This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Please note: While this piece doesn't talk about my personal sex life per se, it does talk about my taste in porn, which may be TMI for family members and others.
Disclaimer: I'm aware of the pitfalls of writing a "how to write porn" piece using your own porn writing as an example. So if you don't like my porn writing -- the passage I wrote for this piece, or any of the rest of it -- please feel free to ignore this advice.
I usually start with the physical actions. What the characters are doing, what they're saying, which body part is going where.
"He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back."
It's what I call "the skeleton." And the problem with most bad porn fiction is that it stops there. Too many porn writers think that a description of sex acts is all a porn story needs.
I have more sympathy with these writers than you might imagine. When I'm writing a first draft, I get very excited about these things, too. After all, when I'm having a sex fantasy, these are the things I fixate on: the breasts spilling out of a low-cut blouse, the cock pushing into a tight asshole, the hand smacking down on the bare bottom again and again. I know how those sex acts make me feel. Vividly.
And it's easy to forget that conveying the sex acts doesn't convey the feeling.
But it doesn't.
So then I move on to how the sex feels: the emotions, the sensations.
It's what I call the flesh of the story. How does it feel to be this person, or these people, having sex? How do these sex acts feel physically -- soft, tight, sharp, gentle, smooth, cold? And how do they feel emotionally – nervous, urgent, giddy, relieved, beloved, dirty?
So not just, "He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back," but:
"He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back; his nails dug sharply into her skin, and she felt a rush of excitement, followed immediately by a flush of shame."
And that's better.
But it's still not enough. Not for me. I've read plenty of porn that stopped there, and if it pushes my personal erotic buttons, it'll be enough to get me off. But it's not enough to make a story linger in my mind after I come; to shift the way I look at sex; to make me jerk off to the story again and again. For me to be happy with a sex scene, it's definitely not enough to just describe the sex acts that are happening -- but it's also not enough to convey how the sex feels physically, or even how it feels emotionally.
It has to convey what the sex means.
Why the people are having it. Whether it's giving them what they'd hoped for. What about it is surprising. Whether anything is going to be different now because of this sex.
That’s the nerves of the story. And the nerves are what gives a story life.
So not just, "He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back; his nails dug sharply into her skin, and she felt a rush of excitement, followed immediately by a flush of shame," but:
"He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back; his nails dug sharply into her skin, and she felt a rush of excitement, followed immediately by a flush of shame. She had specifically asked for this, had spelled out the fantasy in some detail. And now that it was here, digging into her flesh and forcing her face-down onto the floor, it was too much: not just the helplessness, but how exciting the helplessness felt. She didn't want to be that person, that cliche, the powerful woman who deep down just wants to be mastered by a more powerful man. Her safeword bubbled up in her throat, but she gritted her teeth and choked it back down. She had asked for this, by God, and by God she was going to see it through.
"He forced his knee between her thighs and fumbled with his zipper, and she whimpered, in something resembling real panic, as she felt a flash of wetness inside her pussy. I don't want this, she thought. I don't want this, I can't do this, please stop. The words in her head made her pussy wetter, and the sharp fingers forcing her cunt lips apart made it wetter still, and she moaned in humiliation and rage at her treacherous pussy that was begging for his cock to force itself inside her against her will, and that was getting off on her shame and fear."
You may notice that this passage suddenly got a lot longer. And it's not just the "why" stuff that made it longer -- there's more "what" and "how" as well, more skeleton and flesh.
Here's why. It's usually the skeleton of a porn story that gets me started -- some fantasy image of some physical act. But it's the nerves that drive it. Once I find the meaning of a story, once I know who these people are that I'm jerking off to and why they're having the sex that they're having... that's what tells me what happens next.
And when I'm rewriting and polishing a story (if the acts and feelings and meaning of a porn story are the skeleton and flesh and nerves, then the rewrites and polishes are the skin), a lot of what I'm checking for is the balance between the three. Does a section feel tedious? There's probably too much physical description: I need to sink into the character's bodies and get at what they're feeling. Does it seem cliched? I need to remember what makes these characters unique, why they're there and what they're getting out of it. Is it starting to lose momentum and sexual heat? Maybe there's too much deeper meaning stuff, and I need more strong visual images of what's physically taking place.
So if I can get all three of these things in balance -- clear descriptions of sex acts, vivid evocations of emotions and sensations, and unique characters and motivations -- there's a good chance that this will be a story I'm happy with.