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by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

October 2012

". . . I’m sure many of us (yes, me, too) are tempted to try writing an erotic novel.

With the international success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray, I’m sure many of us (yes, me, too) are tempted to try writing an erotic novel. You’ll certainly find readership. Recently, I saw a tweet about Fifty Shades being the one left behind most by guests at London hotels. A friend of mine, who is quite proper—a spearheader of charities, a docent at museums, a grandmother of six, etc, was sequestered in her home, listening to it with her husband on their IPod when a neighbor knocked at the door to tell her that her outdoor speakers were on and Fifty Shades was being piped all over the neighborhood.

“Don’t get me wrong,” the neighbor said, wiggling her plucked eyebrows. “If my grandson wasn’t visiting, I’d be all ears.”

But erotica can get boring. How many times can we glow over him “thrusting his member into her” or get that tingly feeling by reading about “tingly feelings?” How to get at original erotica is what I want to know. Here’s some tips. (Oh, even that becomes a double entendre.)

"Write about the kind of sex you wish you had, not what you actually have."

1. Write about the kind of sex you wish you had, not what you actually have. Erotica should be like wish fulfillment for yourself, and by extension, for the reader. No one wants to read about a woman having sex in a ripped t-shirt unless the man she’s with ripped it. Don’t be afraid to be kooky. Sexy can be anything that elicits a kind of erotic response in you. Whenever I’m at a diner and see the gooey three-layer cakes in the glass cases, I often have a fantasy of buying them, setting them down on the diner floor, taking off my shoes and socks, and jumping in them. Sure, it’s not exactly coitus, but it is erotic in its own way. Forgive the pun, but think outside the box.

". . . use dialogue that’s not just talking dirty, but tells us who the characters are."

2. Make sure you use dialogue that’s not just talking dirty, but tells us who the characters are. Who can forget Oliver Mellors, the gameskeeper, saying to Lady Chatterly in his North Nottinghamshire accent, “Tha’s got a pretty arse!” Or in one of the stories in Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, Mafouka, an artist comments “I do not like the companionship of women. They are petty and personal.” (Ouch.) But what a thing to hold against a woman—being personal. Just from that one word we know more about him than maybe we care to know. In The Story of O, an erotic classic by Pauline Reage, a young and beautiful fashion photographer is taken to a castle and, with her consent, becomes a love slave, servicing other men. Sir Stephen says, “I have a fondness for habits and ritual.” (Hubba, hubba, does that include foot-stomping diner cake?)

3. The protagonist should have a real life: a family, a career, a past, and some motivation that makes it somewhat believable. In Fifty Shades, Anastasia Steele is a literature student who goes to interview Christian Gray and is kapowed by his magnetism. He’s controlling dominating, insistent on sex on his own terms and she, innocent, unworldly, goes for it. During their relationship, she learns about his demons and finds out about her own. Blah, blah, blah. But at least there’s an understory somewhere beneath the underwear.

"There needs to be some logic in the story."

4. There needs to be some logic in the story. If the couple is tangled up, all arms and legs flying, make sure that they don’t end up in an un-prepared for threesome in the bathroom of Mac Donald’s. Make sure all the tongues, limbs, and genitals end up in the right place at the right time. So it comes down to clarity of writing. Probably a good exercise for this would be to write out how to tie your shoelace and then try to follow your own instructions.

5. Details, please: We have to know what the people look like, even if we don’t know their names. We have to know what the environments they are in look like. We have to know the odors, the tastes, the tactile senses. Tell all.


You’ll know you’ve scored (oh, yes, double entendres are often the hallmark of this literature) if you create an erotic novel that you’d die if your mother ever read, even if, heavens forbid, your mother has already passed away.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro






Rochelle Shapiro is a regular columnist for Authorlink.
Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), et. al. Her essay, ESS, ESS, is just out in FEED ME: WRITERS DISH ABOUT FOOD, EATING, WEIGHT, AND BODY IMAGE, ed. by Harriet Brown (Random House, 2009). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension. Visit her at: www.rochellejewelshapiro.com or http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/