Dec 172010

It’s that time and normally this is Oceania’s spot but she asked me to step in for her due to us being swamped with work commitments through the end of the year. I’d like to take this time to do two things.

First, I’d like to check in on you, the readers, to find out how you’ve been liking the blog so far and what you think we should cover in future topics. Tell us what’s been your favorite part of WriteSEX. Leave comments, subscribe, share with friends, have a party! LOL!

Second, I’d like to wish you all happy holidays and promise that our regular rotation will start up again on January 6th, exactly one year from when we launched this blog. Coming in 2011, we have more on the way in adding value to your writing so stay tuned here every Thursday!

Sascha and WriteSEX

Dec 092010

If you’ve done much fiction writing, it’s probably happened to you. You’re cooking along on a story or a novel, describing things as they happen. Then all of a sudden…you hit a brick wall. It’s not that you don’t know where your story goes in story terms — it’s that you don’t know how to describe what needs to happen next. I’m not talking about plot or story structure; I’m talking about scene-building and sensual details.

Let me give you an example. I recently wrote a novel that required me to know what it looked like, felt like and smelled like in about 40 different locations — on boats of one size or another, different areas of different ships, on the high seas off the east coast of South America vs. the west coast of Africa — etc. etc. etc.

The sensual details of a narrator’s experience are, to me, what are both most important and most pleasurable in the process of writing — especially writing long-form fiction like novels.

For me to enjoy writing a scene about being in the hold of a Bengali container ship, I need to have a sense of what it’s like there. My viewpoint character’s very tangible reality needs to become my reality. And yet this asshole insisted on doing crap I’d never done and going places I’d never been.

What a prick!! You believe the brass ones on this joker?

Sure, I can go back and find the memoirs of a Bengali sailor, if they exist; I can find an article about what it’s like to be on a ship; blah blah blah. I can do all of those things — but if I do them in the middle of my writing day, then the fiction doesn’t get written. Especially when I’m on a deadline, I simply can’t do all the research that is suggested by a plot that’s boiling over. That’s a sign that the plot is going swimmingly. Unfortunately, it’s also a huge pain in my ass.

This is one of the things I find most challenging about writing long-form fiction. If I’m doing it right, I run up against stuff I don’t know how to do. Some things are easy. Interpersonal stuff? Easy as pie, Bubba. I’m pretty good at imagining what it would be like for a middle-class, educated goth chick to confront her mother about her upbringing and say “You never loved me!” blah blah blah. I know what a shitty dive bar in Fresno smells like.

But as for what it feels like to jump out of a Coast Guard helicopter into storm waters off Santa Barbara, or crawl through a cave half a mile underground? I haven’t the foggiest.

People who have never written ten words of fiction, people who are seasoned fiction-writing professionals, and everyone in between, will tell you that the way to deal with this problem is to “Make it up.” That seems as obvious to them as they feel it should to me. Makes sense, right?

But “make it up,” to a fiction writer, has infinite permutations to it. The entire job description consists of “make it up,” so telling me to “make it up” is like telling a surgeon to “operate.” If you feel qualified to tell me that I should “make it up,” then you write the New York Times best-seller. Go ahead…I’m waiting.

“Make it up” is the hardest thing in the world for me when i don’t have a natural reference point for an experience. For me, with my style of composition, one detail depends on the detail before it. What kind of entrance a Bengali container ship has from the main deck to the deck below determines what it feels like to be there, to go through the entrance, to find a bunch of zombies puking green muck on you and howling, “Brains!!”

It’s awfully hard to keep a narrative flow going when you have big fat chunks of nothing in your writing. The details are not just critical in creating a finished piece of prose. To me, they’re critical in writing the next sentence. In order to get a flow going, I need to know not just whether my narrator’s boots make a clunking sound on the deck of the container ship, but what kind of clunking sound they make. I have to practically be able to hear it, and to smell the wind off the ocean as well as the dead bodies floating in the bay.

Thankfully, I’ve never smelled a San Francisco Bay choked with dead bodies — and I sure as hell hope I never do. There’s a lot of imagining and some not-imagining (aka, “research”) in figuring out just what it would smell like. If I haven’t done that before I sit down to write, I run into the potential problem of not knowing what to put down on the (virtual) page.

Of course, you can always write the “bare bones” of the action and leave the details to future rewrites, right? Easy! Easy as pie!

Yeah, I tried that.

The result? Sparkling prose. Stirring literature. Pathos! Excitement! Drama! Question marks! Stuff in brackets!

I’d end up typing whole paragraphs that looked something like this:

We ran across the ??steel?? deck and found the ??hatch?? and took the ??spiral stairs?? to ??Deck 4??, where we knew we’d find a ??med kit?? we could scavenge for ??thiopentone?? [They find zombies hiding somewhere in the nooks and crannies of whatever a bengali container ship has on its second deck [[how are decks designated on container ships again?]]]. Then the engines began to ??throb??…

Isn’t that thrilling and exciting prose? Personally, I’m on the edge of my seat. When can I expect my Pulitzer again? Actually, I think I’d prefer to win the Nebula first — then the Pulitzer. Can you just send it to my agent’s office? Thanks.

Sure, that’s not what the publisher or the reader is going to see, but that’s hardly the point. The point is, it’s no goddamn fun to write.

Maybe you’ve encountered this problem in your own writing. It could be virtually any situation; it’s the thing that brings your narrative to a grinding halt, because you’re not sure how to describe what happens next.

The only way to get through it is to get through it. The best technique I found is to make everything up — to the point of making up more details than are necessary. I superimpose other experiences that I have had — or feel like I might have had — on top of the ones I haven’t.

For me, the thing that works better rather than writing paragraphs packed with placeholders and question  marks is writing fiction packed with sensual details that are complete and utter bullshit. I know a Bengali container ship doesn’t smell like the cargo hold of a C-5, but I’ve been in the cargo hold of a C-5 and I’ve never been in a Bengali container ship.

The lesson, for me, is that going back and taking out inaccurate details is a hell of a lot easier than adding ones in over question marks and crap in brackets.

For me, whether in fiction, fantasy or reality, the sensual facts of an experience are the things I retain — sights, smells, sounds, tastes, feelings.

Yes, I do — in most cases — want these to be accurate in my final draft.

But when it comes to a first draft, those details don’t need to be accurate. They just need to be compelling.

The conclusion? “Use question marks, brackets and placeholders at your peril.” Here endeth the lesson.

Dec 032010

Do you write erotic romance? Have you ever wondered when you’re working on your book what it is that reviewers are looking for? Even if you don’t think so much about that until it comes time to send your book in to reviewers, I’ll bet you think about it then.

The truth is that for the most part reviewers are looking for the same sorts of things that readers are. When a group of reviewers was interviewed regarding this topic, these where the things were the things they said they were looking for to give a good rating and review.
• A solid plot. Erotic romances that are just one sex scene after the other without any real plot are in reviewer’s eyes no better than porn.
• An emotional connection between the lovers. While it does not have to deep and abiding forever love, reviewers are looking for that emotional connection. If it’s not there, then the book may receive a lower rating.
• Stories that build the anticipation. Reviewers aren’t necessarily looking for the book to open with a sex scene as you might think. Instead, they are looking for that build-up to the sex scene(s), that anticipation of what is to come shown by the words and the physical expressions of affection such as kisses and touches. This is not to say that there aren’t good erotic romances that start out with a sex scene, but without the other elements mentioned in combination with at least a few paragraphs or pages of build-up to that scene, as a writer you are skirting the fine line between erotic romance and porn.
• Another thing that came up in the interviews was that m/m erotic romances seem to be the best at conveying the emotional connection between lovers. That being said, as a writer, even if you don’t write or enjoy m/m romance, it behooves you to check some of these out and employ the same techniques with your own stories. Reviewers want to see more well-written m/m erotic romance, and more erotic romances where there is the same type of dynamic between lovers as exists in many m/m erotic romances.

There were also a few things that reviewers really, really didn’t want to see when it comes to erotic romance, according to the interviews.
• Sex for the sake of sex. When an erotic romance writer writes in sex scenes just for the sake of having them rather than using them to help move the storyline along, then this can be a real turn-off for reviewers.
• Extreme BDSM practices such as knife play, people being kept like animals in cages, and BDSM situations where it is obvious abuse is happening and or the BDSM is not consensual. This is not to say that reviewers don’t know the difference between safe, sane and consensual practices such as wax play, bondage, voyeurism, or even leading someone around on a leash for example, and the more extreme practices as mentioned above, because many do. However, according to the interviews, reviewers have read books where these extreme practices that were more about adding a shock value than furthering the storyline, were added, and they didn’t like them. The scenes were often poorly written and showed that the writer did not understand the heart of BDSM, and that the writer did not really do any serious research. These types of scenes tend to lead to lower ratings on reviews and are a turn-off to many reviewers.
• Stories where a character who is obviously a main player is treated as if they are an afterthought or don’t matter. This was mentioned a couple of different times during the interview process. One example given was a f/f erotic romance where one of the lovers had no name in the story. To the reviewer it was as if the writer were saying that this character didn’t matter. Another example given was a story where there were two male lovers and one female.

The author made it clear that the men were “in love” but while they both had sex with the woman, she was treated by the men as if she didn’t really matter. It made the reader wonder why the woman was even in the story if she could not be added in as one who was loved or at the very least cared for.

So, now you know what reviewers are looking for when they read and review erotic romances, as well as, what they w ould like to see more of in the future. Reviewers are an excellent barometer for what readers are going to like as well. So, if reviewers like your books, then chances are, the readers will as well!

Thanks to the Coffee Crew at Coffee Time Romance & More for answering the endless survey questions!
Special thanks to author, Regina Paul, for taking our information, making sense out of it, and for creating this wonderfully cohesive article.