As I submit stories to publishers, I’m realizing that there seems to be a certain type of smut that sells. And to be honest, I find it strange.
The collections my stories have been selected for are full of stories that I call “pretty people fucking.” Which is fine, as far as it goes. The men are studs: well-hung (of course), handsome, manly (but sensitive), wealthy. The women are thin and beautiful but think they’re (at worst) “plain”. They have perfect breasts and small waists and never have a problem buying pants to cover their asses.
These perfect people wind up madly attracted to each other and doing the nasty on every available surface. The sex is perfect and awesome and no one sleeps in the wet spot.
I write them, but I don’t like them. And to be honest, it’s why so many erotic stories and novels bore me. I need conflict.
I was taught way back in Basic Writing 101 that a good story needs a good conflict. The hero must have a struggle–something to fight against. In an erotic story, I still want to see that struggle. I don’t care if the obstacle is an external one, but I prefer an internal one. I want to read about what goes on in a character’s head. How do they feel?
Body image is a big one for me. To bare yourself for someone for the first time is scary. And awkward. Everyone has something they don’t like about their bodies. But so much erotica is fantasy. The heroine undresses and doesn’t wonder for a second if he’s turned off by her boobs that aren’t as perky as they used to be, or if the cellulite on her ass is turning him off. He’s never wondering if his cock is big enough, or if she prefers a guy who manscapes, or if she minds that he has a little beer belly and not a flat six-pack of abs.
In real life, these things come up. But as humans, we deal with our emotions and that struggle is interesting. When characters don’t, it’s boring.
Life is full of conflict and struggle. I just finished reading Brave New World and this passage struck me: “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
And that right there is why “pretty people fucking” is boring. I don’t understand why it sells.
Scratch that. Yes I do understand. They’re what’s known in the world of erotica as “stroke pieces.” They’re hot and dirty. They’re not meant to make you think. They are aimed squarely at the genitals. And I suppose if you buy erotica to get off, stroke pieces will do it the fastest.
I had a story accepted recently that isn’t very good story, but it’s a good stroke piece. The sex is hot, but there’s no conflict and the characters are flat. I got it in my head last night to re-write it and make it a good story instead of a good stroke piece, just for fun. Because I can.
I guess I just wish the world of erotic fiction had more literature in it than porn. I wish publishers would insist on an interesting story and fleshed out characters.
I wonder what the tipping point for erotica is. There are lots of mainstream books with very adult content in it. When does one cease to classify their writing as erotica just because people fuck?
Something to think about, I guess.