Writing isn’t just the act of composing words, it’s a medium that enables us to share the wonders of our own imaginations, with faraway strangers we’d never otherwise meet.
Each story we tell inspires a unique piece of theatre, each conjured up and played out in the space between a reader’s ears. Even if a story were read by a billion other people, no two individuals would ever imagine those same words in exactly the same way.
Writing is a modern form of magic. But only if you commit your story to words.
Stories are delicate fragile things; finer than gossamer threads, so easily forgotten, blown away and lost. A story dies when it is read for the last time. But in writing it down, you preserve it, and make sharing possible. Your words have a chance to spread, to open portals for other intrepid souls to enter and explore.
Anyone can write, it is a medium that’s open to all, yet many lack the confidence to express their own thoughts in words. In this post I hope to demystify the process of writing, and encourage you to tell your own stories. As a writer of erotic fiction, some of the examples in this article might be rather kinky, but the maxims I’m going to share should be equally applicable to writers of any genre. A story is still a story, whatever the subject.
1 Storytelling is the gift of new imaginings
We read stories because they give us a chance to imagine something we’ve never thought of before. A writer gives their readers a recipe of settings, characters and events and says: here, visualise this.
Writing is meant to be read. So seduce your reader, don’t baffle them with complicated words or overly complicated plots, or drench them in a deluge of descriptive adjectives. Allow your readers’ imaginations to fill the gaps between your words. Give glimpses and the mind will fill in what we cannot see. We yearn to indulge in illicit imagineering.
Don’t worry if you’re sexually inexperienced and you’re writing about sex. I’m pretty sure sci-fi authors don’t own spaceships and J.K Rowling has never cast a magic spell. It’s far more important to be able to use your own imagination to create compelling happenings, ones readers will care enough about to invest their precious time and mental energy to recreate inside their heads.
And if you really want to become more creative, go somewhere like Meetup and join a local improv group. Improvisation is creativity in its rawest form, you and your words, trying to create something familiar enough to be recognisable, but not too surreal that your audience ceases caring.
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2 Assemble your ingredients
Think of storytelling as the process of compiling a recipe for your readers’ imaginations. And like any good cook, the first step is to source some exceptional quality ingredients. Characters, locations, events, dramas, conflicts, philosophical dilemmas, surprises and twists. Your mental pantry should be filled with raw ingredients, that unusual place you visited on holiday, or that intensely erotic photo you’ve just seen, or that disturbing dream you had last night.
All these ideas should go into a notebook. Physical or virtual, it’s up to you, but you need a notebook. As Linus Pauling said, the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. But ideas are fragile things, so quick to fade from memory, so you have to write them down.
Your notebook will be your faithful companion, uncritically accepting all your ridiculous notions, hazy visions and nebulous ideas. Then you’ll look back on it in times to come and surprise yourself with your own creativity.
Choose whatever medium works best for you, an A5 notebook or something online. I keep my notes in several Google Docs, every time I encounter something I think might enrich a story, I add it to one of my documents. Then when I come to write stories, inspiration is never a problem, I’ve now collected far more ideas than I’ll ever be able to use.
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3 Plan your story
You only have the mental capacity to plan simple stories entirely in your head. So it’s much better to plan them on paper (or on screen). This is particularly important if — like me — you’re a part-time or hobbyist writer, who writes for a few hours every now and then. Having the story in note form allows me to easily put down and pick up what I’ve been writing whilst preserving continuity.
So, begin by writing an outline of your story, just bullet points will do: Jane went here, Jane bought something, that kind of level of detail. It’s as simple as building your story one sentence at a time.
Once the tale is in summary form, you can begin refining each bullet. This is where you can start adding locations, descriptions, interactions, dialogue — and that all important quality of soul. Then just keep expanding and refining until your story has the depth of detail that finally satisfies you.
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4 Write the ending first
Telling a story is like telling a joke. It’s moving towards a punchline, a resolution of the drama or mystery at the heart of the story. A story needs a destination, and if the destination isn’t worth reaching, the story isn’t really worth writing.
So when you plan your story (see tip 3 above), you should have an idea of how the story will end. As Tolkien once said, stories grow in their telling, so it’s fine if you haven’t quite settled on all the details, but you should at least know the objective of the story. If you don’t you risk having to contrive an unsatisfying ending, just to wrap things up. You’ve read stories like that haven’t you? Grrrr. They sucked.
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5 Make things matter
The defining feature of visual porn (as opposed to erotica) is titillation, where there’s no reason to think or care about what’s going on, just like the ‘action porn’ blockbusters that are just fights and things blowing up. Some punters are happy with that, but discerning viewers find such stories unfulfilling, because titillating stories offer no opportunities for emotional investment. There are no characters to care about, no points of view to take sides on, no ambiguity, no drama, secrets or surprises.
So don’t be afraid to include some backstory, perhaps a brief history of your protagonists, or some formative events that provide some context to your story. This doesn’t even need to be done at the beginning; if you’re not keen on the once-upon-a-time opening, jump straight into the action and provide the backstory when you’ve hooked your reader by their eyeballs.
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6 Be believable
Yes, you’re writing a fantasy, yes, fantastic things can happen, and yes, everyone likes a bit of escapism. But keep in mind the most erotic situations are the ones that are just on the right side of believable. Stories should be congruent, internally consistent, with causes and effects. If complete strangers suddenly start tearing off each other’s clothes, you need to tell your readers why.
That doesn’t mean you can’t write sci-fi or magic realism (like my story Grimoire), where you bend the normal rules of nature, but events should not appear arbitrary. Your goal is to create a believable world inside the head of every reader, each of whom will have expectations about how people interact and the way things should be. Naked nymphomaniacs do not roam our streets, so if they do in your story, you’d better have a good explanation.
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7 Surprise and Delight
OK, so your goal as a storyteller is to give people things they’d never imagined before, but within the bounds of believability. How can you do that? One way is to use the power of the surreal, using dreams and imaginings, like the statue scene in Punishment Panties.
An even subtler approach is to introduce diversions that the reader might not expect in a piece of erotica, like the potents of winter in the Fall story, or by taking the reader back through history like Lupercalia. It’s not about being tricksy, but having the vision to see the unpredictable paths the story could take.
Think of it this way, you’re the screenwriter and director for a dream production. You have a limitless special effects budget, your favourite actors, your pick of the world’s locations. And the superb cinema between your readers’ ears will render it in perfect clarity. Quite an opportunity, isn’t it?
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8 Don’t be boring
Avoiding boredom is one of the key challenges for improvisers, because being mundane is easy, being interesting is much more difficult.
This happened — then something else — and then something more, is not a compelling story. Stories are more than just a sequence of events, they should have at least one concept that makes the reader think. For instance, Throne of Shame is about authority, obedience and humiliation. In Treasure Hunt the key idea is playfulness, and how to keep the flame of passion alive. In Coming of Age, the idea is mentorship and emotional maturity.
Just as a lot of visual porn looks the same, poor erotic fiction tends to read the same; the setting is perfunctory, few details about the characters are explained, just their first names, genders and body shapes. The story itself is just a few different sex acts finishing with an orgasm.
But you can do better than that, and craft tales with thought-provoking concepts at their heart. Write the kind of stories you would like to read. If you like regency romances, or swords and sorcery, or pirate adventures, write those kind of stories. If you’ve ever written a love letter you’ll know: it’s easier to write about something you adore.
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9 Be daring
Take a moment to enjoy this cartoon.
Its message? Never be afraid to experiment. Understand that a master has failed more times than a beginner has even tried. Just write, and publish. Then do it all again.
Don’t dismiss your results before you start by thinking it might not be any good. Writing is not a sport, there are no scores. All that matters is that it brings you pleasure, and is enjoyed by those who encounter it.
So don’t worry whether what you write stimulates others or if it seems too filthy. If it arouses you — it will arouse others. Almost 900 million people speak English, that means plenty of people out there who think the same way as you. Across humanity, we have much more in common than our differences.
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10 Write your passion
Write because you need to write. Write because you feel that almost primal urge to transcribe the imagery floating in your imagination into words. Write because you’re desperate to make what you’ve seen permanent before it fades forever. Write because you like giving gifts, visions that will enter the lexicons of your readers’ imaginations.
Inspiration is not about coming up with the cleverest plots, the most elaborate scenes or the most unpredictable twists. It’s about harnessing an internal dynamism, your mind’s fiery forge of creativity. An inspired writer could make the view from their window riveting, and a walk down a local street a thrilling adventure.
Connect to your passion, whatever that might be, and your voice will sing, your words will flow, and your zeal will buzz through your story like an erotic charge. Memories may be fragile, but the written word endures, with every effervescent detail as bright as the moment it spilt onto the page.
We live in a golden age of communication. It’s never been easier to reach out across the world, to inspire and arouse the minds of strangers you’d never otherwise know. What an opportunity.
And all you need is passion and a page.
Image credit: “Life between the pages” by Dihaze (on deviantArt)
This is an extended version of an article originally published at spankingtheatre.tumblr.com.