How to Write "Above the Fray"byWFEATHER©
I will be the first to admit that I am far from being the best writer on Literotica. Especially for someone without any formal training in writing (not that it is a requirement), I certainly recognize that I can improve my skills. However, I do enjoy the many positive comments I have earned – both public and private, and they far outweigh the negative comments I have received – and it confirms that my goal in writing is generally being achieved: writing high-quality stories, writing "above the fray."
For several years, well before I discovered Literotica, I primarily scanned Usenet newsgroups for erotic tales. One needs only spend ten minutes scanning Usenet to recognize that there are a lot of poorly-written stories surfing the electrons. There are also some true gems to be found on Usenet, and certain authors' names are synonymous with the well-deserved phrase "always excellent," but in general, the overall level of quality certainly needs to be raised. On occasion, however, there will be a great concept hidden within a poorly-written story.
That is what prompted my first attempt at erotica: I discovered an intriguing concept – a couple using magic to help conceive a child – deeply hidden within poor execution. I had not even finished reading that particular tale when I felt the urge, the need, to make my own attempt at writing erotica, specifically with the same general concept. Thus, "Once a Maiden" was (magically conceived and) delivered into the electronic universe. During the writing process, I specifically wanted to write "above the fray," and as I nurtured my first story, I kept a number of concepts in mind, detailed below.
The response was quite positive. I received several enthusiastic e-mails, and that prompted me to consider writing another erotic tale. "Yanari" (the original) was next, intended as a stand-alone tale, and it was instantly met with a positive response, including a few requests for sequels. During that fall and winter, I wrote a few others (including some too short to be accepted by Literotica), which were generally met with a positive reception. All this confirmed that I was indeed writing "above the fray."
Once I discovered Literotica and quickly realized the impressive level of quality stories on this site, I knew that I had to submit my own works, that this would tell me whether I was truly achieving my goal. The early responses were just as positive as when I had been writing "for" Usenet, and propelled me onward in my writing "career."
Granted, I have at times become so caught up in a story's concept or in a particular set of details that I have neglected some of the elements which I feel has helped me to generally write "above the fray;" the sum of the ratings and comments (both public and private) always indicate that accordingly, and also serve to nudge me back toward my ultimate goal in writing.
Exactly what do I feel are the steps to writing "above the fray?" I try to always keep these elements in mind to create high-quality stories:
1.) First and foremost, respect is key. If the characters truly respect each other, then whatever type of relationship they have (or develop) in the story will come through as genuine to the reader. This in itself does not preclude the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am type of story, and also will not overcome horrendous grammar, but it is an important first step. However, there are times when respect is illogical, or at least troublesome, such as in non-consent stories or in erotic horror tales.
2.) Originality is also very beneficial. Originality can be expressed in many forms. It may be a novel subject matter for an erotic tale. It may be an invention of a convention in a particular genre. It may be an unusual setting. Or it may be that the originality is a banal, everyday, mundane event with one particular detail which shocks the reader (and perhaps secondary or tertiary characters).
3.) Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all very important as well. When used correctly, these three seemingly-disparate keys all help the story to flow smoothly, and they all fall into the background of the reader's attention – when they come to the foreground of the mind, however, it typically means that one or more of these keys have been misused. While word processing programs such as Microsoft Word can check these keys for the author, they can also be misleading – for example, Word absolutely hates my writing style (so I no longer use grammar check), and its dictionary is quite lacking in my opinion (an opinion admittedly formed during my ten years in Academia, almost constantly writing essays and other papers in several languages for various classes). Then there is also the inherent downfall of "misspelled" words actually being in the dictionary, such as "slit" versus "slot" (the "i" and the "o" are adjacent on a QWERTY keyboard).
4.) Inspiration is also important, although perhaps overlooked by some authors. Inspiration can come from seemingly everywhere. Of course, some of my stories are based upon actual experiences, and others upon fantasies. But some can be "triggered" by the most unexpected situations or elements: a girl boarding a bus, a specific word or phrase in a friend's letter, an image seen while surfing the 500-channel mediaverse, a "what if" scenario (what if a childhood imaginary friend suddenly made an appearance to a college student?), or even an intriguing concept in someone else's poorly-written story.
5.) So many erotic stories use "dirty words" copiously. This is for me the biggest area of concentration. "Cock," "tits," "fuck," and the like can greatly detract from the flow of the story, especially when the other elements are being observed during the writing process. This does not mean, of course, that such words do not have their place. What this does mean, however, is that "dirty words" take on greatly significant meanings when used only sparingly to make a point – perhaps to reveal a character's personality, or to make an admission much more shocking.
6.) Related to the lack of "dirty words" is the use of vocabulary in general. I must admit that I love a good thesaurus. While a thesaurus can be useful for selecting "big words" ("simultaneously" has long been one of my favorite "big words"), it can also be handy for finding replacements for a "dirty word" (such as replacing "cock" with "erection") or a word which has been used too often in the story, or to convey a different sensation created by the same action (for example, "caress" versus "fondle" versus "stroke"). It is definitely a huge advantage for the author to already have a very broad vocabulary, and here, the one thing I heard most often when studying for the SAT and ACT is very much true: Those who spend a lot of time reading tend to perform better on the verbal sections of these tests because they have been exposed to a broader range of vocabulary.
7.) Dialogue, while not necessary, can add a great dimension to one's stories. When I first began to write erotica, I did not use much dialogue, as I felt it generally took away from the story itself. Over time, I have become more and more comfortable with dialogue, a fact which a few close friends have mentioned to me on several occasions. However, dialogue should be used to add to the tale in some way – to reveal more about a character's personality, perhaps, or as an integral means to express a character's wants or needs.
8.) Each story – erotic or not – should have a specific intended audience. This can help to set the author's mind toward delivering the best possible story for that audience. By having a specific audience, the story may require a different writing style, such as the unconventional usage of capitalized and lower-case letters in BDSM-themed erotica. But most importantly, each story should be one the author would personally want to read – not just at the moment it is being written, but also two weeks, six months, ten years, three millennia after the tale has been completed.
9.) Some people have privately called me "prolific" and clearly meant that as a compliment; as I write this, I have eighty-four entries on Literotica, with one pending (other than this article). To some extent, I scoff at this – I have never tried to write as much as possible in as little time as possible. Writing to be prolific is in my opinion a very good way to negate any chance of writing "above the fray," as the mind would then not be focused on these elements. To borrow a cliché, "Age is just a number;" the same is true about the number of entries linked to a username – I may have eight-four entries as I write this, but my favorite Literotica author has only five entries, and I consider all five of those to be of higher quality than my own writings.
I have no doubt that this how-to entry will be somewhat controversial, but I see that as positive. Certainly, I am not advocating that every author of erotica should focus solely upon these elements in an effort to produce higher-quality stories. By positing these elements on the Internet, I am not suggesting that there is no room for an author's experimentation, nor do I propose that there is only one way to achieve a high-quality story.
To paraphrase what has been said on occasion about F1 racing, there is a definite need for the Minardis of F1 – slower, less-developed cars fielded by teams with lower budgets – in order to have the Ferraris – faster, highly-developed cars run by massive teams with more money than they know how to handle. That can also be true of erotica – in order to write "above the fray," there must first be a "fray" for comparison purposes. Of course, to this point in the 2005 F1 season, Ferrari has fallen from being "above the fray" to being part of the "fray," but does anyone doubt that Ferrari will soon be "above the fray" again – later this season, or next year, or in 2007?
Even following these elements, there is always the chance that a few stories will become part of the "fray;" I certainly have a few stories which fit Ferrari's current situation. However, these elements should provide a significant step toward an author's works being of high quality. While the elements presented here will likely be controversial, as long as one current or future author ponders the meaning and use of these elements, that in all probability means that Literotica – and the Internet as a whole – will likely have one more high-quality erotic tale to offer to readers.