“Imagination is intelligence with an erection” —Victor Hugo
Which of the following is something you’d like to read: A. a woman fucked by five guys until she orgasms “like an earthquake;” or B. a woman who takes a vacation from her tired old life with a spontaneous erotic adventure, only to realize that to her partner their time together was nothing ‘special.’
Okay, that may be a bit loaded, but the point is there (and apologies to group sex scene aficionados). The first story may very well be hot but that’s all it could ever be. The second, however, not only rings true but promises to deliver something more than just a ‘good time.’
It’s a common misconception that erotica only has to be arousing to be good. There’s a lot wrong with that kind of thinking and, naturally, I’m going to tell you why.
First of all, a story that’s just one long sex scene, ending in one kind of huge orgasm or another isn’t just predictable or shallow — it’s simply dull. It’s like watching porno film after porno film: after the second or third you begin to crave anything but sex.
That would be okay if, unlike smut on film, that kind of porn was what people were looking for, but professionally, the days of pure and simple smut are long gone, thank goodness. Those crappy paperbacks that used to be sold in airports and your sleazier adult bookstores are so much dust or mildewed landfill. Readers today expect, and deserve, interesting characters, a good plot, complex emotions, imaginative structure, and the whole shebang that comes with a well-written story, no matter the genre. In other words, an erotic story needs more than just heat: it needs to SAY something. And stories that say something are what readers want, and editors and publishers buy.
There’s also the “Talk Down” syndrome: getting a story that reads like the idea came in two seconds and was written in an hour is more than a tad annoying (eyebrows down). Not that good work has to take a lifetime, but I think you get my meaning: when I read a story that was clearly thought out, planned carefully, executed with style, pleasure, and craft — my eyebrows go up. “Talk Down” is what happens when a writer whips off a story thinking “it’s just porn.” This kind of work is insulting to both the reader and the editor.
It’s easy to see where a lot of this dull writing comes from. For many folks, ‘erotica’ takes them back to that airport newsstand or a neon-signed smut parlor’so naturally they think that’s what editors are still looking for. Nope, sorry. Take a look at most anthologies out today and you’ll find that old-fashioned porn is a rarity. Today you’ve go to work a bit harder on your stories if you want to see them in print.
Starting out, some writers have a difficult time getting over the IDEA of sex writing. The whole idea is so exciting, so (ahem) stimulating, they can’t get through their own arousal. Ever done cybersex? It’s like that: as it progresses the writing degenerates into bad spelling and lots of “oooooooo that’s niiice.” One way to get into a more “professional” space is to keep writing until you can work on a sex story the same way you’d put together something for any other genre. Another trick is to write about something that’s not such a hardcore turn-on for you — that way, your engorged organ of choice won’t get in the way of telling a good story.
Besides selling your work, there’s another reason to get away from lazy storytelling — and it has nothing to do with sex. Creativity is like any other mental muscle: you don’t exercise it, you’ll lose it. I have a few pals who used to work in the bad old days of smut writing; they’d sit down and write novel after novel after novel of nothing but pure crap. It was a pretty good gig for awhile but when it came to writing something else, something better, it was damned tough. It was like their minds had become acclimated to turning out crap.
If you try and make every story better than the one that preceded it you may get frustrated but you’ll also learn how to knuckle down and really get into your writing. Challenge yourself, work that brain: try writing everything you can — even if it’ll never sell or you don’t even like that particular genre. Don’t like writing dialogue (or don’t think you do it well)? Write a story with nothing but. Get the idea?
Even though writing smut is a lot of fun, it’s not the only writing there is. Writing stories that are just sex — and nothing but sex — doesn’t really take you anywhere. But if you try adding interesting plots, vivid descriptions, unique situations, deep emotional subtext, irony, pathos, wit, and so forth to your work, it can open all kinds of doors, professionally as well as personally.
To sum up: sex is fine, sex is dandy, but as a writer you need to say more than just sex is fun. If you do, and work hard at it, then you’ll hear someone say “Sold!”
“Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker” © 2003 M. Christian. All rights reserved.