Erotica 101

by Han Li Thorn

© 2003 Han Li Thorn. All Rights Reserved.

Conflicting Desires: Notes on the Craft of Writing Erotic Stories(Read Chapter 1 for free)


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Article 1: So, what is Erotica?

There are many approaches to writing erotica.

At one end of the scale you find down-and-dirty porn that has one purpose: to get the reader off. The material helps its user to “toss off” and is then tossed aside, at least until the next time it's needed.

Then, there's the story that's written to be engaging in its own right, as well as providing mental and physical arousal. Such stories usually contain pornographic scenes and they can certainly be used to arouse sexual response, but they're part of something bigger, something that the reader continues to find engaging long after physical desire has been satisfied.

At the highbrow end, you find literary erotica that's as much about the quality of writing, depth of character, and complexity of theme as it is about having fun.

I'm most interested in the second kind of erotica.

All good fiction does a specific job. It takes readers away from their everyday lives and invites them to explore a different world, a world where they can experience physical events and emotional responses that are otherwise unavailable to them.

When you write erotica, the prime response you're trying to elicit is sexual. If you fail to arouse lust, you have failed in your duty to the reader. In that respect, there's less difference than you might imagine between smut and any other genre: the writers of science fiction, or romance, or horror stories are all seeking to evoke specific feelings (of wonder, or tenderness, or unease) in their audience. Genre readers come back for more because they know they enjoy the experience on offer.

In other words: fiction is all about arousing a response - and in the case of erotica, it's about simply arousing.

The debate about the difference between erotica and pornography is endless. The question contains an implicit - and regrettable - value judgement, because it's comes with the subtext of erotica is good; pornography is bad.

The truth is that both erotica and pornography have value to their creators and their audience, and - as with all creative efforts - the classification is entirely in the eye of the observer: what's pornography to a bishop might be a thing of beauty to the intended consumer. Nowadays, fortunately, juries contain more down-to-earth consumers than bishops.

Having said all that, this series of articles is about erotica and not porn, and as the author I think it will be useful to make clear my own attitude to what that means. These are rules of thumb, and there will always be exceptions, but they'll give you an idea of where I'm coming from.

Erotica

Pornography

Character-driven

Sexually-driven

Emotionally close

Emotionally remote

Subtle, romantic, elegant

Crude, to-the-point, functional

Stimulates erotic sensibilities

Stimulates orgasm

Can be appreciated over time

Set aside once its job is done

Consumed by the mind

Consumed by the body

One other interesting question that can be asked is: how much story is there? At their most basic, both the crudest porn and the most literate erotica can consist of one sexual encounter after another, unleavened by plot, character, or dramatic conflict. That sort of tale certainly has its place - as shown, for example, by the enormous success of Anne Rice's Beauty series; the reviews on Amazon are well worth reading if you're interested in the subject of erotica. Many of the reviewers adore the Beauty books and rate them highly, but there's a substantial minority who are bored to tears as they wait for something to happen apart from another beating or humiliation: for the plot to move, for Beauty to develop and grow as a character. In fact, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty has attracted some of the most vitriolic - and funniest - Amazon reviews I've ever read.

So, now you know where I stand - both as a reader and a writer of erotica. I hope you'll stay for the rest of the articles in this series, and that you'll spend some time checking out my fiction as well.

Comments  on this article are welcome (please don't change the email subject line!)


On to Article 2: You called it a What?