The Art & Craft of Erotica
with Janine Ashbless
Erotica is about people. And sex too, of course, but the characters are what make a story worth being told. Whether they’re moving through a simple, easy to consume plot or something that’s much more emotionally twisted and complicated, it’s the characters who travel through the story and enable tension and conflict to rise within us, the readers. If we don’t have ‘well-built’ characters, then there is no story. Storytelling happens through characters. A good Erotica writer considers who their characters are and how to best present them–from beginning to end–by creatively examining purpose, strengths, weaknesses, flaws, sexual drives, uniquenesses, and commonalities in such a way that the reader’s eyes don’t want to leave the page, all while encouraging a hand to wander.
The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Vol.2 is nearly here. To kick things off, I wanted to share a post geared mostly toward writers and aspiring writers–a little #WriterlyWisdom, if you will, regarding CHARACTER by Janine Ashbless. Janine is an author who consistently enthralls readers and amazes me with her marvelous characters. She’s written a whole slew of short stories and several novels. She’s clever, she’s witty, and she’s an incredible storyteller who’s turned me on and even made me laugh a time or two. It is with great pride that Stupid Fish Productions is publishing a new story by Janine Ashbless in our upcoming collection.
Convincing, not Believable
So, my tips for building believable characters in erotica are–
Hold on… Why would I want to write “believable” erotica characters? Aren’t we in the business of giving people fantasies? Aren’t we trying to get them off? Who wants an erotic story where the guy comes too soon and leaves in embarrassment, or the heroine accidentally farts mid-anal? We’re looking for ideals when we go to read one-handed fiction, aren’t we?
And isn’t “believable” subjective? If I hang out, say, with English tech-nerds, and you hang out with American truckers, our mental picture of what people are like is going to be very different.
Is Trump a believable character, come to that? Who wrote him?!
No, I’m not going to ask anyone to write believable characters. Instead, I’m going to urge y’all to write CONVINCING characters. Which is much less about appealing to a common denominator of lived experience between you and your readers, and a lot more about writing skills. If you can create the most extreme character, or the most unfamiliar, and still somehow persuade your reader to suspend disbelief and go along with your story, then you’re doing it right.
So here are my pointers. It’s all about giving your characters depth.
- “Everyone is necessarily the Hero of their own life story” (John Barth) This is so important! Everyone has a reason for doing what they do, even if what they do looks shitty, or stupid, or self-destructive to outsiders. Everybody thinks that they are right. It is the author’s job to get inside the head of their characters, even the villainous or abusive ones, and write with empathy and understanding of their motives (which is NOT the same as morally justifying or validating their behavior, though some people might not agree with my distinction).
- Good people very often do shitty things too, for various reasons. That makes for great stories and great psychological background. Messed-up or conflicted characters are fascinating to read about. A hero(ine) with no regrets and no flaws is not convincing.
- We’re all individuals! And the variation socially, psychologically and sexually among humans is close to infinite. Break stereotypes. And Don’t stick to what you know—do your research instead. Read stuff written by people you don’t like, and don’t agree with. Brace yourself and read the icky comments section. Put yourself in their shoes and write it from their POV. Use their vocabulary.
- But there’s a reason for physical stereotypes in romantic/erotic fiction – “tall, dark and brooding”, “busty blonde”, “mousey ingénue”, etc. If our primary intention is to arouse our readers, then we probably have to tap into the cultural/biological/social norms and triggers for titillation. If you want to reach the maximum number of readers, use those triggers. Just go beyond them and make the personalities 3D too. My heroes are always going to be really good-looking (unless they are NOT, in which case I can fetishize their ugliness). And they will always, always have big cocks J