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Erotic Writing - Finding Your Plot
In order to write good erotic fiction, we first need to consider who reads it, and why. Most readers are female, and they’re looking for love, lust, sex and escapism. Perhaps they read out stories or passages to their own lovers as foreplay? After all, what can be sexier than a cosy bedtime read with its very own happy ending? But readers want to be entertained as well as turned on. They need situations they can either relate to or want to fantasise about. And just as with any fiction, they want to laugh, or be surprised, or to engage with the characters so much that they genuinely care about what happens to them by the end of the story.
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Character drives Plot
Your characters will create their own plots by the way they react to situations. There’s not a lot of point in forcing a timid virgin to take part in a Roman-style orgy – she’d just never do it. But perhaps as she wanders outside to the garden she’ll meet someone of a similar disposition, and engage in sexual relations under the jasmine tree? Would a happily-married women suddenly run off with the hunky gardener? Probably not, but a woman who’s husband’s recently left her might. As you build your characters, consider their backstory. What’s happened to put them on this path? Are they hurt, have they come out of a non-functioning relationship, are they on holiday from a stressful job, are they just looking for excitement? Don’t force your characters into doing something out of character – readers will sense that and lose interest.
Women are not Sex Objects
I’ve read a lot of erotic fiction that appears to portray women as either a) constantly up for it or b) will do anything if the bloke is rich enough. (The Fifty Shades trilogy comes to mind here – would Anastasia have been half as willing if Christian Grey wasn’t a multi-millionaire?) Are we really so shallow? I don’t think so, and in my stories and novel I’ve certainly tried to portray women as complex, emotional beings who find sex empowering. If the relationship doesn’t go anywhere she’s still got a lot more out of it than an orgasm – her confidence is boosted, for example, or she’s achieved a desired outcome, or she’s escaped from a difficult situation.
Sometimes you just need something to set off an idea, and then your characters and plot develop relatively easily. My short story Happy Endings (Xcite Books) was inspired by a piece of paper which fluttered down from the apartment above mine. It was a child’s drawing, but I immediately thought – what if it’d been a manuscript? A few pages of a novel I couldn’t resist reading? Very quickly, my characters came – travel-weary Edie, a successful career girl who’s short on love-life, is sitting under her magnolia tree when some pages of a manuscript fall down from the upstairs window. They include a bad sex scene, and, being pretty tough and used to dealing with men in her work, she goes upstairs to tell the author where he’s gone wrong. And the author happens to be very handsome, a jazz lover, chilled, and she falls deeply in-lust, and then later in-love with him. Writing it was so easy because it came so naturally. Come to think of it I really should thank the child upstairs for that inspiration, but then…oh perhaps not!
The great thing about writing erotica is that just about ANY situation could lead to sex. When I started writing I had my partner come up with a random situation and then I thought through the sex scenarios. First he suggested an artist and I immediately got thinking – nude paintings, and a woman who’s been dumped by her husband getting a much-needed shot of confidence from posing nude. The next thing he suggested was a creative writing course, and I created a weary author who, after initial success, has met with failure and rejection, who agrees to teach a creative writing course and is then blown away (literally) by one of his students.
So test yourself - just think of ANY situation that pops in your mind and come up with a story. Gardening – perhaps a hunky new neighbour appears over the hedge? Or someone starts mysteriously planting things in your heroine’s unkempt garden, as a message of love? In the office – a female boss having sex with her male assistant, or a rival? Is she using sex to push a deal through? What are her motivations?
A Twist or Sting in the Tail
Personally I find stories that run along the lines of: set up, sex, the end a bit dull. I like to be surprised, to find that not everything was quite as I was expecting. So I try in some (not all) of my stories to have just that – the surprise twist that both makes the reader smile and makes the story feel whole. In my story Lola at One O’Clock (Amazon Kindle Direct), for example, a woman who’s been sidelined in the office helps a friend out with her sex hotline. But who is the man on the other end, and how is this going to result in her getting not only her old job back, but a promotion and rise in salary to boot? In another story, the mysterious Kara seduces an American businessman in a luxury suite – but what’s going on behind the huge mirror facing the bed, and why? In Penelope Friday’s Pattie and Annette, (Partner Swap, Xcite Books) John goes on boorishly about all the (very dirty) things he wants to do with his two female companions. The end is a twist that’s unexpected, laugh-out-loud funny and deeply satisfying, making it a story you want to read again.
Short Story Compilations
It’s much easier, of course, when a publisher calls out for submissions linked to a certain theme. Smut in the City (House of Erotica), for example, embraced urban passion. I knew straight away that I wanted a roof garden, a busy career girl and an extremely good looking gardener. The result was my story Her Secret Garden, and it came pretty easily. In the compilation Corporate Affairs (Xcite Books) I came up with two women seeking seed money for their line of lingerie and seducing a handsome financier into providing it. And so Intimate Negotiations came to be.
What About Novels?
A novel, by its very definition, needs to go deeper than a short story, and your characters have to be believable, preferably (though not necessarily) likable and you’ve got to have a plot that can take the reader through eighty odd thousand words. My novel The Summer of Aphrodite was actually written in my pre-erotica days, and focuses on four expatriate women in Cyprus, who apparently fall under the spell of Aphrodite one long, hot summer. I had four good characters, four different age groups and four scenarios, thanked by Aphrodite’s influence: love, fertility, prostitution and sex. What I didn’t have was any sex! It occurred to me that this would be an easy book to sex up, cutting out the extraneous sub-plots and focusing on the characters’ sexuality instead. I created a lesbian affair which takes one character by storm, masturbation, sex toys, fantasies and a Ukrainian gymnast with eye-watering physical abilities. But essentially, the book is about character and back story (husband Richard’s dark secret), held together by the ongoing theme of Aphrodite.
Fifty Shades Author EL James on Inspiration and Research
The Emotional Aspect of Sex
Sex is an integral part of most people’s lives – it isn’t hard to weave it into any relationship, but you need to think through motivation, jealousy, emotions, desires and long term fulfillment – particularly if you’re writing women. The sex act might be a mostly physical thing for men, but for women there’s far more going on – the need to be loved, or even just found attractive, the need to nest, for security, life enhancement, excitement, even sometimes danger or rebellion. Women are emotional beings – you have to write this into your erotica or it’ll feel flat and lifeless.
Just Keep On Having Sex
For a bit of fun this year I started writing a serialisation – The Sexual Misadventures of Primmie Darling – not a great title for Twitter, I must admit. The idea happened when two things coincided: the Dominique Strauss Kahn affair broke in New York, just as I was reading The Sexual Life of Catherine M, by Parisian author Catherine Millet. In this extraordinary sexual memoir (a piece of sexistentialism if ever I read one) she refers to having probably slept with politicians and public figures, but not being sure, as she only ever saw them from the waist down. (Eeewww!) I imagined then that she’d probably done Dom (not tricky, I’d imagine) and my thoughts went on from there: what about a beautiful, sexually active woman who gets to sleep with influential figures – politicians, celebrities, Russian oligarchs, media moguls – and couldn’t this be a fun spoof on the British establishment?
A good while later I’d come up with Primmie Darling, a lovely young masseuse who finds herself working for the wife of the new British prime minister. To sustain the stories (three a month) I knew I had to have good, compelling characters, some one-off sexual escapades and some recurring cast members. Primmie couldn’t just be a little sleeparound or people would lose interest, so I made her the only daughter of a British diplomat, who’s had a peripatetic lifestyle with parents too interested in their positions to offer much love or support. So all she really wants is love, but she’s sexually adventurous all the same. Then comes Nixie, wife of the prime minister Simon Dorchester, a beautiful but haughty Swiss heiress who hasn’t gone down well with the British press. She’s stressed out about her sudden exposure to public life and the constant criticism she’s facing, and she enjoys Primmie’s ‘secret services’ during a massage. When Primmie starts advising her on her wardrobe she begins to win media approval, and Primmie gets offered a full time position. There’s character driving the plot here.
With her diplomatic background Primmie speaks three useful languages: Chinese, Russian and Arabic, and so becomes a useful secret weapon in the prime minister’s armoury. She’s sweet, uncomplicated and a bit of a free spirit, and, as I’m doing this monthly, the plots stem from current affairs or major events in the social calendar, such as the Chelsea Flower Show (Flower Power, in which she sleeps with a landscape gardener) or Ladies’ Day, set at Royal Ascot, where she reunites with an old Arab friend who’s grown up and become very seductive. Her ongoing affairs include Mungo Robinson, a buffoon who’s tremendously popular with the British public, celebrity hairstylist Sven-Mikael, who refuses to come out as a straight man for fear of damaging his career, and the French Richard de Castallane, an EU Commissioner, who revolts and excites her in equal measure.
With each character a new plot, and a new sexual escapade, develops. As I’ve said earlier, sex can be brought into most situations and locations – the cabinet office table, for example, or a Downing Street cloakroom, not to mention a presidential suite, a rock star’s swimming pool, a stuck elevator or behind the scenes at a charity function.
Essentially, once you’ve got some convincing characters (and take your time over this – characters need thought and development) you can find sex springing up all over the place – your only limitation is your own imagination!
Write, have fun and enjoy!
Viva Jones' novel The Summer of Aphrodite is published by House of Erotica and available on Kindle Direct; her ongoing series The Sexual Misadventures of Primmie Darling is self-published and also available on Kindle Direct.
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