Not Writing Erotica


During the past few months, for one reason or another, I’ve found myself not writing erotica. This in itself would not be a problem but, as it transpires, I have been asked to review some books by people who should also have not been writing erotica.

In some of the classes I teach we look at various methods of how to write by looking at how not to write. For example, if you want to know how to write a good opening line, consult the web-pages of the Bulwer-Lytton Prize. The opening lines for the prize are so tortured that they are the antithesis of a good opening line. Write something that defies the criteria for the Bulwer-Lytton prize and the chances are you’ve got a reasonable start to your story.

So, with that mindset, I thought it would be appropriate this month to look at not writing erotica. Below is a passage of erotica that, I feel, should not have been written.

“Mary,” John began, admiring Mary’s bared, bouncing breasts. “I have to say I’m looking forward to playing with your bared, bouncing breasts.” He smiled, hoping she would see that he was sincere in his desire to play with her bared, bouncing breasts.

“My bared, bouncing breasts?” Mary said. She placed an arm across her bared, bouncing breasts and wished John hadn’t brought attention to them. There were times he could be so insensitive.

“Yes,” he said patiently. “Your bared bouncing breasts.” He thought of asking if it was likely he had been admiring someone else’s bared bouncing breasts whilst ogling her chest. Then he realised such a comment might sound contentious. “Am I OK to play with them now?”

She laughed softly. He seemed as desperate to have her as she was to have him. She wondered if desperation was a good enough reason for a couple to end up in bed together. Then she remembered she had ended up in bed with many men for less noble motives. Slowly, she moved her arm from her chest to expose her bared, bouncing breasts.

Point of view can be troubling for any new writer. It’s particularly troublesome in erotica. In a heterosexual encounter, does the reader want to read what’s going through John’s mind? Or does the reader want to know how Mary feels? We’re talking about fiction, not the real world, so it’s possible for the author to explore the thoughts of John and Mary within the same scene.

Except, as the text above suggests, this seldom works to produce convincing fiction.

The most frequently used viewpoints in erotica are first person and third person. First person has the heightened intimacy associated with reading a diary or directly exploring the narrator’s thoughts. Third person is not quite so intimate but it does have a lot of positive traits.

However, with any point of view, it needs to remain consistent throughout the story. As readers we get used to a story being told from a particular perspective. We identify with the narrator and, when someone else starts to tell us the story, we become confused.

John and Mary’s exchange shows how problematical a dual narration can be. We could experience this whole scene through John’s senses and understand what’s going on. Or we could experience Mary’s thoughts and reactions and use her interpretation of events to understand what John is going through. But, exposed to both narrators, the text loses its flow and becomes stilted as we realise we’re going from one head to another.

Imagine if they had a threeway! Would we really want to go inside the head of a third person just to keep up this balance?

“Mary and Jane,” John began, admiring Mary and Jane’s bared, bouncing breasts. “I have to say I’m looking forward to playing with your bared, bouncing breasts.” He smiled, hoping both women would see that he was sincere in his desire to play with their bared, bouncing breasts.

“Our bared, bouncing breasts?” Mary said. She gave John a salacious wink and linked arms with Jane, savouring the woman’s nearness.

Jane smiled demurely, unsure she liked having her bared breasts described as bouncing, and hoping John was better in bed than he was at producing dialogue. She thought of saying as much and then realised her internal monologue would already have been conveyed to the reader…

A general rule of thumb in writing is to stick with one narrator. It’s possible to change narrators at the start of different chapters. It’s even possible to change narrators halfway through a chapter if the change is sufficiently well-signalled to the reader. But under most other circumstances it’s confusing and bad form to change narrators.

Ashley Lister
February 2011

“The Write Stuff” © 2011 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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