Is There Plot In Erotica? How To Write A Sexy Story
What’s that story about? Oh, it’s not just about screwing like bunnies (or werewolves, or whatever your kink is)? Things actually happen in an erotica? Well, it depends. One, it depends on you as a writer and how important you feel plot is. Two, it depends on your readers. I write m/m erotica targeted towards mostly women, aka yaoi. Seeing as they make a line of porn now just for women with more plot based stories, I’m going to say that on a whole, this market is seeking plot. That doesn’t mean you can skimp on the sex, it means you need to learn how to write both.
So I feel like I need to explain before I get into this topic that I used to be an avid reader. Like crazy. Actually, literally like crazy. With my difficult childhood, reading was my escape. I was reading a book a day. I’d stay up till the wee hours reading, read between classes, during recess, pretty much any moment I could catch. And many of these books weren’t really made for my age group. I read ‘Gone with the Wind’ when I was ten—there really was no stopping me from trying to be anywhere but in my life.
Because of this, I have been exposed to a huge amount of literature from classic Shakespeare to trashy romance novels (Shakespeare may be considered the trash of his generation, just saying.) I actually remember becoming extremely disappointed when I got older because something in the publishing industry changed. Editing seemed more of a suggestion, books fell apart in the middle, and just in general, things lost a lot of structure—and this was still before the self-publishing boom of ebooks. But there were also some really exciting things. I found authors that wrote in a different voice than the dull, very minimalistic writing I had grown up with. There was a new sensationalism to the art of writing and it made those book just so much more interesting and energetic.
What didn’t really change in all this was the content of a book. Oh, there were moments when I found myself a chapter into a book muttering to myself that the author already resolved all the tension and plot points so what the hell are the next ten chapters for? Books I completely gave up on because the writing was just so dull I stopped caring, or so disjointed that I couldn’t follow. Underneath it all, the reason I picked those books up to begin with was one thing; the promise of a story.
Now how that story is executed is up to you and this is where the topic of plot comes into play. Depending on how much you have going on in your story will determine how readers feel the ‘weight’ of your piece. When writing erotica, heavy substance isn’t really expected. But erotica’s cousin, romance, has a much more varied expectation.
First off, romance is unique in the fact that it can have any damn plot it wants and as long as it has people falling in love, it can fit into the romance genre. Try adding a computer to a mystery novel and calling it a sci-fi—People would flip. But focus on a love story while solving a murder? Hey, that’s a romance.
Epic Romance—Aka Epic Plot
The plot you find in romance, such as solving that string of murders, moving to the Italian countryside and finding yourself, living through the French Revolution, or waking up on a new planet caught between warring faction can be as substantial as another actual character would be in the story. Sometimes it takes absolute precedence over everything else including the main characters. You’ll find that characters in these stories are forced to bend to the forces of this plot-being, walk the path set out and react at every turn, their own wishes and desires put on hold.
This is the stuff you find on bestseller list. It’s also the stuff I avoid like the plague. Honestly? I don’t have the time or the attention. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a well written romance novel with a huge side story that takes on a life of its own. It has substance, weight, whatever. You can have a full immersion and maybe some life altering experience through the eyes of the main character. I’m trying to think if I’ve seen this plot in erotica… the only think I can think of is that Memoirs of a Geisha movie, and I only saw the movie so I don’t know if the book was different. But yeah, you have this character that you know is basically being used for sex but little sex actually occurred in the film. It was mostly watching her live through events while she pined for that guy.
Have any of you read ‘Gone with the Wind,’ by the way? It’s talked about as an epic love story set during the Civil War. Classic. Moving. But the love story itself is between a woman that never truly grows, just survives terrible circumstances while pinning over her married cousin, and a man that finally gets over her bullshit enough to move on. That background stuff was super epic, I’m sure (I was ten and this is all from memory after Lyme,) with the burning of the houses, Scarlet walking her tired feet for the first time to safety, but I felt no satisfaction from the love story aspect. Well, except that Rhett finally just woke the fuck up. (I didn’t swear when I was ten… much.)
These romances are considered substantial, meaningful because they take you through a character’s life and something epic happening. Course, if there’s a meaning to life beyond the pursuit of happiness, I don’t fucking know. All I know is I usually find these stories extremely dull. I didn’t pick up the book because I wanted to know a million facts like I’m reading a travel brochure about Italy, I picked it up because I wanted to feel the tension and the excitement of falling in love, some interesting, possibly dangerous things that keep the characters apart, and ideally, sex. That’s what I think of when it comes to romance. I don’t want to have to experience a devastating war just to find out if they end up together in the end. Blah.
Awakening is the closest Epic Romance you’ll find me writing and that’s more a soap opera, not just larger than life battles between gods and demons, allowing me to get into the nitty gritty of character interactions, not just let them get swept away by the plot. I like a plot that at most can be equal to the characters, that only forces events to a point and not all the time. Otherwise it starts feeling exhausting to have a character fighting plot 24-7.
Action Adventure Romance
So I mentioned how an event or setting can become a force equal to or greater to the main character, making a story more elaborate and weighty like in the Epic Plot. Another aspect is of course a more action based plot.
Some romance novels are driven the same way a thriller is or a mystery novel, or sci-fi adventure, etc. The real focus is on what’s happening all around that’s making those characters jump through hoops and react. The secondary story is the romance. The falling in love. The meet and greet and greet again until they finally realize they want to kiss but oh no, look out for that spear!
These books usually either lack enough focus to get them in their other respective category or, more likely, they’re actually in that other category and you stumbled across them and found out they had a nice love story in there too. Lots of paranormal books I read seem to fall into this category. It’s really about the witch/werewolf/vampire going about their day fighting that terrible villain but they sneak in a little love, sometimes smut if the author is more bold. But they’re usually not bold and they’ll skim over smut for ‘safer’ writing, like a fight scene. The closest thing I can think of where I see this done is like in Laurell K. Hamilton fics, or at least the first one or so. Some sexual tension, maybe a few almost dirty scenes, but mostly it’s the plot of running around fighting dangerous vamps or zombies or what have you. Not really plot in erotica but more like plots that tried to squeeze in some sexy.
So what about the rest? The romances that are totally romances, no question about it. How do you distinguish them from all those others? Well, for one, the plot completely exists to get those characters interacting. Pure and simple. If you read a plot in a romance that seems hyper focused on when a character is going to meet that person they can’t stand but are secretly attracted. But no, he’s the owner of the small bank that won’t give them the extension on their mortgage, so your single parent main character is going to be out on their ass with their kid. But wait, he has a position as a maid open… You get where I’m going with this.
I’d like to say this is a balance of plot and romance, but really, without the plot a lot of times that romance is just never going to happen. While you have more epic love stories and action adventures that seem to have a huge plot in spite of the romance, a more focused romance tends to have a plot to enable the romance. Or, for my fics, this kind of plot in erotica enables the characters to have sex and fall in love.
For example, my Demon Bonded Serial:
There’s no way Ky would be having sex with with a harem of demons if the plot hadn’t forced the issue. The kid’s shy, sweet, and doesn’t get out of the house much. He’s not looking for demons, he’s not looking for magic, hell, he’s not even looking for a boyfriend. He just wants to be an artist and not flunk out of college. Yeah, the plot is fanciful, engaging and suspenseful, but it really exists for two purposes: to get Ky to have sex/love, and to keep readers interested enough to return. That’s what plot does, it brings readers back.
A sex scene can be found in anything, plot on the other hand is one of those things in erotica that’s under appreciated until it’s gone. Having a series of random hookups with demons is far less satisfying without plot behind it. It’s just sex. It doesn’t engage the mind and body the same way as being immersed in a plot where sex unfolds. Plot in erotica allows you to engage your reader, put them in a setting, get them to care about the characters and then when the sex occurs, it’s better for it.
Also, these books have a promise of some sexual interaction. The more plot driven ones, not so much. Usually writers of the above two categories get uncomfortable when it comes to that sexy scene and they gloss over it. Not so much when your entire plot is made to make sure your characters are spending time together.
The Romantic Plot
Now there are some romances where you read it through, enjoy it immensely, and then realize not a lot of things actually happened outside of that focus on romance/sex. This is when you have a boy meets girls, they get to know each other, some things kind of happen such as the girl loses her dog and she thinks the boy stole it because Vanessa—that back stabbing bitch—said so, but no, really he’s awesome and he found her dog! And they’re in love.
These kinds of books are all about letting you see and experience some things through the main characters eyes as they fall in love, but they don’t necessarily have the same defined beginning, middle and end other plot focused books do. It’s a romance plot—either they break up or move away or the story can go on forever as drama occurs in their life. But these stories are usually still satisfying because even though the characters aren’t fighting off bad guys or watching an epic world unfold while struggling to make ends meet, you still become emotionally invested in them. When they feel satisfaction in their lives, you feel satisfied with the end of the story. The plot is erotica in this case is when your characters are your story.
Quick example, Dare:
This entire fic is about a guy coming to terms with his sexuality while his best friend won’t let him dodge the issue. Nothing particularly epic or wild about it but it’s a fun read anyways. You’re immersed in the story, in the events, and you’re not bored. The sex is better because you start caring about the characters and feel what Brendon feels. Sometimes that’s all you need for plot in erotica.
I love characterization. I love quirky characters. I love how they interact, and when they clash it’s great and when they love it’s great. The resolution of an argument between characters can feel poignant and satisfying and could be the entire plot of a story. Throw them in a fantasy setting—It’s still the same story with the same perks, just now you might have ghosts floating by or werewolves prowling the streets.
A lot of romances are really just about relationships: Most starting new ones, a few getting over old ones, and even some where they’re cheating, or running from abuse or looking to make it on their own. It’s people interacting with people, reflecting later on their own with a little bit about them being out in the world.
Seinfeld, Friends, any sitcom you can think of—Did anything really happen in these stories besides the people interacting and a few quirky plot devices thrown in to stir things up? Yet people sit their butts down every day to watch these seemingly meaningless events unfold. You don’t have to have an epic plot to get readers, you just need great characters interacting.
Where does my writing fit in to all this?
So I’m one of those people that write what I want to read. Otherwise I’d be bored and I wouldn’t write. I’m a very simple person like that. I write erotica because I like to read smutty stories and I write erotic romance because I like to read sexy stories with smut. Depending on how I’m feeling at the time, I’ll have either some action plot in there to keep things interesting or the plot will probably just be about getting the characters together in an interesting way while focusing on their relationship (aka dramatic interactions.) I think the only thing close to an Epic Romance would be Awakening, and believe me, I still indulge the erotic part of that story as much as plot to keep me interested.
I like action/adventure, fantasy, paranormal stories where people are doing things or experiencing things. Plots where stuff happens and less about places or huge social political movements. I write about gay characters but never about their struggle in the community because of their sexual orientation. I’m Bi, I’ve seen first hand myself and to others the shit that can happen. I don’t want to write about it—unless it’s a tool to keep the tension going in the story. That stuff bores me (sorry) and doesn’t resolve the way other simple story aspects do. I like plot points that can be resolved, not where you’re pushing against the tide hoping the world will change.
I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t want to write ‘meaningful’ stories that make people think. I want to write interesting stories that make people feel. And no, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
This works out really well for erotica—What better place to make someone feel, right? Not only that, with a shorter format you allow people to have an experience in between the many things going on in their busy day. We don’t all have time to sit and read an epic story, and when you have to walk away and come back, sometimes it’s days later and it’s hard to feel the story again. Life happened.
For me, my brain is so fried from Lyme Disease, I have to worry about just forgetting. I write quick while I’m motivated and in the moment and move on. It works for a commercial aspect as well. My biggest problem is probably my inconsistency in my content. Readers start to expect a certain thing from a writer and I, well, I’m so erratic that I’m a different person every day. Sometimes my stories are totally sweet, sometimes they’re raunchy as sin. The best thing I can do is inform my readers beforehand about what to expect and then let them decide if it interests them or not. It interests me, but I’m all over the fucking place. But, again, I have to write what I want to write, otherwise I know I’m just not going to do it.
Amazingly enough, I’m not a machine where I just tell myself to stick to a schedule and a topic and just go. I’m a varied human being with emotional needs that require more than repetitive mindless work, and the faster I started adapting to accept that, the happier I became. I hope you as a writer learn this of yourself too and don’t let your inner critic beat the crap out of you. Inner critics are total dicks, just saying, and will keep you from getting anything done. You deserve better.