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You make the case for greater narrative art in porn fiction very well; well enough for me to be able to ask whether it's really worth it.

Yes, we want to read fiction with good stories, and yes, that means they should have plot and character development, but is this really why anyone reads porn? If you've set out to write a _porn_ story, aren't you in essence deciding that whatever rocks the blocks sexually is the most important thing?

Whereas if your story is not genre-bound -- if you are just writing a _story_ -- you can certainly have it be a sexy story, and it can be as explicit as you like, but you can allow other factors, other artistic criteria, to trump that goal of getting people off.

The worst thing in fiction is to have a sex scene that does nothing in terms of plot or character development, I agree; but when something starts out premised on the idea that it's all about sex-- and what else is porn?-- then the sex has to be the primary goal of the story, above character and plot and theme. The more you work on the other elements of fiction, the less effective it will be as porn.

That's why most porn is, ultimately, boring. It's also what makes a lot of stories and novels that have sex and sexual themes in them _not_ porn, in my opinion. They have other goals. To keep the story focused as "porn", I would think you have to accept the limitations of that genre and its (very) limited goals. To the extent that a porn story succeeds as a story, it may well fail as porn.

(I realize that my definition of porn may not match yours, but that's part of the fun of all this, isn't it?)

Laura D

I disagree that working on character and theme make a story less effective as porn. I agree that if I'm reading porn I want the plot to be porn driven, but a well fleshed out character can drive a sex scene better than a cardboard cut out.

This doesn't require pages of back story or lots of non-sex related plot developments. But if during the sex scene, the author gives us some insight into the character, knowing what's going on inside can help me relate to the character and makes the scene much hotter.

If it's well done, porn doesn't even have to fit into my list of activities I enjoy to be hot. For example there's a scene in Bending about a activity that I would never in a zillion years want to try or even fantasize about, but I got completely hot reading about it because I was invested in the two characters and they were getting completely hot.

I think it's completely possible to stay focussed on porn and still have a believable plot and interesting characters. People don't stop being interesting people just because they are having sex. They still have thoughts, feelings, and personalities (at least the people I choose to sleep with).

Any genre can use what makes it unique to excuse bad artistry or to create an interesting story. Take musicals ('since there's so many of us show geeks here) : Classics like West Side Story and Oklahoma use the songs and dance numbers to explain how the characters feel. Laurie's dream ballet tells us things that no nice farm girl would reveal about herself in dialogue and "Officer Krupke" lets us know that the Jet's feel misunderstood and trapped by circumstances, without hours of back story and flashbacks to their childhood. Other musicals just take some snappy tunes about Spooning under the Moon in June and insert them wherever they will fit into a formulaic love story, because it's a musical, so who really cares- it's not like it's Shakespeare.

Sure I've sat through a stupid musical to see a fun musical number and I've put up with stupid stories if the sex involved wasn't too badly written and fit my particular set of interests, but the musicals I watch over and over and the books that keep finding their way back to my beside tables are well crafted and aren't just good musicals or good porn, but good stories. Interestingly enough they often have the best music, or hottest sex scenes. Probably because they were made by talented people and not hacks looking to sell to a niche market.

Greta Christina

Well, I was going to reply to DB, but Laura already said most of what I was going to say, so...

I could be wrong here, DB, but it sounds like the "porn with plot" you're talking about is the kind of porn story whose structure is essentially, "Plot with no sex -- Sex scene -- Plot with no sex -- Sex scene -- Plot with no sex," etc etc etc. If that is what you mean, then I thoroughly agree: I think that almost never works. If you're reading it as porn, you're just going to flip past the plot to the dirty bits, and all the character and narrative development will have been pointless.

What I think *does* work (at least sometimes) is porn that uses sex to develop character and tell a story. And not only do I think that works -- I think it works much better than porn that doesn't bother with story and character. When a porn story successfully gets me engaged with the characters and the story, it makes it more immediate, more visceral, gets me inside the character's skins, makes me feel what's going on and care about it -- all of which makes it hotter.

I hate to use my own writing as an example -- it seems so arrogant -- but I'm more familiar with it than I am with any other examples, so I'm going to do it anyway. In my erotic novella "Bending" (the one in the "Three Kinds of Asking For It" collection), with the exception of maybe six sentences, every single sentence in the book describes people either having sex, talking about sex, or thinking about sex. But there's a ton of stuff going on in terms of story and character development: relationships rise and fall, friendships are tested, people suffer surprising and difficult changes and learn hard truths about themselves. And I think that makes the sex hotter: if for no other reason, it makes you feel like there's something at stake.

I do agree that this is rare, though. Genre writing is, I think, harder than non-genre writing -- or it is if you're taking it seriously. With serious genre writing, you have to fulfill the demands of literature *and* the demands of the genre. (Examples range from Raymond Chandler to Jane Austen.) But when it works, I think it's much more satisfying than either straight-up genre fiction or straight-up literature.


Greta, your reply hit on exactly what I was talking about. Yes, you understood what I was driving at. "Plot-sex-plot-sex" is the very thing I had in mind. Now, I have not read the piece by you (I blush to admit) that you use as an example; but I will look it up. If the focus isn't lost, and the goal of the story remains what the goal of an erotic story is supposed to be, then of course any literary elements are beneficial! I never intended to say othewise. What I was saying was that, all too often, another sort of story begins to be told, and then-- screech!-- we're pulled back into the sex scene. Or, the sex starts to get hot, and then-- whoosh!-- we're off wandering in the author's deep thoughts that have nothing to do with the sex. This is a disservice both to the porn and to the story.

You make an excellent point, and one that is often overlooked by critics: if the literary merit is _in the service of_ the goals of the genre, I would agree with you that it has a place in genre writing; but if it is extraneous to the goals of the genre, I only find it irritating or distracting. (Like all the postmodernists who mess around with fairy tales, etc.) Oddly enough, I did have Jane Austen in mind while I was writing my comment, as a "genre" writer who went far beyond its limitations while still fulfilling all of its demands. Chandler is another good example.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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