Category Archives: Writing Theory
This month, I was excited to participate as a guest blogger for the ERWA Blog. Many great names in the erotica field contribute there so I was honored to be asked to participate. My article is called In Defense of Bad Sex, arguing for the inclusion of “less than perfect” sexual themes and interactions in erotic storytelling and discussing how such scenes might help advance the plot.
Please check it out, and join the discussion there with your thoughts!
One of the first comments I received from the ERWA mailing list on a piece of my erotic work was that my voice was strong, but somewhat over-written. I was genuinely surprised by this because in all of the writing classes and workshops I’ve taken, I’d somehow never heard that term before. Was my meaning not clear? Was my first concern. No, the commentators assured me, it is, it’s just bogged down in extra words that slow down the pacing and flow of a sentence (and, of course, add extra words, something I struggled with not long after as I tried to get a draft for an anthology submission under the required word limit). I believed them, of course, but I was having trouble “seeing” the over-writing in my work in order to correct it.
Luckily, one of the patrons of the list, the illustrious and incorrigible Daddy X, came to my rescue by sending me a list of words that are often over-used (a near-identical list that also includes some cliche phrases can be found on the Write Divas blog). It’s not that these words and phrases should never be used, it’s that they are often unnecessary at best and slow down or weaken their sentences at worst. As an exercise, I started going through some of my shorter works and doing searches for every instance of every word and critically considering A) whether I could delete the word, or, even better, 2) whether there was a more interesting way of wording that sentence to avoid the problem altogether. It was amazingly illustrative. I feel like I made some significant advances in training my eye almost immediately.
Today, Remittance Girl has an excellent post on the ERWA Blog that continues this discussion of over-writing, taking it beyond simple word usage to phrasing and style, with a specific discussion of how over-writing relates to erotica. She also has some interesting things to say in defense of poetry and how poetic thinking can both tighten up and deepen your writing. I am not much of a poetry person myself (I did my poetry report in high school on Robert Burns purely so I would have an excuse to read “Brave Johnny Lad, Cock Up Your Beaver” out-loud in class) but her comments might help change my opinion.
In any event, I am always excited to find resources like these to help me mature as a writer. The practice of writing is exactly that, a practice. In other words, something we should always look to improve upon. Most importantly, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we make some of the same mistakes, since identifying those mistakes in the first place is the most important step in the first place.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am inordinately fond of Cracked.com. They are bizarrely insightful for a site self-described as a humor site. I will frequently click in to one of their articles with one set of expectations, only to be completely surprised (and often informed) by what it actually contains. One of their recent articles, though, is once again not quite what I was expecting.
The article (listicle, rather) is 4 Weird Side Effects of Learning How to Write. I was half expecting it to be filled with straightforward writing-y things, like your grammar gets better and you become a snob about em-dashes. The things they list, though, are more craft-of-writing things.
But what was most surprising to me was the fact that I already exhibit almost all of these effects.
I haven’t been writing much lately. Partly it’s sheer busyness with end-of-summer weddings and events going on IRL. Partially it’s cause a story I worked really hard on wasn’t very well received, which opened up plenty of cracks for the Demons of Doubt to start attacking my subconscious.
Serendipitously, this short comic art panel came across my Facebook feed today addressing the very issues plaguing me right now. It explicitly references art and drawing, but really it’s referring to any creative process. Writing, dance, crafts…. Any person beginning a creative endeavor is eventually visited by the exact same demons. Everything that I have ever seen discussing how to combat these doldrums eventually gives the same advice: Just keep going. You only fail if you don’t try at all.
Really, the same advice could be said to apply to living life at all.
Many of the resources “On Writing” I have partaken of during the last few years spend a lot of time discussing ways to spark creativity. Sometimes it’s couched as a way to fight writer’s block, sometimes it’s slanted more as a way to deepen a story, but really it’s all the same thing. One of the tricks these sources have advised is to take a point of your story–a moment of plot, a trait of a character, etc–and do something unexpected with it. Push yourself to look past the easy, logical steps and open yourself up to the unconventional ones because they are the foundations of great and memorable stories.
This makes perfect sense when you realize that real life isn’t easy and logical, and rarely does it follow a predictable pattern. We wish it was predictable and sometimes we turn to stories to fill that need. Some genres–or branches and subsets of genres at least–are built entirely on filling that need. Mysteries, romance, early pulp-scifi, etc, all have very predictable patterns and cliches that define them, and their customers expect this of them. It’s comforting to spend time in a world where you can enjoy being surprised by the details while still being confident that things will all turn out in a certain way.
And frankly that’s fine. But there’s a time and a place for that sort of writing, and there’s a time and a place for more creative, innovative works. Frankly I would rather spend more time in the latter realm. But how do you know when you’ve crossed the border?
On the ERWA listserve, we recently got to discussing cliches and how to avoid them, and a couple good sources came up. Strange Horizons, the online speculative fiction magazine that publishes a lot of work from aspiring authors, has an entire list of cliches in the scifi and fantasy genres that they have collected over their long history of reviewing stories. Clarkesworld is another spec-fic magazine that has a less-exhaustive but similar list (I am especially fond of, “Satan’s gonna getcha!”). And finally, getting back to erotica specifically, Circlet Press is a major publisher that only publishes spec-fic-themed erotica and they have a short but very specific list of cliches they are tired of seeing. Now, all of these publishers stress that it’s not necessarily that these cliches are bad stories, just that they have become too common, and commonality creates predictability. If you really, really, really wanted to write such a story there’s nothing stopping you, but do so with a note of caution because, as Circlet points out, “Even the readership says they are sick of them.”
And yes, I will admit that I have a couple story ideas that make some of these lists. Rather than find it discouraging, though, I find these lists exciting. These are the road markers I need that say, “You think you’re out pushing new boundaries, but really you’re still in your home territory. Be brave and keep moving, because there are even more wonderful treasures yes undiscovered out there.”
In the months since I first joined the Erotica Readers and Writers Association email listserve, one of the things I have been most impressed by is the discussion and tips about the craft of writing. And I mean the general craft of writing, not just Tab-A-Slot-B theme writing. A few weeks ago I brought up this essay by Chuck Palahniuk, which I stumbled across via another author-friend, and the group had an interesting discussion of its various merits and flaws. In essence, the essay discusses different ways to describe how a character is thinking or feeling, besides simply saying, “She thought that…” or, “This thing made him feel like…” and so on. It made me think about my own writing in a different way and I immediately went and edited a story I had been working on, tossing in a couple patches of similar Palahniuk-prose to spice things up a bit, and generally was happy with the results.
This discussion apparently sparked some even deeper thought and theorizing in some of the members, one of whom went on to write an excellent breakdown of why she doesn’t fully agree with the Palahniuk approach.
All in all, though, no matter who–if anyone–one agrees with, such discussion is excellent for training one to think critically about their writing, which I wholeheartedly approve of.
The hard part seems to be simply getting the writing out of one’s thoughts and onto the paper.