One thing that writing an erotic novel has given me is a sense of discipline. I don’t mean that I’ll look at a piece and think ‘Ookay, I think I might have gone a bit far there…’ It’s more a case of not taking the erotic prose to a point where it becomes a little… well… ridiculous. I was concerned about this when I started work on the Quisling Orchid, so I set myself a very simple goal: Don’t write anything that will earn you a spot on the ‘ten worse sex scenes of the year.’
As well as going to far, you can just as easily write something that’s hampered by your own inhibitions. I come across a lot of writers who’ve churned out some pretty staid erotic fiction simply because they’re afraid that someone they know will read it. The last thing you want is your great aunt (the one who promised to leave you the cottage) thinking you’re into auto asphyxiation.
Get over it, you tell ’em, it’s holding you back.
So they get over it, and then go from the shallow side, straight of the deep end; now we get some erotic writing that can only be described as ‘gooey’: you finish reading it and you think ‘Jesus, who’s going to clean all that up!’ But to be honest, going too far is probably better than stopping yourself from going far enough.
Worthwhile erotica is hard to do, so read the good (so you know what you’re looking for in your own work) and the bad (so you know crap erotica when you’ve written it yourself).
For me, what makes a piece of writing erotic is the atmosphere surrounding it, not necessarily the sexual act itself. The erotic is in building the heat and anticipation, and it’s a very good way to practice your writing: write an erotic scene that you know isn’t going to end in someone getting jumped. It helps focus your mind on the characters and their surroundings, on what you can do to charge the atmosphere and then finally expel that charge. Don’t discharge using any of the following:
- The sudden popping of champagne cork that no one has twisted.
- The sudden appearance of fireworks at the window.
- Crossing of legs.
- The sudden and inexplicable destruction of a nearby planet.
And as with all writing, never hold back in your initial draft; the dodgy stuff can always be fixed later. But if you inhibit yourself from day one, then you’ll probably just stay inhibited until you publish.
Here’s a section of The Quisling Orchid that took me a while to get right; the first few drafts went too far too quickly; the next few were a little bit staid. The one after that was okay, and it was at that point I realised that I actually preferred the first one. Sometimes, the most erotic scene is all about the anticipation.
The Quisling Orchid (extract)