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2006 Authors Insider Tips

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
Central Image
Elegant Smut
Better Plots
Bitch Power

The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
Predefined Your Goals
Spell Ink Miss Takes
Plotting & Planning
Character Building
Speech Therapy
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
Promotion Strategies

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


Wrong Reasons to do SM
by Midori

Beyond the Basics
With Tulsa Brown

Better Plots

I recently read an article by the judge in an erotic fiction contest, and found her comments illuminating: While the ‘sexy bits’ in many of the entries were well-written and titillating, it was the tired, plodding plots that sent most stories to the ‘no’ pile. In fact, by the second day she’d seen so many of the same scenarios, she could sort them into four basic plot-lines.

Hundreds of entries and only four plots? It’s true that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun,’ but the challenge and thrill of being a writer is to create stories that feel fresh, that ensnare the reader and pull him breathlessly along, wondering what the hell is going to happen.

In erotica, we can be pretty sure of at least one thing: someone’s going to have sex. And maybe it’s because this destination is a certainty that we need to make the journey more interesting, with an intriguing premise and compelling plot.

Just for the record, they’re not the same thing. The premise is the set-up, the Who, What, Where and When of your story. The plot is the series of events that occur within that environment.


Hitchcock once said, ‘Start far from the fear.’ Translated for erotica, that would read: Start far from the bed. If your story initially seems unconnected to sex, or your characters unlikely lovers, you briefly hold an ace: the reader wonders how you’re going to spin this into a sex story. You do have to wave the sheets at him early on, sneak in a sizzling flash of heat or hint at it, as an enticement to keep reading. But curiosity is a powerful motivator, and your first goal is to intrigue the reader with your premise.

So how do you come up with a good one?

First, mine your own resources. Your experience is more vast and varied than you know, especially if you stop thinking about sex and consider your life. What jobs did you have as a teenager? Those early jobs probably didn’t occur inside the standard office environment, and are far more interesting because of it. Leave out the ‘teen’ aspect and use the premise. For example, I washed dishes for a restaurant, painted Indian tee-pees, and worked in a radio station. I’ve already set two stories in restaurant kitchens, and am writing my second with a radio ‘connection.’ (Haven’t figured out the tee-pees yet, but I’ll get there.)

Steal shamelessly from your friends. Even if you think your own life is dull, you have access to a broad range of premises through people you know. Again, I’m not talking about their sexual experiences, just life in general. A cantankerous old bookseller I know was once a dashing, idealistic communist who traveled the world for the Party. A female counselor friend once negotiated a child custody agreement for a gangster and his ex-wife—with ‘da boys’ in attendance at every session.

Never ‘borrow’ an event from someone’s life without permission, but do use their backgrounds to jump-start your own plots. Use the idea of a communist or a counselor as a starting point and wonder, ‘What would happen if...?’ Curiosity and the ability to listen are a writer’s greatest attributes.

Play against type. I’ve found that playing against stereotypes not only creates better characters, it expands plot potential, too. For example, it seemed to me that all Dominants I read about were wealthy. Well, why not a story about the opposite? In "Debt of Honor," a Master shows up at a leather shop with his two slaves, chooses custom-made garments for them, then finds himself significantly short on cash. That small point swings the action in a whole new direction, and ultimately changes the life of everyone in the story.

Whenever you come across a cliché in others’ stories or your own, ask yourself, ‘How could I turn this upside down, and what would happen if I did?’


There are entire books devoted to plotting fiction. A great one listed in the ERWA Authors’ Resources is Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Ansen Dibell. I can’t do justice to the subject in the space of a column, but thought I’d share some of the concepts I try to remember—and challenge myself with—to create more compelling story-lines.

Characters are their decisions.

The outcome of the story is in the hands of the protagonist. Even the most submissive character must have something within his control—a decision to make and act upon—otherwise it’s not his story. If something in your plot isn’t ‘satisfying,’ check to make sure you haven’t taken that decision away from him. Characters fall or fly on the results of their choices. It’s a basic tenet of storytelling.

Raise the stakes.

At its most basic level, a story is the action someone takes to pursue a goal. In erotica we can assume that sex is the goal and orgasm is the pay off. But if you can link that sexual act to something even more valuable—such as intimacy or self-respect—the story becomes more compelling.

As a writer, you have to ask yourself not just ‘What does my character want?’ but also ‘Why does he want it? What is at risk if he doesn’t achieve it?’ When something important hangs in the balance, you nail your reader to his chair.


Nothing is as powerful as a Reversal in storytelling, when fortunes swing 180 degrees from good to bad or vice versa. Once I’ve set up my premise and got the characters in motion—my protagonist in pursuit of his goal—I ask myself, ‘Okay, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? Could that later become the best possible thing?’

In the movie Jaws, the worst possible thing that could occur is for Chief Brody to wind up in the water with the shark. That’s exactly what happens when the shark destroys the boat, and eats a good portion of it at the same time, including a tank of compressed air, which gets stuck in the little devil’s mouth. Yet ultimately that terrible ‘turn’ is a godsend, because Brody accidentally shoots the air-tank and blows the beast to smithereens. It’s a double reversal that made movie history.

Power Flips

Although not as large and dramatic as Reversals, Power Flips alter who has the upper hand in a relationship. For example:

-A man desires a beautiful woman. She has the power. 
-She discovers he owns a company she wants to work for. Flip. He has the power. 
-He discovers she knows his wife well. Flip. She has the upper hand again.

These flips heighten tension because they throw the outcome in jeopardy. Even one or two have a profound impact on a story.

A ‘Reveal’

In film this term is a noun, used to describe a piece of information that changes the importance of everything that’s come before it. One of the most famous movie ‘Reveals’ can be summed up in this line:

"Luke, I am your father."

When Luke Skywalker discovers that Darth Vader is his dad in the Star Wars trilogy, it re-colors everything that has come before it (two movies’ worth!) and raises the emotional stakes of everything that comes after.

Is there any piece of information that could come up in your story that casts the events in a new light? When you write, think about what you could ‘hold back,’ to reveal in the sagging middle of the story when your plot needs a boost.

The fly and the cannon

You’ve probably heard the term ‘rising action’ to describe the increased tension and effort in a story as it hurtles toward the climax. Aside from echoing sex, there’s a reason for that: human beings initially approach a problem (or pursue a desire) with as little energy as possible. We increase our output only when our first attempt fails. No one goes after a fly with a cannon.

One problem I see regularly in the stories of developing writers is the relationship between effort and result. Problems are overcome too easily, or occasionally, the character puts forth far too much effort for a first attempt. It isn’t believable and it robs the story of that dramatic rise in action.

The answer? Let your character fail at least once. As he re-thinks and tries again, he grows as a human being and we readers lean forward in our chairs, hooked.

What has changed?

Except for the classic ‘Slice of Life’ format, and the ‘inverted triangle’ of experimental fiction, stories are about change. Your character is not the same person at the end of the story that he was at the beginning. The change can be small or large, good or ill, but it has to be there. That’s the reader’s payoff.

If you (or an editor) isn’t satisfied with your story, ask yourself, How has my character changed? Is it enough? Go back to your character’s initial desire and think about what was at stake. Did something important hang in the balance?

Some might argue that erotica doesn’t need strong plots because people will read about sex, no matter what. That may be true. It’s also true that a great plot doesn’t guarantee a sale. But when I think of stories that have amazed and enraptured me, that illuminated my understanding of human sexuality and life at large, I can hardly remember a snippet of their fine prose. What I remember vividly is what happened in the story—the plot.

"Beyond the Basics" © 2005 Tulsa Brown. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  Tulsa Brown is an award-winning novelist who has also written for film and media, and has led many writing workshops for adults and young people.

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