SmutTalk: Keeping it Fresh

SmutTalk: Keeping it Fresh

So I was talking with a friend about erotica — a real-life friend who doesn’t know I write the stuff. She was saying that her problem with the genre is that the number of possible scenarios is so limited and so stereotyped that it’s easy to get bored.

My answer to her was that she hadn’t been reading the right smut. But it got me thinking.

To a certain extent, it’s true: if you’re going to write a story with sex in it, it’s going to fall into one of a few broad categories: straight, gay, lesbian, or group sex of some sort. (Longer pieces may mix those larger categories some — though even then you don’t see it very often.) And then there are a number of sub-genres that will further define the piece: bondage, first time, dominance/submission, student-teacher, fantasy/paranormal, whatever. There are a wide number of subgenres — kinks, if you’d rather — but really? The pattern is more or less the same: desire is sparked, desire is tested, desire is satisfied.

There’s the rare story — Tess Mackenzie’s Suburbia jumps to mind — where satisfaction isn’t the point. But really, whatever the paraphernalia, most of the stories in the erotica genre follow some variation on that pattern. It’s sort of the Hero Journey of smut.

So what’s to keep us as writers — not to mention readers — from dying of boredom?

It’s the same dilemma faced by writers in every genre, I guess, including romance, mysteries, epic fantasy: you’ve got a certain pattern that the plot is expected to follow (protagonists look for love, detective seeks the perp, hero goes on a quest), and certain tropes that are standard set-dressing (ripped bodices, guns, swords).

In erotica the plot is Someone gets off. The tropes depend a lot on the subgenre: BDSM will often have whips, flogs, and ball-gags; student-teacher will have a desk (yeah: that’s me, busted); lesbian smut (whose intended audience is often not in fact lesbian women) may have a strap-on or dildo or vibrator or other pseudo-phallus.

So how do we keep our stories from going as stale as last week’s lottery numbers?

I thought about this for a bit, and thought about the stories that I enjoy, and about the writers who write them, and the best answer I can give is that what keeps smut fresh is the same thing that keeps sex alive in real life: imagination and specificity.

I mean, we’ve all read stories that lack either, right? Stories that are so generic that they could have been written by a computer. “He saw her. She had perfect tits. He wanted to fuck her. ‘Oh, baby,’ she said, ‘come fuck me.'”

(Use of the word perfect as a narrative description pisses me off. It doesn’t mean anything. But that’s a rant for another day.)

What separates any good story above that is the particulars. In a way, it is the lack of perfection. People aren’t generic. We’re each of us different, with different strengths and (especially) weaknesses. And so the more specific the story — the more it is about a specific man looking to be tied up in a very specific way by a very specific person for a very specific reason — and the less perfect the characters are — buffeted by fear and anger and jealousy and worry, but also by empathy and humor and… — the less we as readers focus on the shape of the piece, which will probably follow that spark/frustration/satisfaction journey, and the more they will be swept up in the experience that you as a writer are leading the characters through.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking today.

You?

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23 thoughts on “SmutTalk: Keeping it Fresh

  1. I am completely with you! When writing a new piece – whether blog post, short story, or on the rare occasion, something longer, I’m constantly worried about saying the same exact thing, the same exact way…I find that when I draw on my own experiences (dominance and submission), I can find the varying details because in real life it never happens the same way twice, so why should it in story format?

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    • Thanks, Kayla!

      I think that the more honestly and specificity you put into your writing, the less generic. I guess I don’t think so much about trying to come up with something new so much as coming up with something that fits the characters and the scene, you know?

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  2. I read a lot of smut (new favourite word!) and you are right on all three counts. For me as both a reader and writer it’s about understanding why and how. Why is this activity a turn on? Why is it a turn on for this specific character? How do I feel about it when I’m in the story?

    I’ve found that almost anything can be a turn on if you get your brain into it. And since most of sex happens in the brain, erotica, er smut, has the awesome strength of being able to tap into the sexy part of the brain. Sometimes in unexpected ways.

    The best stories (of any genre) are the ones where through a strong understanding of the characters and their motivations we get a chance to be them for a little while. And the only way that a writer can pull that off is by staying away from the generic, easy answers that allow a reader’s brain to stay turned off and unengaged. Being specific, imaginative, and showing things from a new perspective is key to any good writing if you want readers to really care and enjoy.

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    • Agreed, totally. And it’s not just writing. I have a background in theater (which probably would be obvious if you’ve read my stories), and I know that the thing that distinguishes a gripping performance from a boring one is specificity: attention to detail and a total commitment to the world of the character.

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  3. Hey, wait. Um…

    I mean, yay, and thank you on Suburbia, but also, hey, um… what? Was the lesbian smut thing aimed at me? Because, no, what? My intended audience completely is, just other people keep reading it too.

    Not looking anywhere in particular. : )

    Ahem. Anyway.

    So completely yes to all of this and thank you because as usual it wasn’t clear until you said it.

    But also, because now you started me thinking.

    So your last one, and the aside about you not being into something, but reading the story anyway. That got me thinking because it had never occurred to me before that people would actually read outside their kink.

    Because if they do, and you know they’re going to, then maybe you write a little differently. Does that make sense? Like explaining more. Because then the assumption that everyone knows how something feels and you don’t need to describe it goes away. So you need more details, like people here said.

    So I don’t know if you meant that, and you probably did, and I’m just turning up and butting in and stating the obvious, but is this a way out the boredom problem too? So instead of being stuck in what you call the “someone gets off” plot, it’s more like, I don’t know, trying to explain why or something? So more like a historical novel rather than a thriller?

    Smut! But with facts!

    Um… this is half-formed, but it seems to fit with what you said, and the commenters too, so sorry if it’s way off and I missed the point.

    But maybe?

    And as well, “someone gets off” is an excellent title too. Sort of an anonymous narrator, using that as a name, “Someone walked into a room, Someone looked around at other people…”

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    • No. The lesbian-smut-not-for-lesbians crack was emphatically NOT aimed at you. Because I don’t think of your lesbian smut as lesbian smut. They’re stories in which there is sex that happens to be between two women. And I love them, because they’re good stories. In which there is sex. Which happens to be between women.

      I was thinking about the sort of thing written for male readers with very little consideration for what women who love other women might actually, you know, be like.

      About reading outside of your kink: it’s true. I found this in the fanfiction universe that I lived in for a while: there were archives aimed at incredibly specific pairings and kinks, and communities would grow up around those. Male/male student-teacher crossdressing MPREG? (That’s male pregnancy, if you’re fortunate enough not to know) There’s a site for that.

      Here’s the thing: I never did figure out my kink.

      I mean, there are things that I find more sexy than others. There are kinks that definitely serve as buzzkill for me: pain and humiliation, rape, child abuse. The sort of thing that turns a lot of people off. But gay smut? Lesbian smut? Straight smut (which I was a bit amused to find squicks a lot straight people)? Threeways of various flavors? All good.

      The acid test for me has always been how well written the story is. If it’s compelling story about interesting people, I’ll enjoy it — even if no one gets off.

      And yeah: I kind of like that title idea. Hmm.

      😉

      Like

    • And I like the historical novel vs. thriller analogy.

      Though I have to disclose that I love historical novels but thrillers often leave me feeling like I’ve had too much coffee.

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  4. > emphatically NOT aimed at you

    I assumed. But thought I would be a smarty-mouth anyway. Sorry. : )

    > Not finding a kink

    Same. I mean, in RL, there’s stuff I like, and if written about it could obviously be put in a category or genre or whatever, but it feels like there’s a difference between “being into this and that, and not minding a bit of whatever”, and “being really into this one thing”.

    Sort of your “things that are more sexy than others” versus, well, obsessions. Like the difference between having your wrists held while other stuff is going on, and the entire event being about the tying you up.

    But actual full-blown kinks I am a bit curious about. Because it seems like a lot of fetishy stuff is about ritual as much as sex. I mean, as best I can tell from the outside, and not wanting to judge communities I’m not part of and all of that. But the writer side of me finds some of it quite fascinating, like as a writer, even though I’ve never tried writing any, because I think to do it properly I’d need to understand that ritualization thing a lot better than I do right now. If that all makes sense.

    And squick is a great word, and I love the idea of a blog post or something called “squicks and kinks” now.

    > historical novel analogies

    In that case, make the analogy James Mitchener or Phillipa Gregory against, I don’t know, soft-porn pirate excitement books. So where the first two leave you all, yes, I so could make a flint arrowhead or navigate Tudor court politics, I completely could. I read this book, so I know all about it. Where’s my time machine!

    Which I assume would actually end quite badly, if one had an actual time machine.

    But after reading the right kind of historical fiction one is all knowledgy.

    Just like after reading the right kind of smut, one might get ambitious and try something that perhaps, um, might have been better researched outside of fiction first.

    So I talk too much. Stopping now.

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    • >Because it seems like a lot of fetishy stuff is about ritual as much as sex.
      Absolutely! That’s the fascinating thing about them to me as well — they’re a kind of game that people play VERY seriously. Ritual is exactly the word. By the way, my dictionary word gives the primary meaning of fetish as “an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.” 🙂

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  5. And wait, what?

    Straight smut that squicks straight people?

    You mean like people who don’t like smut at all and happen to be straight, right?

    Not straight people who want read non-straight smut because, I don’t know, the wrong kind of imaginary body parts ick them on the page?

    Because that’s kind of intriguing as a piece of psychology.

    I only found out about lady-written MM erotica recently, though, so maybe I’m missing something here?

    Like

    • I wish that I could say that it was about straight people who don’t like smut — but no. I was in the (huge) Harry Potter fandom, where something 80-90% of the fans were female; one must assume that the huge majority of these were straight. And I was shocked to run into a widespread sentiment along these lines: girl bits are icky. Boy bits are beautiful. Why would I want to read stories with girl bits in them. Het is disgustiing! Slash forever! XD

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      • Oh my.

        There are times when I realize I’m doing this thing, and I really know nothing about doing this thing…

        Um. Um. Just… What? I mean, you don’t have to especially enjoy other people’s outwardly-similar parts in order to get on well with your own. Do you?

        I can’t quite get my head around this So I went and looked at TV Tropes, because obviously. And that really didn’t help. I mean, good that the youth are tearing down normative whatsits and everything, but, um, probably bad they’re sexualising it quite that much.

        So this is some kind of way to take self-image issues and project them onto all the similar body parts in the whole world, or something, right? I hope? Or maybe I’m just, I don’t know, seeing it too much one particular way.

        Anyways, just… I think I want to go and write MM smut now. I feel kind of sticky with too many girl issues, somehow.

        On the fetish thing, I’m way too much of a gamer because I was already thinking little dolls. That give +10 to something. And I’m almost certain that this is incredibly insensitive to someone. So sorry to them.

        And Buffy fanfic a bit, kind of, but either I wasn’t involved enough or I just completely missed all this. So, yes, slash with a tendency to obsess over certain ye olde vampires getting it onnnn, but I’d missed the other.

        Just oh my.

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  6. Buffy!

    I always loved that show — but never wrote fic for it.

    I don’t know how widespread that view was — it was just something that caught me totally off-guard when I started writing and posting explicit stories. There was this small but vocal group who just thought all het (straight) fics should be banned.* The only time I got anyone to talk with me rationally about it, she said, “We all start with het, but as they get more experienced, real writers write slash.” (That’s guy-guy sex, as you obviously know.)

    I’m still waiting.

    I’ve written some stories about gay and bi men, and they turned out okay, but mostly I felt like I was faking it, you know? So I’ve been writing what I actually feel qualified to write, and what I know, and what actually gets me excited.

    Works for me!

    * They usually hated femmeslash (FF stories) as well, because, don’t you know, it was just lesbian porn for straight guys (though a lot of the femmeslash writers I ran into were women). Which was somehow different from what they were doing, Very funny.

    Like

    • Oh no, I read Buffy fanfic, I didn’t write it. Fuck. I didn’t dare! The first thing I ever wrote that anyone ever read was the first one up on Smashwords this year. Which is why the somewhat hyper gratitude for people reading at all that kind of pops up now and then.

      And this…

      > I’m still waiting.

      … I fucking love. Yes! Me too!

      And faking it – yep, I totally get that. And also completely respect anyone who even tries because I just can’t write male pov characters. My pov dudes either basically turn out psychopaths or cardboard or spineless limpy-things.

      I think it’s like a proprioception thing.

      Here –

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

      Almost seriously.

      I wrote a SFF thing about a six-inch tall pixie, and the whole time I was imaging him to be a full-sized person. Which to him he would be, so that might make sense, but I was sort of thinking giant insects instead of tiny people, if that difference makes sense.

      And the him part? That dude – total psychopath. Completely. It was meant to be a love story between the princess and her kind of shield-maiden, but went so far off the rails I just gave up trying with male pov characters at that point.

      Although I’m fiddling with a FMM threeway thing off and on that’s obviously two bi men, but now I have this vaguely you-induced audience crisis, in the sense of what happens is different if it’s for, say, straight women vs straight men vs bi people generally. Or vs women who are straight in the sense that “men who watch lesbian porn” are straight – i.e. they don’t like own-brand squiggly bits rubbing together but rather like the opposite kinds doing so.

      I guess that’s still straight. Um.

      And femmeslash, yeah, now you point it out, the MM is way, way more common than FF in Buffy fan fic too. I guess somehow I just hadn’t quite noticed.

      Outrageous! I’d go and write some right now to correct that, except how fanfic these days just isn’t the same, now it all ends up as multi-million copy selling BDSM books. So where’s the fun in that : )

      Um, sorry, I just started swearing all over your blog too. I’d been avoiding that until now. So sorry. I needed it for emphasis this time. Kind of.

      Like

      • Swear away. This is an erotica blog after all. 😉

        The six-inch pixie thing sounds hysterical. And of course — every character sees their own size/state/whatever as the norm. Unless they’re REALLY f#@ed up — or really enlightened, it seems to me.

        And proprioception is one of my favorite words! I had an acting teacher who talked about it a lot — said it was the actual sixth sense, the one none of us think about, but (almost) all of us have. Very cool.

        Don’t let the me-induced crisis stop you. Write what you want to write. :nods:

        Like

      • > erotica blog after all.

        Well even so, there’s no need to be crass… Oh fuck it, if you don’t fucking mind then I’ll start talking how I always fucking do.

        And just for you, the pixie one is the second story of the three in the latest post on mine. And that’s a weirdly complicated sentence because I’m carefully avoiding any kind of spammy self-promotion.

        And I do like it a lot, and it’s a lot of why I realized I’ll probably never be a completely comfortable doing SFF, but it was meant to be a love story about the sister and that somehow almost disappears in all the silly and fun and psychotic aristocracy. But it doesn’t actually work right if the romance thing becomes more obvious. So yes, if you would like to, there it is, but no pressure at all since I haven’t yours yet and that’s terrible and I’m awful.

        Um. Yes.

        And proprioception. Yes, same. And I remember this bizarre moment when I found out what it is, and thinking, what, I don’t get it… and then suddenly yes, fuck, I do, that IS a weird thing. Because there is no reason I should just be able to put my fingers together if I’m not looking, and yet I can. It’s really, really weird.

        Useful, but weird.

        And I think while lots people do that without realizing, like you say, I also think I do it worse than other writers maybe, for some reason. At least, that’s my excuse why all characters are basically a similar demographic.

        So now I’m curious whether acting helps mitigate it. Like if you pretend to be someone else, and are actually moving around differently, and walking differently, does that makes your proprioception think you have a differently shaped body?

        Like if you do Richard 3 and walk around with a hunch, do you start visualizing you body as taking up Richard’s space, or yours?

        If that makes sense?

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      • Yes, it makes perfect sense.

        It’s also a bit difficult to explain the answer, because the experience is… Well, proprioceptive. 🙂

        I’ve never talked to an actor who lost him or herself in the character totally — that wouldn’t be acting, that would be psychosis. But moving differently, even slightly, can totally change your experience of yourself and the world around you. I call myself ambidextrous — it’s how I was born — but learning to write (among other things) made me choose a dominant hand, and so naturally I went with the more typical one, and so my right hand is much stronger and better developed than the left.

        For one role, however, I chose to make the character left-handed. At first it just felt awkward and artificial, but eventually it became second nature — but not MY second nature, if that makes sense. I was, as you put it, inhabiting the character’s world just because of the change in dominant hands. (Well, not just. I did a lot of work on that role. But that was the most obvious physical choice.)

        Also, I need to read your stuff. I’m woefully behind. You write too quickly! Cut it out!

        (Actually, no: pay no attention to me. I’m being stupid. 😉

        (Oh — and I bought Getting into Girls’ Shorts and having been reading it… to get me into the headspace for my next story. Enjoying it!)

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      • > that wouldn’t be acting, that would be psychosis

        Or being a writer? No, wait. I’m not sure I’m meant to say that…

        > second nature — but not MY second nature

        See that’s quite interesting.

        I was thinking more the volume of space the body occupies. Like height and eye level and how wide hands go.

        Like how if my mind was suddenly teleported into another body, my view would change, and I might suddenly be able to reach something from standing here that I couldn’t as me. If that makes sense.

        But what you’re saying is something different, I think. More that after becoming in-character, your instinct was to be left-handed, even though your actual terribly-boring real-life skill-set didn’t match that instinct?

        So was this to the point of reaching for things with the wrong hand? I’m sort of thinking of when you have a sprain or something, and the instinct is to keep using the usual hand and then having to switch at the last minute.

        Which I guess is like the idea of strapping fake preggie tummies onto teenage girls to show them what the extra weight’s like and how it’s no fun. As in you move differently, and hold yourself differently I suppose. Not just that they tummy takes up more room.

        And also, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

        All of this being that there’s some idea that who you are and the space you occupy and how you move are connected, on a subconscious level.

        Which one you get past the sniff of, like biological determinism, is actually quite an interesting idea.

        More thought is needed.

        > You write too quickly!

        Um, because of how I don’t read. Which is why I’m behind on yours. So maybe best nothing said about either?

        And also proof-reading. Everyone else does all that editing and proof-reading and that wastes sooo much time.

        And, oh yeah, not having a job so nothing else to do all day. That probably makes a difference too.

        > bought Getting into Girls’ Shorts

        Yay on the enjoying it, and thank you very much, but no no no on the paying… I mean, thank you lots and lots, and really I appreciate it, and thank you, but no. Like people I actually talk to shouldn’t pay, for fuck’s sake. Especially since it’s really only saving you the nuisance of downloading everything one by one.

        If you want the others just say and I’ll send them.

        Oh wait, unless it’s for a kindle and you’re anal enough to care whether things show up as books or files, then I think I can’t help from what I read on the internets.

        Although, I am now intrigued by the getting into the headspace part. : )

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