Size is Everything

Written February 11, 2015

Something that I see in both erotica and in other genres of fiction–from sci fi to horror to literary–is authors who have a tendency to use specific measurements in descriptions.

I tend to think that straight measurements in description are usually a bad idea.

When audience members aren’t familiar with the measurements being used, details like “5 feet” or “8 inches” or whatever are useless, because the readers cannot visualize what is being described, and the entire point of description is specifically to get readers TO be able to visualize things.

On the other hand, when readers ARE familiar with the measurements and the kind of thing being described, then you risk them second-guessing your measurements if you’re too specific.

In erotica, for example, I never describe a man’s penis as being a specific number of inches long. Some readers won’t be able to accurately visualize the size. Other readers won’t be impressed by whatever number is used. Still other readers will find whatever the number is to be too high.

Same with a woman’s breasts- I never refer to her bra/cup size, because it ends up either being meaningless, or implausible, or unimpressive.

Instead, general and relative descriptions work best.

A penis can be “thick,” “long,” or “massive” without any specific measurement, and the description is vague enough to be meaningful to everybody. One reader might picture an “enormous” erection being 7″ long, and another reader might picture it being 13″ long, but they’ll probably each picture something pleasing to them specifically, without getting caught up in numbers.

Same with breasts.

Same with almost anything else.

One good (and obvious) alternative to specific numbers is to have loose numbers. Instead of “three and a half feet,” try “several feet.”

Instead of “twenty minutes,” go with “Many minutes .”

Most of the time, whichever character we’re viewing the story through isn’t going to know the specific measurements anyway.

An often better alternative to loose numbers is to use relative measurements. If a woman is reaching out to grab a man’s erection, telling the readers his exact length and circumference in inches isn’t nearly as useful to the readers as comparing the man’s erection to the woman’s own body. It’s an easy visual, and it’s right in the mind of either the man or the woman, assuming that they’re watching the action.

It also means that you’re being vague twice, which gives the readers more opportunity to insert their own experiences and tastes into the equation.

For example:
“As I hesitantly wrapped my fingers around him, I realized that his erection was as thick as my wrist.”

How thick is his penis in inches?

There’s no way to know, but there’s no reason to really care either.

All we need to know is that it’s impressive on the scale of this particular woman’s body, and that’s really the only scale that matters. Maybe she has really tiny, dainty wrists.

Maybe she’s got thick, meaty wrists.

It doesn’t matter either way, because every reader is going to visualize the scene in proportion to itself.

Same with breasts.

“Her breasts were so large that I could barely fit them in my hands” is far, far more interesting and useful than “Her breasts were 38DDs.”

It puts an image into our heads, an image of action. We can visualize his hands on her breasts, and that’s one hell of a lot better than trying to visualize a bra’s dimensions.

Same with almost anything else.
“His fist was the size of a grapefruit”
“My gun lay a coffin-length away.”
“It was only minutes until dawn.”

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