When I first began reading erotic fiction (I was too young to be reading it, legally, but the magazines were in the house and they were way more interesting than another go at Brave New World), it seemed there was a lot of mention of “the perfectly cropped triangle of hair” that the women in the stories sported. Often, it was red. Even more often, it was some kind of proof that she was a natural blonde.
Although I was too young then to have this coveted triangle of my own, I’d seen it on other women—almost always, I was surprised to note, of the dark variety, no matter their head color, and almost always way more bushy than the perfectly coiffed triangle the magazines kept talking about. (Without showing my age, I will say this was the ’70s, my parents were hippies, and most of the other women I saw naked were in the first edition of The Joy of Sex.)
It was only as I got older that I discovered two truths about triangles: One, they rarely have much in common with one’s head color. And two, it is a serious pain in the nether regions to get that patch of hair cropped into anything resembling a triangle, much less the pretty, perky right triangle of my smut-reading youth. If you have any experience trying to tame your own (or someone else’s) triangle, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Assess, crop, color (if you must), fluff and trim: these are some of the most popular ways to get that triangle of yours into shape. And, guess what? They’re also great ways to revise your prose into a pretty, pretty little point that leads your reader right to the goodies.
The Inverted Triangle of Revising and Editing Erotica
Often I see writers try to revise their stories without a good understanding of how to go about it. They start by editing—namely, checking for typos, moving words around, maybe even changing their characters’ names—when they should start by revising (or re-envisioning) their story as a whole.
Working from wide to narrow allows you to first gain the insight that you need to truly understand what you’re trying to create. Only then can you begin to make the small tweaks and changes that will bring your prose up to par. By now, you’ve probably run your story through the critique process, so you have some idea of what needs work. But how do you go about it?
Here is the “inverted triangle” process I use for revising and editing my stories:
Assess This is the first-ditch effort at getting your words into shape. Hold your writing up to the light and take a long, hard look. What is your theme? What do you really, really want to say with this piece of fiction? It’s important to at least have a handle on this before you narrow in. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time moving one hair…er…word, from one place to another without any real purpose or direction. This step is what keeps your triangle from turning into a lopsided circle.
This is, for many, the hardest step and I think that’s why so many people want to skip it and get right to the nitty gritty. I find it incredibly useful to read the draft of the story and then go do something else—take a walk, wash the dishes—all the while mulling the story over. Am I really trying to retell the myth of Cassiopeia’s vanity? Or is this just a story about a woman who likes to get laid beneath the stars? Whatever my answer is, I know that it will affect all the rest of the changes that I make. Because this is such an important step, I often write down what I discover and use it as a template for the rest of the revision process.
Crop Although crop sounds like a small process, it isn’t. This is where you take off those big old hunks of things you don’t want and don’t need. It doesn’t matter how good they are. If they don’t fit into the story that you want to tell, cut them out. Save them, if you want, for another story, but don’t leave them hanging around in this one.
Refer to the template from the first step to keep the focus on the story theme and ideas. Say I really am just writing a story of fucking beneath the stars. Changes are good that the beautifully written paragraph about the mythical sea monster from the myth probably has to go. I’ll use it for something else, I’m sure, but it doesn’t belong here.
Color Not a necessity for your personal triangle (unless you live in a men’s magazine in the ’70s), but very important to good prose. This is where you take the time to add your special touch, your voice, if you will. This is what makes you sound different from every other erotica writer out there. People talk about voice like it’s something you’re either born with or your not (natural blonde, anyone?) but I don’t believe that. Your voice can be tweaked, honed, lightened and tightened until it’s you, only better.
Fluff I don’t mean fluff as in “fluff piece,” I mean fluff as in filling out the details. Is there anything missing that would add to your story or to your theme? Are there any spots that seem confusing or thin? (Your critique group has probably already pointed these spots out to you, so now’s the time to take their well-meaning advice).
Trim This is, hopefully, the final step. Any odd words, any typos? Any repetition that needs to go? Do a search for every “and” or every “he,” or any other words that you know you overuse. Spell-check. Not just with the mechanical spell-checker, but with your eye. I actually use my ears as well—most word-processing programs allow you to listen to your story being read aloud. If you can stand the mechanical voice, I highly recommend hearing your story. Your ear catches all the little things that the eyes don’t.
Now that you’ve cleaned up your prose and styled it just the way you like it, it’s time to show it off to the world. Feeling bashful? Don’t be. Just come back next month for my column, “Blind Dating: Finding the Perfect Market for Your Erotica.”
Other places to Get Your Coif Done:
“Sexy on the Page” © 2007 Shanna Germain. All rights reserved.