Nine tips for improving your erotic fiction

Woman writing in notebook, photograph by Mirjan RoozeFilaments fiction editor Megan Lewis shares her top tips for writing erotic fiction that gets published.

As well as being a voracious reader of erotic fiction, I help Filament choose the stories that will be published in its pages. During our recent erotic fiction contest, I read over 100 stories, many of over 2,000 words each. We receive a lot of high quality submissions to Filament, but still many writers fall into predictable traps that can be easily avoided. Here are some tips to help you in your mission to write the fantastic filth that we all love.

1. Make your story believable

As Amanda rounded the corner she stumbled across the most attractive man she’d ever met. Their eyes met and within minutes he’d pulled her into a dark alley and they were frantically tearing each other’s clothes off.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I never get ravished in an alley by an attractive stranger. Similarly, I don’t come home to find my previously-heterosexual boyfriend and my gay best friend in a compromising, sexy situation.

Erotica doesn’t have to be chance encounters and strangers in the night. A certain amount of unpredictability is a good thing, but not to the point that it beggars belief. For example, in the boyfriend-and-gay-best-friend scenario, the writer could perhaps give the reader hints that this boyfriend may not be so straight early on in the story.

Strangers eyes can meet across a crowded room, and strangers might walk past each other every day and finally do something about it, but let’s be honest, most women would feel exceedingly threatened if a stranger, no matter how attractive, pulled them into a dark alley.

2. but be creative!

‘Believable’ doesnt mean ‘boring’. You can write fantastic erotica about mythical creatures or humans on another planet, as long as the reader feels it’s possible in the world you’ve created. Taking unlikely scenarios and making them believable is one of the great thrills of writing. How? Thats entirely up to you.

3. Good characters are flawed characters

Charles stared as she walked down the street. She was young, had eyes that glittered like emeralds and long, jet-black hair. She was perfect, everything a woman should be.

A perfect woman? Really? This kind of character is what fanfic writers refer to as a Mary Sue. She or he is can speak five different languages, is never moody, conducts ground-breaking research into cancer cures, is willing to have sex at any time, in any place. They’re also really, really amazing in bed. Like, better than anyone.

Characters that people love are never perfect. What is Charles mystery woman like when shes not having sex? Is she argumentative? Does she snore or get jealous? Better to infer these traits through the storyline or dialogue than to list them. Your entire story could simply be a sex act, but through the description of that sex act, your readers should be able to infer things about the participants.

4. Read more

Seriously, any reading is good stuff. Even bad romance novels will help you see how not to do it. Erotic writing may be erotic, but it’s also writing. Find out what kind of writing you like, as a reader. Why do you like it? I’m personally a great fan of science fiction; I wouldn’t write a true-to-life story because I don’t understand the appeal. Isolate what really makes you excited to read and try to replicate it.

5. Write more

The more you write the more you develop your own writing style and the more skilled you become at creating something that’s fun to read. I look back on my own early writing and cringe. I was 15 and angsty, but its also poorly written. Practise, practise, practise. Ask friends to read your work and take any constructive criticism they have. Beg them to tell you what’s wrong with it. Then write something entirely new, making changes based on your friends’ suggestions. Writing exercises can be incredibly useful if youre blocked.

Submitting more can help you improve your writing too. Many publications will give you helpful feedback, Filament included, when we have the time.

6. Less is more

The word limit is not a target! There is little point using 20 words to describe something when 10 will do just fine. Wordy descriptions are all well and good, but if they dont add to the story and flesh out the characters in a way thats truly needed, youre just giving your readers (and your editor) more to wade through. Just cut to the chase.

7. Know your clichés, and avoid them

Hello Ma’am. I heard your plumbing needs some attention…

The plumber and the bored housewife, the boss and the impressionable young secretary, the throbbing members and heaving bosoms… Ive seen them all. One fun way to work with a cliche is to subvert it. Why is it never a female plumbers and a bored househusband?

8. Know thy publications

Filament? That’s some kind of porn for women, right? Theyll love my work! I shall submit immediately!

Every publisher of erotic fiction is different – thats the point of their existing, and guidelines will only tell you half the story. This is such a simple step that its alarming how few erotic fiction writers actually follow it, we can tell. Writing is a funny business, youre often called upon to write something that fits in and stands out. Roughly half the submissions we receive are the latter but not the former, so you can easily get into the better half.

9. Play by the rules?

Sticking rigidly to the rules is fine, if that’s what you want to do. Seeing just how far you can push these rules can help to develop your writing and sometimes yields fantastic results. It is also worth considering the very nature of erotic fiction. Why should the sex always be near the end? Do we need to know whether the characters are men or women? Can you write an erotic story in 300 words? When you get right down to it, what is erotic?

I hope that you’ve found this mildly helpful. Dont forget, Filaments next erotic fiction contest is now open until 31st July 2011. We look forward to receiving your wonderful work.

Helpful resources

  • Mslexia: a UK-based magazine for women who write
  • Erotic Readers and Writers Association: a great website for erotic writing tips and calls for submissions (paying publications only)
  • Duotrope Digest: An incredibly detailed database of publications that accept writing submission, which is kept carefully up-to-date

Megan Lewis is Filaments long-suffering fiction editor. She has to read loads and loads of erotic fiction, poor love. Send your questions and submissions to her at fiction@filamentmagazine.com. Photograph by Miryan Rooze.

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