It’s no great reach to point out that there is an awful lot of erotica out there that is Not That Good.
Why is this so? Well, as a threshold problem, writing well is not easy. But erotica carries with it some unique qualities that affect both how it is created and how it is consumed. There is really no other genre in which bad writing can thrive the way it does in erotica.
This is because of the simple reason that people read erotica not just to be entertained but also to be aroused. Readers of erotica will put up with an amazing level of bad writing as long as the story hits one of their fetishes effectively. Glaring typos, stereotypical characters, hackneyed dialogue, and preposterous premises can be blithely excused just as long as the sex gets their juices flowing.
What this does, though, is create complacency in writers of erotica, and complacency is invariably fatal to good writing. I have seen some writers churn out crap for years because they have somehow reached a critical mass of fans who don’t care about the quality of the writing, just the quality of their one-handed reads.
Is this necessarily bad? Well, if you’re one of those readers, maybe not. And if so, this post is not for you, so you should probably stop reading now.
Still here? Okay. The flip side of this problem is that being a good writer does not automatically mean you can write good sex scenes. I have read more than one otherwise well-written story that fell flat when the author got to the sex. Being able to write well, and write good sex, is an unfortunately rare combination.
What makes one a good writer of erotica?
It’s probably more useful to consider first what does not. First, having had sex, and enjoying sex, does not make you a good writer. This might seem an obvious point, yet too many “authors” seem to stop at this point and go no further. They have fantasies and want to get them down on paper, and that’s that. While no great vice, this is no virtue either.
Next, merely being an avid consumer of erotica does not make you an effective author of the same. It’s a good start, to be sure, but that’s all: it’s the beginning of your path, not the end.
Readers who have gotten this far but have no clue who I am, or who MichaelD38 or Richard Bissell were, may be forgiven for wondering where I get off dismissing two-thirds (hell, let’s call it three-quarters) of the authors currently working in the genre. As to that, any answer would constitute an appeal to authority fallacy. My being a great or lousy writer of erotica doesn’t change any of the above. (But, if you must know, I’ve been a professional journalist and editor for upwards of 20 years.)
How do you know if you’re a good author of erotica? Your fans are probably not going to give you the best answer (as to why, see above). But if there’s one quality I’ve seen rise above all others, not just in erotica but in all writing, it’s that good writers are insecure, typically harboring a deep-seated fear that they will one day be exposed as the hacks they worry they really are.
This insecurity breeds obsessiveness about one’s writing. Nothing can be trusted. Everything must be read, and re-read until it’s become so familiar that editing is impossible. A piece is never finished, only abandoned when the author can no longer stand to keep revising it. This approach can take a lot of different forms: Hemingway is supposed to have averaged about one page a day, because he would pore over every single word as it came out, spending hours on each sentence. Other writers will vomit forth reams of prose, then spend months reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading it until they give up and publish it simply to finally be free of it. (I will confess to falling into the latter category.)
Why does this matter? It’s because this meticulous, obsessive process is what turns decent writing into great writing. The last thing you ever want is to get complacent about it.
There’s more to good erotica than just that, but we’ll cover that another day.