character work

When Characters Talk To You

How alive are your characters for you? Do you have conversations with them? Do they tell you what they want to do in a story, even if it’s not something you had in mind for them?

Do you hear your characters when they talk?

I recently read an article that talked about how many authors in fact do hear their characters speak to them. According to researchers at Durham University who teamed up with the Guardian and the Edinburgh international book festival, sixty-three per cent [of respondents] said they heard their characters speak while writing, with 61% reporting characters were capable of acting independently.”181 authors were interviewed.

This finding was of great interest to me since I hear my characters voices when they talk to me. Some are quiet while others are quite loud. As my readers know, I write sexy retellings of fairy tales. Tita, my Puss In Boots in my novella “Trouble In Thigh High Boots” has a deep, sonorous voice. She purrs. Obviously, she does. She’s a cat shifter. Rapunzel in my novella “Climbing Her Tower” has a higher, wispier voice. She also speaks quicker than Tita. Both of these characters have told me when they were unhappy with the direction of a plot. They also told me what turns them on the most so I could give them the best experiences. These two are very open, honest, and straightforward – qualities I admire.

I asked writers on Facebook their experiences with their characters voices. Everyone’s experience is different, but all have a camaraderie with their characters. Some fight. Some don’t. Some take the plot in a direction the author had not originally considered. Some play the “You should be writing” card. Here are a few responses.

Christiane Knight – “Mine talk to me and occasionally have taken the plot in very different directions than I’d planned.”

Terri Bruce – “LOL – I not only hear them, but it’s kind of like they take me over at times. I’ll be in the shower or driving and realize suddenly that I’m talking OUT LOUD, saying the dialog I’m picturing in my head (the scene starts playing like a little movie in my head but it’s always in first person – I’m the characters (lol all of them) in the scene/seeing the scene from their POV – rather than third person). My husband often catches me doing this (it’s happened in a restaurant while sitting across from him a few times) and he’s like “um, honey, your lips are moving. You’re talking to yourself. What is happening?????” LOLOLOL!”

Phoenix Johnson – “Some of mine are total arseholes lol they try to fight me, can be exhausting!”

Colleen Markley – “My protagonist is sitting on my newly cleaned counter now, swinging her feet against the cabinet. Her heels bang the wood. “You need to stop playing house and get serious,” she tells me. “You can’t finish a novel if you’re not serious. You’re just shy of 90,000 words and you still need to finish act two. Your pacing is off and you need to fix it.” She pauses her feet and stops speaking for a moment as she looks at me. “You’re so close.”

Jenise Aminoff – “My characters all have distinct voices, and some of them ARGUE with me.”

Jacques Gerard – ” Yes, I do hear my character’s voices and would love to be included in your blog. I just finished an erotic short story. It has a lady DJ doing a podcast. Her voice is low and velvety. Her male lover who calls into her show has a deep baritone voice and sounds like Barry White.”

So writers, do your characters talk to you? Boss you around? Plead with you? If so, know you’re not alone.


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats. Her LGBTQ paranormal erotic shifter romance novel “Full Moon Fever” is now available for purchase at Amazon and other book distributors. Her collection of erotic fairy tales, “Happily Ever After: Twisted Versions of Your Favorite Fairy Tales”, is also available at Amazon.

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Character Work: What Sparks Desire?

One of my favorite moments to write (and read) in erotica and erotic romance is when a character’s desire first gets sparked. It’s often the kernel of a story that comes first, that sparks the story for me as a writer. I love stories that sit in that moment, let me take the time to really witness the
character realize they are hot for someone, or something. And then see what they are going to do about it. (Because realizing desire, even naming it, is not the same as choosing to act on it.)

I’m not necessarily talking about the first moment of attraction for a new person, though that’s lovely. More that first moment in this particular story when the character’s juices get flowing. It can be that first attraction. It can be that moment when a character is hot to do something in particular with this person or people. It can be that moment when a character really lets themself sink into desire after a scene has already begun—when they let go. Here’s an example of a top sinking into desire for cruelty and D/s at the beginning of a scene, from my story “My Precious Whore”

“The edges of her stockings are peeking out from under her skirt, tantalizing me. Her beautifully large body is offered up for my pleasure, and I bask in the sight of it, sinking into my desire. I want her fear tonight. And her breath. I want her tears. I want to split her open, fluids dripping. I want to unleash my cruelty upon her. I want to reach deep inside and wrap her around my fingers.”

Desire is powerful, and important, and something I deeply value. I want to write stories that center characters figuring out how their desire works, seeking their desires, acting on their desires. I want my characters to be intensely in their desires when they play and fuck and kiss and approach someone for a date. That’s what I love about writing erotica—it gives me an arena to show people claiming their desire. That’s my context for writing this moment, in my own work.

What is your context? What do you believe about desire? Why do you want to write stories about desire and sexuality? What is important to you about centering those things in your own writing?

Just as we have contexts and beliefs about desire as writers, our characters also bring those things to their own desire. So, when I’m writing about that moment of sparking desire, part of what I need to consider is not just what I want to do, but what the context is for the character.  To get specific enough in my own mind so that

I can work from inside the character’s relationship with desire, instead of my own scripts and assumptions. (Believe me, if I don’t get clear, I will work from those!) Desire isn’t easy stuff, and it’s not straightforward. Most people struggle with it.

“Hell, it’s hard to even figure out what our desires might be! Where can you go to learn about sex and the possibilities of desire? How do you learn to understand the physical body and its transformative potential, to appreciate the erotic uniqueness of each individual—the knowledge and skill we can only gain as we feel, smell, and discover ourselves through sexual acts, giving ourselves to (or taking) a willing partner? Who will help us learn what we need to know in order to practice our desires with awareness and comprehension? Where in this culture can we discover what is erotically possible between ourselves and other human beings? Where can we gain sexual and gender knowledge without being ruthlessly punished?” –Amber Hollibaugh, “Defining Desires and Dangerous Decisions

Some questions to consider when figuring out your character’s relationship with desire:

  • Are they knowledgeable about their desires? How did they learn what they know about their desires?
  • Do they notice desire building inside them? Are they aware of what sparks their desire? Are they surprised by their own desire?
  • Are some parts of their desire taboo or hidden or denied, either in general or in this relationship/encounter?
  • Are they able to admit their desires to themselves? Do they accept their desires? Do they value honoring their desires?
  • What is the cultural context for their desire? How does desire work in that context in general? How does it work for this particular character? For this encounter or relationship?
  • Are they comfortable or experienced at naming their desires? discussing their desires with others? seeking their desires? experiencing their desires?
  • What moves this character from desire to action? What prevents them from acting on their desires? What makes them hesitate to act on desire?

The questions above can shape so much about how the character responds to desire, how much they recognize about their own desire, what choices they make about the fact of their desire. But before I go there, I need to center in on the spark of desire itself, the shape and heft of it.

I want to get really specific here, want to make this spark as individual as I can. It’s a way to illuminate the character for the reader, and I want to use that opportunity well. The details are where pleasure really resides. I especially like to revel in the sensory aspects of desire, as in the below example from my story “Ready”, of a boy’s desire for his Daddy that’s sparked by scent.

“Daddy was looming over me, his large belly brushing against my head. He smelled so good, a musky sweaty scent mixed with oil and metal. That smell alone gets my dick hard—the smell that tells me a man has been working hard on a bike. It was clear he had. He was dirty as only a mechanic can get dirty, and I ached to suck the grease off his thick fingers.”

As the example above illustrates, desire is as individual as any other aspect of relationships and embodiment: it does not all look the same. There are infinite possibilities here, so much that I could not name them all, or even categorize them all.

When I teach BDSM, I often offer several lists of things that might turn someone on, to assist folks to learn more about their own desires, and to find language to describe them. I’m going to reproduce some of those lists below, as I think they might be useful jumping off points for getting specific about the spark of desire in your story. I’m pairing each section with an example from my recent collection, Show Yourself To Me.

For some, desire can be visually oriented. This can be visuals that are actually in front of the character, or something that sparks the character picturing something that turns them on. These are the most common descriptions I’ve seen in erotica and erotic romance, so I’d be wary of overusing the same visual repeatedly. (For example, the image of breasts bouncing while someone is being fucked as the spark to desire for heterosexual cis men is rather over-used, in my opinion.)

Some Ideas for Visual Sparks: Spotting a cock in his pants; A girl on her knees, bent over, in the position of your choosing; Watching hir eyes tear as ze takes it; Standing over him kneeling; Seeing your cock disappear into their mouth; The reveal moment; Eyes widening; Her mouth on your boots; Hir wrists bound; Your hand disappearing inside him; Licking lips; A slow secret smile; Eyes dropping; Tight jeans; Garters; That strut.

It’s a good idea to get really specific with visuals, in my opinion. It helps the reader see it, and also makes the spark for desire more individualized to the character. In the excerpt below from my story “My Pretty Boy”, the visual that sparks Jax’s desire is his pretty boy’s blue sparkled mouth sucking off a pair of sharp scissors.

“He pulled out the scissors and pressed them to Rickie’s lips. ‘Open up those pretty lips, boy. I wouldn’t want to smear your lipstick. Yet.’

They shined in the shallow of his mouth, and Jax groaned as he saw the boy’s tongue caress them, his cock pulsing. Those blue sparkled lips closed on the sharpness, and his pretty boy sucked the scissors off with a glorious enthusiasm, pausing to pant around them before suckling again, drawing himself off and then sliding back down, his eyes on Jax’s face the entire time.

‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything more beautiful,’ Jax murmured.”

Some folks are very aurally oriented in their desire. Sounds can be very powerful sparks, and provide great opportunity for you to get inside how the character interprets the sound. Some folks are turned on by the sounds they make themselves.

Some Ideas for Sparks that are Based in Sound: Thud; Rip; Screams; Moans; Boots on the floor; Taunts; Breath catching; Voice wavering; Humiliation; Begging; Gasps; Throaty laughter; Firm tone of voice

The excerpt below from “Compersion” centers around a Daddy’s desire being sparked by listening to his boy sob, describing how one of the reasons he loves watching his boy get topped by sadists (like the two men he is watching him bottom to in the story) is that he can revel in the sound of him crying.

“Franklin reached around to remove the clamps, and Abe yowled as they were twisted off, writhing and gripping the bed with his fists until his voice broke and he began to sob harder. My cock felt like it was going to burst at the sound of it.

I love it when he cries. There is nothing that makes my cock throb more than hearing him sob. And to get to watch it, to hear it, gave me more time to savor the sounds, more freedom to sink into my skin and enjoy it. I didn’t have to control myself with him and make sure his sobs didn’t ramp me up too high. I could trust that Marcus and Franklin were going to keep up their cruelty, that he would be free to sob as he fucked Marcus, and that Franklin would continue to fuck the tears out of him.

This is what I love about watching him—the freedom to let go and really enjoy the impact his tears have on me. That is the show Daddy really wants and he knows it.”

Some folks really get off on language. Words can be really hot. Not just dirty talk, but also things like honorifics and role names (like Daddy, Ma’am, girl, etc.), as well as homophobic slurs and misogynist slurs. Part of this is about the larger narrative that these words can evoke or the roleplay that they can keep going. For some folks it’s the language itself, and for some it’s the story that really gets them hot.

Some Ideas for Language Sparks: “Good boy”; “Take it”; “Slut”; “Mine”; “Yes, Sir”; “queer”; “Oh, Ma’am”; “Please, Daddy”; “cocksucker”; “girl”

In the excerpt below from my story “Dancing for Daddy”, an adult who does Daddy/little girl play describes the power of language in age play, and how being called princess sparks her desire.

“The words are classic, basic. They should not work as well as they do. But they reach into my throat and twist fear into my being. Afraid. Excited. Shamed. Special.

The words are charged for me. Daddy knows just what to say. They are charged for her, too. She watches my eyes after she calls me princess, sees the struggle and intensity, and feeds on it. She knows which words will reach in and hold me.”

For some, the spark of desire is more about what particular things mean to the character, the kind of feelings or dynamics they invoke, or the kind of emotional reactions that get them hot.

Some Ideas for Sparks Based in Emotions and Dynamics: Teasing; Denial; Gratifying; Torture; Exposure; Serving; Shame; Mercy; Suffering; Praise; Nurturing; Helplessness; Fear; Desire; Objectification; Possession; Pride; Strength; Humiliation; Pleasure; Endurance; Reward; Control; Cruelty; Invasion; Force; Nervousness; Respect; Ferocity; Worship; Dependence; Frustration; Embarrassment; Betrayal; Safety; Structure; Punishment; Usefulness; Boldness; Deference

In this excerpt from “My Will”, a submissive describes what boot worship means for him, how it sparks his desire.

“I lick boots the old fashioned way: belly on the floor, as low as I can be. As I placed myself on the floor at his feet, I shivered. It felt so good to be here, to be worshipping the boots of this man I deeply respected. I was in his care, and he would be careful with me—I knew that. When I touched my lips reverently to his boot, I felt so full I could burst. This was exactly where I wanted to be.”

In my novel in progress, Shocking Violet, I spend an entire chapter building up to and savoring the first moment of desire Jax has for Violet, so that you feel the shock of intensity with Jax when it crystallizes, when it’s visceral and real and he knows that he wants her for the first time. I’m loving the slow burn of that kind of storytelling, where the build-up is such a deep part of the pleasure of the story.

In short stories, you don’t have that kind of space for this moment; you have a couple paragraphs at most. So, I urge you to make them specific and concrete and individual to the character. Your story will be better for it, I promise you.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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