I had an idea for a great story. Isn’t that always the way it starts? In between a busy day of almost non-stop responsibilities, I forced myself to type up a short summary (because I couldn’t get it out of my head). As the day wasted away, I finally got to sit down and start the actual story. For two weeks, I was obsessed. This, I thought, is good.
And then I let a couple erotica pros read it.
Consensus: not good.
Feeling crushed, I re-read the story. How had I gone wrong? Strong characters. Interesting world building. Great (if amateur) sex scenes. This was what a good story was all about. This was me stretching myself as an author and exploring something I’d never written before. So why did it suck?
The Short Answer: I don’t read erotica. Other than a couple of pages once or twice, I’ve never really picked it up.
Why’s that a problem?
This took me weeks to figure out, even though it should have been minutes. This genre, like all others, requires an author to understand it and its readers.
But when did I finally realize this?
I sat down with a friend who walked me through some of the big issues that I just didn’t completely understand. I’d been told of these issues, but it didn’t click. The first one was that there was no emotional connection between my character and the man she sleeps with. So, I thought, a one night stand is still hot to read about. And it is, but even a one night stand has to be more than sweaty bodies pressed together. There has to be something that draws the characters together, even if it is just a sexual magnetism. But what comes along with that is the feelings of the two people. What are they thinking and feeling as they see one another? What fantasy does the man or woman awaken in the other?
I hadn’t thought of this. But still, my main problem didn’t really click.
Then, she walked me through some of the erotica “sins” I’d committed. Every time she mentioned one, I died a little inside. This is a good story, I thought, doesn’t that count for something?
And then one of my erotica goddesses handed me a giant-ass bag of books on writing erotica, as well as, collections of erotica short stories. As I carried them home, I felt a strange sense of empowerment. Now, now I had the tools to figure out what I’d done wrong.
I started one book at random. It gave a short autobiography on the writer, then moved on to a section basically encouraging writers in this genre. When I finally put it down, (not finished yet), I still didn’t know a thing about writing erotica, but I looked at it through new eyes. I felt the same way I did after leaving an English class in college where somehow the debate had turned to feminism, and the many ways we were still fighting to be seen as equals. Erotica, I felt, was a genre that was still fighting to be recognized as an equally respectable genre.
Then, finally, I did the one thing I’d been putting off. I picked up the collection of erotica short stories.
There is something dangerous about reading this genre. About knowing you can be reading a sentence, only to come across words you’d never read in any “polite” book. It is almost like walking down a shadowy alley and wondering if something unexpected is going to jump out of the shadows. Only, you know it is going to happen. It is more about the when.
Most of the stories were not my cup of tea, so to speak, but I learned something about them all the same. It doesn’t matter what the reader is into, it is about drawing the reader into your fantasy. Things I would never find sexy, I still found intriguing and interesting. When something is written well enough, it almost doesn’t matter the content. You can appreciate it. And that’s what I did, I read. And studied.
And finally, I got it.
There was no way I could write erotica without reading it. Without studying this genre. Without embracing and appreciating it for what it is.
I’m excited more than ever about venturing into this genre, as well as, many others. I feel like the only way I can become a really great writer is to constantly push myself to try new things. Not all of them may work, but at least I’ll learn something in the process.