Hey, remember when I told you I was writing sexy fanfiction? Well, I’ve been doing more of it. And it’s making me think a lot about the conventions of the erotica genre: which ones I hate, which ones I love, and which ones I envy and desperately wish I could incorporate better in my own writing.
Here are four erotica-writing skills I totally admire in other writers and want to get better at.
1. Writing erections in a way that isn’t clichéd or porny.
Writers throughout history have come up with zillions of flowery ways to write about female arousal. Glistening petals, hot honeyed centers, engorged pink nubs, blah blah blah. But it seems to me that penises are often described more crassly and minimally, especially hard penises.
The other night I eloquently tweeted “Booooooneeeeerrrrrrs” because I was slightly wine-drunk and didn’t have the brainpower to adequately describe how I felt about this story. CTRL+F your way down to “When the food arrived” and read until Jake gets “very, very hard.” That, to me, is an example of a sweet, almost romantic description of a boner.
Part of the problem is that I don’t know a whole lot about how it actually feels to get a hard-on, and there are very few dudes in my life who I would trust to answer that question for me without things getting awkward in some way. Hmm… (P.S. Dude readers of this blog, please don’t take this as an invitation to send me detailed messages about your wang. Thaaaanks.)
2. Showing, not telling, feelings.
I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. It’s my vocation, career, and favorite hobby. I’ve taken more writing classes in my 22 years of life than most people take in their entire lifetimes. And yet, somehow, I still periodically need to yell at myself: “SHOW, DON’T TELL!” This frustratingly ubiquitous writers’ mantra still hasn’t completely sunk in for me.
I find myself writing stuff like “She felt apprehensive” or “She thought she was going to swoon onto the floor” and then I have to go back and fix those phrases to make them more demonstrative. “She bit her lip and wrinkled her nose.” “Her cheeks warmed and reddened.” Whatever.
“Show, don’t tell” should be taped up over every writer’s workspace. Sometimes I think I should get it tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.
3. Creating tension.
I’m not good at building romantic/sexual tension in my stories, because I haven’t experienced a whole lot of it in my actual life.
Why? Because I’m a candid weirdo who doesn’t know how to flirt and usually ends up saying really on-the-nose things like “I think you’re cute” instead of beating around the bush in any way.
This approach has its advantages, obviously. But it also means that I have very little sense of what genuine flirtation actually looks like. So I find it hard to write that stuff.
It’s infuriating, because when I read great flirty dialogue in other people’s stories, it makes me squirm and giggle and clap and say “AWW!” and that feeling is basically the whole reason I read romantic fiction of any kind. Damn, I wish I could make my readers feel that way.
4. Demonstrating consent without being too heavy-handed.
It’s a sad reality that we live in a culture where demonstrated consent can sometimes be the antithesis of sexiness. At least, to some people.
A lot of the kinks I love to write about are power-based: bondage, spanking, “ravishment,” and so on. These are things that obviously require explicit consent and negotiation in real life, but in fiction, sometimes seem hotter and more visceral when there’s minimal discussion beforehand.
Though I understand that porn and erotica are meant to be about fantasy and escapism, ethically it doesn’t sit right with me to write this kind of scene without at least some acknowledgment of consent. But how do you do that without draining the hotness out of it? I struggle with this not only in fiction but also in life.
But I have high hopes that good sex writing can lead the charge in demonstrating how consent conversations can be sexy. I think the onus is on us erotic content creators to think up and disseminate blisteringly hot consent negotiations so that the general public learns how to have those chats without losing their boners in the process.
What skills, techniques, tropes and conventions do you admire in erotic writing?