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Ripe FruitThis article is entitled “Write When It’s Ripe”, but I could have easily entitled it “Publish When It’s Ripe” and discussed many of the same issues. We’ll talk about writing first.

How much thought do you put in your story before you sit down to write it? A lot of writers say that it comes to them in a flash of understanding and all they have to do is write it down. Some say it flows across their brain like a movie and transcribing is all that’s necessary. A few report that the story comes to them in dreams. I wonder how much pre-thought goes into those flashes and movies. Do you ever sit down and actually think about what your character would do in this situation, or how to move your plot from Point A to Point B? Quiet contemplation might be part of how you write or it might not. I sometimes plant myself in my favorite chair and stare into space as I work out thorny plot issues and ask myself “how would this character react to a situation like this?”

If you’re a plotter, it is more likely you’ll sit at your keyboard and puzzle out the pieces before writing them. That kind of preparation can get a project started and it can also help when a project is stalled. For “pantsers” (people who write by the seat of their pants—one wonders how they type that way), maybe thinking about plots and character motivations goes on in a background “processor” buried in their subconscious mind.

No matter where you get your ideas, write when it’s ready to be written. I guarantee that if you sit down to write it before you’re ready, you’ll bump into a brick wall. It might not knock you on your behind if you’re a stubborn person, but it will certainly make life more difficult for you. Some thought has to go into the story and you have to be prepared mentally and emotionally to share those thoughts.

As I said at the beginning, you also have to publish when it’s ripe. I run into far too many writers who publish while it’s still basically a first draft. Some use publication as a honing stone, like a critique group of many people. Is a reader going to want a second book from you if they found the first book to be unready for prime time? What kind of taint does that put on your author name? An author has to consider their future as well as their present. (You’d think we’d be good at that, considering how writing a book works.) A reader, whether he or she is paying nothing or 99 cents or, God forbid, $10.99, for a book, is not going to want to put the book down part way saying “this stuff is crapola.” You’re not going to want that either.

Though it might not be a serious consideration for the eager and anxious author of a promising first draft, the impact of unpolished work on the genre/sub-genre in general can be major. If you ask around among interested readers, you will quickly find that erotica novels and many romance novels are frequently thought of as poorly written. This is particularly true of the reputation of self-published erotica. That’s a shame, isn’t it? These authors often have great ideas! But have they published when it was ripe, or just when they were eager to share? Self-published work has a general reputation in this regard, and has had for a long time. Too many readers pass self-published work up because of this reputation; it harms the entire industry.

When is a story ready to make it to the Smashwords “meatgrinder” or to a N.Y. agent? When you have pored over it to death; when you have had it critiqued, copyedited, beta-read, and proofread; when you are totally sick of the project, having read it 10 (or more) times, forward and backwards (yes, really backwards). Ninety-nine point nine percent of us are not literary geniuses who pop out a polished first draft. Even great writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald had to be edited, and extensively.

At the same time, knowing when the book is ready to be published is a tricky balancing act. You need to have confidence in your manuscript. Paralysis when it comes to hitting the “send” button is going to keep you toiling in obscurity forever. Going through the multi-step process I mention above can give you that confidence. You will know that you’ve done all you can do to prepare your precious story to see the light of day—and hopefully a welcome light in a reader’s eye. As George Carlin says, it’s time to “take a f**kin’ chance.”

Write when it’s ripe in your head. Publish when the fruit has matured. Raise your book-baby carefully and nurture it along. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to find an agent or a publishing house or if it’s to go straight to readers, you’ll still need to do your prep work. Writing is a craft, and like any craft, it takes effort.

Thus ends this series on writing a naughty story. I’ve shared my viewpoints, but I assure you they’re not the only ones. I hope I’ve helped you get a slightly better grip on the writing process. If I have, I’m satisfied. If you enjoyed these tips and tricks, please look around my site and see if any of my books might interest you. They’re ripe and ready for picking.

Thank you for following along.

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!

Gears in ActionCar chases, sweeping romance, murder and mayhem, are all plot elements. There isn’t much of a book if your characters aren’t faced with conflict and an urgent need to get from Point A to Point B. The trick to plot is to tell the story without getting sidetracked. You have to know where you’re going or you’ll meander around and potentially never get there.

But how do you decide on the action? First, know your genre. If you’re writing a murder-mystery, it’s best to have a murder and a climactic catch of the criminal. If you’re writing a romance, you’ll want to try for the boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-sings-a-song-and-gets-girl-back, and happily ever after (HEA) plot.

For a sexy story, it’s a good idea to decide what message you’re trying to convey to the reader. For example, do you want to tell a coming-of-age erotic story? If so, the plot has to revolve around a person growing up sexually. This can be when the character is 20 or 60…doesn’t matter. But the plot has to revolve around the character’s sexual shenanigans that cause personal growth.

Maybe you’re writing an erotic story where the whole story is about a human and alien meeting and getting it on. Aside from the rishathra component (thank you, Larry Niven), you have to have them meet, interact, have sex, and either separate or stay together. You can even leave off the meeting part if you’re going really short. That’s a very simple plot.

Basically, you want a character to do something. Boom. Plot. It’s best, of course, if the reader has some buy-in for the character and cares how the story ends. Even in a very naughty story a reader has to care about someone involved in the action or they won’t care about your story.

Plots can be as simple as the ones I’ve outlined above, or they can be quite complex, with subplots galore. I won’t get into subplots here, but I will share one of my favorite methods for figuring out plots. I like to take a page from the screenwriter’s book of tricks. First, of course, know your genre. Then follow either the 3-Act, 9-Act, or 12-Act structure. I prefer the 9-Act. I learned it many years ago from David Siegel, who had great success with his method. He no longer has his diagram and page online – shame on you, David – but you can find a re-creation of the method in Velikovsky’s book, A Guide to Feature Film Writing. It’s available online. There are a lot of methods in that book. Siegel’s is my favorite.

Another method I would recommend is Jim Butcher’s story arch method, which is more geared toward novels. You might find it easier to use, especially if you’re a series writer.

Give your story a beginning, middle and end. Even flash fiction has those three elements. Don’t get sidetracked into a cul-de-sac you can’t find your way out of. If you’re not an outliner, at least have a game plan that tells you that you want to get from Tree Top A, to Tree Top Z in X number of words, with a climactic Tree Top S in there somewhere. Pantsers, you are probably doing this already, even if you don’t realize it.

Good luck with your plots, friends. Next time, I want to talk about sub-plots.