Category: Writing

Challenge Completed!

At the start of this month, I challenged myself to write a new 800-1650 word blog post for every day in May, by the end of the month. It is now 9:11 PM on May 31, and this will be my 31st and final blog post for this month, completing my challenge!

 

  1. May Challenges, Past and Present
  2. Where Do I Get My Wonderful Ideas
  3. So You Have An Idea
  4. A Burgundy Evening
  5. You Know The Tune
  6. Being An Invisible Writer
  7. The Nature and Nurture of Pain
  8. Twitter, Huh, What Is It Good For?
  9. Why I Don’t Write Reviews For My Fellow Erotica Authors
  10. Why He Thinks You’re Pretty
  11. Finding Words & Thoughts
  12. Got Mentioned in the “Loving BDSM” Podcast!
  13. NOT In A Single Word
  14. Why I Don’t Use Trigger Warnings
  15. In Which I Battle Myself To Write This
  16. “This Has Never Happened To Me”
  17. How To Suck Your Own Cock
  18. Rejection Letters
  19. Stop Kinkshaming Ammosexuals
  20. Aaron Gold’s “Don’t Mind If I Don’t” Podcast
  21. Myself As Well
  22. Avatars & Objects
  23. Is It Okay To Fantasize About Being Raped?
  24. Hobbies, Skills, and Passions
  25. Is It Okay To Fantasize About Raping People?
  26. Is It Okay To Write Rape Fantasies?
  27. How To Have An Orgasm (Solo)
  28. How To Have Multiple Orgasms (Males)
  29. How To Write An Orgasm
  30. Where To Start The Story
  31. Challenge Completed!

I started my Goodreads Blog (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7514047.Richard_Bacula/blog)  

on April 16, 2014. Between that day and April 30, 2018, I had managed to write a whopping FIVE blog posts:

1. Jagermeister Night

  1. How To Be As Sexy As A Dead Deer
  2. The Nature of Storytelling
  3. Size Is Everything
  4. “Amazon.Com Has Rejected Your Product Review”

 

I’ve never been good at blogging, but it’s something that one needs to do in order to create a platform and to let the world know that you exist, and that you’re interesting. So this year–after utterly failing last year’s challenge–I got the idea of writing blog posts instead of erotic stories. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been a success.

I increased my total blog content by six fold, I got to say a lot of things that I apparently wanted to say, and I had fun. I mean, I’m tired, but it’s been fun doing this! I have more of a feel for writing blogs, and I have more practice now. This makes me more likely to write more in the future.

One of the other things that makes me more likely to write more blogs in the future is that I now have a WordPress blog set up in addition to my original GoodReads blog. It’s a better website, with lots of neat features that have helped me out, and that I think will help me out in the future.

One of the problems that I’ve had as a writer became painfully clear to me this past month: I’m not a tortoise–I’m a hare. I’m not slow and steady; I’m fast and furious. I can get a lot done in a limited amount of time, but then I tire out, and I turn to other things. Usually, the chaos of my life and my Fucking Day Job take hold, and lots of time passes before I get back to whatever writing project I was on last.

When it comes to attracting blog audiences, you need to produce regular content, and getting to the keyboard on a regular basis just isn’t my thing. I’m not capable of doing that until I can write full time, and don’t have all the distractions that I have now (like paying rent). But what I can do is to, next chance I get, write a bunch of new blog posts like I’ve done this month, and to have WordPress automatically post them at regular intervals. I can sprint, then I can rest while WordPress tortoises on for me.

That makes me a LOT more enthusiastic about blogging!

Also, I live for feedback. One of the things that has kept me motivated this past month is watching all the Notifications about people around the world Liking my posts, Following my blog, and generally noticing that I exist. This hasn’t translated to sales, but enthusiasm and morale is just as important in many ways. So I say this:
If you want me to keep writing this blog regularly, give me feedback!!

I can use the help to nudge me in this direction. It doesn’t have to be Comments on my posts (although those are ideal and awesome!). You can just send me a tweet @RichardBacula, or an email RichardBacula@Gmail.Com, letting me know that you read something I wrote here, and what you thought.

At this point, 9:37 PM on May 31, everything is written. Some of it won’t get published on WordPress until tomorrow or later, and it’ll be later still before I get everything up on clunky old Goodreads. This might be my last blog post for a while, or it might not. Part of that depends on you, and part depends on me.

Thanks for your support this past month!

(I’m gonna go drink until I pass out.)

How To Write An Orgasm

The orgasm is one of the best parts of sex, and one of the most fascinating and intense human experiences. When I write about them, which is quite frankly a lot, I try to do them justice. Ideally, I go into as much detail as possible, because there are just so many ways to climax, and so many different details. Every orgasm is unique, and each orgasm in erotica should strive to also be unique. There’s a limit to what words can convey, and how many different metaphors and terms we can come up with for “pleasure,” but it’s important to try.

Here’s some advice that I’ve given to other erotica writers in the past:

Writing about an orgasm is kind of like writing a miniature story within a story. You can’t just jump to the climax without any build-up, not if you want to do it right. You lead up to it with rising action, describing first the desire and the light stirring of sensations—the way the body first feels faint physical foreshadowing of what lies ahead, then the pleasure starts to solidify into something more real as the body (and mind!) are teased into varying states of increasing arousal.

You show each of these levels of pleasure along the way, taking the reader on a journey up a path of pleasure that rises higher and higher, building their anticipation of that ultimate peak that they know lies ahead. Bring the reader closer and closer, but wind the path just enough that they can only catch glimpses of the destination—glimpses are the key to anticipation, which is a key to hunger, which is the key to gratification.

The journey itself is part of the destination .

Wend them along the path as they let you take them higher and higher, closer and closer to that ultimate peak, until they know that they’re so close—so damned close—that they can almost feel their arrival.

But only almost.

Then let them see it, right there ahead of them, let them know what they’re about to find, where they’re about to go, and let them have that perfect moment when they know they’ve almost arrived, that there’s no turning back, that any moment now they’re…

About…

To…

Then they’re there! They’ve rushed those last few running steps, and they’ve fully arrived, and they suddenly realize that the peak is even higher than they could have imagined, so high that it perhaps even scares them a bit because they realize that they’re so far gone now that they might not find their way back—they’re afraid they might die here, and part of them wants to because it’s just so perfect, so thrilling, so wondrous that it breaks them a little bit and they know that even when they somehow find their way back down again, they will never ever be the same.

 

As you can see, I like to use metaphors. They’re extremely handy things, metaphors, the multi-tool of communication. I’ve rarely metaphor I didn’t like.

This is important when it comes to orgasm, because most of what we feel when it comes to erotic sensation is pleasure, and there are only so many words for pleasure, each of which comes with its own connotations that may or may not convey the right mood for the scene you’re working on. When it comes to sexual sensations, from the tingling build-up to the climax itself, I often try to pick a single metaphor and stick with it throughout the scene.

Often I go with electricity. It’s handy, common, and accurate. Things can start off with electric tingles of pleasure, then later there can be shocks and jolts of sensation, all rising and building like a thunderstorm, and when it all comes to a peak, the orgasm can hit the character like a lightning bolt, arcing from their loins to their nipples, to other parts of them that are being aroused depending on the scene.

Fire is good too. Start with sparks, or even a warm smoldering feeling. The character feels warm, then hot. Things heat up. Their skin feels like it’s on fire, their body burning with the heat of their passion, searing them with sensation until it all builds up and… explodes like a volcano, or even like a fiery bomb. Fire works pretty well.

During one of my May Challenges, when I was writing 31 stories in 31 days, I remember running low on ways to write orgasms. I did electricity. I did fire. Then I worked through the other elements.

Air: started off like light fingers of wind, and ended up like a hurricane.

Water: pleasure flowed through the character, starting off as a mild trickle, but over time turning into a river that threatened to sweep them away, then it did carry them away, orgasm crashing over them like a tidal wave, threatening to drown them, promising to carry them out to sea forever, to never let them come back to shore.

Earth: Light tremors of sensation building into rumbles of pleasure, leading to an orgasm that hits them like an earthquake, making them buck, thrash, and shudder…

You get the idea.
You probably got the idea earlier, when I was just using the metaphor of a path and a destination.

Make good use of it! Not enough writers do.

Where to Start the Story

One of the trickiest parts of a story is knowing which slice of an infinite series of interrelated events (i.e., the Universe) to look at. You can’t start at the beginning (i.e., The Big Bang), unless the nature of your story is tied to the beginning. Similar case with starting at the other end of things. Most likely whatever story you want to tell can be narrowed down to somewhere within the tiny slice of time that encompasses a single person’s life.

The length of the work you’re trying to create matters here, because IF you’re trying to create a work that spans an entire person’s life, then you really don’t have any more decisions in this regard. Start with their birth, end with their death. Fini.

On the other hand, if you’re trying for a specific word count, that will narrow your search for the start of the story considerably. Even the best writers can only convey so much information in a certain word count, and the lower your word count needs to be, the more precise you’ll have to be when picking your beginning.

Let us say in this case, that you’re writing for submission, and you’re trying for a story that is 3,000 Words or less. That’s pretty limited, depending on what kind of story you’re trying to tell, and what kind of characters you plan to use.

One mistake that many authors make is trying to start their story on a perfectly average day, to let the readers know how things normally are, then to move on to more interesting things from there. Don’t do that. Your readers already know what an average day is–they’ve had quite a few of them themselves.

Start where things get interesting. That way, you’ll have your reader’s interest right off the bat. With a limited word count, you need to get through things quickly, which means rushing through parts of the overall story, while zooming in closely on others. You want to rush through the boring bits, and zoom in on the good bits.

With erotica, that typically means glossing over the character’s entire life and background, and focusing on a single encounter. With horror, it’s basically the same deal. None of the details of the character’s life are worth focusing on, unless they make the story move forward.

It doesn’t matter that your main character’s name is George S. Klein. It doesn’t really matter where he lives, unless the setting is unique enough to warrant a significant fraction of your tiny (3k is succinct, in my  view) word count. If it’s necessary to mention that he was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, then mention it, like I just did. Then move on, as I’m doing.

Most writing advice is telling you to “Show, Don’t Tell,” and that’s good advice except when it isn’t. Sometimes, especially when constrained by word count, it’s better to just tell the readers some stuff, to sum up.

Here’s the start of my story “Past The Bullshit”:

“If we could just cut through all the usual bullshit, and you’d just let me put this in you,” he indicated the thick bulge in his pants. “Well, then you’d know.”

“I’d know what?” She was mildly amused by the man so far, and she sipped her drink to facilitate that feeling.

He shook his head. “There’s only one way to find out.”

It was the wrong line, to the wrong girl, on the wrong crappy night, but somehow, less than an hour later, she was in his hotel room, on his bed, her skirt pushed up to her hips as she let him lick her into readiness.

I could have introduced both characters, and I could have written a dozen pages or an entire book on how and why they ran into each other in that bar, but none of that mattered for the story. All that matters for the story is that this strange man gives this woman a strange and crude line, and against her better judgment it works. Then the action takes place, then the resolution of both the introduction and the action.

All in <775 words, in this case.

Here’s the start of my 2500+ word story The Octopunishment:
Bridget Walsh brushed aside tentacle after sagging tentacle. They were dormant for a time, and this was her only chance to escape. She’d had such chances before, but needless to say, she was still here. Naked and dripping, she climbed up onto the thick layer of rubbery flesh, escaping the sea for a time. She was on the skirt of Kýrios Chtapódi, the Lord Octopus. In order to escape, she had to climb all the way up its enormous body, all the way to the head, which rose like a mountain into the sky.

It isn’t fair. The thought nagged at her once again, but as before, it never did her any good. Yes, it wasn’t fair. Why should it be? Everybody knew that life wasn’t fair; why should afterlife be any different?

I could have started the story chronologically, and taken my time. Under different circumstances, if I needed to pad the word count or flesh out the story more, I would have. I could have started off at the point her life took a fatal turn, the day that Zeus showed up in disguise to the game show she was hosting. I’d have had the opening bit be about her thinking that this one of her guests was weird. I’d have had her insult him (part of her routine), and I’d have shown the man transforming into an angry Greek god who kills her with a thunderbolt. I’d have shown her arrival in the particular Underworld that the king of gods condemned her to.

But the project didn’t call for all that–I wasn’t trying to write a novel. I could have, with this story, and that’s the problem. You have to know what story to tell, which moments are important. In this story, the important moment is a decision that Bridget makes when she reaches the summit of Kýrios Chtapódi, and she has a chance to escape. The character is on a specific journey in this story, a specific challenge, and I started the story where the challenge begins.

Everything else that the readers needed to know, how Bridget ended up where she was, the details of her kinky torture at the hands of the Lord Octopus, and everything else that was necessary for the story, I told in flashbacks here or there as she climbs up the side of this mountainous creature.

Start where things get interesting. You can always backfill details later.

Is It Okay To Write Fantasies About Rape?

The short answer is “Yes.” But there are some important details to consider.

There’s a general distaste for rape fantasy because there is a very reasonable general distaste for rape. Rape is one of the most horrible things that a person can experience, so it’s only natural that there’s a strong social condemnation of not only rape, but of anything that is seen to encourage rape. This is all perfectly reasonable, except that we don’t always agree as a society on what kinds of things–stories in particular–encourage rape.

Rape fantasy as a rule does not, because people in general can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Also because most rape fantasy stories I’ve seen, read, heard, had, or written, have as a context that the rapist is a Bad Guy, and that rape is a Bad Thing.

When dealing with people who cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, almost anything can be used as some sort of justification for almost anything. John Hinckley Jr. used the movie “Taxi Driver” to justify shooting the President of the United States, for example. Mark David Chapman used “The Catcher In The Rye” to justify assassinating John Lennon. Neither of these crimes, nor many like them, were reasonably or logically inspired by the original source material–the crimes were the products of deranged minds, and the source material could have been anything.

On the other hand, the movie “Clockwork Orange” may have inspired several rapes. In one case, a 17 year-old girl was gang-raped by a group of perps who were (as in the film) singing “Singing In The Rain.” I tend to think that that group of perps would have been rapists in any case, and the movie only directed slightly how their crime manifested–they’d have still been rapists, but they might not have been singing rapists. Normal people who watched that film were not inspired to go out and commit crimes based on it. Still, there’s an important difference between this crime and the above crimes by other works: glorification.

The movie “Taxi Driver” doesn’t glorify the main character’s attempted assassination of a politician. The main character is clearly intended to be lonely, pathetic, and misguided. “Taxi Driver” wasn’t filmed in such a way that viewers would or should come out of the theater thinking that the assassination would have been a good deed. “Catcher In The Rye” does not–to the best of my knowledge–even have murder or assassination as a plot point, let alone glorify it in any way.

“Clockwork Orange,” on the other hand… well, the main character is not clearly the villain of the story. He’s charming, charismatic, and sympathetic in places. He’s the kind of character that people might want to identify with on many levels, and the rape scene itself was a mixture that contained more comedy than horror, downplaying the effects of the rape, up-playing the coolness factors of the perpetrator. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that the movie created rapists where none would have otherwise existed, but I do think that it’s treading along an edge that makes me uncomfortable, because rape shouldn’t be glorified.

You may be asking yourself why writing ANY kind of rape fantasy is okay, and the answer is that writing fantasy is by default okay and natural, including fantasies about crime and violence. If reading or watching a story about murder, rape, robbery, theft, and so forth, was truly harmful to society, then every society would be constantly harmed by the vast majority of the stories we tell. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

We can watch horror movies without committing murder, usually because we know the difference between fantasy and reality, and also because the stories are usually told in such a way that it’s clear who the villains are, and that their deeds are vile. Even in cases where there is some sympathy for the monster/killer/villain, the stories aren’t a glorification of them or their deeds. In cases where they are, those stories are again treading on ground that I’d rather they avoided.
Same with crime stories, for that matter, although for some reason bank robbers, kidnappers, and so forth are much more likely to be glorified than movie monsters/murderers.

The only other times/ways I can think of (other than rape glorification fantasies) where it is NOT okay to write rape fantasy are:

When You Don’t Know You’re Doing It

Unfortunately, many authors–even or especially famous authors–have written rape scenes that are seemingly intended to be something else. One example that comes to mind is the sex scene in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, where the protagonist Howard Roark sneaks into Dominique’s bedroom at night, pins her wrists, physically overpowers her in spite of her fighting back, and has rough sex with her. It’s all meant to be okay, because a) Roark could tell just by looking at her that she really wanted him to do it, b) even though she said No, she meant Yes, and he could just tell, c) she enjoyed it, d) she entered into a romantic relationship with him afterward, and e) all the usual things that rapists think or say to justify their actions. As a rape fantasy scene it’s not bad… but it does glorify the act of rape, and justifies it, and the author seems to be oblivious that this wasn’t just rough, hot sex.
There are also countless other novels where the author seems to be trying to write a passionate love scene, but instead depicts a rape, sometimes a quite brutal one. Writers can mistake “lack of consent” for “passion,” but they’re not the same thing. When you write a sex scene, check it for consent. Consent doesn’t have to be verbal; it just has to be clear enough that the characters involved, along with any witnesses, would be able to tell that everybody was having fun. If/When you write a rape scene, make sure that not only do YOU know what you’re writing, but that the reader knows that you know it as well.

 

When It Comes Without Warning:
The sex (rape) scene in The Fountainhead also kind of comes out of the blue. This is supposed to be a philosophical novel about an architect, not a bodice-ripper. There’s nothing really in the book before that point that indicates to the reader what’s going to happen, and that kind of thing can put a lot of readers off. Especially if the reader has been the victim of sexual violence in the past.

Think of it a bit like killing a dog. It’s not something that you want to spring on readers without warning, if only because you’ll lose a lot of readers that way. If you’re writing rape fantasy, the idea will usually be to arouse your readers. That takes a certain kind of audience, and they usually like to know what they’re getting into. If you write in genres where sexual violence is common enough that it won’t shock your audience, something like Beast Porn, Bodice-Rippers, Splatterpunk, or fantasy BDSM stuff like Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Quartet, then you (and your readers) are probably safe.
If you’re writing conventional Romance, Erotica, realistic BDSM stories, and so forth, then you might consider including a Trigger Warning at the start of the work, or telegraphing to the reader PLENTY of advance warning.

Hobbies, Skills, and Passions

I’ve talked in other posts, I believe, about one of the useful elements in becoming a good or great writer being a fluency in the language of writing. The faster and cleaner you can translate what’s in your mind into what’s on the page, the easier the entire process of writing will be. On a good day, at the right time or times, you’ll be able to write as fast as you can type. If you’re a good typist, you’ll be able to write almost as fast as you can think.

At this point, one of the big bottlenecks will be what your mental speed limit is: how fast you can make story-creating decisions that fit the characters you’re working with, and that advance the plot in the right direction. As with everything else in writing, this takes practice to get really good at.

Luckily for me, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life playing Dungeons & Dragons.

More specifically, I’ve spent a huge portion of my life as a D&D Dungeonmaster (as opposed to the BDSM kind of Dungeonmaster), running games for all kinds of different players. I credit this particular hobby with a lot of my ability to come up with plots on the fly, as well as my ability to create fictional characters quickly, and my ability to envision the decisions those characters might make. All of those things are skills that one needs to varying degrees when running a tabletop role-playing game.

As with writing fiction, a Dungeonmaster (DM) tries to create or direct a narrative, to tell (with the aid of his players) a kind of story. The Dungeonmaster lays out a general plot, with a beginning, middle, and (assuming not everybody dies along the way) an ending. As with writing, any or all of this outline is routinely threatened by the often unpredictable actions of the characters involved. While the DM has full control over where the story starts, he/she does not fully control how or where the story ends, nor what happens along the way.

This is because the characters make their own decisions. Which often seems to happen when one is writing fiction, particularly fiction of any significant length.

A DM might start the story off in a tavern, intending the characters to roleplay a quiet meal getting acquainted with one another, planning the next day’s journey to the castle or dungeon where the object of their mutual quest lies. The players might choose to pick a fight, either with strangers at the tavern or with each other, and the evening might end with any number of dead bodies, and burning tavern.

The DM’s job is to adapt, to get the story back on track, but also to include the consequences of this event into the overall narrative. Surviving party members will likely be on the run now, to avoid angry mobs and law enforcement, which can be used to increase their incentive to achieve whatever their original goal was, as well as to provide additional possible obstacles that might add to the story.

It’s not so different when writing, sometimes. A writer might think they know where a scene is going, but by the time they’re done writing it, they have to re-adjust their entire outline to account for unpredicted outcomes. This is likely to happen more than once, in a longer story.

This can be frustrating as a Dungeonmaster, so most DMs try to predict ahead of time how and why scenes might go wrong, and to come up with ways of reducing the odds of disaster or major derailment. Instead of starting the scene in the main room of the tavern, for example, the DM might start the scene in a private room, where there are fewer distractions from the DM’s goal with the scene. It’s hard to start a fight with non-player characters (NPCs) when there aren’t any in the room/scene.

The party can fight amongst themselves, but this can be countered by making sure that each of the main characters, the Player Characters (PCs) have compatible backstories that can be used to avoid disastrous in-fighting. Four complete strangers are more likely to pick deadly fights with one another than a group of four people composed of two brothers, one brother’s love interest, and that love interest’s long-time friend who happens to have helped the other brother out of a serious jam on at least one occasion. It also helps if the characters have compatible personalities and overall motivations. That way, if things start to go off course, the DM can guide them back on course by reminding the PCs of their close ties and their mutual goals.

Storytelling is storytelling, and a lot of the skills that one can develop in table-top role-playing games can translate into other forms of storytelling, such as writing. It’s not the only way to develop useful skills, and it’s not even necessarily the best way to do so. It is one of the ways that’s worked for me, and I’ve heard other authors make similar claims.

Then again, writers tend to use their own experiences, and whatever a writers’ experiences are, I’ve heard them claim that those experiences have helped shape and guide their writing.

If you’ve never tried running or playing in a tabletop RPG, but you’re looking for fun hobbies that might help you with your writing, I recommend joining or starting a game sometime. If you have played or run tabletop RPGs, I recommend actively thinking about lessons that you can learn from your RPG experiences that will translate into writing skills, and vice-versa. It’s always nice when our hobbies can sharpen our skills for our passions.

Avatars and Objects

Both “erotica” and “horror” are emotional terms, referring not to any physical actions, but to emotional states. Erotica is specifically art intended to arouse physical desire. Although there are certain physical responses that are a part of this reaction, the reaction itself occurs in the minds of the audience. Horror as a genre is specifically referring to the capacity to instill fear, revulsion, or even terror into the audience. This is something to keep in mind when writing in either genre, because all too often writers and artists seem to focus entirely on the physical elements.

In purely visual mediums, this is understandable. A painting or picture can only do so much to do the things necessary to fully bring the viewer along for a journey. A simple portrait or picture of a nude man or woman might well be all that is required to achieve the intended reaction, but even in such cases there is usually effort made by the artist to convey something other than the pure physical form. Compare nudes sketches or photos that are done for the purposes of simply showing anatomy, versus works designed to arouse. The former is typically informative, but essentially unarousing. The latter is typically much more arousing, and this is due in large part to the emotional information conveyed by the work in question.

Faces in anatomical works are usually blank, neutral, conveying nothing about the subject except perhaps indifference. Faces in erotic works are typically full of various emotional reactions, and this is precisely because that emotional quality is essential to arouse the audience. Humans can be aroused by sheer anatomical close-up visuals, but typically they are aroused to much greater extents when emotions are involved in the work. A naked woman with a completely neutral face and posture isn’t going to do all that much for most male viewers, but add a bit of flush to the cheeks, a bit of a wanton smile, and suddenly any eroticism is greatly multiplied.

Humans are social creatures, and we as a species are typically concerned with and affected by the emotions that we see (or project) onto the people around us.

Most commonly, we are sexually aroused by seeing the emotion of sexual arousal in others. That flush to the cheeks can indicate a host of emotions that we associate with sex, from lust to embarrassment, to the kinds of physical exertion that we associate with enthusiastic sexual activity. As a hetero male, seeing art portraying an emotionally neutral naked woman provokes a certain level of arousal, a low-level spark of lust. Seeing art portraying a clothed (or partially clothed!) woman who’s looking at me (or another person in the art itself) with lust in her eyes, in her smile, in her flush, in her posture, can turn that spark into a bonfire.

Horror works the same way, although typically with different emotions (barring various kinks and phobias).

Picture a person being stabbed in the chest with a large knife, but with their countenance conveying complete indifference. Picture their limbs lying neutral. Picture their mouth closed in a lazy line, their eyes half-lidded with a lack of any interest.

Now picture the same stabbing, only with the target’s eyes wide with shock and fear, their mouth forced open by their scream of not only agony, but their understanding that these are their last moments of life, and that those last moments will be filled with suffering. Picture their legs buckling, their arms desperately failing to stop the incoming attack.

Neither of these images is necessarily going to instill you with fear, revulsion, or terror, but surely the second image comes closer to any of those emotions, comes closer to conveying horror, comes closer to doing the primary job that horror as a genre is designed for.

Let’s repeat the experiment with an erotic scene instead.

Picture a naked man and a naked woman. The woman is bent over a table, and the man is standing behind her. He is frozen mid-thrust, his cock half-way into (or out of) her. Their faces are blank masks, and their postures convey no urgency, no desire, and nothing about any kind of internal feeling about the act they’re in the middle of.

Re-imagine the scene.
This time, the woman is wearing a house dress. She is leaning over a kitchen table that has a cutting board with a knife and vegetables on it, as if she has been interrupted in the middle of preparing a meal. Picture her hands bunching the checkered tablecloth. Picture her face flushed with passion, her eyes closed with pleasure, her mouth opening wide with a moan of ecstasy. The top of her dress has been pulled down, exposing her bare breasts. The bottom of her dress has been lifted up, and her panties pushed aside so that the man could eagerly penetrate her.

He’s wearing slightly shabby clothing, as if he’s been working in the yard, and only came in for a break or a drink of water. His hands are on her hips, frozen in the act of frantically pulling her back against him. His eyes are filled with lust, his face red with it. His pants are unzipped and have been pulled down just enough for this spontaneous act of mutual passion.

Stereotypical gender roles aside (or especially included, depending on one’s kinks), which scene was more arousing?

Most likely the latter, because the characters we see in a work of art are our vehicle for this experience, our avatars and objects of desire. If we can see passion, we can feel that passion. Just as if we see fear or pain, we can experience that as well.

It’s the same in written work: a story must be about more than indifferent bodies in order to truly affect the reader. The characters must feel emotions, and these emotions must be transmitted to the readers in order to infect them with the appropriate feelings of fear or desire.

The goal of most art is to affect the audience somehow, and that’s incredibly difficult and rare to do without showing them any emotions within the art itself. Emotions are the key to affecting your readers, and details are the key to showing emotions.

Rejection Letters

I’ve recently received rejection letters from two different erotica anthologies that I submitted to. While it’s always disappointing to be rejected, I wasn’t surprised about the first letter (technically, it was an email). While the story I submitted is pretty good, it’s not my best work. The story I was trying to tell was bigger than the number of words that I was limited to, and the story suffered from having some corners cut. It also wasn’t the ideal fit for that anthology, but I hoped that it would get in anyway.

The other rejection letter did come as a surprise. It was for a story that I hammered out just under the deadline, but that I thought turned out very well. Like the other story, I had to condense the tale I was trying to convey significantly to fit the word count limit, but I truly felt that I had accomplished that without compromising the heart of the story. I was proud of that one, and I was confident that it would be accepted.

Ah, well.

While I’m suffering from a bit of mild rejection dejection, I’m mostly left wondering why specifically that second story didn’t make it into the antho. Was it not good enough? Or was it just not the right fit? Was the story not as good as I think it was? Or was it simply the wrong fit for the anthology that the editor was envisioning?

One key difference between writing for classes in college, and writing for submission in the real world, is that there was absolutely no vacuum of feedback in the classroom. I miss that. With this kind of thing, I’m left guessing. The rejection emails were very nicely worded, but in some ways I would have preferred harsher wording that gave me more indication why my work wasn’t accepted.

A response of “No way; you suck!” or “WTF? Did you even READ the submission guidelines?” would at least let me know what the problem was, and what I would need to work on harder for my next submission (i.e., not sucking). Of course, it’s obvious why no business could succeed with that kind of interaction with their authors.

The only thing I can really do is to take my best guesses, and to try harder or better next time.

I’ll start with what I know was wrong with both stories: I had to shrink them to fit the word limit. Since the stories have already been rejected, word-count isn’t an issue any more. I’ll go back, look at each story, and flesh them out more until I feel they’re the right size. I’ll probably self-publish them at some point, because there aren’t a lot of submission calls for stories longer than 5k words. That’s one of the nice things about self-publishing: you can spend as many or as few words on a story as it requires.

The next thing that I know was wrong with both stories is that they were written and submitted very close to the deadline. If I’d had more time, I might have figured out how to polish them a bit more. That first story could have used it, I admit, and as good as I believe the second story to be, it could have perhaps been even better (while still constrained by the word count). So next time I need to submit, I’ll try to focus harder on finishing the stories early, leaving more time to tinker with them.

Also–while I think that it’s entirely unlikely–some editors might read submissions in the order they were received, and simply reject everything else once they’ve found enough stories that they like. Writers aren’t the only people who can cut corners, nor the only ones who are pressed for time. On the slight off chance that this kind of thing is a factor, I might do better getting my submissions in a lot earlier in the future.

When these anthologies do eventually come out, I’m going to get copies, and read them carefully to see what kind of stories did make the cut, and try to figure out why. If they’re all clearly better than my own efforts, that will clue me in. If some or all are not as good–to my eyes–as my rejected stories, then I’ll try to figure out why the editors thought that these lesser works were better or more appropriate to include.

Beyond that….? I’m not sure, so I guess I’ll ask my blog audience:

-If/when you get your submissions rejected, what steps do you take to change the outcome next time?
-What kind of post-game analysis do you do to figure out why you were rejected?
-Can you think of things that I should be doing in this area that I’m not?