Guest author and blogger Anastasia Parkes has an MA in English Literature from Oxford and has lived in London and Cairo. She writes erotica under the pseudonym Primula Bond with books published by HarperCollins, and works as a book editor for erotic and romantic novelists. In this guest post, Anastasia shares tips on writing great erotica – and how to put together those steamy sex scenes. (And uh, yes: strong language lies ahead.)
Writing Erotica – what you need to know
The formula for writing great erotic fiction is a pretty simple one. Here it is, in full:
Write a great book
Include plenty of steamy, arousing sex
And that’s it. You’re done.
Structure your story
Now I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about how to write a great book. All I will say is that you do need to respect your basic story structure. The teasing quality of a suspense-driven story (Will the heroine succeed or not?) matches up perfectly with the will-they/won’t-they quality of the romantic/erotic dance.
That said, your story can be relatively simple – and relatively short. A 50,000 word story wouldn’t work so well as a crime-thriller, but it’s plenty long enough for erotica.
But if your story is simple, your characters shouldn’t be. The power of sexual tension (and release) is multiplied tenfold on the page if there is some conflict and resolution between the characters. That doesn’t have to mean the two people are always shouting at each other (though that could work.) It does mean that you have some kind of push-pull dynamic that will have to be resolved somehow … and often via them taking all their clothes off.
It also means that characters have to develop through the course of your story. The sex they have on first meeting won’t feel the same as the sex they have at the end of your book.
Show don’t tell
The last big tip I’d give in relation to writing erotica is that here, more than in any other literary art form, showing beats telling hands down, and a million times over. We read erotica to be part of the sex. That means you can’t merely report that character X had great sex with character Y. You have to let the action unfold, action-by-action, on the page. Keep plenty of dialogue there too. Remember that interesting character interplay = interesting sex.
How To Write a Great Sex Scene
Here’s how you write a great sex scene.
Create a picture of the characters. Imagine the flow
So, how to write a sex scene assuming it to be the first time for the characters. (This advice refers specifically to erotica, the genre my Unbreakable trilogy, starting with The Silver Chain,is written for.) Details, location, dynamic etc. can evolve as the novel progresses. Put yourself in there if you like, if it doesn’t inhibit you. Otherwise superimpose famous heart-throbs, or a secret crush, on to the characters. Even imagine it flowing visually in front of you on a screen. The best comment I had from a favourable reviewer was when she put up a photograph of a sensationally beautiful redhead who she imagined my character Serena to look like.
Make us care
Make us care for your characters. They may come from different worlds, or there may be a difference in age or in the balance of power between them, but they are drawn to each other like a couple of magnets and once we know how this dynamic works, we will know how and why they fancy each other, and your readers will fancy them, too. And remember these characters have one aim, now that they’ve gotten to know each other. To have sex. And our aim is to see them at it. Voyeuristic (see also my character Serena Folkes), but true!
Choose your location
So next, place them in a sexy environment for this first time. Depending on their age, situation, energy, athleticism and/or pure machismo, the back of a clapped out Ford Cortina or the bins behind the Plaza cinema might be just the place for a quick, rough first time, and that will certainly do it for some readers. Any good erotic writer is more than capable, like the old Martini adverts, of creating a sex scene any time, any place, anywhere! But others usually pick up an erotic novel to get away from the dirty old mean streets of real life. We’re after escapism! So hie your characters off to a place you’d like to be. A moonlit beach, or a sumptuous penthouse hotel room, or a soft rug in front of a roaring fire. Make sure there is low lighting and great music or some other subtle sound track. Garish lighting and deadly silence are not always the sexist ambience, at least for the first time. You can really have fun with your characters as the novel progresses, having them so hot for each other that after the first seduction they’ll do it anywhere. A lift, a restaurant. A riding stable. An art gallery. And to keep us on our toes, you can also later on play with the dynamic, too. Have the meek heroine take the lead, for once. See how the hero responds to that.
Don’t forget the build-up / foreplay
Build up sensuously to the physical act with suggestive conversation which will either be blatant and in your face, or playful, teasing, even holding back. Remember that characters don’t stand woodenly about like actors in a bad am-dram before they get down to it. Have them eating, drinking, dancing, singing, involve us in that experience, then show us their clothes, how well they fit, are they too formal or tight, how good does it feel as they come off? Unbuttoning cut-off jeans can be just as sexy as unzipping a ball gown. Make it tense, passionate, breathless, but …
Take it slow
In real life the first time you have sex with someone new is often urgently desired but ends up fast and disastrous, but this is fantasy! So although there can be some hesitation, shyness and teasing, ultimately everyone, reader included, needs to be on tenterhooks to get their hands on each other. To get down to it. Restless, like scratching an itch. Salivating, like the desperation to drink cold water in the desert.
Structure your scene
Structure your scene like the sex act. That is, foreplay, action, climax, wind down. Too obvious? You might think so, until you start writing the scene. Think of the foreplay as the aforementioned setting. The removal of clothes, the first sensation of skin on skin starts the action rolling in the obvious direction. If it helps, think of a movie scene. I know actors always say how pedestrian and workmanlike it is simulating sex in front of a crew of burly cameramen, a bank of arc lights and a demanding director, but imagine yourself as an extremely involved, generous, hands-on director with your characters, but make sure the bed is soft, the studio is warm, and soon they’ll take off on their own towards the strong, satisfying, long-awaited penetration! As for the climax, well, no beating about the bush, is there? This is when the glorious pinnacle of where we all want to be is reached, and tread carefully here with the language (see below). Challenge yourself to find different ways of describing that rush of ecstasy. Avoid waterfalls, avalanches, orchestras! What actions or words stimulate the eventual moment?
Keep a tad of realism alive
Slightly unrealistically erotic couples tend to come together every time but if you want to be more realistic, let one come before the other and show who is the generous one, who the thoughtful, who the selfish one? Or are they both equally considerate, and if not, will they become so as the novel progresses.
Finally, the wind down is often the hardest. After the shivering and shuddering, do they fall asleep, or analyse, or do it all over again? I often have a knock at the door, or a phone call after the act, so that in the early days the couple are never at leisure totally to relax or take each other for granted until the next drama occurs.
Find the right balance of cinematic and plausible
Make it dramatic, but human. Not impossibly athletic, but not mundane either. The characters will already be attractive and/or beautiful, or arresting in some way to turn us on. The men have got to be strong and well hung and very experienced. The women curvacious, soft and wonderfully proportioned, and if not experienced, then primed and ready to learn. If this is a romantic setting, lots of kissing and stroking, exploration. If this is more down the BDSM route, then the participants will get their kicks from spanking, binding, and pain. But there is always room for sensuousness and tenderness.
Don’t get coy with your language
Keep it simple, punchy, evocative, but not obscene or anatomical. Don’t, like John Updike, veer away from simple words and use hideous ones like ‘yam’ to describe a penis. Don’t use euphemism or flowery words, either. ‘Cock’, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ are acceptable with some publishers, but not others, and certainly not in the new mainstream type of erotica. I have written a trilogy where those words are only uttered in the words of a character who should know better – not the narrator, or the main characters themselves. Believe me, you have to use your powers of evocation very carefully to avoid sounding awkward or coy. So ‘manhood’ and ‘sex’ can be used, but sparingly. Read works of your chosen genre, or find a publisher’s house style, to find what is acceptable.
Use the rhythm method
Next try to get into a rhythm similar to the rhythm of sex. Slow, slow, quick slow. Yes, that’s it. Like a dance. Why else to you think dancing was considered so daring in the old days? It was the nearest people could get to each other in public. And have you ever seen sex better choregraphed than in the Argentine tango?
That’s it. Hope that helped. Go write a great book – and have a wonderful time doing it!