On Writing Erotica

by William Dean, edited by Stevie Burns

Writers are special people: independent, creative, opinionated, and sometimes feisty. We often bristle under the rules laid down by editors and publishers. This is a brief guideline to help new writers get a picture of what publishers don't want (and WHY), and what they DO want.

The first instinct (often enough) is to think, "How can I get around the publisher's rules so that I can submit the story I finished four months ago?" The temptation is human, but it isn't the same as pushing the envelope or thinking outside the box.

Only submit what you feel is appropriate to the publisher's needs. If the publisher wants stories with a happy ending (as does VoracityBeat), do not send your modernized epic poem inspired by the story of Romeo and Juliet. If the publisher asks for non-violent stories, do not submit your Dracula's Harem Versus Godzilla's Harem saga in twelve parts. Likewise, if the call for submissions asks for transexual or transgender characterizations, then DO send your short story The Bastard Stole My Bra And Broke My Heart. Just be sure it meets the other specifications (ie length).

Many writers try to explain too much in stories, particularly about motivation and character psychology. Example: passages that explain why a character does what he or she does by leaning on the past, or an internal character monologue. But in real life people don't go around thinking "Oh, I do this because when I was five years old I saw a puppy lick a red apple that had a worm squiggling in it and I was really grossed-out... so hard to get that image out of your subconscious once it gets in there. I'm so screwed!"

People rarely psychoanalyze everything they do, even important things. Observers, like readers, have to fill in the blanks from their own understanding and experiences.

Writers sometimes forget that a bit of mystery is good for both characters and stories. If we're told everything about a character, they become stereotypical or worse, they become boring. If we're made to wonder, we become more interested, we pay more attention as readers. Why does X do this? Why does Y not do that? At least half the time, if you ask real people why they do things, the answer is "I just do." And particularly in sex scenes, if a character is busy self-analyzing, you've lost the whole passion translated into action dynamic.

This does not however negate the need for substance. Stories, particularly good ones, are about characters in conflict, characters in action, not characters agonizing over what happened in the past to make them as they now are. Even deeply psychological stories, such as those by Kakfa or Camus use action and environment to show (not tell) their influence on characters.

About Underage and Other TOP No-No Stuff in this Biz: Most of the rules laid down by editors are there to help, not hinder a writer's creativity. The general rule, for example, about no underage characters is a good example. Underage characters are not as fully developed as more mature ones, partly because they have not had the longevity of amassing experience. They are not as interesting to write about partly because there aren't all those onion layers longer life has put in place. With younger characters, too, you're always writing the same coming-of-age, losing-the-virginity story.

As a writer, ask yourself what kind of writer you really are. Do you want to be just another shock jock? Are your sensibilities and fictional observations just surface things designed to fit into the latest fad or the latest crudity that someone else is trying to sell? Why would you want to write about bestiality or incest, for example? What Truth would they express about the human condition? Both these elements are all about deeply psychological disturbances that don't really give us either insight into the human condition or a humanly truthful condition.

What EROTICA IS: Erotica is about desire, passion, conflict, pleasure, satisfaction. It's about love and lust acted out. It's about sublimely human and humane emotions. It's about how a person deals with those emotions, repeats them or fights against the ennui of repeating them. It's about capturing the thrill, the tragedy, the joyousness of sensual activity between, often, quite ordinary people. It's about the reaching out for tenderness or affection, companionship, or sheer physical desire. These are enough things to write about so that you, as a writer, will never run out of story ideas.

William Dean is Associate Editor of Clean Sheets magazine, and a regular columnist for the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. His writing is featured elsewhere on the WWW and in hard copy anthologies.

Email William Dean personally.

All Contents ? 2024