Aug 252011

This month we introduce our newest contributor to WriteSEX – Stella Price.  Stella is half the duo of Stella and Audra Price, award winning romance authors who construct characters, worlds and more that draw the reader in.  She’ll be joining us at DragonCON 2011 on Friday Night as we host the WriteSEX Pane l.  Her first article on world building follows.

World Building. Most think it’s just for epic fantasy, or even dark fantasy. As a paranormal romance author, world building is, as they say, 9/10 of the law. Without it, characters are not believable, nor is the story in general. In my coming posts we will talk about suspension of disbelief, character development, and building a world from the ground up, but for now I want to talk about the necessity of world building, in any story setting.

Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical, contemporary, BDSM… Name a genre and it’s quite possibly the most important element because this is what sets your stage, and what hooks your reader. Without a believable situation and background, it really isn’t a story.

In work, even if you’re working from a contemporary setting, it’s the details that matter in making your book believable and unique. You cannot write a story without details right? Well details are a major element of world building.

World building, when done correctly, and not half assed, makes your story richer, full of depth and allows the reader to be immersed in the story you created. As an author, you strive to engage your reader on a level deeper than a letter to penthouse, right? Without the connection you can be damn sure that next story you put out won’t be on the reader’s auto buy list.

There are levels to world building. Light world building, where the author uses already accepted places, subjects and morae’s to make the reader feel at ease, and just adds details to enrich the experience. Then there are those that do it with a more heavy hand, where they take ideas already in play and twist them into other things, be it alternate history or alternate universes, and then there is the extreme of building the world from roots to the sky. None of these are wrong, and all have their pros and cons.

Light world building is what you see a lot of in Para romance. They use the contemporary setting, and then focus on the characters and their societies to build up the mythology. Kresley Cole with her Immortals After Dark series and Gena Showalter with her Lords of the Underworld series are prime examples.

A more heavy hand twists to alternate history, or alternate universes, and focuses on the characters and Society like the lighter hand does, but puts emphasis on the background and events that brought about the current status quo. Allison Pang’s Brush of Darkness is a great example of this as well as Lia Habel’s forthcoming Ya Dearly Departed and Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas books. These books rocked alternate histories and timelines, to give the books depth and dimension.

Extreme world building, Like Gail Martin’s Summoner Series or Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series is the very top of the world building ladder. You see this most in High fantasy and Scifi, but it is slowly making its way into the mainstream of romantic fiction with series like Michele Armstrong’s Settler’s Mine series. I look forward to seeing others.

It’s your duty as the author to know what kind of world building you are capable of, so that you don’t short change your readers or your story. Getting into a groove with your writing is paramount and the sooner you realize where you sit in the world building arena the faster you will realize just how important it is to your work.

Stella Price
Award winning best selling author

Aug 182011

When people write of erotic fiction and bad taste, they usually aim their poison pens at purveyors of writing who prove themselves from page one-and-a-half to be foul-mouthed and boorish savages whose idea of a seductive setup is a pizza boy asking, “Did one of you cheerleaders order extra sausage?”

But that’s not the topic today. This article is the second in my six-part series (you do the math, Bruce Willis) on the senses in erotic writing. Last time around I talked about the delights of the schnozz. Today it’s the mouth that concerns me — I’m writing, literally, about taste.

For a genre where so many book blurbs offer “gustatory delights,” “mouth-watering offerings,” and crap that’s “lip-smacking good,” supposedly, one would think we eroticists would have far more common with food writers than, in fact, we do. The connection between food and sex is nowhere more evident than in the way that erotic books are marketed, far more than in their content. While erotic stories about food are a solid aesthetic sub-genre, it’s also true that even erotic stories apparently unconnected to food per se require some kind of vivid description of taste to truly bring the reader in to the moment — during oral sex, for instance, or even a kiss, or a romantic meal at a zillionaire’s mansion before the orgy starts, or in the moments of burn following a shared Scotch consumed before balling fervently in a dive bar bathroom.

Erotic stories rarely get the vivid descriptions of taste that would do them justice. That doesn’t make them bad stories at all — erotic tales have a lot of fish to fry, in sensual terms, and not knowing what the character’s fourth margarita tastes like probably isn’t going to inhibit the reader’s appreciation if the point is to get the characters into bed together. But at some point in most erotic stories more than a very few thousand words, someone is tasting something where most of us have only a vague idea about what it tastes like — a body part, body fluid, leather boot. It may not get described at all, which is fine for most stories, or writers may use some stock phrase that doesn’t really tell the reader anything. Taste is a tool in the writer’s tool kit that is not always critical — but provides endless creative possibilities once you really start thinking about it.

The description of sensory pleasures in general is one of the hallmarks of vivid writing — and in erotica, the sensual details can set you apart from garden-variety Alt Sex Stories fare (which I do not mean to badmouth, mind you) and writing that is truly evocative. Most evocative descriptions of sexual encounters contain some reference to taste, and for most of us, taste is a key ingredient in real-life sensuality. Food and sex are inextricably connected, and taste and sex still more so.

Yet if you google “taste in erotica,” you get some hits that are at best distantly connected to the topic at hand, like a Nyotamori restaurant in Denver called “A Taste of Erotica,” Nyotamori being the practice of eating sushi off a naked female (or, presumably, a naked male, though I’ve never heard of that). There are any number of books that promise (and, in some cases, deliver) the connection between the sensuality of taste, in the literal sense, and the sensuality of, you know, sensuality, in the euphemistic sense.

Many very good erotic stories engage the senses at the kind of level that’s expected from the very best food writing. Sex writers can learn a lot from reading very good food writers — and surely the reverse is also true. Many anthologies have sought to mine the connection between food and sex, and not just for their marketing copy.

In fact, I contributed to one of them recently, the anthology Torn, edited by Alison Tyler, in which I waxed philosophic for some lengthy pages about the musky taste of the Cherokee Purple strain of heirloom, from the point of view of a character who doesn’t like tomatoes.

Now, my reason for making the character not like tomatoes was twofold. First, it created tension between the two characters, since the other one really liked tomatoes, and in fact grew them in great quantities. Thus, the experience of taste became a dominant/submissive exchange between them. But my second reason was that, by not liking tomatoes, the viewpoint character was forced to experience them with a certain lack of expectations. Tasted in an erotic context, tomatoes proved way sexy, and the endless variations of different varieties at different points of ripeness proved fertile ground for what I found to be a deeply sensual experience (writing about it, that is). Since I don’t usually write about food much, this was particularly cool; like the main character, I was experiencing something for the first time. Or, if not for the first, at least without the jadedness that comes from having done things the same way a million times.

What’s more, I like tomatoes a lot. But I also turn out to be mildly allergic to certain heirloom varieties.

Therefore, tomatoes carry a certain charge of danger,  a certain taboo appeal…just like the other tastes one might encounter in erotica.

The best thing about writing erotica is that as one does it one also gets, ideally, to learn about writing everything else. Every sensual detail brought into a story helps the reader connect with the characters and the fictional world you’ve created.

Aug 112011

Recently, a woman whose erotic stories have been widely anthologized wrote to say her day job was killing her, she needed to quit and write books for a living, and could I tell her what sold best these days? With a few changes, the following what I replied:

Could there be a worse time to need to write for money? I might have advised (nonerotic)  scifi/fantasy or Harlequin a few years ago; they are the easiest sales to make to the big publishers and get nice advances, but the big publishers are all scrambling to catch up. Writing eBooks, certainly can earn some you money, but like all other publishing, the big sales are in categories, that’s because readers have their favorite categories and buy literally 90% of their books in that category or categories.

That said, grinding out category fiction can kill you.

And with any kind of books, it takes so long for royalties to mount up, because of systemic reporting problems. For example, we are too small to pay advances, and most distributors report sales to us at 30 days after the end of a month to 60 days to 120 days after. When we issue the Jan sales report in Feb, what it reflects, is not sales made in Jan, but sales we received reports of in Jan – which would be Nov., October, and even Sept sales. So when we pay royalties at the end of a quarter, they basically consist of 1/4 sales from the actual quarter, and 3/4 sales from the previous quarter.

Biggest sellers overall among ebooks: romance, erotica, success/self-help of all kinds.

Bestselling romance categories: erotic romance. Bestselling erotica categories: bondage and erotic romance. Bestselling subcategories: heterosexual erotic romance; male dom, female sub bondage from romance to pretty hard.

Then, to be one of the top sellers, it takes writing a lot of books and a very active and attractive website and/or blog with free stories, story samples, etc. (meaning contests, blog tours, and lots of other stuff). A good way to get an audience to your site/blog is post stories or hot scenes complete in themselves on, the free erotica website.

Our bestselling author, who writes strong bondage but often with romance, has written around 25 books over the last eight or so years, and currently earns about $28,000 through us. He works very hard to promote his books on the web.

Beyond this, everything is up in the air in publishing, sales and advances right now, with publishers in NY in a panic trying to figure out what the shape of publishing will be and what to sell. And a sinking economy. Of course, sex does sell, so there’s that.

Those are the basics, there are too many nuances to put in writing.

All the above notwithstanding, I always personally advise writers to write what they love.

Aug 042011

Even before writing about the sex in a sexy story you have to set the stage, decide where this hot and heavy action is going to take place. What a lot of merry pornographers don’t realize is that the where can be just as important as the what in a smutty tale. In other words, to quote a real estate maxim: Location, location … etc.

Way too many times writers will makes their story locales more exotic than the activities of their bump-and-grinding participants: steam rooms, elevators, beaches, hot tubs, hiking trails, space stations, sports cars, airplane bathrooms, phone booths, back alleys, fitting rooms, cabs, sail boats, intensive care wards, locker rooms, under bleachers, peep show booths, movie theaters, offices, libraries, barracks, under a restaurant table, packing lots, rest stops, basements, showrooms — get my drift?

I know I’ve said in the past that sexual experience doesn’t really make a better smut writer, but when it comes to choosing where your characters get to their business, it pays to know quite a bit about the setting you’re getting them into.

Just like making an anatomical or sexual boo-boo in a story, putting your characters into a place that anyone with a tad of experience knows isn’t going to be a fantastic time but rather something that will generate more pain than pleasure is a sure sign of an erotica amateur.

Take for instance the wonderful sexual pleasure than can come from screwing around in a car. Haven’t done it? Well you should because after you do you’ll never write about it — unless you’re going for giggles.

Same goes for the beach. Ever get sand between your toes? Now think about that same itchy, scratchy — very unsexy — feeling in your pants. Not fun. Very not fun.

Beyond the mistake of making a tryst in a back alley sound exciting (it isn’t, unless you’re really into rotting garbage), setting the stage in a story serves many other positive purposes. For instance, the environment of a story can tell a lot about a character — messy meaning a scattered mind, neatness meaning controlling, etc. — or about what you’re trying to say in the story: redemption, humor, fright, hope, and so forth. Not that you should lay it on so thick that it’s painfully obvious, but the stage can and should be another character, an added dimension to your story.

Simply saying where something is happening is only part of the importance of setting. You have to put the reader there. Details, folks. Details! Research, not sexual this time, is very important. Pay attention to the world, note how a room or a place FEELS — the little things that make it unique. Shadows on the floor or walls, the smells and what they mean to your characters; all kinds of sounds, the way things feel, important minutiae, or even just interesting features.

After you’ve stored up some of those unique features of a place, use special and evocative descriptions to really draw people in. Though quantity is good, quality is better. A few well-chosen lines can instantly set the stage: an applause of suddenly flying pigeons, the aimless babble of a crowd, rainbow reflections in slicks of oil, twirling leaves on a tree, clouds boiling into a storm … okay, that was a bit overdone, but you hopefully get my gist.

Once again: location is not something that’s only important to real estate. If you put your characters into an interesting, well-thought-out, vividly written setting, it can not only set the stage for their erotic mischief but it can also amplify the theme or add depth to the story. After all, if you don’t give your writing a viable place, then a reader won’t truly understand where they are — or care about what’s going on.