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Part A Into Part BI had planned to talk about sub-plots, but let’s talk about something less…Creative Writing 101…and get into the dirty stuff: raunch.

How raunchy do you want your story to be? Are you writing erotica, or erotic romance, or some other genre where there has to be a touch of naughty? Because it’s what I write, I’d like to talk about erotic romance first. I’ll get into straight erotica and erotic scenes in a moment.

As we discussed before, romance plots follow a specific trajectory. Along the way, though, the hero and heroine often get intimate with each other. They get down. They make the beast with two backs. They do the hunka-chunka (the name of a magazine I made up for Strong, Silent Type). Let’s tease that out a little bit.

In an erotic romance, the sex is mandatory. It has to be hot and it has to be graphic. None of that “lights out,” “door closed” stuff for erotic romance. But what exactly does “graphic” mean? Well, some authors avoid a whole slew of words when they’re writing their books. Pardon the crudity, but words like “pussy” and “cock” are often the first ones to go. Now, let’s face it, those words are common colloquialisms. They’re in the English parlance. People know what you mean when you say them, and they have a familiar and graphic tone. Readers who write me sometimes complain about other authors who use more biological terms like, “vagina” and “penis.” There are also plenty of writers who use words like, “manhood,” and “womanhood.” These are a little outdated, but they convey a certain message and style, even an era.

To me, words are supposed to not only describe an object, they have to affect the reader. So, if I want to show something graphic and a little dirty, I’ll use the cruder words. If I’m going for a more clinical tone, I’ll use the biological ones. If I’m writing historical, I’ll use historical words and innuendo that’s appropriate to the period. There are no wrong words. The only thing a writer can do wrong with these words is solicit the wrong response from the reader. That’s bad. Bad, bad, bad. Think about your descriptive words as you use them. If you’re writing erotic romance, keep the romance in mind as you describe the sex. If the romance includes some hot, raunchy sex, use the words that fit the situation.

About erotica… Erotica is often thought of as a story that isn’t about two people falling in love and making their way together as partners. Generally, this is true. It’s not about romance. It might be about the characters’ sexual growth, or simply a sexy encounter. It has to be sexy, though, and that’s the bottom line. What makes a book sexy is entirely subjective. That’s why we enjoy some erotica authors’ work and don’t enjoy others. Even couples living together might not find the same things erotic in books. In terms of the erotic books an author writes, it is always best to follow the tried and true adage for all writing: write what you know.

That said, it is not required that you experience every detail and nuance of an erotica book before you write it. Knowledge of a subject can be gleaned through secondary research, too. But do your homework. If you’re writing about spanking (see Spanking Good Romance), then either get or give a spanking or talk to those who do. Don’t simply read other people’s fiction and expect that to be accurate. There are far too many authors out there who will give you wrong information, almost always because they haven’t done their research, not because they intend the reader harm.

For erotica to be good, it has to be creative and fulfill some fantasy of the reader. For example, over the course of many, many years of published erotica, it has long been popular to write stories about ménages of one man and two women. (See Laricon’s Ways.) Theoretically, this is a common male fantasy. (I’m not male. I did secondary research.) So, even men and women who hadn’t experienced it wrote about it. If the story was good, it’s likely because the writer was knowledgeable about the concept by some means or other. You do have to know how part A fits with part B, after all; mechanics count.

Now, let’s say you’re writing a suspense/thriller novel, and your hero and heroine are going to be intimate with each other. You have two choices: you can write it with the lights out approach, or you can be more graphic. The choice is yours and the decision has to be based on your own personal experience, the tone and purpose of the novel, and a practical examination of the word count.

If you write it with the lights out approach, you’ve got the easiest job of all, but you will have to convey the new intimacy or sexual conflict between your characters some other way. That’s the trick.

If you write more graphically, you have to make sure you’re furthering the story. In a suspense/thriller novel (our example), you can’t just stick in a sex scene because it amuses you or because your characters “get away from” you. It has to have a purpose. That purpose can be to show a new cohesiveness or conflict between the characters; a turn of character either romantic or double-dealing; or maybe to have jealousy among characters as a sub-plot. There are lots of reasons to write a sex scene, but do have a reason.

So there you have it. A little look at raunch—how we do it and why we do it. Sex is a brain activity first and a writer has a golden opportunity to use that organ to ensorcel a reader. Go forth and seduce!

8 Comments

  1. I still get criticized for using “penis” and “vagina” in my earliest stories, but I was a teenager when I started, and those words still held erotic power for me. These days “pussy” and “cock” seem to have become almost like the word “said” when writing dialogue – you almost can’t overuse them in modern erotica, and alternatives can so easily seem cheesy or clinical.

    Another great insightful piece – thanks Patricia. The last point about moving the story on during sex scenes is so important, particularly if you want to keep readers from skipping your sex scene to find out what happens next in the suspense ride.

    • Thanks, Max. There is magic in words; they are much greater than their consonants and vowels. I remember the titters in the classroom when I was a teenager and those words were mentioned clinically by a teacher. I understand why you (or any author) might use them. It is a shame, in fact, that we, as genre specialists, limit ourselves to any particular words. I appreciate your comment. Thanks for coming by.

  2. Great information and background, Patricia. Puts it all in a nutshell. I tend to write more true erotica than erotic romance, (as if you all hadn’t noticed) but I certainly echo your sentiments of writing from what you know and doing research. It’s never enough just to read other writers if you want to get that realism, as that comes from the heart of experience. Also, I tend to elevate the graphic terminology the raunchier a scene becomes – start of clean and end up downright smutty!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I like the idea of elevating the graphic language as the scene progresses, Ashen. It ads an element of excitement. Clever idea on your part. In my Journey series, I usually make the drawl of the Journey men become more pronounced as they get excited. These little verbal clues can bring a reader along subtly. I’m a great believer in “softly, softly catchee monkey.”

  3. i skimmed this and it looks interesting. gonna come back for a more thorough reading.

  4. Fantastic post, Patricia! You hit all the salient points in an easy to understand way that helps every romance writer. This should be called a primer for romance/erotic writing. Like you said, it’s what you do and you have done it well for quite a while and that shows. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

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