Love Your ReadersbyTx Tall Tales©
Your readers are precious. Help them
My first foray into the How-to category. Some notes on making your stories more 'readable' and therefore, more enjoyable.
Let's face it. The readers here on Literotica have a lot to choose from. If they have any issues with your story, it's easy enough to drop out of yours, and start up a new one. If you're lucky. Often they'll skip to the end and give you the old one star for pissing them off.
My simple advice? If you want to keep your readers, make their reading experience enjoyable.
Why should you listen to me? I have had some success on the site. I've been posting here for 12 years. I eliminated a lot of backlog in 2001, posting numerous stories, including one that made it to the top spot in the Group Sex Top List. I took a break for a couple of years, then from 2004 through 2008, I posted a few stories a year, hitting the number one spot again, with The Perfect Game, which now has nearly a million views. In 2009, I started attending a writer's group and worked diligently on my writing skills. It paid off with The Accidental Nudist Cabin, which spent a few years at #1 in the Loving Wives category, and was my first contest winner. Since then, I've had multiple #1 stories in 4 different categories (Group Sex, Loving Wives, Exhibitionist & Voyeur, and Romance), had two more contest wins, and have gone from less than 500 favorites, to number 6 overall with nearly 4000 favorites. I have 140 stories posted, over 90% of them have the coveted red H, indicating a score of 4.50 or higher. I may not be one of the best writer's on the site, but I've had success connecting with the readers. I'm willing to share what I've learned.
There are 6 components to creating a story on Literotica. Six. Really. Probably more than you would think. Allow me to elaborate.
1) Story. The Content, the message you're trying to get across
2) Introduction and Postscript. A chance to talk about your story to the reader
3) Presentation. Using the spacing, italics, bold, breaks, quotes, etc.
4) Titles. Title and one line description to hook your reader
5) Tags. Key information about your story, to make it more searchable
6) Category. Information about what kind of story it is
Of these six, three have to do with creating your story, and three have to do with the submission process and how your story is found on Literotica. This document will deal with the three elements of your story. We'll deal with elements of submission later.
* * * The Story * * *
The most essential part of your submission, is a story worth telling. This is not meant to be a guide to improve your writing. Better authors have done the job, and I'd refer you to them. Still, it's worth repeating the essentials.
1) Have a Story to Tell
Plot, compelling characters, interesting setting. Without such basics, you're wasting everybody's time. Yes, there are exceptions. No, you're probably not good enough a writer to ignore these elements. Then again, feel free to make a liar out of me. I'd love to be surprised.
2) Watch Your Spelling
Use a spell-checker. Please. How people fail to do this still amazes me. Is it that difficult? One button press, on most editors, and all your very worst flaws are exposed. Half a dozen spelling errors in the first paragraph, and I'm moving on. And I'm patient.
3) Check Your Grammar
Writing tools like MS Word have a built in grammar checker. I don't write in Word, I write in a simple editor. Still when I'm done, I load the text file into Word, and let it point out the worst of the Grammar errors. Great for catching double words, mixed tenses, sentence fragments, etc. Don't let its recommendations ruin your writing.
4) Know Your Weaknesses - check for them
We all have them. I do the your/you're thing all too often. Readers will think you don't know the difference and castigate you for it. Yes, I know the difference, but when I'm typing as fast as I can, the words in my head already out-pacing the keyboard, things get messy. Do a search, check for your common mistakes, especially homonyms. There/their, your/you're, to/too, it's/its, whatever you're own personal foibles are. Two recent stories I read used passed for past repeatedly. Drove me crazy. Don't get me started on lay/lie...
5) Willing Suspension of Belief
It's fantasy, we know. Still, a 15" cock? Really? Face it, 8 inches is big, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Nine is huge. Ten pushes the bounds of reality. Suspend Belief, don't destroy it. It's fiction, not Manga.
Same for 32FF tits. For that matter, you probably never want to use precise measurements, D cup gets the message across. Screwing two hours without coming (cumming?)? Three different studies (including Masters & Johnson) place the average time between penetration and orgasm for man between 2.4 minutes and 7.3 minutes. Not 24 to 73 minutes. Be reasonable. Pacing and control can allow a man to last 15 to 20 minutes. Two hours fuck-fests are kind of ridiculous.
Your hero benches 500 lbs easily? Right. Every woman is 5'2" weighs 100lbs and is a blue-eyed blonde, the most beautiful woman ever seen, with 36DD breasts, a 20" waist, and 34 hips. Except that every third woman is a natural redhead of course. 6'1" tall is average height. By the way, there are a limited number of Navy SEALs. Every SEAL ever born has appeared in at least three Loving Wives tale. The lottery is a one in 20,000,000 shot, not a sure thing. Billionaires? C'mon. Give me a break.
Don't mix up the names of your characters. It happens all the time; I've been guilty of it. Be consistent in your stories. Time lines, names, locations. Your readers will remember if you don't. For any longer story, I keep notes of my characters attributes, relationships, backgrounds, etc. I write chapter summaries. I use a calendar to maintain a reasonable time line. Mess up these details, and I assure you, your readers will call you on it.
7) Write Better
After you get past the essentials 1-6 above, it's time to worry about better writing. Dialog. Show don't tell. Read out loud. Edit ruthlessly. Murder your darlings.
No way I'm going down that path. Not here. This would be 100 pages long, and I'd never say it half as well as others have before me. Stephen King wrote a great book, On Writing. Read it. Take Elmore Leonard's 10 rules to heart. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. If you want to be a better writer, read. Better yet, read with a purpose.
If you don't have a copy of The Elements of Style, and haven't read it at least once, cover-to-cover, stop writing. Stop. Now. I'm not kidding. It may seem arbitrary and old-fashioned, but the advice it provides will never go out of style.
Alright, enough about the story itself, let's move on to the...
* * * Introduction and Postscript * * *
At the beginning and end of your story you have a chance to clarify things, and connect with your readers. My suggestion is use them.
Introduction (NOT Prologue)
Provide a short introduction. Some people might call these Author Notes. If you do nothing else, you can put the same short description that accompanies your story listing here. I like to make the introduction in italics. PacoFear, in his magical Words on Skin does a perfect job. You might want to check it out. (With over 2 million reads, and a thousand favorites, you probably already have.)
The elements of the Introduction are:
1) Any required declarations
Characters over 18 years old, copyright, celebrities, etc.
2) Heads up to the reader for surprises
Anything that crosses category lines fits well here. Gay themes in an Incest story, for example. Incest in Group Sex. Whichever category you file it under, you might want to mention the other.
Squick factor. Erotic couplings with things like fetishes, anal, etc. Mention it or hear about it.
Death, murder, torture. Physical abuse of any type can be a real turnoff for readers. Again worth bringing up, before they get too far into the story.
No Sex. Most of the readers are here for the EROTICA part of Literotica. If there's little or no sex, say so. Unless you're really a master of the LITerature part of Lit. You folks can ignore me. What are you even doing reading this treatise? Go back to writing. Pretty please. Don't make me beg, it's ugly. Alright, fine, I'm begging. Happy?
3) Story (or chapter) Description
A preference of mine. Tell 'em a little about what you're going to tell 'em. The one line in the description doesn't do much for a reader. Here's a chance to let them know what they're getting into. This is especially considerate in long, multi-chapter stories.
If you have an editor, give them credit here. If the story was inspired by another, mention it. Inspired by real-life? Go ahead and tell them how. This one's simple enough - give credit where credit's due.
Make sure the reader knows if this is a multi-part story, or is somehow related to another story. It should be reflected in your title and description, ideally. If it's not, make sure you mention it in the Prologue. Something I don't do often enough, but should, is mention when it's the final chapter of an ongoing series. A lot of people won't read a story until all chapters are available.
Postscript (NOT Epilogue)
Any personal message you have for your reader, this is the place for it. It's a chance to connect, to communicate directly. Inspiration, reason for writing, preview of future chapters, these are all worth sharing.
I like to italicize the postscript and put some type of visual break between the rest of the story and the postscript. Again, it makes it clear where the story ends, and the add-on begins.
Thank them for reading your work. They just spent anywhere from a few minutes to hours perusing your effort. If they stuck through to the end, a word of thanks never hurts.
If you want feedback, votes, comments, it (mostly) doesn't hurt to ask for it. Don't beg, don't threaten, simple words of appreciation work best. If you're looking for specific feedback, say so.
Great. Now we've completed the Introduction and Postcript. Time for the third element...
* * * Presentation * * *
How you format, highlight and present your stories has a lot to do with how easy it is to read. There's not a lot to play with here, but I'll give you my suggestions. These aren't hard and fast rules, it's my own personal experience, from a decade of posting to Literotica, and reading thousands off stories.
Rule (1): Make it easy for the Reader to know what's going on at all times
Visual differentiation is key. If you have an introduction, use italics to mark it. Put a visual break after it - for example
Whatever you use, be consistent from story to story. I like to use longer visual breaks for the Introduction and Postscript. Shorter ones for breaks in the story.
You have the submission broken up into three parts. An Introduction, The Story, A Postscript. Visually differentiated and consistent from story to story. Good start.
Within the story itself, it's more of the same.
We only have so many tools to work with. Text, Bold, Italics, Underlining, White Space, and Punctuation are the main ones. Bold within the text is very distracting. I recommend against it. Underlining is even more so. Use italics for word emphasis. Although not recommended by many, so many online readers are accustomed to it, ALL CAPS WORKS FOR SHOUTING/SCREAMING/ETC.
To bold or italicize text, use the HTML < > and > syntax, with an 'i' for italics, 'b' for bold, and 'u' for underline. For example:
Whatever you use, be sparing with it. I'll repeat that later. It's important.
Bold <b> works well for Chapter Headings. It's the only place I commonly use it within the story. Add an extra blank line before it, because white-space is your friend. You can number your chapters, or not. Up to you. Get creative here. Just make it standout. E.g.
Chapter One: A Lame Beginning
A Lame Beginning
*~*~* A Lame Beginning *~*~*
A Lame Beginning
An alternative to bold Chapter Headings is underlining. It's the only place I consider using underlining, since it's so distracting. E.g.
Chapter Two: A Lamer Continuation
Change in POV
Within the text, if you have a change in who's telling the story, again, visual differentiation. Something as simple as:
* * * (What I use most of the time) or
* * * ADAM * * * (If you want to make it clear who's speaking.
* * * * * (Works fine as well)
The purpose is simple. Don't confuse the reader. Let them know when something's changed. Personally, I don't think it's necessary to include who the new POV is. As a writer, you should be able to make that clear in the first sentence. At least the first paragraph.
Although rarely needed, if you're going to put time/date headings in front of a writing section, Bold works well. It's the only place other than chapter headings where I use bold. Some use Italics, I like to save that for story emphasis.
Tuesday, 9:30 AM
One Year Later
Most of the time, it's probably better to reveal the change of time within the context of the story.
Break in Continuity
A continuity break usually indicates a major change in time or location. If there's a break in your story, you have three options. 1) Let the reader figure it out on their own (Not my preference), 2) Use white space, an extra blank line or two, or 3) Use a visual differentiator.
I like the last choice. Breaks in continuity I indicate with three spaced asterisks.
* * *
Simple, clear and to the point. Any visual separator will do. I've seen a lot of variations on this. Whatever you do, be consistent.
Verbal Emphasis in Dialog
When I want to add emphasis to a particular word, I italicize it. If I italicize an entire sentence or phrase, and it's quoted, it's usually meant to let the reader know the phrase is spoken louder or with particular emphasis. In a story I'm working on, a woman calls out to her husband as he leaves. Each time with more emphasis.
Whatever you do, use it sparingly. Nothing is more jarring than to see italics in every other sentence. I'm not saying only use one or two per story, but IMHO you shouldn't see more than one or two on any visible page of your story when reading it. Same applies to exclamation marks. Don't overuse them!! DON'T!!!
Break of Thought or Interruption
The em dash (—), a long hyphen, is used when there's a break in thought. I'm not going to go into detail about the difference between an em dash, an en dash, and a dash. Let's face it, most writers are going to use a dash, the hyphen (-) character on the keyboard. In general, the em dash and dash can be used interchangeably for our purposes. The thing to remember is the em dash does not use spaces:
Style—not substance—is the vital thing.
It can be replaced with a simple dash, but it should be used with spaces.
Style – not substance – is the vital thing.
It can be used when a character is interrupted during dialog. For example:
"She's a friend. She doesn't matter, I swear. It was only—"
"Don't! Don't say it was only sex!"
"—flirting. That's all."
Omission, unfinished sentences or tension
The ellipsis (…) is used to indicate an omission. When skipping over a part of a story, or something similar, the ellipsis indicates the skipped words. It can be indicated with the single ellipsis character, (…), three periods, (...), or as suggested in most style guides, three spaced periods, (. . .).
It can also used to indicate an unfinished thought. In dialog, it's for an unfinished sentence. It can be for trailing off into silence (aposiopesis). For example:
"But I thought she was..."
In a similar way, it can inspire melancholy or longing.
"I wish things were different..."
When writing one side of a dialog, particularly one side of a phone call, when overheard, the ellipsis can indicate the omission of the other side of the phone call.
"Hello?...No, he's not here...I'm not sure when he'll be back...No, I wouldn't tell you if I did know...Same to you!"
Finally, it can be used to for any short pause in speech or text, often to indicate tension within a statement. A hesitation for emphasis.
"It was a...different way of doing it.
Individual Word Emphasis
Sometimes, rarely I hope, you may want to place heavy emphasis on each word of a sentence. One way of accomplishing this is to make each one a full stop.
"I. Said. Don't!" (or "I.Said.Don't!")
"I...said...don't!" seems more hesitant than declarative.
"I-said-don't!" just looks confusing.
"I said don't!" does not imply the staccato emphasis.
"I SAID DON'T!" sounds like shouting.
Dialog is bounded front and back by quotation marks. Officially, you can use either the double quote (") or single quote ('). Nearly all modern dialog is written with double quotes. If you use a word processor instead of an editor you can use different marks (curly) for the beginning and end of a quote.
"Hi, I'm Bob." (Simple Quotation Marks)
“Hi, I'm Bob.” (Smart or Curly Quotation Marks)
For a quote within a quote, alternate the types.
"He kept whining and whining, ‘It's too big!’ It was making me sick."
If you're going to use single quotes inside of another quote, I recommend using 'curly' quotes, as demonstrated above, so as not to confuse the quotation marks with apostrophe marks. In Windows, ALT-0145 (on the number pad) results in a ‘, and ALT-0146 gives a ’. It happens infrequently enough that it's worth the extra effort. If you can't remember the alt codes, cut and paste. Or write in Word, it does it for you.
I'm not going to go into the use of punctuation marks with quotation marks. It differs between American and British style, and is complex. This is not a style guide. Read your Chicago Manual of Style, or whatever the British version is. Don't have one? Buy it, and then read it.
I do have one pet peeve. In multi-paragraph quotations, opening quotations marks are used on every paragraph, closing quotations marks are only used on the final paragraph. Is that so difficult to remember?
“Thanks for a wonderful time. Let's get together and do it again soon.
With closing quotation marks on every paragraph, the above is two or three different people talking. Aargh!
That's it for me. A few ideas on how to make your writing easier to read and understand for your readers. Few hard and fast rules other than try to make it visually clear. Use dashes, ellipsis, italics and exclamation marks appropriately and sparingly.
Your readers will appreciate it. I know I will.
Tx Tall Tales