I’m enrolled in the English program here at the U of O and I’m looking to explore a different type of fiction we don’t learn in the classroom: erotic fiction. I’ve read a few books in the genre and feel ready to give it a shot myself, but I’m not sure where to begin. Any tips?
I’ll cut to the chase, because I know we’re all thinking it: Yes, the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey series by E.L James does qualify as erotic fiction. I do have to give the hugely popular series some credit for drawing much-deserved attention to the erotic fiction genre (it sold more than 100 million copies, making it the 25th best-selling series of all time, according to one count), but it doesn’t have to solely represent what erotic fiction is by any means.
While the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was attacked by a number of critics for its poor writing style and its out-of-touch, stereotypical depictions of BDSM and sex in general, your first shot at erotic fiction doesn’t have to fall down the same rabbit hole.
When it comes to writing erotic fiction, the golden rule is to treat the style and grammar of the book like you would any other genre of writing. Just because a book focuses on themes of sex and love rather than your typical romance, true crime or thriller novel, that doesn’t mean it’s exempt from all the rules of a good book.
This means you’ll need to keep your spelling, grammar and punctuation top notch. It also means you’ll need to spend just as much time as any other author developing characters, storylines, plots, dialogue and settings.
In erotic fiction especially, characters and plot development can make or break your novel. Do your best to avoid those clichés often depicted in erotic fiction, like the worn-out tale of an armoured warrior fighting their way into a heavily guarded castle to rescue (and love) a princess or prince in despair. Try coming up with something more organic. Not only will an original idea hook readers from the start, but it also gives you the chance to tell important stories of sex and love outside of a heteronormative relationship. Use the opportunity to construct characters you don’t always find in the pages of a book.
If you’re feeling stumped, a quick way to brainstorm a handful of plot and character ideas is to visualize some of your deepest sexual fantasies and let your writing hand do the work. Often times, writing erotic fiction from a more personal place can add a lot more passion and voice to the story itself.
But let’s be honest, those juicy sex scenes are really what draw readers to the genre in the first place, and what will keep them reading if they’re written well. Building tension here is key. As with any novel, you’re building towards an epic climax, but this time you’ve got sex on your side. Construct scenes that allow the sexual tension between your characters to build but never erupt, until the reader is begging for the climactic scene to arrive.
When it does, do everything in your literary power to make it perfect. Throw in a healthy amount of ingenious literary devices to paint that vivid picture—but don’t overdo it with inaccessible language or overly-intricate paragraphs.
Happy writing, and remember, don’t be afraid to take risks!