Rules of Writing Erotic Fiction

Even though sex is the driving force of life (someone once said that it’s hereditary: if your parents didn’t have sex, you won’t either), if you were to go through the books in your house, you’d rarely stumble upon a few pages of erotic fiction. Nabokov, Miller, or maybe Updike, Anaïs Nin or Catherine Millet.

Maybe it’s because erotica is rarely taken seriously by writers, or perhaps intelligent, well-written erotica is more difficult to write than most people would think.

The most important aspect of writing about sex is to go beyond the superficial, and to focus on the aspects that truly matter. Here are some rules on writing erotic fiction:

1. Respect The Genre. Respect The Reader

Writing about sex is as important as anything else you’d write. Treat them with respect.

2. Spare The Rod

The throbbing rod, that is, and all other coy euphemisms for body parts. Please don’t tell me about our hero’s member, or manhood, or hard hot tool or battering ram. Likewise, don’t refer to our heroine’s mound or tunnel or the center of her womanhood.

3. Dispense With Cliches

Don’t say that he pounded her like a jackhammer, or that she lay back, spent. Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Make me think about something that wouldn’t occur to me otherwise.

4. Less Is More

Stay away from blow-by-blow descriptions of sex acts. The mechanics aren’t what’s intriguing. The emotional dynamics between people are intriguing.

5. Keep It Real

Two flawlessly beautiful people having ecstatic sex is just about the least interesting thing I can think of.  We are drawn to each other’s darkness, strangeness, sadness, and vulnerability. A bit of frustration goes a long way.

6. Draw On All Five Senses When You Write A Sex Scene

The curve of a hip. The scent of leather. The taste of boot polish. The sound of rain on the roof. The texture of the grass in a secluded field. A compelling fantasy demands a certain immediacy. Put the reader where your characters are.

7. Hone Your Dialogue

…and expect it to carry the scene. Again, the old in-out is not compelling in itself. What is the fantasy these lovers are enacting? What is the power dynamic between them? What secrets, longings, grudges, insecurities, memories are in play here?

8. Avoid The Overwrought

I believe that the more extreme the scene, the more restrained the language should be. Both The Story of O and Nine and a Half Weeks bring a straightforward, understated narrative style to an outlandish tale and — I believe — take on potency and credibility for having done so.

9. Write Your Own Fantasy. Make It Authentic

If I’m working on a sex scene and I’m not turned on, I know it probably isn’t very effective. If you’re not hot and bothered while writing, chances are good that ultimately the reader won’t be either. Conversely, if you can bring yourself to write what genuinely excites you, no matter how strange or mortifying, readers are usually affected in turn. You can’t fake this. And you can’t play it safe. You have to be brave.

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11 thoughts on “Rules of Writing Erotic Fiction

  1. This is perfect. My thoughts run along the same lines, but I was uncertain if I was on the right track. My first real acceptance of the fact I was writing steamy romance not romantic suspense, left me worried that the writing was revealing too much about myself. Lie To Me has been extremely well received by readers that don’t necessarily read romance/erotic work. Thanks for the validation and most important, clarification.

  2. Love this post. A lot of people don’t seem to take the romance genre, let alone erotic romance, seriously. But I’ve always been drawn to it because, okay, the H and h are always “perfect” on the outside and the sex scenes are steaming. But, what really gets me to stick to this genre is we really get to see the most vulnerable side in people’s lives and we learn how two people, under whatever their circumstance, come together, learn from each other. Sometimes, the power dynamics are not quite equal, but they learn how to balance out these dynamics. So, yes, sex plays a huge part. Sex is a “private” act that most often speaks to the characters’ social past.

    1. It’s the twenty first century and yet sex is still, somehow, taboo. Don’t know why. It’s just another thing that makes people feel lonely, because they have to pretend like they ain’t having any.

      Maybe that’s why erotica is not taken seriously, even though it’s a brilliant way to reveal your characters(pun intended.) It’s a great way to show your readers how they really are, what they want, what secret desires they might have. The posibilities are truly endless.

  3. I’ve never even attempted erotic fiction until tonight. I haven’t got to the sex bit yet but I think I’m following at least some of your rules…

    She noticed him standing by the door as she made a last gasp lunge through the closing doors as the train readied itself to leave the station. Subconsciously she’d expected him to move backwards as she moved into the space directly facing him and later remembered being slightly unnerved when he did not. Being a seasoned traveller on the London Underground she was well practiced in avoiding eye contact with all passengers, no matter how many were squeezed together in a carriage, but straight away she could feel his eyes on her. Not quite daring to meet his stare she attempted to recall what he looked like based on her fleeting glance as she entered the carriage. Handsome, quite tall, dark hair with a stubble he was certainly her type, probably everyone’s type.

    As the train bumped its way along the line she started to feel more comfortable with the position she found herself in. She allowed herself to drift with the moment and enjoy the sensation of her body against his. She had no idea if he was even fully conscious of their proximity to one another, or he just had a different definition of personal space, but she had already begun to fantasise that this was a shared experience. One they both wanted.

    She was beginning to feel turned on, her nipples were hard and she could feel her heart rate increasing. When the announcement came that the train was about to enter a station she barely noticed. It was only when he finally moved and began to edge towards the door that she realised that this was where he would be getting off. Disappointed she edged herself to one side to give him some space and took the opportunity to look directly at him. She half expected that he would meet her gaze, as an attractive woman, she was used to having a particular effect on men, so it was something of a surprise that he seemed to be looking past her, only focusing on leaving the train. It had just been her imagination after all.

    But then she felt a hand take hers, it was him. He’d reached for her as he was moving past her, towards the train door There was enough force in his pull on her hand to ask her a question, but not enough to take away her ability to choose what to do next.

    She let him lead her off the train and onto the platform. The feeling that she was doing something completely out of character scared and excited her simultaneously. As they began to make their way along the platform towards the exit he squeezed her hand gently. Somehow this was enough to reassure her that she would be safe with this man, that he wouldn’t hurt her.

    Just before they reached the escalator that would carry them up to street level, he spoke;

    “Do you want me?”

    She hesitated before replying but was sure of her answer;

    “Yes”

    “What’s your name?”

    Surprising herself slightly she turned to look at him and said;

    “I’m not telling you, I don’t want to know your name either”

    “Ok, I live a few minutes walk from here”

    With that he let go of her hand and walked slightly ahead. Leading the way, regaining control. She liked it, she followed.

    Once they’d passed through the turnstiles and out into the street she began to really sense the anticipation of what was to become. She’d never done anything like this before, she was nervous but there was no way she was backing out now. She wanted to fuck him, wanted to be fucked by him.

    He was still walking in front of her, only slightly but enough to make her wonder what would happen if she stopped following. Would be wait for her or would he just leave her where she stood? She knew the answer, he was a man. A handsome man, a sexy and confident one but he was still a man. They could both play the game, he played very well, but she would win in the end, she was sure of that. Slowing down she allowed herself to fall a little further behind him than she’d previously been. It was only a step or two but it had the desired effect, after a few seconds he slowed and half turned to check what she was doing. She gave him the smallest of smiles and picked up her pace again. He did the same, they walked maybe quarter of a mile and then turned left into a residential street. Most of the buildings had been converted into the kind of apartments popular with young London based professionals and she wasn’t surprised when, a little way along the pavement, he indicated that a smart black door provided the initial entrance to where she was being taken.

  4. I can’t possibly agree with you more. Nothing gets my goat more than over-descriptive sex acts combined with cliches that attempt to sugar the pill. It sounds like a 16-year-old trying to tell her shy friend what she got up to with her boyfriend last night. Turns me right off.

  5. Excellent advice! I would say no. 7 speaks to character development, presenting empathetic figures. I suppose the extent to which one can do this depends on whether you are writing a page, a short story or a novel. Also, to no. 9 I would add that one can write better, more convincing erotica (or any other sort of fiction) if at least part of what the fantasy entails was actually experienced by the writer, especially as if relates to the emotions that were felt during the experience.

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