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The Gender/Sex Conspiracy


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , ,

4 comments

...or "is this why so many women write erotica these days?"

Disclaimer: this is not a man-bash. If anything, it's a media-bash. But yeah. Much bashing occurs henceforth, so polish your pitchfork.

I was a teenager in the late 90s/early 00s (I left highschool in 2002) and it was very much magazine territory. Bliss, Mizz, Cosmopolitan, Shout, More (shudder)...no matter the name of your glossy of choice, the message was clear: boys like sex. They like it a lot. They probably like it more than anything else, actually, so you'd best be prepared for that.

My response, purveyor of loose morals that I am: awesome. Me too!

It was a relief to hear that boys liked sex that much because at least I'd have it in common with somebody (I  later learned that as a girl, I wasn't alone. We don't all prefer a hot chocolate). Even the boys' equivalent magazines confirmed this sentiment; FHM, Nuts, Maxim; they screamed, hello boys! Like sex? Of course you do! You're male! You like sex and video games and sex and sports! Come hither, and let us fulfill your wank fodder needs.

The years went by, I went to uni, and it seemed that the magazines were right. Boys really did like sex more than everything else. Life was awesome. Huzzah.

And then I left uni, and something funny happened.

All the boys--men--who liked lots of sex just dried up*.

Have you picked up a copy of FHM recently? Oh, there's a cheeky bint on the cover with a pneumatic pout, but the ratio of naked ladies to metrosexual fashion articles is severely troubling. Male friends these days are less than excited about getting laid (which would totally not happen if they were fifteen. Or in a sitcom. Or both). World-wide Steak and Blowjob day is met with a damp squib of enthusiasm. What is happening?!

Could it be possible that leaving university and entering the world of work puts a strain on the libidos of these poor, oversexed boys? Maybe, in some cases. Certainly not all--it's not my place to generalise. But nobody flicks a switch at 21, and women don't automatically get ugly at that age, either. What I think is far more likely is that magazines mis-sold me the notion that all males are obsessed with sex...and in doing so, quite drastically raised my expectations. [Slow squeal of deflating balloon]

I'm not the only one who's noticed this. Plenty of my female friends have sighed and grumbled about wanting more sex than their partners. If you've been hard-wired to think that sex is a man's biggest priority, a rejection is always taken personally. This isn't good for a relationship, but it isn't the man's fault, either. It's these frickin' magazines. Truth is, men and women have varying sex drives dependent on their personalities, and matching them up is more of a dark art than this woman expected. Bummer, huh (or not!).

Now we have the emergence of hundreds, thousands even of female erotica writers. Women have, of course,  been writing this stuff for a long time, but never in such numbers; certainly, the market is growing as fast as the author pool is. My guess is that some of this fiction is born out of frustration. Not all female erotica writers are shrivelled singletons with cats--far from it--but I wonder if somewhere in our work, there's a search for this breed of man that we were promised. The one who could never keep his hands off us, even twenty, thirty years down the line. The one who can't hide his erection when we blink. Sounds ridiculous, eh? Somebody go back to the offices of Bliss in '96 and inform them, please?

Not all men have fallen short of my expectations, and I am aware that there are still men who want lots of sex. The erotic writer in me is just disappointed that it isn't a defining characteristic of their gender.

/End bash.

*Fnar fnar.

Oh, MY EYES


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,

11 comments

So here are a couple of things that eyes don't do:

Pierce It isn't the eyes themselves that are sharp enough to pierce, but the colour of them--so talk about the colour (and no, I don't mean "piercing blue eyes").

Smolder As above: a colour issue (unless your character is actually on fire. Then I shall let you off).

Penetrate Ever see that episode of Angel where the dude could take himself apart, and his eye was hovering outside his beloved's window with its bloody little stem quivering in the air? Still want to be penetrated by some hot bitch's eyes? No? Funny, that.

Rake I am also not a pile of leaves.

Smile Imagine eyes curving into the shape of a smile. YOU RACIST

Gleam Eyes gleam when the character is excessively healthy (which is nice, really. Good for them) or on drugs. This is the human equivalent of a wet nose. If you're trying to convey evil-ness then I do hope you get scarier than shining eyes at some point.

Glitter Only acceptable in the m/m genre, when he's going disco (edited to add: when writing m/m, do be careful with the use of "gaze." Read it aloud, people: "I got hot under his gaze." Is it a look? Is it a gang bang...?). Otherwise, see above comment on drugs.

Shoot daggers Paranormal romance has come a long way. But not this far. 

Even if you're cool with eyes doing these biologically impossible and creatively lazy things, here's some news for you: everyone else is describing them this way. In other words, there goes your original voice.

If you're stuck on how to get your point across, don't describe the eyes at all; describe the way they make other people feel. For example: "He narrowed big eyes and crushed everything in his vision. Was that why I suddenly felt so small?" After that...do you even care about what colour those eyes are?

Writers: use your head, and when it comes to eyes, show some imagination.

Please?

How to E-Publish Straight To the Bestseller Lists


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,

8 comments

...or, my romance and erotica friends, how to use Literotica as an online platform--whether you're publishing traditionally or going alone. This might seem like a huge plug; it is. It's also worth your time and investigation.

Literotica is a free story site focusing on erotic content. You'll find it all there: the good, the bad and the ugly. You'll also find thousands of readers who are more than willing to offer feedback--hit a hot category on a good day and you'll pull in 30,000 reads over the first twenty four hours. In other words, if you want to build a following, the potential for exposure is too good to miss.

Sites like Literotica have a bad reputation in some publishing circles. Yes, much of the content is badly written. Yes, some more dubious sexual preferences are dealt with (although all characters are required to be over eighteen--unlike Stories Online, a similar outfit--and it's nothing you won't find in a literary novel these days). Yes, you can get people who make disparaging comments as well as positive ones. It's a lot like the self-publishing marketplace in all of these ways, but just like self-pub, it can both produce success stories and act as a fabulous supporting platform for traditionally published authors.

In September 2010, Elliot Kay--or bashfullyshameless, as he is known on Literotica--began posting a novel he called Angels, Demons and Alex, an urban fantasy with its fair share of smutty succubi. Despite being a newcomer, he soon had a following of thousands and one of the highest rankings on the site. When he decided to self-publish the novel in May, he was apprehensive--but less than a week after its release, the retitled Good Intentions peaked at 77 on the Amazon Contemporary Fantasy charts, sitting pretty between authors such as Charlaine Harris and George RR Martin. Sales are going up and down, but this is an awesome result for a debut author whose only promotional effort was through Literotica. It's also worth noting that his starting price is $3.47; not the free or $0.99 price bracket that many debut self-publishers swear by for shifting units.

"So far, my only real marketing has been in contacting my Literotica readers, posting a note on my author page, and in sending emails to various personal friends," says Kay. "I work in a fairly conservative field, so I have to stick with my pen name and I have to be a bit picky about how I handle promoting myself as an author." And the most exciting thing about all of this? "I'm selling to people in Germany! And the UK. I can’t express enough how awesome it is to know that people in the UK have bought something that I wrote. There is a lot of truth to the stereotype that Americans feel anyone with a British accent is clearly better-educated and more literate." (Of course, as a Brit, I can confirm that we are more literate. Ahem). Anyone who wants to chat to Kay about his writing and self-publishing experiences can mail him at bashfullyshameless@gmail.com.

This article wouldn't be complete without mentioning Selena Kitt. She founded publishing company eXcessica with several other Literotica writers to sell boundary-pushing erotica, and has since made a fortune. Other successes include JazCullen, an urban fantasy author (noticing a theme here?) who pulls hundreds of comments in with each chapter she posts--and she isn't alone. Check out Literotica's top lists for many others with the same kind of following.

My own experience with the site has been positive. Not only have I earned money (yes, real money) from the regular contests, but I've networked with some awesome writers (check out Kenny Wright for top notch erotica, people!) and like-minded souls. I found thousands of betas for the novel that I was posting as I wrote (not something I'd do now, but as a beginner? Great way to hone your craft). Roughly 10% of my blog traffic comes from Literotica; this increases greatly every time I put up a story, and I'll certainly be posting more as my release date approaches.

Top Five Tips for Using Literotica As A Platform

1) Read around. Look at the Top Lists and Feedback Portal for popular stories, and make sure you pitch your work correctly. The time it takes to build a readership varies, but it will be quicker if you post in a popular category such as Erotic Couplings, NonHuman (vampires etc) and Gay Male (for m/m authors). Categories like Romance, BDSM and Sci-Fi/Fantasy have a smaller but very robust following.
2) Post regularly. I recommend short-ish chapters of a longer work or short stories with series potential. Readers there can be demanding, and will expect you to finish what you start. Don't disappoint them, and there's no reason why they won't start paying for your stuff; when you're established, you can post shorter original works to act as teasers for your catalogue. (Do not post sample chapters of longer works. They will be deleted).
3) Polish your work. Use the volunteer editor system by all means. Plenty of writers who wouldn't get a publishing contract* do very well on Literotica, and it's not because they're writing about screwing their granny(!)--it's just the way the market works. This, however, is no excuse to produce sub-standard stories. It can be easy to get caught up in praise, so listen to your critics, and aim for a green "E" symbol--the mark bestowed by the moderators for an exceptional Editor's Choice. It will increase your hits and earn you respect. If you stop trying to better yourself then your writing will go stale, and eventually, so will your following.
4) Enter contests. They gain more viewers and your entry will publicise your other works. You can also win up to $150 every time. (I also find the deadlines a great motivator. Like many writers, I procrastinate with gusto and barely have time as it is).
5) Engage your audience. Have a blog/website ready, a Twitter account, encourage people to email you...yes, you're going to get the odd filthy come-on mail, but you can just hit the "delete" button. Plenty of people on there really do just want to tell you how fantabulous your work is. You can add your website links  to your profile and feedback can be sent through a form, so no need to publish your email address.

I wouldn't have finished my first two novels without Literotica; I've already gone on to sell the first. I wouldn't have met other brilliant writers, crit partners or readers. I also wouldn't have known what an em-dash was (a reader pointed it out to me. Oh, the shame). In short: if you're writing romance or erotica, you'd be hard pushed to find exposure better than this. Yeah, it's a bit seedy in places, but come on...you write this stuff too!

Update: I've since published Beautiful Mess, originally a Literotica contest winner. It's been sitting pretty in the Amazon erotica top ten since Christmas (and while it's free, trust me when I say it's still a job to get to that place in the free chart!). 

*This sounds like I'm saying most Lit writers are rubbish. Admittedly, the site has its share of bad-but-popular authors, but this isn't always the case. For instance, Elliot Kay's novel came in at almost 200,000 words and he didn't want to split it--the average debut novel is just 90,000 in length. New authors just don't get contracts for books that large; they're too costly to produce. Then there's subject matter to consider, niche markets...the list is endless.

Because She's Worth It: How to Write Female Characters


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , , , , , , ,

8 comments


In this post, I asked for advice on writing awesome female characters. I’ve added a little of my own experience as a writer, a few intern-y observations, and voila: four factors to consider when writing a plausible, well-fleshed female character (or FC, for the sake of my aching fingers). The first three are more applicable to your protagonist but in the end, they all come together to make yummy character-muffin  goodness.

1)      I Am Woman: Hear Me Roar! (After I’ve had my coffee)
    There are two ways to get your FC under the reader’s skin: respect or connect. She’s got to admire her, or she’s got to sympathise with her (a bit of both would be great, but it’s not essential). Here’s where being strong is very important. It’s not all about physical strength; there’s no reason why she can’t be an awesome fighter, but attributing a stereotypically masculine characteristic does not a strong female make. Strength of mind is just as important:
     “I love my female characters, and do already consider them strong women,” says Australian writer, Trisha.  “Recently though I was put on the spot when asked to think about WHAT makes them strong women. I think it's that they have strong opinions and yes, they're willing to listen to other opinions, but they don't do what other people want them to do just 'cause they get pressured into it. Intelligence definitely comes into it. Most of my ladies are witty and opinionated.”
     Being outspoken is one way to demonstrate strength of mind, and writing that snarky dialogue is buckets of fun. Watch that your FC doesn’t get too mean, though. It’s common to see what is intended to be funny read as outright bitchiness.
      “I admire brains,” says writer Sarah Ketley. “I admire that quiet determination. That determination that fires up when people she loves are threatened. Not violence, just determination. They get the job done.”
Determination is a great way to flesh-out an FC. She can be flawed, she can be knocked down, she can be strung up like a baked ham in a butcher’s window but if she keeps going until the fat genderneutral sings, you can’t help but respect her efforts (unless they involve genocide. Genocide perhaps isn’t the way to go).
     Don’t forget that the most interesting thing about a strong character is their weakness. Try not to wimp out and make this a penchant for 70s jazz or awful portrait painting skills; these are distinctive characteristics (which we’ll get to in a bit) but they aren’t real flaws. A stupid, illogical act is also not a flaw—though these are often employed for plot convenience. Your FC’s flaw is what stirs her inner conflict and makes her relatable. Get down to that gritty, raw, emotional dimension of your girl and dig up her worst fears. Then force her out on that tightrope to wobble on them. You’ve given her strength: now test it and watch her hold on by her brittle, cracking nails.

2)      I’m Bringing Sexy Back (also, after my coffee)
     “Give her depth, make her rational and unique.  And sexy,” writes erotic romance author Sascha Illyvich. Sexy isn’t always about huge boobs and a pneumatic pout. It’s also not about every other character in the novel fawning over FC’s good looks as if they’re paid-up members of the fan club. Sexy actually has very little to do with your FC and everything to do with the eyes of her beholders.
     What does your love interest see in FC? What do others admire her for, and what are they jealous of? Writing a sexy character is all about subtlety. Think about it this way: her strength and flaws define her, but somebody finding her sexy is what drives a romantic plot.
     (Please don’t make your FC utterly gorgeous but have her not realise this. Yes, modesty is important, but there’s a point where it gets patronising to your reader. It’s far more realistic to have FC panic that the hero will find her bitter or too impulsive than not like her bum).

3)     I Am A Beautiful Snowflake. No, Really...
     When trying to create a distinctive FC, erotic writer Kenny Wright says, “I typically think of a woman that I'd be attracted to, flesh out a few details of what makes her tick, and write.  Like any character, it's important that she has enough room to breathe and surprise me. Details, quirks, vulnerabilities (even backgrounds) manifest organically.” Some of us are better at “growing” a character than others, but essentially: what makes your FC different and interesting? What will make me remember her, relate to her, sympathise with her? Here are a couple of factors to consider when making your FC unique:
Setting If she works at a magazine, focus on giving that magazine a personality of its own. Give it a professional and realistic name (I see unimaginative company names way too much in romance. Generic might work to make things “timeless” but it’s also frickin’ dull) and mine that premise for dynamic secondary characters (the animal mag with the smarmy vet, the secretary who can't pronounce the names of various animals, the journalists who all bring their pets into work and the tea boy who smells like wet ostrich). Research your setting and choose your details carefully;  if it’s interesting and fun, you’ve already given me a reason to read about your FC.
Preferences and Hobbies Your FC, like any woman, will have varied tastes in music and films. She’ll have a certain way of dunking her biscuit into her tea. She will have opinions on the high salaries of footballers, feel comfortable in a certain type of clothing, will organise her books in a specific fashion and may or may not know how many calories are in the average banana. Perhaps she can’t watch Jurassic Park because it reminds her of the disastrous date when she was fourteen where the pigeon shat in her hair en route. Or maybe she has a weird pet that her boyfriend is terrified of. You don’t have to tell us what your FC thinks of everything—pick these points with care—but please don’t give us a physical description and then let her job define her. It’s overdone and it’s lazy.
Family and Friends This will be dealt with in more detail in the next section, but do consider giving your FC a complicated family/friend dynamic to battle with (especially if you’re planning a series) or an amusing back catalogue of exes. Step-parents and siblings, divorced parents, exes that are friends and just really awesome friends, mothers who are well-meaning and even lovely…all of these make a nice change to the usual dead parents/evil siblings/overbearing mother clichés. Your FC does not have to be a black sheep to have issues with the people who surround her. Once again—think about subtlety.
Appearance This links in a little with being sexy. You can make your heroine look however you like, and don’t worry that she’s too pretty or too fat—just remember to contextualise all this by working in the different ways your other characters see her. Do mention the things she’s most likely to mull over; a nose she hates or how a boy once complimented her legs. Then there’s the memory of how she dyed her hair in pink streaks by accident but loved it so much that she kept it in, or the time she was forced to rifle through her mother’s wardrobe and discovered that 50s shift dresses really suit her. Don’t give us a rundown, complete with measurements, and don’t focus on making FC look so different that she sounds implausible or silly. Make the mundane sound intriguing, original, or beautiful. Show us her facets in a way we won’t forget.

4)      I Can’t Work In These Conditions!
     It’s quite common in romance to have a strong heroine surrounded by caricatures and idiots. In this particular genre, you're often writing to a specific formula or may have limited space, but a skilled writer will find ways to round out her other characters without giving them lots of page time. Pay close attention to your secondary female characters; they need to be just as fleshed-out as your protagonist. Here are some common problems with secondary FCs:
Pantomime villains Female villains are often bitchy to theatrical proportions, and can be found saying shocking, mean things to automatically cast them in their antagonist roles. These women aren’t plausible because everyone would have them sussed at fifty paces. The best female villains are sly and manipulative, and our FC often doesn’t realise she’s been wronged until she’s lying in a pool of blood (physically or emotionally). Please, for the love of god—give your evil FC a brain, and remember that she’s human too. Imagine her as another strong woman with a fault, and once again, don’t let that fault be stupidity. Stupid characters are best relegated to very small supporting roles. Think about women who have truly scared you (aside from your mother!) and twist ‘em up a bit.
The Convenient Best Friend Ah, the FC’s best mate. She comes in two packages:  deus ex MAchina and deuSEXmachina.   
     MAchina is world-weary, full of deep sighs and always ready with the advice. She is the endless provider of sensible solutions and if done correctly, uncomfortable truths. Then there’s SEXmachina, who’s down with the naughty casual sex. Why can’t FC be just like her slutty best friend and have one night stands? (How often have you read that line?). The way she’s is so often used for comic relief implies that there’s something to pity in this girl, just because she doesn’t need a boyfriend to enjoy her body. But that’s a pretty unfair judgement to bestow on your casual sex-loving readers (who will be present along with the more reserved ones).  Don’t preach your morals through your FCs; that is not your place. Just because she’s secondary doesn’t mean I won’t notice.
Bimbos I’m seeing more and more strong, funky FCs surrounded by moronic bimbos. Romance is getting vitriolic and misogynistic in bucket loads. Yes, there are women who dress up for men. Yes, there are women who are really worried about getting a man at the expense of everything else. Yes, there are women who have more boobs than brains. But if you’re going to use these characters, remember to make them distinctive, remember to think about why you’re not going with their male counterparts (because they make awesome characters too), and remember that unless you’re rather clever, the only difference between these women and your FC is the perspective you happen to be writing from. 

     Ahh...so there you go. I'd like to thank the authors who took the time to offer their advice for this article. What do you think--did we miss anything? Get anything wrong? Which female characters have really worked for you?

(If you liked this article, you  might also like this post on the psychology behind Mary Sues, this post on the male lead as a sociopath and this post on writing a complex alpha male).