From Celestial Reviews 183 - May 21, 1997

"How to Write Stories Good" by Michael K. Smith (mksmith1@swbell.net).  My
system of ratings doesn't actually apply to this essay, because it's not
really a "story."  It's really just good advice for people who want to write
stories.  However, I thought I should give this essay high ratings just to
increase the probability that aspiring writers will read it.

This author goes into greater detail than I do, but here are the five
guidelines from my FAQ that I give to budding writers of erotica who feel
they are being neglected by their public:

(a)  Have an angle (topic, point of view, or whatever you want to call it)
and introduce it early.  Give the readers a reason to want to read the story.


(b) Don't waste your time with irrelevant details.

(c) Use an effective writing style.  It is sometimes effective to write in a
deliberately illiterate style in order to achieve an effect; but even people
who say they don't care about grammar become turned off when writing becomes
just plain confusing.

(d)  Make the sex scenes achieve the effect you want.  For example, not all
erotic stories are supposed to be "hot"; but if yours is supposed to be
arousing, you yourself should become at least moderately aroused when you
reread the story.  Try to look at the story from the point of view of your
readers.  If you expect to turn on respectable but sexy high school English
teachers, try to imagine someone of that description reading your story and
imagine how she will feel while she is reading your words.

(e)  Follow rules for good grammar, such as those posted in my Celestial
Grammar and Advanced Celestial Grammar.

My guidelines never contradict Smith's, but I'd advise you to pay greater
attention to his, since he is a proven, successful author.

Ratings for "How to Write Stories Good"
Athena (technical quality): 10
Venus (plot & character): 10
Celeste (appeal to reviewer): 10

From: mksmith1@swbell.net (Michael K. Smith)
Subject: ESSAY: How to Write Sex Stories Good
Date: 1997/05/18
Message-ID: <337f3045.1602626499@news.swbell.net>#1/4
Organization: Southwestern Bell Internet Services
Reply-To: mksmith1@swbell.net
Newsgroups: alt.sex.stories.m,alt.sex.stories.d

                HOW TO WRITE SEX STORIES GOOD
                            by Michael K. Smith

     It has been represented to me recently by at least two readers
that there must be "some secret" to writing sex stories that work,
some patented formula they might apply, if only they knew what it was,
which will turn drab, coarse prose into sparkling erotica that would
leave even English teachers panting with arousal.
     Well, no. There's no secret. But there's no reason,
theoretically, that anyone with a couple of years of lit classes
behind them, an established habit of reading, and the willingness to
work seriously at developing their skills, couldn't improve the
quality of their writing many-fold. To that end, I shall try to lay
out the ingredients I believe must be considered in writing erotica --
which, it turns out, are almost exactly the same as in writing any
sort of fiction. I won't talk about gerunds and indefinite pronouns,
though; that's been done elsewhere much better than I could do it.
     Why me? What gives me the chutzpah to set myself up as a writing
consultant? Well, . . . (1) people have been paying me to write a wide
variety of things for more than a decade, (2) I've been fixing other
people's writing for half again that long, (3) I've taught the
occasional writing workshop before, and (4) I'm entirely lacking in
false modesty.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Imagination

     Perhaps this is too obvious a point, but the first necessity is
to be able to think of a story. Small children do this all the time,
making up tales to tell their teddy bears and concocting elaborate
adventures for their toy soldiers.
     The question most writers dread being asked is, "Where do you get
your ideas?" (Harlan Ellison's reply is "Schenectady.") But ideas pop
up all around you. Do you ride the bus to work? Good: You're trapped
in a miniature mobile community for the duration of the trip. Look
around at your fellow passengers; they're the leading characters in
the stories of their own lives.
     The proper-looking secretary trying to put on her lipstick in the
jouncing bus may be wearing a red thong beneath her skirt. Maybe she's
planning to seduce her boss. Maybe her boss asked her to wear it.
Maybe she's blackmailing her boss and next week she'll be driving a
new Mustang to work. Maybe she lives with a man and a woman and is
intimate with both of them. Maybe she's having to re-apply her
lipstick because her husband got horny and nailed her on the breakfast
table just before she left to catch the bus.
     And I promise you, that paragraph was written off the top of my
head just now, spun out as I imagined sitting on the bus. If you're a
college student, you also are a part of numerous communities filled
with potential characters for a story: Your classes, your dorm, the
MacDonald's across from campus, the parties you go to, the library
just before term papers are due. . . .
     Okay, try the library. Make that the front steps of the library.
Specifically, the girl sitting on the second step from the top,
shading her eyes as she peers down the path, clutching her book-bag
rather nervously. She's waiting for someone, obviously. Maybe she
fears she's pregnant. Maybe she's been playing slave/master games and
The Man is late. Maybe she has a crush on that other girl.
     See? It's really not hard.

Characterization and Plot

     Some writers are strong on devising a plot, some are better at
inventing characters and dialogue. But you have to become at least
competent at both. The ideas churned out in the previous section have
mostly to do with characterization, without which I maintain there
*is* no plot. I'm speaking for myself here, but my stories are almost
always character-driven -- but that's true of nearly all erotica,
which is primarily about the interaction of people.
     I carry around a fat little notebook in my pocket nearly all the
time (most writers do something similar) and when I overhear odd bits
of conversation, or see an interesting-looking person, or am struck by
someone's name, I jot it down. Later, when I'm trying to think what to
write about, I'll browse my notebook. Then I'll just start elaborating
on a physical description, or I'll extend the conversation and see
where it takes me.
     Very often, I'll go back into my own memories and experiences for
"pieces" of several people I've known and see how they might be fit
together. Eventually, a character emerges and takes on a life of his
or her own, and all I have to do is follow along behind and take
notes. I very often do not know where the story is going to take me. I
admit that other writers will shudder at this perhaps casual attitude
toward plot, but it works for me. The writing muscle in my brain seems
to concoct the plot-line on its own and it's usually ready when I need
it.
     Be aware that for a story to work, the characters in it *must*
have depth. Nothing is more dreary than a plot inhabited by flat,
two-dimensional characters with no color or detail to them. And I
don't mean the size of their genitalia, either. The rule is "always
know more than you tell." Take the time to construct at least a
minimal back story -- the earlier life and activities that produced
the person you're writing about, that formed the psychological makeup
that will practically force them to behave in a certain way under
certain circumstances. If you don't know what that is, how are you
going to communicate the character's individuality to the reader?
     From this, you may also infer that writing a good story takes
time. You may be stuck by inspiration and dash off the main action and
characters of your story in a couple of hours (it happens), . . . but
that's only the beginning. You still have to become intimately
acquainted with the main participants in the plot. You have to study
them and play "what if" with them. This produces parallel plots and
spins off subplots and gives depth and individuality to the players.
Often, this process leads me to abandon my original plot idea in favor
of something that comes to light more slowly.

Structure

     How many really awful stories have you read on a.s.s. that were
actually only isolated scenes, apparently ripped from a nonexistent
larger narrative? There's no beginning or end, just a chunk of action
that starts from nowhere and stops somewhere else, and you can tell it
took only a half-hour to write and was posted immediately. This is not
a story. Length isn't a criterion, either; an exquisite short story,
after all, is preferable to a lame, formless novel.
     What the structure looks like is up to you, but it must exist.
And it must include some kind of action. That is, things have to
happen. Perhaps the reader is yanked into the midst of furious action,
like a James Bond movie, and is thrust ahead at breathless speed. It's
difficult to successfully maintain a pace like that, but it can make
for rousing erotica.
     Maybe the story is treated as a symphony, building slowly, then
climbing sexual arpeggios to a thundering crescendo, then tapering off
to an afterglow. This pace generally is easier to manage.
     This is not to say that the action must be external. It's
perfectly legitimate to tell the whole story from the perspective of,
say, a character locked up alone in a dark closet. But why is he
there? What's going through her mind? Those things still constitute
"action."
     How you end a story is also up to you, but it should be obvious
to the reader that the narrative is coming to a close even without
putting "END" at the bottom of the page. Personally, I have a tendency
(an unfortunate one, perhaps) of nailing down the last sentence or
paragraph with some bit of recursive information, or a closing
laugh-line, or a telling observation by a secondary character.
     I also have a personal preference for happy endings, which -- for
me -- seem to go very nicely with an erotic story. But then, I'm an
infamous romantic.
     (And, in case you didn't catch it, the previous sentence is just
the sort of wrap-up device I was talking about. . . .)

Believability

     I say this as a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction:
The story must be believable. If it isn't, the discerning reader will
mutter, "Gimme a break," and go on to the next story. Does the hero
have fifteen geyser-like orgasms in thirty minutes? If you're writing
a Superman parody, perhaps -- though Larry Niven wrote a classic essay
about that. Does the heroine scream with pleasurable anticipation at
the prospect of sex with a whole herd of Clysdales? If she's deeply
twisted, perhaps she'll fantasize about it. But you've lost me.
     Okay, this is my own bias speaking, I'll admit that. I don't get
off on Smurf sex or Star Trek plots, though I might enjoy them
otherwise as stories. (Well, probably not Smurfs.) But the essence of
erotic writing, to my mind, is the ability of the reader to project
himself (or herself) into the story, to imagine he's part of the
action. Isn't that what even a rudimentary masturbation fantasy is all
about? If the reader can identify with one of the protagonists, can
imagine the setting, can share in the plot development, . . . then
you've got him.
     Some of the fan mail I've received that has pleased me the most
has been from readers who've said things like, "My relationship with
my first lover was just like that," or "Wow, I could practically feel
that happening as I read it." I take such comments on a story's
believability as major compliments.
     Are you limited to real-life occurrences? Of course not; erotica
is a form of fantasy, after all. These are the things the reader
*wishes* would happen. And, for that to be possible, the reader must
be able to believe that the plot and the action *could* happen.
     Another factor in believability is verisimilitude -- attention to
telling detail. Don't just have the girl leave the house: Have her
step out on the porch, shiver at the unexpected cold, and step back in
to put on her new quilted jacket, the one her fiance‚ gave her that
matches his own. Such details make the story more real. Don't just
say, "He came," or even "He came over and over again." Say, "He gasped
as her cunt muscles squeezed his cock; he felt the semen begin to
bubble up from his straining balls." Or whatever. Paint a picture the
reader can see, hear, feel, and experience.
     Anyone whose has read more than a couple of my stories can
probably figure out a number of biographical facts from the
geographical and chronological details, because I use "furniture"
that's familiar to me. You don't have to be explicit about exactly
*where* a story takes place, but you'll do a better job of describing
the setting if you start with a real location.
     In one of my stories, the girl lives in an upstairs one-fourth of
an old house that's been carved up for student housing. She got the
original bathroom and a huge old clawfooted tub -- and the tub figures
in the story. Guess what? I used to live in such a house (though I had
the original kitchen, downstairs).
     In another story, the hero ferries a car from Texas to Florida. I
never did that -- but a good friend in high school did, and I
remembered the details. And I got out my Rand McNally Road Atlas and
worked out how many days the trip would reasonably take and where the
driver's nights would be spent.
     On the other hand, being too explicit about locale can be
dangerous. I read a story several years ago in which the protagonist
is a Harvard student who goes out into Harvard Square to stroll among
the trees and reflect on his problems. Actually, anyone who's ever
visited Cambridge knows the poor guy is more likely to be run over by
traffic or trampled by students flooding up out of the 'T' station!
     Adapting real memories and facts is almost always easier, and
more successful, than making everything up from scratch -- even if
that were possible, which I doubt. The classic advice is, "Write what
you know about." Personally, I don't think you can *help* doing so, so
you might as well do it constructively.

Professionalism

     No, I don't mean you have to get paid for what you write. (Though
it's certainly nice when they *do* pay you. . . .) I mean you must
have respect for your audience. If you don't, they'll know it and
they're unlikely to bother with you next time.
     Take the time to edit your work -- several times. Perhaps you'll
even improve on the story itself, as well as fixing the grammar and
the spelling. I've rewritten the opening paragraphs of this essay at
least four times even before reaching this point. If you can't spell
well, ask someone else to copyedit for you. (Swapping manuscripts with
another struggling writer is nearly always useful.)
     Don't rewrite someone else's story; come up with ideas of your
own. Yes, we all "borrow" bits and pieces from each other, but change
and adapt what you borrow and make it your own. Originality is always
more interesting to the reader. If you're dry, try the getting-started
exercises I mentioned earlier.
     Take your writing seriously. I don't mean you shouldn't have fun
with it -- Nabokov said "Lolita" was the most enjoyable writing
experience he'd ever had, and I *know* Anne Rice had fun writing "Exit
to Eden" and "Belinda" -- but the act of writing should be important
enough to you to invest time and effort and care in it. If not, why
bother? (This is the main reason I object to calling what I write
"pornography." That word has a sneer built into it that implies it's
not worth doing.)
     Listen to friendly criticism. In fact, seek it out. It will only
improve you. You don't have to do with your story what your critic
thinks you should do, necessarily, but you should listen.
     For myself, a corollary to taking seriously what I write is
ignoring flamers who don't. Religious and moral zealots -- especially
when it's some nineteen-year-old parroting his parents -- are not
interested in discussing the pros and cons of your writing, believe
me. I'm always willing to discuss (or argue) criticism of plot-lines
and characters and subtexts and social relevance, . . . but I have to
assume, up front, that I'm not just wasting my time.
     Practice. Write. A lot. Read even more, and not just erotica. You
can never write too much, and reading is never unproductive. Hone your
skills. Go to the library, check out books on writing techniques and
word usage, and read them. Pay attention to what's going on around you
and work it into your writing. And then write some more. When you find
yourself rewriting and copyediting the note you leave for the milkman,
you've begun to get the idea. And when your boss begins bringing you
drafts of his outgoing memos, you can start introducing yourself to
strangers as a Writer.

Michael K. Smith
May 1997

Michael K. Smith                 mksmith1@swbell.net
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
It doesn't TAKE all kinds, we just HAVE all kinds...