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Beyond the Basics
With Tulsa Brown
The 30-Second Solution
Backstory vs. Flashback
Intimacy Begins With "I"
Hit the Ground Running
Make the Reader Leap
Meaningful Dialogue
Pulling the String
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The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
Predefined Your Goals
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Plotting & Planning
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Talking Sense


Two Girls Kissing
With Amie M. Evans
Intro to Lesbian Erotica
3-Dimensional Characters
Submitting for Publication
Five Year Writing Plan
Setting Up Your Plan...
The Power of Naming
Language of Lesbian...
Sexual Description
What Can I say?


Hard Business
From Greg Herren
What Are Your Priorities?
How to Edit an Anthology
Follow the Guidelines...
A Cock is Just a Cock
But is it Still a Story?
Who Am I Fucking?
Potential Material
Rejection ...


The Business End
By Kate Dominic
Effective Cover Letters
How to Lose Contracts
Contracts: Agent Issues
Contracts: Read It!
Double Duty Bios
What's Sex?


Literary Streetwalker
By M. Christian
Ground Rules for Writers
No Muse is Good News
Effective Cover Letters
Location, Location
Say Something!
Dirty Words


The Erotic Book Docter
By Susie Bright
Marketing Your Book
Submission Concerns
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2006 Smutters Lounge

Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Babes & Hunks of Erotica
Fantasy, Reality & Rape
Selling Ourselves Short
Selling Smut in Motown
The Frankenstein Bride
Frankenstein Revisited
Porn and Perfect Shoes
Porn's Passionate Pull
Instruments of Joy


Get All Worked Up
With J.T. Benjamin
Orwell's Eerie Parallels
Redefining Marriage
The Porn Menace
High-Quality Porn
About Profanity
Dirty Laundry
Big Brother
Sluts


Editorials

Wrong Reasons to do SM
by Midori

Two Girls Kissing
Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica
with Amie M. Evans



The Language of Lesbian Literary Erotica

 

 

As writers, words are the material we use to create our finished product. Unlike painters who use water color, oil paints, canvas, and brushes or sculptures who use clay, stone, and tools I don’t know the names of to create their master pieces; our materials, language, are part of every day life. Everyone uses words—to speak, to send emails, or to compose a to-do list. Words are mundane, ordinary, common place. But, words are also unique, exotic, and if strung together just-so, as breathe taking as the loveliest water color or most intricate statue. 

Because our medium is so common place, when we write we need to extract the splendid-ness of words from their mundane origins. We need to approach words from a different place then the ordinary user. This is true of your entire story. Your erotic scenes present their own special issues regarding language.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few language problems that are specific to lesbian erotica: 

1. Cum vs. Come. This is my personal pet-peeve. I’ve made it my mission to stop the misuse of cum as a verb. Cum is a noun. It refers to the fluid (traditionally the semen, but I would argue it can also refer to female fluids) ejaculated from the genitals during orgasm. Come is a verb. It is a slang reference to having an orgasm and used to fill in for the intransitive verb orgasm. An example of correct usage: As I licked her clit, Mary came covering my chin in her cum. Or, “Come for me,” Beth said desperately needing to taste Mary’s cum.

2. Avoid cutesy words for body parts. There are only so many words you can use to describe genitalia and breasts without entering the realm of the ridiculous. Your mother might call “it” a winkie, while your sister might refer to it as a birdie. But, please avoid these and all other manifestations of cute terms for genital, breasts, and dildos in your erotic writing. Consider these random sentences from my story “Anonymous” (Best of Best Lesbian Erotica 2, Cleis Press: June 2005): 

“I’m going to put my cock in your cunt and fuck you.” She strokes my clit in hard tight circles and pounds me with her dildo. I plunge my tongue into her opening, then lick straight up from her wet cunt to her clit. Her cunt tastes sweet, and I want to tease her.

Now insert cutesy words: 

“I’m going to put my love stick in your honey pot and fuck you.” She strokes my pleasure button in hard tight circles and pounds me with her joy toy. I plunge my tongue into her womanhood, then lick straight up from her wet sex to her blossom. Her who who tastes sweet, and I want to tease her.

Every rule has an exception. Cutesy words can be used to show a character’s sexually naïve or shyness in dialogue. For example, a character could refer to her partner’s breasts as “mountains of love” and get away with it. It might, in fact, be endearing and a terrific way to show her sexual shyness. Be careful to not over use this exception to the rule and turn your character into a comic relief stereotype.

3. Action Verbs. Verbs show action or state of being. The great thing about verbs is if you pick the correct one, you don’t need to pile on adverbs or other descriptive modifiers to get your point across. You need not write “I slammed into her hard.” because slam implies hardness. Likewise, selecting action verbs makes your prose more precise. I roughly put my hand on her breast = I grabbed her breast. Sue gently placed her hand on Mary’s arm = Sue rested her hand on Mary’s arm.

Slam, penetrate, fuck, insert, enter, grab, lick, taste, pinch, bit, and nuzzle are all examples of strong action verbs. Here’s a link to a fun list of erotic verbs: www.darkerotica.net.

I’m not anti-adverb. Sometimes adverbs are the best choice. But usually a precise action verb can tighten up the image you are depicting and your prose. Your action verbs should take their clues from the type of sex you are writing about. (See #4) Slamming implies a rougher and harder stroke then say, entering, or even, I would argue, fucking. Likewise, lick, bit and suck all indicate different levels of intensity. Biting can be very erotic in the correct context or it can be a damper on the sexual activities if out of context. Select vivid action verbs and resort to adverbs sparingly as a last resort when needed.

4. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Sexual vocabularies come in three basic styles: Soft (make love, climax). Medium (have sex, orgasm). Hard (fuck, come). These vocabularies can serve different purposes by helping to set the tone and intensity of your sex scene and display or reinforce characterization and themes in your plot. Your selection of which vocabulary or combination of vocabularies to use is affected by other elements of your story.

Narrative Voice: When choosing your vocabulary style, consider who is telling the story. If it is in first person, than everything you write, including the sex scenes, is filtered through your narrative character (the I in the story) and your word choices should reflect who that character is. Jess, the narrator in my first person, short story “The Coal Miner’s Other Daughter” (Rode Hard and Put Away Wet, Suspect Thoughts Press: July 2005) is a gentlemanly-butch who grew up in post-World War II, West Virginia. She would never use the word cunt, like so many of my street-smart, sassy femme characters. My femme narrator in “Virtue” (Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2005, Alyson Publications: December 2004), who is clearly a player in the S/M/B/D world, not only has a different vocabulary, but also an all together different perspective on sexual activities than Jess. Both of these factors affected my vocabulary choices and which sex acts I included in the stories. If I placed Jess into some of the situations my femme character encountered, Jess would blush and leave the scene. Your characters affect what vocabulary you will use. Likewise, if you are using a 3rd person narrator, consider the tone of the entire story and focus on the type of sex acts (see below) you are describing.

Sex Acts: The word choices and how you describe the details of the sex acts should be selected by the sex acts themselves. This is true not only for the vocabulary, but for the details you choose to describe and the internal and emotional responses you include. Consider what type of sexual act you are writing about. When selecting words to describe the details of sex acts, consider what makes a certain act sexy to those who participate in it. A foot-fetishist has different needs than a bondage enthusiast or someone who is interested in oral sex-only. If, for example you are writing about a foot-fetishist three paragraphs describing the shoes, the shape of the foot, the manicure, etc… may not be enough detail. If, however, you are writing a bondage scene, the simple detail of a character wearing strappy black stilettos may be perfect, while, for an oral-sex only scene, any details of shoes might be out of place. 

The words you use to describe the emotional elements and which details you include should be determined by the sex acts you are describing. Let’s go back to my foot-fetishist. In addition to details about the foot, she might use a fetish vocabulary, be in tune to power dynamics in sex, and, perhaps, be a service bottom. My oral-sex only character, may or may not be aware of the concepts I just listed. And, while you could very successfully super impose a power dynamic into an oral-sex only scene, you just as successfully could write the scene without it. A foot-fetish scene, however, without feet wouldn’t be hot at all. Keep your characters as well as your readers in mind when making these choices.

A soft vocabulary might be perfect for a loving 69 encounter in a couples’ bedroom while a hard vocabulary would work well for the same characters in a rough and tumble strap-on fuck scene. Unless, of course, you are using a contrasting descriptive vocabulary to highlight a psychological issue. For example, a cuddle/love scene described in rough sex terms to illustrate a disconnect between your narrator character and the reality she is living in. The vocabulary you use to describe these acts should echo and reinforce the acts themselves. 

Choose your vocabulary and details to complement the acts you are describing as well as your characters as you have constructed them. This is also true of both the physical and psychological/emotional details you provide. In short, make your sexual word choices serve not only to describe the sex, but to enforce themes and characterization in your story.

5. Variety: The Spice of Life. This topic is hotly debated in my erotic writing workshops. Should you pick one or two words—pussy and cunt—or should you change the words often—pussy, cunt, vagina, etc…? I belong to the limited use clan. I prefer using 1 or 2 words over and over. First, much like dialogue tags, if you get carried away with changing them, they become distractive instead of informative. Second, review rule #2. There are, after all, only so many acceptable words for cunts, clits, and breasts before you enter the world of the comical. This is one of the few times that too much spice dilutes instead of enhances the flavor. A good test for this is to read your prose aloud.

6. Be aware and understand the politics of language. Language is political. What’s more, it is a live. Changing, growing, morphing as we write. Words stand in for ideas, identities, beliefs, actions. What you believe a word means may not translate into the same thing for every one of your readers. Lesbian, for me, is an all inclusive word including dykes, bi women currently dating women, MTFs [Male To Female] who date women, etc… But not so for many others (including some of the folks I’ve included in my definition). Likewise, sexual subgroups, like S/M, B/D, and bears, have their own cultural vocabularies. You should be aware of these and well versed in them if you plan to write an erotic story about that group or with elements from those sexual styles. That said, you need to be aware of this fact and be sensitive to it. Don’t be silenced by it. Don’t walk on egg shells when you write. But be aware of the diversity of your readers and that language is political and a live.

7. Pronouns. Pesky little necessities. Problematic when writing in general, but especially in today’s gender-queer world and in lesbian erotica. Pronouns can replace a noun or another pronoun and are classified into several types, including personal pronoun, demonstrative pronoun, interrogative pronoun, indefinite pronoun, relative pronoun, reflexive pronoun, and intensive pronoun. I am primarily concerned with personal pronoun in this section. 

Pronoun Problem #1. What to do with two she’s. Personal pronouns refer to a specific person, that is, they take the place of a specific noun that is a proper name. An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of. (Mary, Sue, Janet are all shes/hers. Mary touches Mary’s cunt = Mary touches her cunt. Her takes the place of Mary. Janet knew Janet wanted to fuck Sue. = Janet knew she wanted to fuck Sue. As these examples shows, you use pronouns to make your sentences less repetitive. Because a pronoun refers back to a noun, you need to make sure that your reader clearly understands which noun your pronoun is referring to. 

Consider my original example of Janet knew Janet wanted to fuck Sue. = Janet knew she wanted to fuck Sue. Now consider the alternatives and how the meaning changes by insert pronouns differently: She knew Janet wanted to fuck Sue. Mary knew Janet wanted to fuck her. She knew she wanted to fuck her. She knew Janet wanted to fuck her.

Consider: Mary and Janet are engaged in a sexual act and I write: She held her hand on her clit as she came. Even in the context of a paragraph you won’t know who is holding her hand on whose clit or, for that matter, who came. 

If I write: Janet gasped and Mary held her hand on her clit as she came. You still don’t know exactly what is going on. Did Mary or Janet come? Whose clit is Mary’s hand on? 

But you do in this sentence: Mary held her hand on Janet’s clit as Mary came. This problem is specific to any action involving two she’s or two he’s. Consider the original sentence with a she and a he character: He held his hand on her clit as she came. It is clear whose hand is on whose clit and who came.

One solution in a two-she story is to repeat the proper names. However, I want you to remember that if you avoid pronouns altogether, your prose will become very boring and stiff to read. Be sure to construct sentences that don’t create confusion with multiple she pronouns. 

Problem #2. FTMs, Drag Kings, and other he’s. Choosing to use a he pronoun for a character in a lesbian erotica story has its own set of problems. Negotiating gender identity within lesbian erotic short stories can often take over the text, diverting the story where it wasn’t intended to go and doesn’t want to be. Using a he pronoun may confuse some readers and turn some readers off. This doesn’t mean you cannot have trans characters or other characters using a he pronoun in your lesbian erotic stories. As I said last time, not every story will please every reader; nor should it.

In my story “Anonymous” (Best of Best Lesbian Erotica 2, Cleis Press: June 2005) one of the characters is a butch in drag who introduces herself as James Dean. The correct pronoun for a drag king in drag is he. I made a conscious choice to us a she pronoun with this character. My character was in drag for the evening more then she was identifying as trans or a king, so I was personally ok with the politics of this choice. However, using a he pronoun would have worked, too, or in other circumstances might have been my first choice. Every choice you make will have its own set of ramifications. The choice of he or she is ultimately yours as the author to make.

Some potential solutions to this are to avoid gender pronouns for that character (this is as awkward on paper as it can be in real life); or use internal he pronouns only and external she pronouns (this can be confusing to readers). But a better solution is to confront pronoun issues straight on and be done with it. Make it a given in the story that Mary is James Dean and she is currently using/always uses a he pronoun. Period.

8. A Technical Note: If you don’t own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, then rush out and get one right now. It is a good reference source for basic principles of composition, grammar, word usage and misusage, and writing style. Avoid the temptation to use italics, bold, ALL CAPITALS, and multiple punctuation marks (!!!) to stress, emphasize, or add emotion to your prose. If the sentence does not impart excitement, for example, adding three exclamation points to the end is not only incorrect, but will not make the sentence more exciting. 

If there is an issue you would like me to address in Two Girls Kissing, please email it to me, Amie M. Evans, with the column title as the subject line.

NEXT TIME: What can I say?: Dialogue in Lesbian Erotica

______
"Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica" © 2006 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Amie M. Evans is a widely published creative nonfiction and literary erotica writer, experienced workshop provider, and a retired burlesque and high-femme drag performer. She is on the board of directors for Saints and Sinners GLBT literary festival and graduated Magna cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in Literature and is currently working on her MLA at Harvard.
Read Amie M. Evans' bio at the Erotica Readers & Writers Association.



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