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.

Oct 212010

With NaNoWriMo coming up, it’s worth addressing the central conceit of the NaNoWriMo concept, which is — if you’ll allow me to take a few liberties that may piss off the punters — that you should just write, no matter what, without pausing — and without an outline. That’s the way to get a novel out of you.

I agree and I don’t. Personally, I like novels that write themselves. But not every novel wants to write itself.

Outlines are a critical part of the novel-writing process for most successful novelists. Their importance simply cannot be overstated. Writers who pump out book after book of quality prose about spunky ballerinas finding romance and homicide detectives hunting serial killers and winemakers solving crimes about cheese — those people almost all write with outlines, and tight ones, too. If it’s your first novel or your hundredth, you should do whatever works for you, but personally I wouldn’t trade the crazed madness of writing a novel without an outline for all the tea in Buckingham Palace.

That’s when the novel seems to write itself. It’s awesome. Writing a novel without an outline is the bomb.

Writers are very much split on whether doing so is a good idea or the most dangerous kind of antisocial lunacy. I tend to fall into the latter camp; writing a novel without an outline is definitely antisocial lunacy and should be avoided if you value your sanity, your interpersonal relationships, your job, the tendons of your forearms — and, most of all, your time.

But you’re not me, and therefore there are no significant consequences to my advocating that you do stupid shit.

Writing a novel without an outline is unquestionably dangerous — you could end up with a mess. The truth is, you’ll probably end up with a mess. If you make a habit of this, you may end up like me — the proud possessor of a hard drive packed with few dozen 20,000-word innovatively-cross-genre turds that steam so bad sometimes you gotta open the windows. But the experience of writing a big narrative with total abandon is something that I simply can’t give up. The problem is, that kind of muse doesn’t necessary come when you call her. She’s much like a cat in that regard. Nine times out of ten she knows you’re looking, and you can bite her.

What outlines can do for a novelist is force you to break your narrative into manageable chunks. When I write novels (or feature-length screenplays) to a tight outline, I lose the experience of sitting there tear-assing through six scenes in a sitting with no idea what’s coming next, which is a hell of a feeling. But like I said. I get that feeling a lot, then realize I have no idea what’s coming next. For this reason, I have many, many more half-novels than novels. Most novelists do.

But I also have many more outlines than novels. Hell, I have more outlines than first chapters! It’s easier for me to write an outline than it is to write a first chapter, and you know who enjoys reading them? Uh…no one. Not even me.

The point is, you can tear through an outline and think you have the framework for a novel. But from a reader perspective, there is no framework for a novel. The framework is the novel.

There’s no one answer as to whether you should outline, except to say that if it works for you, everyone else’s opinion is irrelevant. But it’s worth mentioning that most of the really accomplished genre novelists I know — I mean the kind of people who put out a book a year or more, and have been doing it repeatedly for a while — outline like fiends. Their outlines or “treatments” are incredibly detailed. Why, just this past week, science fiction legend Norman Spinrad, by way of crowdsourcing his novel queries, freely published a 113-page treatment of his next novel. James Ellroy of LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia fame writes novel outlines hundreds of pages long, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro once told me she outlines novels so thoroughly that she never has to rewrite (and, in my experience, her novels read tight).

If you’ve never written a novel, there’s a chance when it comes, it’ll just happen. You won’t need an outline because the thing will be winking at you from your computer screen, and you will have just typed END. Sure, everyone you know may think you’ve vanished off the face of the earth, and there may be an eviction notice on the door, and you may be about to get your power shut off because you haven’t paid the bill in twelve weeks. You may need a payment plan with the power company, but you still won’t need an outline. If this is how it goes down, mazel tov.

This sort of first-novel experience occurred with me on two separate occasions. That’s right; I received the lightning strike of having not one but two first novels just kind of explode out of me, in different decades, because they were in thoroughly unrelated genres. It’s an awesome feeling, a little bit like being high. High on life! High on life and six shots of bourbon. And the cocaine exports of Peru and Colombia put together. And these funny pink pills some weird guy in an overcoat sold you for $3 and a bus transfer over on 16th and Mission…

If that sounds like fun, great. If that sounds sustainable over the course of a professional career, you’re either more näive than I am, or you have way bigger brass ones.

If you’ve never written a novel and you’re trying to, or if you’ve written lots of them and you’re trying to write the next one, it won’t do you any good to bellyache about the novel that won’t write itself.

Sometimes you gotta make them write themselves. And then? An outline can be your best friend.

Feb 182010

Last time I had the blog, we talked about eroticizing setting with description. Now we’re going to focus on what readers look for in any form of erotic novel: Character. I’ve learned everything there was to know about character from my mentor, Morgan Hawke. Remember when we’re talking character here, we’re talking solely about what sells, not necessarily what works for your niche readers. That is for you to figure out. For this blog, we’re going to share what works to create those characters that arouse not only our hearts and minds, but our genitalia.

The first thing we obviously tackle for character is description. What do we envision when we start putting pen to paper? What if that vision is hard to come across in our minds? The easiest way to create characters is to steal someone else’s! Use what’s popular in movies and TV. While that seems like cheating (it is) we still have to figure out a few key things.

1. Are we creating PLOT driven stories
2. Are we creating CHARACTER driven stories

Let’s focus on Character for obvious reasons. When I suggested modeling your character after Movie/TV characters, I did this on purpose. For example, with Hugh Jackman in mind, we now have what he looks like and even some background. Does his character fit our story? He probably does, a little.

But the characters must go through trials and tribulations in order to grow and reach that desired ending.

To add erotic elements to the character, we need a mate for them. In all fiction we’re talking about creating tension between the two characters. This is done through their actions. If you’re out on a date, what actions do you use to attract the attention of someone who has caught your eye? What does that tension feel like?

When we put those feelings and actions down on paper, we’re using them in action tags to describe them to come across as we intend for them to.

In this scene from “Whiskey Spread” we have Morganna, an older woman is attracted to one of her long time customers.

She stepped back into the bar area but took a quick step back out of sight. Nicholas was sitting at a seat by the window and there was a brunette with him.
Her heart sank.
Her reaction to seeing him with some other woman.

The brunette leaned forward on her elbows, waving her hand through the thick cloud of smoke coming from Nicholas’s cigar.
His hair hung down the length of his back and caught the light off the fixture above so that reflected a deep blue so dark it looked black. His charcoal gray shirt fit snuggly over broad shoulders and was tucked into navy colored slacks. Her describing him.
Morganna licked her lips, felt her nerves ready in anticipation of goddess only knew what. Morganna’s response, a typical action that might elicit an erotic response as the reader has been SHOWN something.

Then she took a glance at the brunette sitting across from him nursing a…cola?
Was she his girlfriend?
Sizing her up, Morganna stepped out from behind the spot she was in.

Lastly, we’re left with what Morganna’s intended action is.

The highlighted parts are up to us to throw in. This gives us not only a better scene, but deeper characterization without having to spell everything out. Morganna’s actions of licking her lips, something many men find arousing. Following it up with an appropriate action drives the story. What will Morganna do? Will she let her body control her lust? Or will her lust control her body?

There is an order of actions things occur in also but we’ll cover that in another article. Until then, enjoy WriteSEX and stay tuned for the lovely and talented Dr. Nicole Peeler