonas’s cock, don’t jump to Jonas enjoying it without establishing Jonas’s experience in a new paragraph.

Randy nestled his nose into Jonas’s wiry pubic hair and inhaled deeply. He loved the musky scent of his man after practice, just after wetting down in the shower, but right before any soap hits his luscious skin. Those moments on his knees, the water rushing over his head, and his lover’s cock caressing his cheek are what Randy tucks away into his memories locker. In his mind, he knew this affair wasn’t destined to last. He’d savor what he could and be happy in the moment.

Here we are clearly in Randy’s focus. But what if we took the same paragraph and added a little bit:

Randy nestled his nose into Jonas’s wiry pubic hair and inhaled deeply. He loved the musky scent of his man after practice, just after wetting down in the shower, but right before any soap hits his luscious skin. Those moments on his knees, the water rushing over his head, and his lover’s cock caressing his cheek are what Randy tucks away into his memories locker. In his mind, he knew this affair wasn’t destined to last.  He’d savor what he could and be happy in the moment. He slipped his dick inside his mouth.

The last line sounds a little funky, eh? We know it’s Randy. Or we think we know it’s Randy, but are we sure? We have to deduce that Randy slipped Jonas’s cock inside his (Randy’s) mouth. But what if our next sentence is: Jonas sucked him hard. Now how do we feel about it? About the pronouns? The names? Are we sure we know what is happening? Are they now in a sixty-nine?

It may seem that I’m making this out to be something odd, but I’ve read many stories that are far worse in terms of pronoun usage and keeping the characters straight. Look at the paragraph as it stands now, before editing:

Randy nestled his nose into Jonas’s wiry pubic hair and inhaled deeply. He loved the musky scent of his man after practice, just after wetting down in the shower, but right before any soap hits his luscious skin. Those moments on his knees, the water rushing over his head, and his lover’s cock caressing his cheek are what Randy tucks away into his memories locker. In his mind, he knew this affair wasn’t destined to last. He’d savor what he could and be happy in the moment. He slipped his dick inside his mouth. Jonas sucked him hard. He rocked deep into his throat, almost triggering his gag reflex before pulling back out. He was in heaven.

See how easily the scene can get out of control? In the writer’s mind it’s clear, but on the page? Yeah, not so much. So how do we clear it up? Edit. Edit. Edit. One edit isn’t enough, but we all get sick of reading the same thing over and over. So, take it in chunks. Break up your editing into small, easily manageable segments, such as just the sex scenes (I like doing the fun stuff first). Just remember, sex scenes aren’t the only place where your pronouns can get muddled.

Also, remember that it’s okay to use the character’s names. Just don’t overuse them. Take a look at the revised paragraph.

Randy nestled his nose into Jonas wiry pubic hair and inhaled deeply. He loved the musky scent of his man after practice, just after wetting down in the shower, but right before any soap hit his luscious skin. Those moments on his knees, as the water rushed over his head, and his lover’s cock caressed his cheek were the memories Randy tucked away every time they were together. In his mind, he knew their affair wasn’t destined to last. He’d savor what he could and be happy in the moment. Calloused fingers grazed his chin and Randy looked up into his lover’s lazy gaze. The lust in those heavy lidded eyes made Randy understand what Jonas wanted. Randy wanted it too. So he allowed Jonas to tilt his jaw open and slide his dick inside. The taste of Jonas in his mouth was heaven. Randy sucked him hard and Jonas’s hips jerked, rocking him deep into Randy’s throat. Jonas almost triggered Randy’s gag reflex before he pulled out to glide his cockhead along his tongue. God, I love being on my knees for Jonas. For Randy, being used was a part of the turn on, and from the sounds coming from Jonas’s throat, he enjoyed using him.

We didn’t give up on using the pronouns, but attempted to place the names in such a way as to keep the picture clear. Deep first person thoughts can be useful as means to keep things straight as well. Used sparingly, they can be quite effective for conveying strong emotion.

If you read your work out loud, or have a program that reads it for you, it can be helpful in determining what sounds best to your reader’s ear. I don’t know about other folks, but I see and hear the words of the books I’m reading in my head. Sort of like watching a movie with subtitles: if the subtitles are messed up, it throws the experience all outta whack for me.

When you begin writing, focus on simply getting the story on the page, and worry about the mechanics later. Remember, however, that you don’t want your reader pulling back at a crucial moment. Sex scenes are more than a way to titillate the reader. They must help to move the story along and expand the reader’s knowledge of the characters involved. Sex scenes enable the reader to understand your characters and grasp their normality. We all realize when we first fall in love the reality is…we fuck like bunnies. Sex is a part of life. In the case of same sex couplings, in our writing, we must be hyper-aware of the use of pronouns. Help the reader understand what he/she is doing to him/her, and your readers will love you for the extra effort they may never realize you’ve made. Make it seamless, baby.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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