In Writing Down the Bones, a wonderful classic on the craft of writing, author Natalie Goldberg discusses eroticism in one essay. She explains, and I agree, that any big topic, such as eroticism, can leave us generalizing, making grandiose statements, or never even starting because we think we don’t know enough.
“Always begin with yourself, and let that carry you,” she suggests. “Begin with something small and concrete – your teacup in its saucer, the thin slice of apple …Writing, she says, “is an act of discovery”. You want to discover your relationship to the topic, not the dictionary definition.”
When I first started writing erotica, I discovered that it takes a certain amount of courage to write about sex. To not just infer that sex has occurred between characters, but to dive into the visceral details: sensation by sensation, body part by body part. To describe them eloquently, with enough context to be engaging, and hopefully to reveal something meaningful about your characters. In writing about sex, especially the first few pieces, the writer inevitably both reveals and discovers something of what they think and feel about sex. That “something” can sometimes be confronting.
But eroticism doesn’t have to be that confronting. Writing the erotic can be different. You can write about a myriad of different experiences, and imbue it with erotic atmosphere. The chances are, if it’s an activity or experience that you as the writer can connect with or imagine connecting with through one or (ideally) more of your senses, you can write about it in a sensual manner.
Where lie your passions?… What makes you come alive?
Try writing 500 – 1000 words (1 – 2 pages) about one of these ideas below. In first person, if you are new to this, or you could try third person; giving another character your own perceptions about swimming in the ocean, dancing, or eating a mango in the middle of a sleepless, summer night on your balcony with a silent, star-whispered sky above you.
Your turn. Take pen in hand and try these:
- Describe a walk through a forest, along a beach – a favourite place.
- Eating one of your favourite foods, or the experience of preparing a meal with sensuous ingredients.
- Describe a piece of music and how it affects you
- Re-tell a first meeting with someone. There is something powerful, almost magical, about ‘firsts’. The first smile, the first time someone says your name, the first touch of their hand on your skin.
- Waking up in the morning after a deep restful sleep, or the first day of a holiday, or the first night in an exotic location, or your first night with a particular lover.
- You, in the midst of engaging deeply with one of your passions. For me, that would be dancing, writing, cooking or sex. And you?
If you don’t know what erotic is, write as if you do.
Give all of your five senses a pen.
What do I mean by this? We tend to make sense of our world primarily through the sense of vision. This also happens because of the amount of information and narratives most of us absorb daily through television, advertising, electronic media, movies. We have become an extremely visual culture. It becomes a default way of describing narratives and experiences. If you tend to do this, try writing something primarily through touch and smell, for example. I recently wrote an erotic story, Under My Cape where the female MC is blindfolded and restrained in the middle of a play-room in a fetish club. Other people are also watching her. This made me stretch to using touch, hearing, taste, and sensing to convey what was happening from her perspective.
“Unseeing, but oh so very seen. Exposed to this roomful of strangers in ways over which I have no control. Deprived of vision, my sensitivity to smell, sound and touch are amplified. I sense him circling me, disorienting me with where and how he will next touch my body. Like a wolf playing with his prey. His teeth deliver a trail of sucks and canine nips up my inner arm from wrist to armpit. I twitch with each bite. A soft menacing snarl, first at one ear as he claws into the back of my hair, then at the other as he runs his hands up the inside of my thigh. The sheer lace of my panties, moist between my legs at the closeness of his touch.
Then, nothing for a long moment. Nothing but the gnawing ache of erotic anticipation. Cool air hardens my nipples as I strain to sense him. I hear the percussive sounds of slaps and whips against flesh around me, punctuated by cries and moans. A cacophony of pain and pleasure. ”
At the very least, try mixing it up, describing different elements of the experience through the the senses. Try to write from the perspective of a less obvious sense to describe one element; hearing instead of seeing, touch of food on the tongue as well as taste. This allows us to flex and challenge our descriptive abilities as a writer.
Use the literary devices of simile and metaphor, as well as detailed description. Once again this will flex your abilities as a writer. For example, below is a passage from a work-in-progress of mine, where I describe a man watching a woman playing a cello, who he quickly develops an erotic fascination for. Here, I describe by visual and sensory metaphor both the performance and the effect of the music on the man watching.
* * *
Immersed in the sombre ecstasies of the music created by this sorceress and her accomplice, the harmonies weave through his centre, wash over him in waves of sound that are almost tactile in their effect on his skin. Closing his eyes for a moment, he revels in this re-awakening of his senses, dulled by his long working day. Vividly, he sees her flung against the crimson canvas of his eyelids, naked except for the cello between her legs, the curves of her breast visible behind the rhythmic movement of her bow across the strings.”
(Excerpt – work-n-progress – Chords of Desire)
* * *
I try to convey sound via the sense of touch on the man’s skin. I also use the metaphorical concepts of seduction, spell-casting, and witchcraft to convey the affect of the music on the male MC in my choice of verbs and imagery (‘ invokes’, ‘sorceress’, the suggested image of her bow as wand casting spells in the air). Although I am only describing a musical performance, the language I use is sensual and rhythmic, the images are erotic, and by tapping into the imagination of the male MC, I am able to create an erotic scenario that isn’t actually happening, but conveys the power and beauty of the music, the awakening of desire. In this way, a writer can more accurately convey the holistic effect of an experience on a character, rather than just describing what’s happening literally, thus allowing the writing to come alive, to become rich with layers of meaning.
You could, of course, also write about something specifically sexual using the atmosphere of eroticism. Try these prompts, fresh from Natalie:
- What makes you hot?
- List all the sexual fruits you know.
- What part of your body is the most erotic?
- “The body becomes the landscape.” – Meridel de Sueur
- What do you connect with?
- The very first time you felt erotic.
So take ten minutes, choose one of the above, and write quickly, fluidly. Try not to censor or control, and as she always instructs – be specific. Go for the detail.
“Keep your hand moving,” says Natalie.
Give all five of your senses a pen.
It can be immensely satisfying to anchor something or someone we love in words; to give this experience the dimensions and attention it deserves in terms of how precious it is in the fabric of our lives; to articulate it and re-gift it to ourselves though the craft of language and metaphor; to then also be able to share it with others too, if we choose.
To discover, and re-discover, what we know …