Like many things in life, getting started can often be the hardest part of writing an erotic story. When confronted by the blank screen it might feel like a daunting task to fill up one no less 10 pages of text. Even more so, the first sentence may strike fear into a writer’s heart and cause her creativity to shut down. It is just as likely that a new author may not know how to start a story and be hauled by the fear of doing it wrong. If starting is problematic for you, then fear not, I’ve got a few tricks to get you going.
Why Starting Can Be Hard
Starting can be hard for a variety of reasons and the reason you find starting hard can vary each time you attempt to start. Here are a few of my favorite fear-inducing starting-problems:
Fear of the Blank Page. Many writers fear the blank page—be it the first or 150th page of the text. A new page—clean and white—holds promise and potential. Fear of not achieving that potential, of “dirtying” the page, may be at the bottom of this problem but, without turning into a dime-store psychoanalysis, I have a quick fix. Remove the fear and stress by making the page unblank. If you work on paper with pen (as I do), draw a house, cat, or tree in the margin. The page is now unblank. Type your basic idea on the first line. “Two women meet at a bar and hook up.” The page is no longer blank and you no longer need to fear the blank page. Always give your piece a working title (WT: My First Time). You can change it latter and this act alone may solve the blank page problem.
No Clear Cut Idea. So you want to write an erotic story, but don’t have an idea. This is a bit more difficult to solve than the blank page problem. If you don’t have an idea, it’s hard to get started. I’ll address generating ideas later in this column, so fear not.
Your Ideas Aren’t Speaking to You. I find this usually happens when you are attempting to answer calls for submissions. You’ve got an idea based on a specific call, but you can’t get going. When this happens, I’ve discovered one of two things is normally true.
First, the idea’s probably not so great. In this case, rethink the idea and flesh it out more. This will normally help to refine and focus the idea and allow you to start. Second, there is always the possibility that you shouldn’t be answering this call. While answering calls is the best way to get your work published, not all calls will speak to all authors. Sometimes, no matter how good you think the anthology idea is, you won’t be able to muster up a story for it. Let it go, and move on to more fertile topics and calls.
No Idea of How to Start. If you are a new or a first time author this may be true. The fear of doing it wrong may cause you to postpone starting. Fear not, there is no correct way to start and I’ll give you some more tips later in this column.
Having an idea is critical to starting your story. That may seem obvious, however, when I say “having an idea” I mean more than the one sentence plot idea I listed above. Some authors may be fine with just that and run with it. If that isn’t true of you, you will need to have a concrete idea of the events (plot) or a deep understanding of your characters. By no means am I implying that you must have these to start, but if starting is a problem fleshing out your idea might help. And remember, you can always change these things after you start and find your voice. Here are some ways to generate and store ideas and help you to start writing.
If you do not keep a writer’s notebook, then you should start. A writer’s notebook is a notebook of your choosing that you keep with you at all times and dedicate exclusively to ideas for your writing. I use a small assignment book that fits into my purse. Whatever your preference in notebooks is, select one that prevents you from ripping out pages. Make a pact with yourself to use the notebook only for writing ideas. Avoid putting to-do or shopping lists, phone numbers and notes to your self or doing any actual writing in the notebook. Essentially the notebook contains your notes on potential story ideas or brief character sketches.
You can record story ideas, character sketches, dialogue you over heard, and tape clippings or pictures that inspired an idea for a story or character. You can record brief sentences, actual scenes, or detailed plots. It is up to you. For example, a photo from a magazine may inspire a story idea. Rip it out and paste it into your notebook. Be sure to include as many details about your idea as possible. This can be done informally in fragments and with bullet points using key words instead of your best prose. But be sure to include enough detail to remind your self in three or four months of the original idea. The notebook serves as a holding place until you have time to actually use the ideas. This is of great value when your muse isn’t talking to you or you are having trouble starting.
One Element Starts
By establishing one element of the story (the characters, conflict, location, sex act…) the other elements will reveal themselves to you as you write. Experiment by establishing different elements and writing about them to generate story ideas. Keep these ideas in your writer’s notebook.
Plot or Character
I normally write character-driven fiction, so strong, fully developed characters are critical to starting my writing process. I often find that if I know who I am writing about the other elements of the story (plot, conflict, location…) reveal themselves to me as I write. I usually start with detailed character sketches and let the characters reveal their story to me. Once I know who I am writing about, I can start to write with the barest of plot ideas. Likewise, a strong plot idea can often generate a good start for a story.
Sex-Aid and How-To Books are a great resource for both learning about sexual acts that you aren’t familiar with and for finding inspiration for a story idea. Reading about different sex acts can inspire you to write a story centered on that sex act. Likewise, books like 101 Nights of Grrreat Romance, where the pages are sealed and need to be torn open to reveal a predetermined sexual scenario, can be great fun and a source of strong inspiration. Page through one of these types of books until something inspires you or select a topic and read about it for inspiration.
Mining Your Life and Your Fantasies for Material
Use actual sexual encounters as a starting point for your erotic story. Change characters and/or details, and feel free to enhance your encounter unless you are writing memoir. Make the sex hotter or more elaborate, create conflict where none existed, enhance your self and your partner(s). Turn real life into fiction. Not all real life makes for good literature; however, using an actual encounter as the seed for a fictional story can bring new inspiration.
Likewise, use your fantasies. Have you always wanted to have sex in the locker room of your gym, but are too timid to actually do it? Are you curious about bondage, a three way, or a group sex parties, but don’t want to or haven’t had the chance to actually try it? Write about it in a story. All of your sexual fantasies are potential erotic short stories.
In addition to letting you know what kinds of stories editors are looking for; calls can serve as inspiration for stories. Some calls are more helpful then others to generate story ideas. For example, all of the calls for “The Best” of anthologies are vague and not really helpful for generating story ideas. The editors are looking for the Best of lesbian erotica with no strict themes in mind. Other calls are looking for specific stories that you may not have thought about writing until you read the call. Themed anthologies, such as cowgirls, bikers, NYC stories, athletic/sports dykes, prison, pirates, or Drag Kings, etc…, may serve to spark a story idea or an Aha! moment for you. Some editors go so far as to list even more detailed specifics about what they are looking for in a story. Likewise, check calls for other types of erotica. There maybe a call for a themed gaymale or straight erotic anthology that will spark a story idea for a lesbian erotic story.
The Process of Starting
Alright, so you’ve got your writer’s notebook full of ideas and you’ve selected one that you’ve thought about or you’ve looked over the calls and are inspired to write a great, hot sex filled erotica story. But when you sit down you are still having trouble starting.
This may be because you need a ritual. Many writers use rituals to begin the writing process. Some folks think of them as a spiritual aid. I think of it as a way to inform your body and mind that you are indeed going to write now. Kind of a “all-aboard” for yourself before starting the writing process. Realigning your self to the creative mode. A rebooting, if you will, of your mental and emotional processes. However you want to look at it, a ritual is often a great idea. The key to a ritual is to keep it short, simple, and self contained. You want to be able to do the ritual no matter where you are and you do not want the ritual to take over the writing process. Have a sip of water and walk in a circle for three minutes. Close your eyes and think of the void for 3 minutes. Take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale. Avoid complex rituals that cannot be done on the plane or train or at your mother’s house.
Do an exercise. Jumping Jack’s are fine, but I mean a writing exercise. Consider it a warm up to the actual writing process. Athletes always do a warm up so why not writers.
If you are a new writer, you may also be in need of some structural knowledge about the process of writing. Here is the big secret: Whatever you write on the page first, does not have to be the opening line or for that mater doesn’t even have to make it to the final draft.
Start wherever you want and work out from there. I never start at the beginning and I rarely if ever write the first paragraph first. Normally I start where the idea started and work out until I stop. At which point, I call it a first draft and go back and fill in the beginning. Most of the time, the beginning doesn’t show up until the third draft.
What is important about starting is starting. Capturing on the page some portion of the idea you have trapped in your head is the only thing you should worry about when you start to write. Drafts are just that—incomplete, outline versions of what will when done be a story.
Do not labor over words. If I cannot think of the right word I want, I write a word that means something similar and circle it (you can put it in bold if you are on a computer). If I cannot think of any word I leave an underlined question mark and just skip it. I rarely name characters what they are later called and I often use “our town” as the location (our bar, our parking garage, etc…). What matters at this stage is getting something on the page and these details aren’t important to this particular something.
Write what you know. Go back and fill in the rest later. Don’t be afraid to delete, rewrite, or drop entire pages. Just write as if no one, including yourself, can see what you put on paper. You will be surprised how liberating it is to just start.
Now, open up a clean page and start writing. The editors and readers are waiting!
If there is an issue you would like me to address in Two Girls Kissing, please email it to me with the column title as the subject line. To be added to my confidential monthly email list, please email me, Amie M. Evans, with ‘subscribe’ as the subject line.
NEXT TIME: Exercises and Writing Prompts
Amie M. Evans
“Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica” © 2008 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.