Playing with the Passive

Thou shalt not use the passive voice!

How often have you heard this commandment? Almost as often, I’d bet, as “Show, don’t tell”. However, like most things in life, it’s not that simple. The passive voice is a legitimate English construction. It is perfectly grammatical and exists for very good reasons.

I’ve found that many authors, and even editors, are confused about the passive voice. Recently I had an editor object to one of my sentences because she believed it was passive. The sentence had the form “she had spoken to her friend before departing”. This is not a passive sentence but the editor apparently thought it was, presumably because it includes a so-called helping verb (“had”). So before I go further and defend the passive (under certain circumstances), let me try to clarify the definition of passive voice.

A sentence is passive voice if the grammatical subject of the sentence is the logical or semantic object, that is, the recipient of an action rather than the actor.

Maybe this doesn’t help. Let me put it more colloquially. In a passive sentence, the subject of the sentence doesn’t “do” anything; it is “done to”.

Some examples may help:


Active: The dog bites me.

Passive: I am bitten [by the dog].


Active: The vampire licked the tender flesh below her earlobe.

Passive: The tender flesh below her earlobe was licked [by the vampire].


Active: He had kissed her tenderly before he climbed onto his horse.

Passive: She had been kissed tenderly by him before he climbed onto his horse.


Active: I will eat my vegetables.

Passive: My vegetables will be eaten [by me].

In each case, the passive version reverses the active version, making the direct object be the subject, and optionally adding the former subject as the object of the preposition “by”.

The predicate in a passive sentence is some form of the verb to be followed by the past participle of the verb expressing the action. For regular verbs, the past participle ends in “ed” and has the same form as the simple past:






Irregular verbs, however, often have special forms for the past participle:






By the way, only transitive verbs can be involved in passive sentences. A transitive verb is one that requires a direct object. (Some verbs can be used in both transitive and intransitive situations.) If there’s no possibility of a direct object, then clearly the object can’t be made into a subject.

Note that just because a sentence includes a form of the verb to be does not mean it is passive. For example, the following sentences are all active voice:

I am an erotic romance author.

I was hungry.

I had been waiting for the bus for nearly half an hour.

Notice also that the question of tense (that is, at what time the action occurred) is independent of whether a sentence is active or passive. In my first four examples, (1) is present tense, (2) is simple past, (3) is past perfect and (4) is future. In the passive version, the form of the verb to be determines the tense.

So now that we know what passive voice is (and is not!), why is it so maligned? The primary reason so many books advise against using the passive is the fact that passive sentences can reduce the impact of an action. Active sentences are shorter, more direct and more dynamic than passive ones. Using active as opposed to passive voice is akin to choosing strong, specific verbs over weak, general ones: “stumbled”, “sauntered”, or “strolled” instead of “walked”, for example.

In fact, psychological research has demonstrated that passive sentences are more difficult to understand than active sentences. This makes sense. In an active sentence, the grammar supports and provides clues to the underlying meaning. In a passive sentence, grammar and meaning conflict.

Given these results, why would you ever want to use the passive voice? There are at least three situations in which the passive is desirable or even necessary:

1. The true actor – the logical subject of the action – is unknown.

As the door slid closed, I was knocked on the head so hard that I saw stars.

Many articles have been written about the perils of the passive voice.

2. You deliberately want to focus attention on the recipient of the action, because this is your current POV character.

Henrietta had been wooed by every eligible bachelor in the county, but she despised them all.

Buck was bruised and battered by the gang’s weapons, but he refused to give up.

3. You deliberately choose an indirect mode of expression for stylistic reasons.

Professor Rogers was a man of well-established habits, delicate sensibilities and refined tastes. He was enthralled by the soaring harmonies of Mozart’s Requiem and intrigued by the challenging arguments of Sartre. Rogers was confused when students insisted on sending him email. In his world view, words should be committed to paper and vouchsafed to the Royal Mail for delivery.

In the third example, the repeated use of passive voice reinforces the presentation of Professor Rogers as a fussy, overly-intellectual character, the exact opposite of a man of action. Even though this paragraph is not in fact in the Professor’s words, it sounds like something he might have written.

In summary, there are sometimes good reasons for adopting the passive voice. As a general rule, however, active voice tends to be more readable and engaging. What is is important is to be aware of your choices in this regard. If the passive seems right for the situation, don’t be shy about using it. Recognize the passive when it pops up in your writing and make deliberate decisions based on knowledge and craft.

Writing Rules

By Ashley Lister

It’s a common mantra within the writing community that we don’t write: we rewrite.

This investment in revision is supported by Hemingway who is meant to have said, “The first draft of everything is shit.” Of course, Hemingway died in 1961 so he never got a chance to read any of my first drafts, which are far from shit, but I understand a lot of people put credence in Hemingway so I won’t dismiss his opinions here.
The need to rewrite is important. Few first drafts reach the giddy heights of what we wanted to do with our work and revision helps us to achieve our goals by producing a more accessible text. However, rather than look at Hemingway’s reductive (and scatological) observations, I find more value in considering George Orwell’s guidance from his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’.

The essay itself is available on the internet and remains relevant and readable, even though it was written more than 70 years ago. It includes many valuable nuggets of wisdom and concludes with six rules that, for writers, are well worth living by. I’ve reiterated them here and I’m going to go through them in a little more detail below.

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

This makes perfect sense as an editing rule. Readers don’t want to be revisiting tired phrases such as ‘she was as pretty as a picture’ or ‘he was working like a dog’. These are phrases with which we are so familiar that we don’t bother considering their content and simply come away from them think ‘she’s pretty’ and ‘he’s hard working’. Victor Shklovsky, in his essay ‘Art as Technique’, discussed the notion of defamiliarisation, suggesting that our readers can see things more clearly when they’re given an original description. Consequently, if we use alternative phrases such as ‘she’s as attractive as a tax refund’ or ‘he’s concentrating harder than a bomb disposal technician with shaky hands’, then our readers are seeing the world from a fresh perspective.

2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.

In an episode of Friends, Joey Tribbiani uses a thesaurus to help him write a recommendation letter for Chandler and Monica. His original phrase, that the couple are “warm, nice, people with big hearts”, has been translated into “they are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps.”

This is a perfect example of why our personal vocabulary is usually sufficient for the task of writing, and a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of using a thesaurus to simply make our phrasing look cleverer. As the old joke says: if you use long words without being absolutely sure of what they mean, there’s a danger you might look photosynthesis.

3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Words like really and very are useless modifiers. You should be able to find stronger verbs or adjectives for whatever you’re trying to enhance.

Similarly, words like totally, completely, absolutely and literally are words that don’t add information to a sentence. For example, “The shelf was completely full of books.” reads the same as, “The shelf was full of books.” or better yet, “The shelf was crammed with books.”

4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Passive sentences aren’t incorrect; it’s just that they often aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. Also, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentence.

5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

This is not Orwell saying that foreign phrases, scientific words or jargon are verboten or non licet. It’s simply his observation that the complexity of these words can sometimes be a barrier to clarity. I’d argue that some foreign phrases, scientific words and jargon need to be used: but this is only in cases where there isn’t an English equivalent that has the specificity of meaning I require. Other than that, I try to place a moratorium on vocabulary that might drag readers from the narrative I’m sharing.

6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

As I said at the start of this blog, we don’t write: we rewrite. Personally I find Orwell’s rules are a useful tool to help me when I’m rewriting. I sincerely hope they might be of use to you if you’ve read this far.

Grammatical Intuition

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.

Red Lines, Rules and Limits

By Lisabet Sarai

Are there topics you feel should be unequivocally banned from erotica? Subjects about which you would absolutely never read—or write—in an erotic context? Do you believe there are some literary lines that should never be crossed?

Many people feel this way about rape or other forms of non-consensual sexual activity. Yet studies (here, for example) have shown repeatedly that many women (and some men) fantasize about being raped or forced into sexual activity. In general, these women understand that imagined coercion is very different from real rape. Finding the former arousing does not indicate a desire for the latter. Nevertheless many readers, and publishers, object to exploring this topic in erotica.

What about incest? Despite the difficulty authors experience in publishing fiction that features sexual activity between adult family members, the taboo topic is a turn-on for a significant subset of readers. The wildly popular step-brother romance sub-genre has provided a “safe” way for readers to experience the forbidden thrill of being attracted to a close relation. I personally consider this as a bit dishonest. I’ve had incestuous dreams about my own brother. I’d never act on them, but that doesn’t mean the dreams weren’t a turn-on.

Bestiality? If sexual activity involving animals is so horrifying, why are shifter stories so successful? Not to mention the cryptozoological “taken by bigfoot” sub-genre? Forcing oneself upon a dumb animal in the real world would be immoral, but the beasts in erotic fiction tend to be anthropomorphised. The human participants feel some sort of sexual connection with the horny dog or the sleek, predatory tiger. I’ve read some amazing erotica based on human attraction to animals. Does that mean I plan to have sex with my cat? Of course not.

Sex with children may be a hard line. Adults getting sexual with kids too young to object or to understand is definitely wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances. But how do you define “young”? Is fourteen too young? That’s how old I was when I gave away my virginity, to a guy who was twenty. I knew exactly what I was doing (well, in theory, at least). During the teen years, desire is confusing and inchoate, but overwhelming in its power. Memories of that period, when every emotion cuts to the quick, offer tremendous possibilities for meaningful and moving—as well as tremendously arousing—erotic fiction.

My clearest personal line involves erotic fiction that portrays inflicting serious violence, physical harm or death as arousing. I avoid such stories when I can. I’ve read enough erotica, though, to know that not everyone agrees with this boundary. Are the people who write such stuff fundamentally evil? Am I qualified to judge?

These are not easy questions to answer. If you think they are, I believe that you’re fooling yourself.

The core issue relates to another kind of line: the line between imagination and reality. Is someone who finds a taboo topic arousing in fiction likely to perform such actions in real life? I’d argue that most readers of erotica distinguish very clearly between the fantasies evoked by erotic fiction, no matter how extreme, and the life they live outside of books.

Of course there are individuals who do enact this sort of forbidden scenario in the real world. There are men who kidnap women and hold them prisoners in their basements for years, who secretly abuse grade school kids, who screw their prepubescent daughters. These people have always existed. Does our writing about the sort of crimes they perpetrate encourage these people to commit these crimes?

Does an author who writes about a serial killer encourage murderers in the real world?

How much of the horror that people express about various taboo topics is rational, and how much is based on their personal discomfort? I will leave that question open for you to ponder.

Publishers and online venues like ERWA don’t want to make readers uncomfortable. They’re also worried about getting in trouble with the law. Hence, they establish various rules about what content is and is not acceptable. These rules tend to be idiosyncratic, depending on both the personal beliefs of the owners or operators and their perception of their market. For instance, I had a publisher reject one of my stories once because they had a policy prohibiting the portrayal of priests and nuns in erotica. In the romance world, very few publishers will accept any work that includes bodily fluids (“golden showers” or “scat”) even though there’s no legal reason for them to reject such stories (and it’s possible to write about these topics with both grace and heat). These publishers are convinced their readership will find such content “gross”.

Rules can change. Last year, the ownership of ERWA changed hands. Now, the ERWA staff members are debating whether to remove the prohibition of incest erotica on the public website. Perhaps you will consider me an incorrigible reprobate, but I am in favor. I believe we should have as few rules as possible.

In my view, erotica should not only turn readers on, but should also expand their perspectives. Sex is inextricably intertwined with so many other emotions—love, guilt, ambition, shame, anger, and compassion, to name just a few. Erotica derives its singular power from this psychological complexity. It’s not a safe genre, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the most arousing stories are the most disturbing.

Does that mean nothing is sacred, nothing forbidden? That’s something each of us has to answer for ourselves. There are few, if any red lines that I can discern. Defining what is and is not acceptable in erotica is a dangerously slippery slope.

Red lines in erotica remind me a bit of limits in BDSM. Limits are personal—the activities I totally reject might be the ones that most turn you on. Furthermore, limits can change over time. Tomorrow I might consider doing something that terrifies or squicks me today. Finally, the most erotic BDSM encounters often result from pushing limits—moving beyond the edge of what’s comfortable and familiar into new experiences and new insights.

In Defense of Long Sentences

Composition classes have been lauding the short sentence for
about 80 years. I’m not going to tell you the short, sweet and tight is bad; it
isn’t. I love it, often employing a consciously clipped style myself. It’s
effective for the gritty, brutal narrative and it affords a great deal of space
for the reader to root around it.

It’s been Hemingway vs Faulkner in the world series of
wordsmithery forever  but, if you do
a little investigation, you’ll find that Hemingway wrote some very long
sentences and Faulkner wrote some very pithy short ones. That’s probably why, even
after all this time, they’re still considered paragons of literary style.
Because, although they are each known for their radically different sentence
constructions, they both knew when to switch gears and break out of their own
stylistic niche to good effect.

Just the facts, ma’am and no purple prose. The popularity of
the short, sweet sentence arose with the emergence of the journalistic style,
evolving the way it did, partly due to technological limitations and partly for
clarity. When news stories were first transmitted by telegraph, there was a lot
of drop-out on the lines. The shorter the sentence, the less likely it would be
cut off. Hence the inverted pyramid format. And, hard as it is to believe now,
literacy was still relatively low at the dawn of the 20th Century. The press
was part of a democratization of information – particularly in the US – and
that effort included writing in plain, simple language.

Now it’s simply a matter of acclimatization to style. In
genres that place an emphasis on hard and gritty, you see the preference for
short sentences and unadorned language. Thrillers, horror, hard crime fiction
and any other genre that relies heavily on action tend to preference the short
and sweet. Unless the writer is very skilled, too many sub-clauses can gum up
the tension and slow down the pace. But allow me offer you an alternative.
Here, from the master of the short sentence, is a long one, pure action, with
all the tension and fluidity you could ever hope for:

George was coming down in the telemark position, kneeling,
one leg forward and bent, the other trailing, his sticks hanging like some
insect’s thin legs, kicking up puffs of snow, and finally the whole kneeling,
trailing figure coming around in a beautiful right curve, crouching, the legs
shot forward and back, the body leaning out against the swing, the sticks
accenting the curve like points of light, all in a wild cloud of snow.

Yup, that was Hemingway with a 75 word sentence.  Did the sub-clauses slow it down?

There is a place for short, staccato sentences in erotic
fiction, but when I encounter erotic writing devoid of any long sentences, I
find it effective but not affective. My intellect engages, but my emotions and
my senses don’t. Lots of erotica leaves me not very high and literally bone
dry. Writing style is often the prime culprit.

Long sentences with a kernel or root clause and subsequent
sub-clauses that elaborate on the main one are a way to pull the reader into
the moment affectively. They offer substance, direction, rhythm and texture,
engaging the emotions, the senses and the reader’s ear. It complicates ‘the
facts’ with the meat of human experience; it offers shades of meaning to what
is happening in the story.

For those of you went to school after they stopped teaching
grammar, the kernel or root clause is the main subject, very and object of the

Tracy adores cunnilingus.

 Now we’ll add on a sub-clause:

Tracy adores cunnilingus, since it’s the only way she can

Now a one more:

Tracy adores cunnilingus, since it’s the only way she can
orgasm, regardless of her lover’s technique in other areas.

We’ve put significantly more substance in the sentence, and
you’ll notice, there’s also a direction. 
We start out with the root clause ‘Tracy adores cunnilingus’ and then we
are elaborating by adding modifiers after that statement. But we could easily, perhaps
more elegantly, shift things around and add a little more:

Regardless of her lover’s technique in other areas, Tracy
adores cunnilingus, whining for it like a persistent cat in heat, tugging on his hair to drag his face down to her cunt, since it’s the only way she can orgasm.

The problem with long sentences is that there are a lot of
words in them to misuse. Run-on sentences are often painful because they’re
poorly constructed. The reader loses her grasp on the kernel clause, even on
the subject itself, and can’t remember what all this modification was actually
modifying. But, as you can see above, we haven’t lost the plot. This is still about Tracy’s love of a good licking.

Well written long sentences should enhance the reader’s
depth of understanding of the subject, not lose it. The addition of sub-clauses, either
free modifiers or bound ones, should deepen the in-the-moment ‘thereness’ of
the reader instead of jerking him out of the narrative in a tizzy of

No matter what composition teachers tell you, language is
not like mathematics. In mathematics, elegance is based on simplicity and
compactness, but language is an additive beast. The more details you get, the
more you know.  I’m not saying that
the mot juste is not important. But
when language gets too clean, too pithy, too simple, it can lose its humanity.
It can also lose its rhythm.

This is particularly true when it comes to writing sex
scenes with a view to arousing the reader. Literary fiction writers will often
stick to a description of the mechanics in a sex scene. It’s about as sexy as
jumping jacks or watching dogs fuck. The whole thing is rendered like a series of
short, sharp stabs. All showing and no telling. If they’re scared of being
accused of purple prose at any time, they’re terrified of being accused of it
during a sex scene.

But erotica writers know better. When you write a good sex
scene, you fuck the reader. And good erotic fiction writers are, at least
mentally, accomplished lovers. They vary the pace by varying the length of
their sentences. They vary the sensory experience by glancing the subject in
some sentences and going in for the hard and deep plunder in others. They’re
not under the illusion that a ripped body and a 8″ cock used artlessly is going
to ever compete with the delicious rollercoaster ride of a well-executed
mindfuck. A hot quickie is pleasant, but a good erotic literary mindfuck is a
memorable thing. It requires that you make ingress into the reader’s affective
mind, not just their imagination of the narrative physical event.

The chief problem with long sentences is that people feel
they need to use prepositions and pronouns. If they don’t bind all those
sub-clauses together, it won’t be logical.  So, you get this:

pressed his open mouth over her left breast, then stroked the tip of his
searing tongue around her nipple in a circular fashion before sucking the
entire area into his mouth, afterwards leaving the indentation of his teeth
behind on her skin.

Admit it, you felt the need to take a deep breath,
right?  It’s cludgy. When possible it’s better to set your modifiers free (bound modifiers attach to the sentence using joining words or prepositions, free modifiers don’t use them).

You need to trust that your reader is smart and with you.
They understand that the progression of words is the progression of events, and
they know enough about anatomy and how tit sucking works not to need half that
crap. You’ve already established who is doing what to whom, so you can be a little less concerned with locating everything in time and space.

 Pressing an open mouth to her breast, he circled her nipple with a
searing tongue and, sucking hard, marked her skin with his teeth.

You can’t get rid of every pronoun or every preposition, but
you really don’t need most of them. 
Although a good deal shorter, it’s still 25 words long . Not exactly short. I admit to having written much longer
sentences and I could easily slow down the pace and be languid in my
description of this, using more adjectives, an adverb or two if needed. It
depends on how I want the reader to experience this particular piece of intimacy.

Sentence length should be about depth of knowledge, direction, pace and rhythm.
Just as there is a place for the short, hot, meaningless fuck, there’s a place
for the long, slow, pulsating, eviscerating annihilation of the flesh and mind. And your ability to execute either of these
depends on your ability to be flexible in the way you construct your sentences.

If you’re up for it, there is rather deeper examination of the topic of sentences and especially of modifying sub-clauses written by Frances Christensen. “A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence” linked here. It’s a pdf file.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



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