Oct 232014
 
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By Mistress Lorelei Powers

In no genre does the admonition Write what you know apply more powerfully than in writing about sex. The average reader of a police procedural will never be involved in a murder investigation, and thus their image of the process is likely to be formed by their books, as well as other media: movies, TV shows, newspaper and internet accounts of investigations. With the help of Google, a fluent writer may be able to fake a way through and produce a story this average reader finds plausible, but the work is likely to echo every cliché of the genre.

By contrast, almost everyone has some kind of sex, and people who practice specific kinks know the difference between fantasy and reality. When Anne Rice admitted she had written the Beauty series (originally published under the name A. N. Roquelaure), she claimed she didn’t actually practice BDSM herself. Every kinkster I knew believed her. There were too many problems with the books, and not just because she portrayed some unsafe practices.

You may have been fantasizing about a particular act or orientation for years, but fantasies are an unreliable guide. So are many stories. To hear some people talk about sex between women, scissoring is the be-all and end-all. In 35 years of sex with women, I have yet to scissor. I can’t even figure out the instructions.

Trying to write about an unfamiliar sexual subculture or practice has serious pitfalls. My personal favorite is a slash fan-fiction story in which one gay man “fisted” another’s cock. I had outrageous visions of one man plunging his whole hand into the other’s urethra. The author didn’t know about anal or vaginal fisting (the practice of slowly, gently inserting the whole well-lubricated hand inside your partner); she just wanted to say that her character grabbed a cock in his fist. Oops.

So does this mean you can never use your imagination, or that you have to limit yourself to writing your own experiences? Not at all. There is a place for research in erotica, as with any other fiction.

1. Read all about it. First, check out the how-to manuals and memoirs. In the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of useful and informative books about all kinds of sex. There are superb books on the theory and practice of same-sex love, just about every form of BDSM, erotic hypnotism, enema play, fisting (both vaginal and anal), and more forms of sensation play than I can name. Now that ebooks are so common, you can download anything in peace and privacy.

Check out reviews in places like Goodreads or specialty forums before you buy; not all books are created equal. Steer toward nonfiction; many fictional depictions are inaccurate or actively unsafe. Movies can show how things work physically, but most are insanely unrealistic about the culture and feelings of participants.

Then you may want to go to the library, preferably a university library. Your local library may allow interlibrary loan from nearby academic libraries. You would be amazed what you can find in scholarly books. There are serious psychological and philosophical studies of homosexuality, transgender, transvestism, sadomasochism, and other sexual variations. Books on queer studies and gender studies may be densely written, but they can also offer insights.

Learn about safety, culture, history, and terminology. Read enough to understand how various members of the subculture relate to their sexual practices and to others who share their orientation. You’ll discover that every subculture is a cluster of micro-cultures, some of them deadly foes and others allies. Practices that seem the same to the outsider may have entirely different meanings. A drag queen and a sissy maid both dress in feminine garb, but their aims and clothing are profoundly dissimilar. And both are different from a transgender woman. Know the distinctions, or you’ll piss everybody off—including your intended audience.

2. Make friends in the community. The Internet makes this a thousand times easier than it was twenty years ago. If you’re writing about people who take on animal personas, find an online forum for furries. (And learn the difference between furries and yiffing.) Lurk first. Reading forum threads and participating in group chats are excellent ways to understand a subculture. Approach individuals with respect. Remember, they are not here as zoo displays, nor are they obliged to answer intrusive questions.

You may also find in-person meet-ups where people gather to meet others who share their tastes. Some are informal, public events (sometimes called munches) where people dress in ordinary clothes and don’t do anything more surprising than drink diet soda. Others are parties or clubs where people go to play—a word that has a much broader meaning than you may be aware of. Look for events for newbies. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in an urban area where there are plenty of venues, but even rural areas have their gatherings. I used to drive 110 miles to go to BDSM parties in a neighboring state.

3. Practice, practice, practice. When you learn specific techniques from a book—for example, how to peg your partner with a strap-on—test it out in person with a willing volunteer. When I first started pegging, I was startled and impressed at the sense of power it gave me. I was also surprised that relatively small motions could create such an intense reaction. That’s something I wouldn’t have known without doing it myself.

Now excuse me. I have a naked woman in my bed, and we’re going to try to see if we can manage to scissor without falling off or breaking an ankle.

***

Lorelei Powers, also known as Mistress Lorelei (pronounced LOR-eh-lye, and named for Germany’s famous siren of the Rhine River whose seductive music lured sailors to their doom), is the author of the BDSM how-to classics The Mistress Manual and A Charm School for Sissy Maids, as well as the short story collection On Display. She is a bisexual, polyamorous sadist and lifestyle Domme. She has started using her surname to avoid confusion with her respected colleagues, Lorelei Lee or Lorelei of BedroomBondage.com.

By profession, Lorelei Powers is a writer and editor. Under various other names she has published a number of books, articles, and stories. She also teaches writing classes, gives workshops and presentations on BDSM technique, and offers private coaching sessions by phone or in person for Dom/mes and submissives.

She blogs about BDSM at The Mistress Manual and about sex, feminism, politics, and naked men in bondage at Gallery of Dangerous Women. Follow her Twitter feed at @MsLorelei

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Feb 062014
 
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By Elizabeth Coldwell

One of the first pieces of advice given to aspiring authors is “write what you know”. This maxim implies that if you base your writing on your own personal experiences or areas of expertise, it will give the work an air of authority and authenticity. For erotic writing, sticking to What You Know has an additional purpose: it helps you avoid mistakes in setting and detail that might turn a reader off, dragging them out of the moment you’ve worked hard to create. And then there’s basic sex-ed knowledge—if a writer lacks it when they first enter the field of erotica, they’d do well to catch themselves up as quickly as possible. Having had letters submitted to Forum from readers who seemed to believe that the penis can physically enter the womb, it seems sex education is sadly lacking in some areas.

That said, so much of erotica is based in fantasy that if we all followed this principle to the letter, a significant portion (and purpose!) of that work would disappear, much to the deep disappointment of a vast number of readers. There would be no paranormal or fantasy erotica, and the only books featuring serial murderers would be written from behind bars.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing from personal knowledge. When I receive a story set in, say, the theatre or the music industry, I can often tell without having to read an accompanying bio that the author has spent time in that profession. Equally, when I’ve put out a call for submissions for an anthology of historical erotica, it quickly becomes obvious that some writers have a deep love for a specific time period. Whether you’re writing about American football or the gods of Ancient Rome, you need to know enough about the game, mythology or whatever else to be convincing.

Setting your stories in a time, place or professional background which you know like the back of your hand is usually a wise move; your knowledge of these settings will impart richness, believability and fascinating detail to the rest of the story. But there are a couple of caveats: first of all, if you are writing about a subject that’s very familiar to you, it’s always important to try to avoid using too much jargon. Readers will usually know less about the setting than you do, and you want to make sure they’re along for the ride throughout your story or book. Second, if there’s so much focus on the background that the sex and characterisation become incidental to the loving description of a last-minute touchdown or the braking system of a specific kind of truck, however, then your story needs a rethink.

If you decide to write about unfamiliar subjects or places, then you’re going to need to put in some research, and there are plenty of tools that can be used to help you. You don’t have to go quite so far as Michael Shilling who, for his book about a band falling apart during a disastrous European tour, Rock Bottom, actually walked the streets of Amsterdam to see whether his characters could get from one part of the city to another in a certain amount of time. And you probably won’t be able to do the kind of research author KD Grace joked about conducting for the third book in her voyeurism and BDSM-themed Mount Trilogy series, From Rome With Lust, when she said with a theatrical sigh, “I suppose that means I’ll just have to take a holiday in Rome…”

Thanks to the internet, you don’t need to go any further than your couch or desk to find the information you need for colorful, believable settings and characters—resources like Google Maps enable you to write about a city you may never have visited, as a 360-degree panorama of almost every street in the world is now available with a click of your mouse. Libraries are also an important research tool, as they can provide a good variety of encyclopaedias and more academic or obscure reference works than you can easily (or cheaply) find online. And don’t forget TV: thanks to the many and varied documentary series available on almost every channel, you can gain insight into the lifestyles of people who do unusual jobs. Fancy making your hot, alpha hero a ghost hunter, an antiques restorer or a man who tickles catfish for a living? Then tune in, take notes and, most importantly, have fun with your writing…

 

Elizabeth Coldwell is Editor-in-chief at Xcite Books, where the titles she has edited  include the National Leather Award-winning anthology, Lipstick Lovers. As an author, she has 25 years’ experience in the field of erotica, having been published by Black Lace, Cleis Press, Sizzler Editions, Total-e-bound and Xcite Books among many others. She can be found blogging at The (Really) Naughty Corner – elizabethcoldwell.wordpress.com.

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Jan 142014
 
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By Dr. Amy Marsh

If your writing feels stuck or you’re out of ideas, reactivate your curiosity and your creative juices by conducting a brief sex survey.

These can give you so much more than numbers—but only if you make sure every question includes an “other” section for open-ended comments. By inviting qualitative data, you’re sure to garner insights, feelings, and surprising facts about sexual practices and lifestyles. Choose a topic that’s unfamiliar or enticingly new to you, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from a quick, ten-question survey. You might also be surprised by how much fun it is to collect data that no one else has ever seen!

I’ve used Survey Monkey to research everything from the sex lives of people with Aspergers Syndrome to objectum sexuals (people who form intimate relationships with objects). I’ve also studied people’s concerns about semen taste, beliefs about female orgasm, and most recently, the practices and attitudes of erotic hypnotists and their subjects. Some of these surveys have provided me with material for non-fiction sex columns, blogs, and journal articles.

This type of informal research can be a key part of my work as a sexologist—but it also has the potential to be an enormous creative boost to writers. There have been many times when just one sentence in the “other” box has revealed a key conflict or aspect of a sexual relationship, behavior or orientation; any one of these provocative comments could provide a story or character idea.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are a few examples of open-ended comments taken from my survey of objectum sexuals, later published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality:

“My least successful relationship was one with a soundboard at a church. I was kicked out of the church for being OS because they claimed that I ‘had the soundboard in my heart, and not Jesus.’”

“We are very intimate in the bedroom, we spend a lot of time in bed together, but my pants usually stay on. Our intimacy is very above-the-waist, i.e. kissing, hugging, licking, etc.”

“I’m fascinated by steam locomotives since my earliest memories in different ways. So I can say, this is my oldest love…. I was fascinated by the machinists they are working together with the engines like a perfect team. Railroad is a world full of dreams and fantasy, I have identity with. It is a very complex and perfect world of different emotions.”

Objectum sexuality may not be your thing, but the above comments could certainly suggest many different kinds of erotic scenarios and stories!

When I conducted my semen taste survey, I was surprised to get responses from not just one, but three! people who identified as zoophiles. There certainly could have been a story or two there, however possibly not one that would be published or sold unproblematically on, say, Amazon!

Instead, consider the story trajectory suggested by this comment: “Good taste at beginning of relationship; bad taste now.”
Or just imagine using an evocative, specific detail like a “Dr. Natasha Terry sex shake recipe” sipped by two or more lovers. (I’m sure a good internet search will reveal the ingredients.)

It’s entirely possible, of course, to make up things like this—but what a bonus to find them just handed to you by an anonymous survey respondent!

A free account on Survey Monkey, with a ten-question format, can provide you with more than enough information to get your creative wheels spinning again. Survey Monkey has many question formats, so it is possible to ask several questions within a question, and to include the comment boxes.

On your first page, describe the survey and be honest about why you are conducting the it (e.g. “writer’s curiosity”). Be sure to add “you must be 18 or over” and warn respondents about sexually explicit questions or content. Make sure you also have a question that indicates consent (or not). Be sure to keep your survey completely anonymous and confidential, and let would-be respondents know this. Do not collect names or information that could be used for personal identification.

I recommend taking advantage of Survey Monkey’s design tutorials. You might also want to create a few practice surveys that you can take yourself, just to see how they work. If you feel comfortable about this, ask friends to take the practice surveys too, and get their feedback before beginning actual data collection. Tell them to create bogus responses—not real ones—because what you’re looking for here are design glitches. Later, delete the practice surveys and bogus responses. If friends want to take the real survey, ask them to NOT tell you about it. You want to preserve their confidentiality, too.

Once you’re ready to launch your survey, think about how long you want to keep it open for responses. You’ll also want to consider how to let people know about your survey (social media and internet networks are generally great for this).

Finally, once you collect your data and close your survey to data collection, read all of the individual surveys as well as the summary of responses. See what emerges for you by way of story ideas and character or setting details. If you like numbers, using filters and “compare” features can give you cross tabulations that might also suggest something of interest. Even demographics can be revealing and surprising when combined with other data.

I’ve only used Survey Monkey, but you might want to look at a few other online survey companies to get a feel for what is right for you with regard to price (pick “free” plans) and ease of use. If you chose a plan with a price, make sure you can cancel it after a month or after your data collection and analysis ends.

Have fun!

 

—Amy Marsh

 

Amy Marsh, EdD, DHS, CH, CI, is a clinical sexologist and AASECT certified sex counselor, certified hypnotist and hypnosis instructor, and an associate professor of human sexuality at the world’s most radical sex school. She is a former Carnal Nation columnist. Learn more at dramymarshsexologist.com or follow @AmyMarshSexDr on Twitter.

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