1,001 Erotic Nights
Parts 1-3 available now for pre-sale, from all e-book retailers. Coming Summer 2014, from Simon & Schuster.
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How many sex scenes have I written in my career — 50, 75, 100? They’ve ranged from a seductive bout of hand-holding to a Roman orgy, and along the way I’ve learned a lot about how to write them. Here are my three secrets to writing erotica.
1. It’s all about the head game.
A sex scene always has…. sex. Tab A into Slot B, as they say; or Tab C into Slots D and E, depending on what you’re up to and where your tastes lean. The point is, there are only limited ways in which the nuts and bolts get put together.
In erotica, the secret to spicing up those basic constructions is to create a situation that messes with the thoughts and emotions of the characters. At least one of the characters needs to feel off-balance. Shocked, fearful, out of control, surprised, overcome with lust, feeling as if she’s being sinfully naughty, feeling as if he has lost control of the situation. Anything, as long as it’s not two contented lovers expressing their tension-free affection for one another. Because, where’s the excitement in that? Those are the sex scenes readers skim. If you’re going to write one of those, put it at the end of the book because it means the story is over.
All good sex scenes are about what the characters are thinking and feeling. He might wonder, does she like me? She thinks he’s using her, and wants to teach him a lesson. She’s afraid — of sex, of her own reactions, of being caught in the act. She wants to lose control, or be controlled. He wants to have his body worshipped. He wants her to want him past all reason. They’re doing something they know is taboo: sex in public, or with a third person, or with odd props. Either the sexual situation should unbalance a character, or his own reaction to the situation should unbalance him.
It is the character’s emotions, their reactions to the sexual situation, that bring it to life. Not the nuts and bolts.
Though you still need the nuts and bolts.
2. Embrace your inner perv.
When you look for ideas on how to create an interesting, exciting sex scene, you need look no further than your own secret thoughts. Look to your own wild imaginings, your fantasies that you’d never share or want to live out, even in role-play, but which do funny things to you when you think of them. No matter what it is that sets your loins a-tingling, there are other people who respond the same way.
As the Roman playwright Terence wrote, “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”
If you feel bereft of creative sexual ideas, read erotica, look at porn, go see what other people are getting off on. And then listen to your own reactions, and take a close look at what it is about the erotic situation that appeals to you (or doesn’t). Some erotic art and fiction might seem disgusting or comical at first glance, but look at it a little longer and get past your surprise, and you begin to sense why there are fans of it. Give yourself the freedom to explore new, shocking things in your own mind.
Embrace anything that sends a thrill through you, no matter how shameful. Or especially if shameful! This is where you will get your most powerful ideas.
If you still can’t quite accept your inner perv, then try reading Jesse Bering’s book, “Perv.” He’s a psychologist and writes for Scientific American. “Perv” is a fun read, and will explain to you everything from why it’s mostly men who have fetishes, to why women get turned on physically — though often not mentally — by weird, bizarre, and even scary sexual things.
3. Write like no one will ever read it.
When you write a sex scene, it’s got to be just you and the keyboard. If you allow anyone to be looking over your shoulder, even in your imagination, you’re going to inhibit yourself. It’s the observer effect, and it will dampen your writing. You won’t take as many risks, or push yourself as far, and the result will be flat, insipid, bland, blah. If you worry about people’s reactions, you’ll write sex scenes that offend no one, and excite no one.
The last reaction you want to your erotica is “Meh.”
Sex is called “intimacy” for a reason. It’s intimate, it’s private, and when you’re writing about it for publication the reality is that you will be exposing it to thousands of eyes. And when you do, thousands of people will judge it, and to some degree judge you.
If you want to write sexually thrilling scenes, you have to shove the awareness of future readers out of your mind. While you’re writing you have no spouse, no family, no neighbors, no friends, no editor, no agent. It’s you and your characters, and fortunately your characters are eager for you to put them through their paces. They’re begging for it: the more you mess with them, the more they like it. There’s no reality for them except for the world of the book, where you are their god; they know nothing and care nothing for Aunt Martha and neighbor Joe, or for that odd friend of your husband’s who always reads your books and then makes lewd comments about them at social gatherings. No, your characters want you to go wild on them.
Give your characters what they want. Don’t disappoint them with timid writing. Their reactions are the only ones that matter.
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So, those are my three secrets to writing erotica. It all comes down to fearless honesty about what makes you go “oooh!” in your most private thoughts, and accepting those thoughts as a part of yourself. It doesn’t mean you want to engage in those activities, or even that you want to talk about them to your beloved. But you can sure have a lot of fun making imaginary people play them out… and you can give readers a good time while you’re at it.
Want to see how this gets translated into my own writing? Read the first three installments of “1,001 Erotic Nights,” available now for pre-sale at all e-book retailers. Coming in Summer 2014, from Simon & Schuster.