The Zipless Read
Ah, the challenge of the Zipless read, as a seasoned erotic writer and not one of your recent Johnnie-come-lately, I am a serious believer in the craft of erotic writing. I’m not talking about the mildly erotic/romance pap of Fifty Shades and the wannabes following (although more power to her) but the more implicit literary form of the genre – think Anais Nin-meets-Henry Miller-meets- Roald Dahl with bells (or should I say bondage straps) on.
Good erotica just like good sex is not easy to find or write, as anyone who has struggled with finding a sexy word for vagina that doesn’t infantilise that noble organ, – something that purrs as well as has claws. English in particular seems limited. Think pussy, twat, the C word (classically Anglo-Saxon but a little brutalist I feel) la la, the Bermuda triangle and My Fair Lady. Male genitalia has certainly faired better over the centuries, at least in terms of choice of names, but the vernacular is very regional, use willy or dick in a hot sex scene and your male readers will wilt.
I’ve always maintained that the difference between erotica and pornography is that one is subjective and involves psychological foreplay and the other is objective and involves no psychological foreplay at all (unless you count the obligatory three-word exchange with the erection wielding cable guy). And, despite the ubiquitous presence of implicit and readily accessible pornography on the net, I don’t believe this basic principal has changed.
The erotica reader doesn’t just want to look; they want to be in the skin of the protagonists. They need to feel the aching frustration and longing and then the blissful release of orgasm, both in the emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual sense.
Like all good writing this does involve setting up the attraction, the obstacles, the psychology (as well as implicit physiology) of the characters. Personally I like to make my characters normal people with fallible normal bodies of all ages, although some of my stories do involve a supernatural element (I’ve even written sex with a mermaid – more on that later). The premise being that lust, sex and love is not just something that happens to gorgeous under thirty year olds with ridiculously youthful and beautiful billionaires with a couple of skeletons in the cupboard, but to us all, and that there is a certain joyful bawdy finger up to the Heavens when such coup de foudres fall upon our heads whether we be 80, 50, 30 or 16.
Another important thing to bear in mind as an aspiring writer of erotica is that sexual obsession or fetish always has another underlying psychological motivation – i.e. many very powerful businessmen like to be tied up, (the controlling wanting to finally lose control). Illustrate this psychological motivation (often a paradox in a very human and poignant way) and you will already have potential empathy for that character. I have one story about a sound engineer obsessed by sound who falls in love with the alto voice of an older woman when she accidentally dials the number of his recording studio, the tragedy is that when he later secretly records her orgasm, she finds the recording and wrongly assumes it’s the recording of an far younger woman – such are her insecurity over the age difference. The way a character relates to their body often reflects in how they conduct their sex lives and erotic choices. It’s a rich field. .
Other challenges? Visual details and the balance between what the character is feeling during sex and how that character is looking during sex. My rule is get explicit enough to get aroused and emotional enough to care that they all have a good time. And I like to go into implicit details on the actual caresses, I mean hey, if I’m in the bed (and the reader is by this time) I need to be able to imagine exactly how that caress/mouth/organ/digit/whatever feels without losing sight of my character’s emotional needs. This is harder than it appears; repetition is very common in bad erotica – often the repetition of the actual sex act. I consciously go over the draft and make sure I haven’t repeated myself in terms of foreplay, positions and acts of simulation (kinky or otherwise). Back to the mermaid…put it this way, I had to think long and hard about where to actually put her….la la. Disney, it ain’t.
Tobsha Learner’s collections of erotic short stories are published this year by Plume, Penguin US, the first – Quiver is due out on the 30th of April, Tremble 27th of September and Yearn – the 31st of December.