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How many different ways can you write the same thing?

June 19, 2012

Author MJ Rose appears in my Facebook feed. Apparently, she’s written some erotic fiction and asked people who read 50 Shades of Grey how they liked it. Personally, I’ve been taken to task for commenting on a book I haven’t read before, but the comments I’ve heard made me more secure in my decision. But it also got me to thinking about how hard it must be to write erotica.

A little level setting…most of the erotic fiction I’ve read came during my teen years. In the bathroom at work there were magazines that had long reader letters at the beginning that started I never thought I’d ever write something like this before, but this really happened to me… The names and addresses were always withheld for…ummm…decorum’s sake. I’d say my erotic life is fairly vanilla, but then I read a real life experience (sure) that involved vanilla ice cream, a milk shake, and whipped cream (fortunately no chopped nuts…I kill myself).

All the frat boy humor aside, when you get down to it, erotic sex is pretty much a singular experience. There are tons of variations, but the structure pretty much has a literary equivalent. There’s a lot of tension built up, and just when you think there can’t be more tension, there is. And then there’s more. And while you can’t wait to see how it ends, you suppress the urge to cheat and get to the climax because you don’t want to miss anything along the way.

Marshall: Do you answer the phone during sex?
Mary: Depends on what’s on TV.

If you’re writing erotica, you have the job of taking a pretty singular activity and varying it enough that by the time the reader reaches the end of the book, they aren’t skipping over the sex parts because it’s old hat.  As one of the responses to MJ Rose said, “I found myself starting to skip over the sex scenes; they became so repetitive.”

And therein, I believe, lies one of the great challenges of writing erotica. You have to have strong characters that they reader cares about–something that distances the story from Penthouse Forum–but you also have to continually make the love exciting and new. And even if you lived within walking distance of a Home Depot and a Sam’s Club, that might get difficult.

A Home Depot gift card! That’s just so hottttt!

I would image the research is pretty fulfilling though.

If you write erotica, how do you maintain enough variety in the bedroom–or wherever–to keep your readers from skipping the sexy parts?

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