The hell am I looking at here?!
It’s my fic! It’s awesome! It has everything that makes a fic so good! It has all the sex and blood you can imagine!
And how is that good in the first place? Dude, that’s not even readable!
You don’t get it because you don’t understand erotica and dark genres!
Maybe I don’t get it because it’s moronic, badly written, unnecessarily violent and completely tasteless when it comes to sex?
And even more importantly... why is it rated “Everyone”?
I don’t know how the ratings work! It’s too complicated!
Welcome to yet another “How To” where we point out what should be obvious when it comes to submitting fics to fimfiction. And also, in the case of the last post and this one, provide you with some real advice about writing stories.
My name is Wanderer D and while I seem to enjoy writing this stuff, I do so out of frustration, which I take out on my handy minion: Clueless User, who needs to be drawn by someone with talent. (i.e. not me.)
Today we will discuss something that has sadly popped up more than you might think: Rating a story appropriately.
But... Wanderer D! Rating is an esoteric and archaic form of control that has been banned by the church!
No, it isn’t. It actually just requires some common sense, which you seem to not possess. Now, let’s go back to your story. What the hell were you trying to write?
Well, I wanted to write an erotic piece of action! I want to be like the great ones! Like... Butterscotch Sundae or- or... Sleepless Brony! They would know what I was trying to do! You cannot understand it because you know nothing!
We’ll get back to that later. First, let’s talk about how you rate your story.
Is this going to hurt?
Only if basic, common, knowledge hurts your depleted brain cells. Let’s “Add the Story.”
The first thing you encounter is doubtless something you don’t even skim over. The rules. Since finding the FAQ is such a hard thing to do, our friends the admins have done you a favor by posting the basic rules you should follow when submitting a fic.
Did you see the last two? “Put stuff in the right category” and “Give your story the right content rating”.
Okay, so I have ignored all of those before, but now that you pointed them out, how do I do that?!
Simple. When you fill out the form right under it, you might notice something...
I have... options?! But I want everyone to read my story! Why should I change it?!
Because not everyone wants to read your story if it has stuff that they find offensive or disgusting.
Love and tolerate!
Exactly, so do so and respect their wishes. So, what does this mean? It seems complicated, I know. It’s pretty simple: Rating something “Everyone” means that it contains nothing that is going to be banned out of a kids show: No real violence with blood and guns, no overtly sexual stuff, no questionable or really dark content... keep it PG. Think of it as something you would allow a kid to read. The story can be relevant to any age, and indeed there are really deep and well thought stories that fit into that. Romance is acceptable, no problem, just as long as it’s kept clean.
But it seems boring!
Stop your whining! If you want to read something a bit more adult oriented, we have... “Teen.”
This covers more ‘mature’ themes without falling into the explicit. You might notice how themes like suicide, war and sex are mentioned. Those are themes that require a bit more world-knowledge and understanding than what a kid would have. Teenagers are better suited to ‘get’ what you’re trying to say here, than say, a 10 year old.
But this is not what I want to write! I want to write something that shows the visceral mortality of ponies!
Okay then... for that, we have the “Mature” rating.
This rating is appropriate for stories that are very explicit when it comes to sex and/or gore. If you’re writing a story where someone’s brains get blown off and you go into detail as to how they decorate the wall, it goes here. If your story has a steamy scene where our ponies get... really comfortable with each other and you find yourself in the need of describing every juicy part of it... it goes here as well.
Now this is more like it! I can dazzle everyone with my amazing stories! I shall join the great ones!
By great ones I assume you are talking about authors such as Butterscotch Sundae or Sleepless Brony, like you mentioned before?
Yes! They are my inspiration! My coda! My yodas! My–
I get it. I get it. But, how does what you wrote up there even compare to what they do? It’s pointless sex!
You lie! Sex doesn’t have to have a point! There is no story! No purpose other than to clop, clop, clop!
You... haven’t read their works, have you?
You know what, don’t answer. Let’s ask one of them for advice...
Yes... I mean what you’re thinking exactly. Mares and Stallions, I present to you...
Wanderer D asked me to write a little note about how to write good erotic fiction.
Good erotic fiction is first and foremost good fiction. Many people seem to assume that the usual rules of writing fiction can be thrown out the window as soon as it aims at being erotic. Now, if you’ve ever picked up a copy of A Thousand Shades of Grey and read a page of it, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s true (the book really is garbage). But that doesn’t mean your erotica should be like that! Some of the best erotica was written by Anais Nin, a famous French-Cuban author, and her exquisite prose is up there with the literary greats.
But Butterscotch, I hear you ask, what’s the difference between erotica and pornography? It’s a sticky question (ho ho!) - my answer is that both aim to create sexual excitement in the reader, but in different ways. Pornography is more visceral, and aims right at the crotch. Erotica gets to the crotch eventually, but travels there via the brain and the heart first. You’ll never get that ‘melty feeling’ with pornography, but good erotica will give it to you every time.
So erotica needs more than just sex. Does it need drama? Maybe. Does it need humour? Maybe. It just needs something more than sex. If the setup is short, and the story is obviously champing at the bit to get to the action (for example, the photocopier repairman turns up but doesn’t really say much about his feelings before he’s having sex with the office lady), then it’s probably not erotica, just well-written pornography. So make sure your erotic writing has some emotional or intellectual interest in it. Make us come for the sex, but stay for the story.
Now let’s talk about graphicness. Erotica as a genre has a tradition of avoiding using the primary words for the genitals - breasts and nipples are okay, though. This has given birth to a catalogue of metaphors that are as hilarious as they are bad: I’m talking about stuff like ‘purple-headed warrior’ and ‘love pudding’. Try and come up with description which is original, elegant, and charming, but still clearly understandable. If your metaphor is so evasive that the reader doesn’t know which act or organ is being described, then it’s not doing its job. Avoid calling things ‘it’: “he put it in her” just ain’t sexy. Also avoid any expressions your mom might be expected to use, like ‘down there’. Following your elementary school teacher’s advice about appealing to all five senses is an excellent start. Also, detail, detail, detail! You can still be graphic - just don’t be vulgar.
Lastly, keep it sexy. The story should excite you. Like all good fiction, you should be into it while you’re writing it. Your work will be all the better for it. And I guarantee that, no matter how unique your kink might seem, there’re a million other people on the internet who share it, so don’t self-censor yourself. If you like messy sex, by all means regale us with the story of the time Applejack and Rainbow Dash had a wrestling contest in a vat of Granny Smith's Grade-A apple sauce.
Oh, and lastly lastly, make sure you have fun while you’re doing it. Writing erotica is like sex: if it feels like a chore, you’re doing it wrong!
tl;dr version: The fact you’re writing erotica is not an excuse to write badly. Appeal to the mind and heart by including intellectual and emotional interest in the story. Avoid vulgar terms, but also avoid silly metaphors and euphemisms. Go into detail, but don’t be obscene. Keep it sexy by writing what you personally find erotic. Lastly, have fun!
Wow... that was...
Good advice? Careful thought about writing and erotica in specific?
Well, yes... b-but... that’s not what I want to write! It’s too romantic!
Didn’t you just tell me that you wanted to write ‘erotica’? I think those were your words, I could scroll up and check–
S-Shut up! She’s right, but that’s not the type of stories I want to write! I want to write something like the Romance Reports!
Kid, you don’t learn do you? I have been sprouting this from the past blog: There’s more to writing a good story than simply thinking that Dark = Gore or Romance = Sex!
I don’t care!
Fine, here, I present to you...
What makes a story with sex in it good?
Well, the short, snappy answer is... the same things that make any story good. So I guess now I'll ramble on about good plotting, solid structure, efficient characterization, exposition through dialogue and action...
Oh, you wanted to know how to write good sex?
Haha, of course. Well then, let's talk naughty bits. I think the other contributing authors have explained all the regular story stuff far better than I could, anyway.
Sex can be in a story for plenty of reasons, whether it's there purely to titillate, or to illustrate a character relationship, or to drive plot events. Whatever purpose it's serving, I think it's important to remember that sex is a form of action - just like a good fight or a chase scene, you want the reader to blink a few times, sit up in their chair, and think, "Aw yeah, NOW this is picking up!"
So how do you do that?
To me, the things that define good sex (in fiction, anyway) are the same things that define good action of any kind - emotional content, motivation, reactions from the characters.
I'm not trying to say that all written sex should be uber-sappy romantic love-making. Far from it. All I mean is that what makes the sex interesting is what the characters are thinking and feeling, and WHY they're doing what they are doing.
To extend the action analogy, imagine reading about two guys having an epic sword duel. You don't know their names or why they're fighting, but maybe you can appreciate a few of the moves or get a little kick out of a particularly bloody strike. Interesting, I guess. Probably forgettable in the long run.
Add some character to it - maybe they're old friends or brothers, bound by honor to fight even though they still love each other. Maybe one of them is out for revenge, and the other can't even remember how he wronged his attacker. Maybe they're just fighting over a scrap of stale bread.
NOW I'm interested. Without all that, it's just two guys plunging their long, hard, rigid lengths into each other over and over again and...
Anyway, why are the characters having sex? Do they love each other? Is one in love, and the other is unsure? Just experimentation? Is there no emotional spark at all between them, just some completely casual, anonymous sex? Even in that case, the emotions and motivations are important. How did they end up here? Why are they doing this? Are they okay with that arrangement? Do they wish for something more? How does all this make them feel?
These things put the reader there with the characters, and allow them to care about what's going on. These are the important things, the things that make sex, or any action, interesting. You can spend pages describing exactly who put what in which hole and how hard. But ask yourself - could I replace one or both of these characters with someone else, and have to change anything? What makes this sex special?
That's what's really important. All the rest is just bodies in motion.
So... you’re saying that there’s more to sex than just [censored] into [censored] and [censored]?
Oh, so you can learn. Impressive. Yes. There is more to sex than simply doing it. Sure, you can write a story where there’s nothing but clop, but that’s simple smut. If you are going to pretend to write a real story with character development and also something more to it than random and, again, pointless sex, you might want to pay attention to what was said above.
Wanderer D, why do you get ultra-famous authors to explain this for you?
Because they have proven that they can write all of this stuff much better than I do. Why listen to me rant about what I think on writing better stories of a genre when you can hear it from some of the best authors themselves?
So you do have some humility!
No, I just like to show off that I hang out with awesome people. Now, going back to publishing mature stories.
When you want to do this, you can be as explicit as you want. It is actually harder than you might think to write an erotic piece.
*Snort.* You said harder!
*SLAP!* Hush you! Now, once you’ve written your explicit sex scene, here’s what you do, you click on “Mature” rating, which will pop up two sub-tags. Guess which one you click?
That lets future readers know what they will find there, because let’s face it: your summary sucks.
You didn’t have to hit me!
Yes, I did. Now, I remember something about your story being really violent and descriptive about that?
Yes! Not only the sex but the awesomeness of warm blood coating–
Okay, then, so, gore...
Horror! Are you going to keep interrupting me!?
Well... yes. Anyway, why did Twilight do what she did to Flutters?
Huh? What do you mean why? It’s gore! It’s mindless and bloody and–
But gore for the sake of it doesn’t add anything to a story! It’s not horror, it’s gratuitous violence!
Horror doesn’t need anything else! A good horror story consists mainly of blood and brains and–
Okay, I get it, you don’t know what you’re talking about this time either.
What do you... wait are you saying you brought someone else for–
Stop interrupting me!
No. Anyway, Gore is controversial not only in fanfiction, but also in literature in general. It can be an effective tool that–
Are you going to lecture us or let your guest talk?
Fine, fine... may I present...
I'm writing this very late at night so I apologize for any lapses in logic or grammatical errors unbecoming any respectable writer.
I'm guessing I've been asked for tips on how to write a good horror story, and the proper use of gore, because of the success of Rainbow Factory. I find this mildly ironic in the sense that Rainbow Factory is a terribly written story by any standards--from a technical sense. I suppose it's the story itself, not the mechanics of the work, that inspired fear, and so in the simplest of terms, disregard Rainbow Factory, acquire knowledge I have also come to learn:
The very first and foremost tip anyone can have on writing horror is to write what scares you. Good writers start by writing for themselves, before adjusting the work for the public. If the subject matter or scenes don't include anything that makes you shake at night, then how can you know it will scare anyone else? Feel the fear yourself, and it will transcribe into your work. Smell the sweat and blood soaking your clothes, feel the rapid and powerful thumps of your heart beating like a dying rabbit, see the horrors which caused it all... become your own nightmares, and then write. Write to trap your story, to release it from yourself and bind it to paper and ink.
There's more, however, than simply being afraid of what you've written. Many people are inclined to add as many details possible to a monster to assure the exact image the writer has shows up in the reader's mind. Stephen King drives home one of the most important aspects of telling a story, any story but especially horror, in "On Writing"; omit useless information. An imagination, given a seed of information, will always grow a more fantastic image than if given the whole picture. That's not to say never describe anything, of course, but be careful in being too exact. Block the imagination and you kill the illusion.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of keeping a reader interested in horror stories is balancing suspense and action. Too much action and your fiction becomes an emotional trainwreck, like my own Rainbow Factory, Cupcakes, and especially (forgive me for mentioning this atrocity of the English language) Sweet Apple Massacre. Sadness and anger and blood and guts and joy and hope and sadness and more hope and more guts and despair and the constant barrage of never-ending twists and feelings drains a reader, confuses them, upsets them. This is where pre-readers come in handy, especially people who do not know you. Impervious to your feelings, a pre-reader can gauge how well you keep suspense and shocks tuned.
Therein lies yet another problem: extending suspense without boring readers. There's many ways to work with this. Experiment! Try whatever you can to properly space out the scares without losing that unsettled feeling you've hopefully instilled in the reader. One of the more basic, yet effective uses of suspense in fiction, is to build your setting. When you create the creepy, strange and unnerving world around your character, giving reason for that character's suspense, you create that same world and that same suspense around your reader as well.
Finally, the proper use of gore in horror.
There isn't one.
There, I've said it. A proper horror story should never need to touch on the dismemberment and disembowelment of the characters to be scary. Your story should never rely on death as it's only claim to terrorize.
With that out of the way, there's no denying that a good ol' murder or hellish act of death is one heckuva powerful plot element. Death is ultimate and final. It is the one universal theme that the global human collective cannot destroy, cannot avoid, and cannot accept. For a human, or in this case pony, to find murder so easy must make them a creature more terrifying than any monster. Sentience coupled with a complete lack of empathy is such an inconceivable object that it's power in writing deserves to be respected. To have everyone murdering everyone is to belittle that concept, to mock it so badly that you remove the humanity from it, removing any horror aspect the act may have.
Gore should be reserved, my friend, for only the most important and shocking section of the story, and even then only if it is absolutely necessary. The instant you apply gore when it's uncalled for is the instant you shatter the fear associated with it.
I hope that helps!
Buh- but... my understanding of horror–
Might be different. And that’s fine. But here we are talking about tools of the craft and what helps you become a better writer. You want to keep writing forgettable stories that consist of no plot and just blood and sex? Be my guest, but you won’t improve and honestly, it just falls into the same being repeated over and over. Take the advice the authors here and the previous blog said... you don’t have to write like them, but you can learn a bit from them. There’s a reason they’re good at what they do.
I- I see... I think I should think a little about what I am going to do...
Good, but, before you do that, here’s what you do if you include also very descriptive violence in a fic:
You click on the ‘Gore’ tag. If it doesn’t have sex, you just leave the sex one blank. There, it’s not difficult, right?
Yeah! Hey, it’s pretty easy to mark them! Just how many people don’t do it?
Well, now that you have guided me through this I have a lot to re-write and I’ll be sure to tag it and rate it correctly!
Good! It’s nice to see progress! Now go... the word processor awaits you... and for the love of the gods, please format your story!