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Grimm


Mostly harmless.

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Feb
10th
2019

How To Write Clop for People Who Can’t Write Clop Too Good: Part 1 - Characterisation · 5:29pm Feb 10th, 2019

How To Write Clop for People Who Can’t Write Clop Too Good
Part 1 - Characterisation


What is this, a blog post for ants?

I want to preface this blog by saying that I don’t usually like giving advice. If you’re thinking that’s a strange way to begin an advice blog then you’re absolutely right, but let me explain. I don’t like writing advice for two reasons. The first: I worry that some of the people who seek out advice from their favourite authors – especially very new writers – are hoping for the writing equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme. There's no such thing. There are no shortcuts, and implementing good writing advice into your writing will actually be more difficult to do. At least to start with. Writing well is hard, and so there are no shortcuts here.

The second: Discretion is important. In everything, but very much so with advice. One of the things burgeoning writers quickly discover is that rules are made to be broken. Yes, obviously you need to know the rules of grammar, but soon you realise you don’t need to follow them all the time, and advice is just the same. There’s a time and a place for everything, for every rule, and even the oft-lauded pinnacle of writing advice – show don’t tell – can be broken for effect. You just have to know what you’re doing first.

And so I wanted to start this (hopefully) series of blogs with a disclaimer, so that you understand that it’s okay to not follow everything I say. Perish the thought. Hell, it’s okay to disagree with me completely. I’m writing these to try and help people, and if it does, great! But don’t think you can’t break the rules. Don’t think you can’t ignore what I say and try to do something different, something better.

And don’t think these are shortcuts. If anything, they’re the opposite.

Alright, that’s all the context you need. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

***

Part 1 – Characterisation, and the Importance of Writing Real Characters (Or: How to Avoid the Dreaded Meatbag Clop)

There is a problem with clopfics. With erotica in general, in fact. A problem that every single clop writer has to face after a couple of stories.

Sex is boring.

Well, okay, it’s not, but the real problem is that sex is mechanically always the same. I’ve discussed this before, in a blog post that I guess is a sort of precursor to this one, and it’s still as true as it was back then. Yes, you can write kinks you haven’t written before, write different characters, write whatever, but the sex part is still always going to be inserting various tabs into various slots.

That’s still not really the problem. The problem is that smushing body parts together can only be described in so many ways before you’re writing the same thing. Over and over and over again.

A lot of writers fall into this trap. They’ve come up with a brand new, sexy concept that rocks their proverbial socks off, and then they write it and it’s exactly the same as every other one of their stories, just with the characters and situations switched up. Maybe this time they’re in a different position. Maybe this time it’s about lesbians, or it’s got some incest in it (cough cough something something glass houses). Whoopee.

But none of that matters. Without a discernible difference in these characters – in their reactions and emotions – the story never changes. Worse, it rejects the advantage of erotic fiction over other forms of pornography. It rejects good writing.

And this leads to the worst possible thing, the thing every smut writer worth their salt should avoid at all costs: Meatbag Clop.

If that doesn’t sound very sexy, good! That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. But what is meatbag clop? I hear you cry. You’ve read it before, I’m sure of it. The stories where the sex is not only front and centre, it’s standing up in front of you so you can’t see the screen. The fics where nothing matters but the physical aspects, where the characters are so bland and uninteresting that you could switch out the names with anyone else from the show and almost nothing would change. Characters that are so featureless they are essentially just bags of meat, rubbing their requisite naughty bits together until one or both inevitably finish.

Meatbag clop.


They’re made out of meat!

So, how do we avoid writing meatbag clop, how do we steer clear of this pitfall that has claimed so many? In retrospect, the blog title kinda gives it away.

The way to avoid meatbag clop is to make sure you’re writing real characters, not bags of meat.

But Grimm, you cry, surely characters I’ve made up are never real; they’re always fictional. That’s what fictional means!

Yeah, alright smartarse. I’m being metaphorical.


What IS real? How do we define real?

‘Real’ characters have a few things going for them, things that are equally important in clop characters as in any other form of writing.


1. Personality

This may seem redundant, at first. Saying your characters have a personality might not seem like it should be a badge of achievement, but it is! In the wise words of Winston ‘The Wolf’ Wolfe: Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean that you have character. And learning to make your characters multifaceted and interesting is a genuine skill. We’ve all seen the edgy, Mary Sue/Gary Stu OCs – that’s one result of being unable to make compelling, good characters.

Furthermore, in fanfiction specifically there is another factor, which is of course that there are existing characters who already have established personalities. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gives you a foundation to build off – you don’t need to start from scratch to give your characters personality, because they already have it.

We know Applejack is honest, hardworking. We know she has extremely strong ties to her family, that she’ll do anything for them. And we also know she’s incredibly stubborn, that she’s overly self-reliant and hates asking for help. She has both admirable traits, and flaws, and as such she’s a well-rounded, interesting, relatable character. And of course you could break down any of the characters on the show as such, but I don’t need to. That’s the nice thing about working with well-established characters in fanfiction – as long as you work within and around their existing personalities you can skip a lot of the heavy lifting.

But therein lies the rub. These characters are well-established, which means that if you’re trying to write them you have to get it right. How many stories have you read where the characters act completely different to their show counterparts? Quite a lot, I’m sure, because staying within those lines is hard. Especially when trying to fit them into your kinky sex story.

And what about new characters, OCs? Well, then you no longer have pesky canon to worry about, but also no foundation. And that can be both difficult and intimidating.

A good place to start with characters, canon or otherwise, is to break down their personality into a few core features:

What does this character want (aside from hot pony sex, of course)?
What is your character afraid of?
What flaws do they have as a result of these things?

You should be able to answer all these questions and more if you want to understand a character, and to make sure they have an interesting, real personality.

There are actually a lot of ‘character questionnaires’ out there that ask questions like this, and while they’re a bit much to do for every character you ever write, they can be a nice way to ensure you’ve solidified who a character is in your mind, especially when you’re starting out.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do that without actually having to catalogue it all beforehand. If you were to ask me these questions for my characters, I wouldn’t have to think about it, because I know and understand who the character is, deep down. And that’s a good indicator that a character is hitting that ‘real’ threshold, too, if you can answer questions like that right away. It shows you understand both them and their motivations.

And motivations are important, so a solid next step is to ask yourself why your character is in this particular story. Why are they going to be indulging themselves like you want them to? Are they in love, perhaps? Great! Show it. If your characters are in love, they should be affectionate to one another, maybe they’re more concerned that their partner is enjoying it than themselves. Perhaps it’s gentle, caring, perhaps they start with kisses and have no rush for anything more and it’s still all your character wants because it’s with the pony they love.

Maybe they’re being adventurous, stepping away from all the gentle, loving stuff and getting kinkier, but before they start they still share a kiss and double check their safeword. And afterwards they still fall asleep in each other’s hooves. Or maybe your character is Rainbow Dash, and we know she’s not big on being ‘soppy’, and so she prefers to be on top and doesn’t like kissing, and maybe she’s in it just for the physical side of it, maybe there’s very little love there at all, at least at first.

Congratulations, this is already starting to be more than meatbag clop. These characters are interesting, and they can be empathised with, and they’re starting to be real. They have feelings, thoughts, and it’s conveyed not just by having them think it at the reader, but in the way they act, even during the sex. And you can do that because you understand them, because you know how they would act. You know who they are.

This is immediately more compelling, more interesting, and hopefully shows that even a story that is exclusively clop can still avoid the meatbag trappings. And I’m not saying you need to start your porn with a million words of exposition, here – as long as your characters have personality, they’re already starting to be ‘real’.

Unfortunately, that’s still not quite enough.


2. Consistency

Again, this is one of those things that seems a lot simpler than it is. But also again, I’m sure all of us have seen plenty of the opposite. Stories where otherwise sane characters suddenly act completely different for no apparent reason. Why does this happen? Usually because a writer has an idea and plan for the story to go in a certain direction, and pushes it there regardless of what their characters would actually do, how they would actually act.

But how do you get around that? You’ve got a great idea for your story, you know exactly how you want it to go, so how do you make a character do something they wouldn’t? How do you make this character fit your plan if they don’t seem like they should?

You can’t.


Absolutely shook

Once a personality is established, it is so so important that you stick to it, that you stay consistent. You can’t have a chapter where Fluttershy is all meek and timid and nervous of sex, and then follow it immediately with her being a confident domme who masterfully toys with her lover, no matter how hot you think it would be. You’ve established a character, you have to stick to it.

As a discovery writer, my process often relies on simply making sure I understand my characters and just seeing what they would do. Not everyone is a discovery writer, of course, and not everyone should write that way, but I cannot stress enough that you can’t force characters to act against their nature just to fit your story. Because if you do that, they’re not real. If you do that, the illusion is shattered, and it becomes so obvious to the reader that you’re simply using that character to fulfil your story’s needs, and any empathy they have towards that character is going to be so heavily diminished and ruin all the hard work you put in when giving them a personality in the first place.

A common cry of exasperated pen and paper RPG players is “My character wouldn’t do that!” (and as an aside, I think tabletop RPGs such as DnD are actually a really great way to develop your characterisation skills). Learn to embrace this phrase. If you have a plan for your story, something you’ve intended for a character but now realise they wouldn’t do, don’t force the matter. Work out what your character would do instead.

In the above example, Fluttershy isn’t going to be a confident domme, but maybe she thinks that’s what her partner wants, or her partner explicitly says as much, and so she tries. And of course she’s rubbish at it, and keeps stopping to check her partner is alright. And you know what? That’s actually a cute story idea, I’m keeping that one. But more importantly, it keeps Fluttershy consistent.

It keeps her real.

And because she’s real she can’t fundamentally change who she is at the drop of a hat, that’s not how people (or ponies) work. And so she can’t be that dominant, confident domme no matter how much you want her to be, no matter how sexy you think it would be. Because it wouldn’t be – it would be jarring, out of character, and a mess.

But (and of course there’s a but) you can work up to it. Rather than having Fluttershy change in an instant to fit the story, you could have her change over time. She starts off nervous, unable to be dominant, but over time she gets better. And by the end you can write that super hot scene you’d envisioned and it’s earned, because rather than breaking consistency the change in character was the story. So when I said before that you couldn’t change your characters, that was a lie. The only problem is that believable character development is usually slow, and if you’re just wanting to write a hot clop one-shot then that’s not feasible. So, consistency.

And this is a matter of consistency, make no mistake. If you’d started with Fluttershy as a domme you could probably get away with it, doing a whole ‘timid in the streets, demon between the sheets’ thing. But if you did that you couldn’t then go the other way, and have her nervous and timid afterwards (unless maybe you were doing a ‘first partner she’s actually cared about’ thing and that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish that would also make a good story let me write that one down too). You have to stick with what either you or the show or both have established, and then the reader will believe in them as a real character.

There’s a thing called suspension of disbelief, and it essentially boils down to: as long as you follow your own rules, it doesn’t really matter what those rules are. Your readers will accept almost anything, as long as it’s consistent. If it’s not, it’s jarring and immersion-breaking, and that’s the last thing you would ever want in a clopfic. But as long as they are consistent, we believe these characters will go and have all manner of kinky sex that their show counterparts almost certainly wouldn’t. As long as they’re real, then it’s just another facet of their character, and we can accept that.


Princess Cadance says: Sex is for the sole purpose of procreation and I’ll smite the fuck out of anypony who thinks otherwise.

3. Empathy

I left this one till last since it’s the more abstract of the three. Essentially, though, no matter how well you flesh out your characters none of it matters if it’s expressed so poorly that your readers can’t understand or empathise with them. Good characterisation isn’t just about making sure you know what your characters are like – you have to make sure the reader understands as well. And to do this requires making your characters empathetic.

Note that this is not the same thing as sympathetic, or even relatable, although being able to relate to a character does help to empathise with them, too. Empathising with a character simply means that you understand them and their motivations, and thusly both their actions and their reactions within a story.

This distinction is important, because (going back to what I said earlier about advice) I think the adage of ‘write what you know’ is complete and utter bollocks. Fiction would be really boring if that was the only way to write well. And a big potential problem or trap with trying to follow that advice is that all your characters end up as self-inserts, since hey, that’s what you know. But it’s rubbish, and just as you don’t need to write characters that are simply yourself in disguise, your readers don’t need to perfectly relate to a character to understand and empathise with them.

I’ll use my story, Red, by way of example since people seemed to like that one. I’m pretty sure most of my readers aren’t prostitutes who hate what they’ve become, but I like to think Roseluck is an empathetic character in Red all the same. And to take a more popular example, most people wouldn’t wipe out half of all sentient life in the universe just because it means less resources will be used up. But as /r/thanosdidnothingwrong will tell you, people can still understand why Thanos did the things he did. He’s not even all that likeable of a character, but he is empathetic.

So what’s the trick here? How do you make a character that has wildly different experience and motivations in life – from both you and your readers – empathetic? And it is a trick, kind of. The trick is to break down your character into little snippets that are relatable, that your readers can connect and empathise with.

With Red, while we can’t relate to Roseluck’s exact situation, I’m sure many of us have had times where we were profoundly uncomfortable, where we wished we were doing anything else, and yet we pushed on because that was the only thing we could think to do. The idea of hiding behind a mask to dissociate yourself is another sadly familiar one, I think, as well as depression and repressed guilt and so on. And so while we don’t know exactly how Roseluck feels in Red, we can estimate. We can understand. We can empathise.

And even characters otherwise lacking in redeeming or relatable qualities can be empathised with if their character is broken down in this way. We see Thanos try and fail to save his dying planet. We see how much pain he’s in, watching such an avoidable catastrophe happen to his entire race. And when he applies that to the entire universe, even though we know his logic is flawed, even though we disagree with him, we understand him, and we empathise with him.

And so you see how backstory and motivation and personality are all intertwined, and it’s the interconnection between these things that makes a character real, because surprise surprise that’s exactly how real people are.

And it’s hard to convey this through your writing. It’s hard to do this in a way that feels natural, in a way that makes it so your readers not only feel as though your characters are real but to do so without making it obvious that it’s what you’re going for. And, as with everything in writing, to get better at doing it you just gotta grind away at it. You just gotta keep practising, keep writing. You gotta listen to criticism – if someone says an interaction feels like forced exposition, question why, don’t just dismiss it because you disagree. Even if they’re wrong, the fact they feel that way should at least give you pause.

Read other writers – better ones than you – and all kinds of books, not just fanfic and not just porn. See how they do it. And then steal the good bits. Read worse writers than you, see where they go wrong, read their flat characters with poor, inconsistent motivations. Find out what absolutely does not work and avoid it like the plague.

And now, of course, comes the golden question. The one you’ve probably been asking the whole time I’ve been rambling on.

That’s all well and good, Grimm, but why does it make for better clop?

Don’t worry boys and girls, we’re in the endgame.


The Conclusion (Or: Why Real Characters Make Erotica Better)

I have very much failed to bury the lead with this one. Earlier, I mentioned that failing to write real characters leads to rejecting the core appeal of written erotica compared to every other medium, and not only is this true but it’s exactly why writing real characters will elevate your smut so much higher.

And it is smut we’re talking about here, too – not just porn with plot, or the emotionally heavy pseudo-clop stories I can’t seem to keep from writing lately. Even your pure fetish fuel can stand to improve a ton with real characters. And why? Because the appeal of erotica is the same as with any book: it allows a far more intimate connection with the characters, letting you experience the things they experience, see how they think, how they feel. And if you’re not trying to accomplish that with your writing, why are you writing erotica in the first place?

That’s what erotica is good at, that’s what it excels at, and it’s why books are still popular even with so many other (perhaps more easily digestible) forms of media, and why erotic fanfiction is still in demand even though there’s some really fantastic artists and animators out there. A clop picture or animation can be sexy as all get out, but it’s not as intimate as erotica, it’s not as present. Great visual porn is like being a voyeur, great erotica puts the reader in the moment in a way no picture ever could.

And yeah, of course I’m biased, but whatever. I genuinely believe it (and as an aside I think this emotional emphasis is why erotica is – at least outside of this fandom – predominantly enjoyed by women). And if you’re writing meatbag clop, you’re not tapping into all this stuff that the written word is good at, better at than anything else. You’re not living up to its potential. But if your characters are real, you get so much closer towards that goal.

Because if your characters are real, the reader is immersed. If your characters are real then all that empathy and relatability I talked about earlier allows them to put themselves in that character’s shoes (or hooves), to experience what they do, feel how they feel. It allows the reader to become part of the story, facilitates their imagination. And by making real, consistent, and empathetic characters then you also never betray that immersion. You never pull the reader out of it, you keep them immersed and emotionally connected. You’re writing a story, an experience, not just drawing a picture, and the way your characters react is so much more important than whatever they’re reacting to (spoiler: it’s probably sex).

And, as I hope it goes without saying, being better immersed makes for better porn.

If I do keep this series of blogs going then I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of them are going to boil down to this same point, and simply explore the various ways in which you can improve this immersion. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, though, especially since my aim for these blogs is to help people scale the hurdle between ‘technically competent’ and ‘actually good’. And that (admittedly quite intimidating) gap is almost entirely to do with things like characterisation and immersion and so on. Meatbag clop is the epitome of technically competent but not good, and it’s because it’s lacking. Lacking things that will elevate it to the realms of actually good writing, actually good erotica. It’s lacking character.

It’s lacking soul.

And I think soul is what I’ll talk about next time.

***

So, we made it. I hope at least some of that was useful to you budding clop writers out there. With a show so rich in characters and potential, I think it’s such a shame that there’s so much meatbag clop on this site when with just a little effort and improvement it could be so much better. As always, I welcome any and all comments, even the ones that disagree with me completely. Especially those ones! After all, you just read a whole bunch of words of my opinion to get down here, it would be rude not to return the courtesy.

And if you did find this useful and want to see me carry this series on, please do let me know. As much as I love the sound of my own voice, I don’t wanna be shouting into the wind here. But if you guys do want to hear more, then I’ve got plenty of other things to talk about.

New stories when they’re done, as always. Love y’all.

Grimm

(Huge thanks to B_25 for helping me clean up this big boi of a blog post)

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Comments ( 10 )

I will read this at some point. I want to horse words more betterer. Looks pretty thorough just from how far I had to scroll to post this useless comment, so I'm excited to get around to it later.

Good to see you putting something like this out Grimm, you're one of my absolute favorite authors and I'm always in favor of clop thats done more good. :rainbowlaugh:

It's very true that making that hurdle between "technically competent" and "actually good" can be a daunting gap, but hopefully a lot of authors that might read this will examine their work and see where they can improve. Reading great erotica is a treat and I will always be in favor of better treats.:twilightsheepish:

Okay, this was really helpful. Especially the second part, because I have done that a few times, just making a character do something to move the story along. I guess it can be summed up as: "Listen to your characters, don't make them listen to you." And I gotta be more disciplined about that.

And also giving my characters personality. It's silly, but in a sense I fear giving characters personality because I worry I will overdo it, and make them too "interesting". I gotta get a good idea of doing it in moderation to avoid both self inserts and characters who are over-the-top parodies of reality.

Thanks for writing this, I will try to keep it in mind, even though I don't currently plan to write much clop. It's just useful in general.

Once a personality is established, it is so so important that you stick to it, that you stay consistent. You can’t have a chapter where Fluttershy is all meek and timid and nervous of sex, and then follow it immediately with her being a confident domme who masterfully toys with her lover, no matter how hot you think it would be. You’ve established a character, you have to stick to it.

Actually, Fluttershy is a hilarious example to use, because she is capable of truly dramatic shifts in character based on whether she's experiencing a psychotic break at that particular moment in time. That soft squishy exterior hides a core of iron, and she projects an aura of niceness and meekness because deep down she knows she too can be cruel and she hates it. Get her to accept that part of herself and she could totally be a domme.

5010924
Moderation is important, for sure. You don't want caricatures, but you also don't want bland and uninteresting. Finding that sweet spot is just practice, but in general I would say that 'too interesting' characters often either have 'fake' flaws (like the classic pretty girl protag whose only flaw is being self-conscious about their looks despite literally everyone in the universe saying she's beautiful), or they have too few of them. Generally a character only needs one flaw to start being well-rounded and avoid the Mary-Sue problem, as long as you make it a good one. If you can boil your character down to about three core traits, one of which is a genuine flaw, you've got all you need to start building a character off that.

Oh, and beware the tragic backstory. Characters don't need them to be interesting, and giving someone too much baggage can easily come across poorly.

5010965
Yeah, you're not wrong, which is why I was quick to say that if you started a story with Flutters as a domme, you could probably get away with it. Furthermore, her personality switches are an established character trait, so it's still consistent with her personality to be a little crazy/intimidating now and then.

Good advice, Grimm. As a reader you definitely nailed what makes for good clop (though I'm not sure if it is possible to follow this and not end up in pseudo-clop territory--not that I'm complaining)! Looking forward to more in this blog series, even if I'll probably never put it into action myself.

I now want to see a story with an ultra-prudish Cadence who is very adamant that "love != sex" and the latter has no place outside of making babies and her struggling to lead a crystal pony society that is very casual about sex and is very unwilling to stop "doing the wild thing" for fun.

The advice is nice as well.

Great blog! The downside is that every time something like this pops up, I'm reminded of the thousands of forgotten or otherwise unfinished words that exist in various non-public places, but then again, stuff like this blog mentions is exactly the reason they're not finished fics: it just doesn't work, or the idea is nice and I could probably pull it off if I wanted, but I'd have to find some other characters instead, and what do you mean I can't make this oneshot be about <horse waifu>?

There were still some tips in here that I might try one day to restart those old fics (or perhaps just start a new one) and see what helps and what I'm just going to ignore.

Quite complete and detailed, it helps clear up doubts about how clop.
You should blog about horror stories.

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