Five tips from Anneke Jacob:
1) Develop complex characters. Cardboard-cutout protagonists are all too common, particularly in erotic fiction. They may be great fantasy fodder, but they won’t engage your readers. Real people have interests, blind spots, quirks, habits, strengths and vulnerabilities. Personalities, in other words. They also have pasts, families and friends. And most of all, a sense of humour, if you want anyone to like them.
None of this needs to be dumped in the reader’s lap in the first two pages. Some of these traits will emerge and even evolve throughout the book, giving the reader a sense of discovery along the way. Some will be mentioned only in passing, or never mentioned at all. But they’ll help you know the person you’re writing about.
The old “show, don’t tell” advice goes double when it comes to your characters. Are they tense? Show their hands fiddling with something, or their knee jiggling. Are they clever? Show them solving a problem. Don’t just inform me that they have a genius IQ; show them acting like it or I won’t believe you.
2) Small bits of description go a long way. Set the scene with brief touches of the brush – a colour here, a smell there, enough to make the reader’s experience three dimensional and sensory. In the meantime, get on with your story. This is, after all, how we experience the world – as a shifting mix of action, emotion, thought and perception. Good writing brings all these into play for the reader, without interfering with the story’s flow or stopping the action.
3) Listen to how real people talk, and reflect that in your writing. Cheesy dialogue is the bête noir of badly-written erotica, and the quickest way to make a reader drop your book in the trash. Throw out that oh-so-sexy fantasy dialogue you’ve been imagining since you were twelve. Write something fresh, something from your adult brain. Something your very genuine characters would actually say as they hone in on each others’ naughty bits.
And when you tell us who is talking, stick mostly to “he said” or “she said.” If you are tempted to include “he said seductively” or “she said teasingly,” reconsider. Instead, tell us what his voice sounds like. Does it drop a note or two? Is it smoky, like good whiskey? Can she feel it, burning its way down her body?
4) Learn what to leave out. I can’t emphasize this enough. For instance, transitions. Decide how to get your characters from here to there, your story from points A to F without being dragged laboriously via points B through boring E. If your hero shows up at work without any mention of the car ride that got him there, rest assured that your readers will figure it out.
Go over your writing to see what else you can leave out. Repetition, redundancies, unnecessary adverbs? Delete them all. Leave some gaps that will allow your readers to guess a little, to puzzle over ambiguities or wonder at motives. The more they do this, the more they will be engaged.
5) Read. This is most important of all. Read your favourite books again and again. Look beyond the plot; there’s far more to a good story than “what happens.” Explore the mechanics, the structure, pacing, language and flow. Figure out what makes the book work for you as a reader. Are the techniques ones you can imitate? Does the writer grapple with similar writing problems to your own, and if so, how do they solve them?
And reading books on how to write doesn’t hurt either. In fact, it helps a lot.
Anneke Jacob is the author of many pieces of fiction including As She's Told. More of Anneke's work can be found by visiting: www.tpe.com/~anneke.