On Taking a Sabbatical from Reading Erotica

Reading erotica can be a profound sensory experience. A good piece of erotica will leave you breathless, aroused and satisfied on emotional and physical levels. Writing erotica is much the same way. It is the yin to reading’s yang. If you write well, the very process of creating the story will take you through the gamut of sensory emotions.

Here’s the kicker. Read enough erotica and you begin to the see the formula. A female who has unfulfilled desires. That one, perfect man who can satisfy them …  or vice versa. If, as a writer, you read erotica exclusively long enough, you become susceptible to becoming formulaic and falling into the “erotica flow.” That unifying language and rhythm that abounds within the genre. A florid, over-the-top way of describing things that undermines the credibility of the story if the author isn’t careful.

As I got deeper into my current work in progress, the follow up to Awakening, I began to see traces of that flow in my story. I went and re-read Awakening and saw seeds of it there. In both stories, the male lead was the “most gorgeous” man ever. In other places, the language was rife with hyperbole.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, but I don’t like to write stories that merely blend in with the genre. I like to write things that have a different take on a familiar topic. Awakening is like that. Rather than a traditional BDSM tale focusing on the sexual aspect, Awakening focuses on the emotional and psychological impetus of Dominance and submission.

The deeper I went in my new story, the more frustrated I became. Erotica is its own flavor to be sure, but it deserves good writing technique, characterization and plotting just as much as the next Tom Clancy thriller. As much as I love erotica, these hallmarks of quality writing are not always found in your average tale.

So, late one night after deleting the 2,000 words I just written in disgust, I decided to stop reading erotica for a while. I spent the next several months reading mysteries, thrillers, narrative non-fiction, basically anything that was not erotica. It was like recharging my writerly batteries and getting a fresh perspective to bring to my new work.

My writing flowed again and I, once more, felt confident that I was providing a great story, not just a good sex. There was one unexpected side-effect of my sabbatical, however. I struggled through writing the first sex scene after my return! Mainstream fiction shies away from sex. The best, most believable and sense-drenched love scenes are found in one place only … erotica. Like that, I was home. Back to my favorites: Cherise Sinclair, Eliza Gayle, Brynn Paulin and Dominique Adair.

The lesson learned for me was that to understand erotica you must read erotica, but don’t forget to keep your mind open and expose yourself to other genres. It will only help your writing and give the reader a better, more layered story to read.

8 thoughts on “On Taking a Sabbatical from Reading Erotica

  1. question – when writing erotica, where do you start? what i mean is, do you start with the sexual elements, the sexual characters, and afterward do you build in a story/conflict? or do you begin with a story and then add the sexual elements?

    i realize that i don’t have a grasp of how to write erotica, and it’s very possible that my question is born from my ignorance. but that’s why we ask questions – to learn what we don’t know.

    • I always start with the story first – at the highest level – such as a “what if …?”

      Then I build the characters. My character sheet has:

      Name
      Role in Story
      Physical Description
      Background (this includes family, siblings, education, everything relevant to the psychological make up of the character)
      Inner Conflict
      External Conflict
      Major Settings

      Then I write a synopis of the entire plot, anything from 3-5 single spaced pages. Each paragraph usually becomes a chapter. The sex builds organically from those two things, I never detail the sex before the actual writing.

  2. Dearest Elene,
    Fantastic post. Interestingly I’m working on a project right now and it fits in with the information you have provided in this posting. Thank you my Friend for help us newbies in guiding us in finding our voice within the Writing Community.
    Your Friend,
    Anastasia 😊

  3. I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. My dilemma has been that I believe that to write truthfully (for lack of a better term) there should be plenty of candid, frankly sexual themes, sub-plots, motivations, and descriptions…just like real life.

    Admittedly, my perspective and outlook is based on personal experience, which is to say that my fiction is more autobiographical than fantasy, hence the term “enhanced and fortified non-fiction.”

    My point is that the best erotica should be a natural product of a great story. Somehow, most of what is considered “serious” literature is too squeamish to be good erotica, and a lot of erotica is too self-conscious and narrow to be good literature.

    If one’s only intent is to arouse, the bar is set so low that it’s too easy to challenge good writers…or readers, but if the sex gets especially explicit, it frequently gets thrown into the catch-all bin of erotica, and somehow inferior to “serious” literature.

    As for “serious” literature, I think that most of it would be more truthful, real and just plain “better” if there was more humor and sex. “Serious” is not necessarily “Good”.

    I feel sorry for anyone who thinks that sex exists somewhere outside of life, and I can’t imagine good literature that is not true to life, which would necessitate both sex and humor, and hopefully, a lot of both. Very little erotica is funny at the same time that it is provocative, as if one precludes the other.

    Unfortunately “formulaic” often equates to commercial success due to a lack of imagination on everybody’s part. Labels do a great deal to stifle eclecticism and smother creativity.

    I didn’t intend for this to turn into a rant. I wanted to thank you for reinforcing a point that is not often so well addressed.

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