Plot Like a Virgin: The Inward Journey | Sisters in Smut

virginspromisegraphicI have a new post up over on the Sisters in Smut blog about the Virgin’s Promise plot archetype. You’ve heard of the Hero’s Journey? Consider the Virgin the Yin to his Yang, an inward journey of self-discovery as opposed an epic quest for glory.

Let’s talk about stories of personal, spiritual and sexual awakening.

On Finishing: What I’ve Learned from Completing a First Draft

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Rounding out at approximately 87,000 words, my novel-in-progress is no longer in-progress. It is done. Well, what I call the “first working draft” of it, anyway. It’s not quite a first draft since I’ve been editing and posting it on Literotica chapter-by-chapter since April 2014, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges—especially those first few chapters. While my ultimate plans for the story are still up in the air, I can say that I’m really, really glad to have finally laid down that last sentence. It took ten months to complete this story and with three anthology projects lined up for February, I’m going to need all the extra headspace I can scrounge up.

I don’t want to wax poetic about the process because, as a rule, I try not to treat my words as though they were precious. Yes, I live and breathe writing and storytelling, but if there’s one quality that I could giftwrap and ship to every budding writer, it would be ruthlessness. By that, I mean: don’t coddle yourself or your work, pledge to finish what you start (and then do that), and if cutting an 8k draft down to 500 words will make the story better, then by all means, snip away.

Having said that, I will concede that the post-I-just-wrote-a-book-high is pretty fantastic in a quiet, “Well, how ‘bout that?” sort of way. I tried really hard not to harbor any expectations as to how it would feel, but a few managed to slip in somewhere between the final chapter and the epilogue. I expected to cry a lot and maybe wind up on the floor for a while. That didn’t happen. In fact, more than anything, what I really want to do is get back to work: the consistent, comforting routine of sitting quietly and meeting the quota.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this story. I love the characters and the smutty romance and the weird little connections that weren’t intended but somehow found themselves lining up all pretty and semi-coherent on the page. I’m happy to have finally given my characters, and hopefully, my readers, a sense of closure and an ending that doesn’t leave them smacking their tongues like they’ve just tasted something cloying.

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Finishing this story has taught me a lot about both myself as a writer and novel-crafting in general. My hope is that these observations might be of some use to you, especially if you’re in the thick of your first big project. So, without further ado, here are five things I’ve learned from completing a first draft:

1. Writing fiction will make you more honest and compassionate. While our stories and characters may be imaginary, what we’re ultimately attempting to accomplish each time we put our words to paper is the tapping of some universal truth, something each of us can relate to. Striving to create authentic characters forces us to look at people—really look at them—and see them as they truly are, prejudices and all. It cultivates compassion. I once heard it argued that the best actors are those who, rather than judge a character’s actions or motivations, pause and take the time to contemplate, “How might I be different if I were subject to these particular circumstances?” Writing requires a similar suspension of cognizance. We pull people out of our brain-muck and then make them do things and sometimes those things aren’t so nice. It’s important that we understand why they do the things they do, not just so that we can make them believable, but so that we can make them sympathetic.

2. Trust the stream-of-consciousness. This one took a while to embrace because, for a long time, I was an “edit as I go” kind of writer. However, while that might work for some, I find it to be crippling. You know that incredible feeling when the words just flow as though the prose was moving through you from some other-worldly source? Well, there’s no better way to quell that stream than to ask it to hold on a second while you perfect this description of a chandelier. It’s tough to look at a line of dialogue and know that it’s crap and leave it there anyway, but that’s the pain and pleasure of revision: don’t worry, you’ll be back…many times over. Just get the words down.

3. The show vs. tell situation is slightly different for Erotica and Romance writers. I wish someone had told me this sooner. Somewhere around chapters four and five of The Cabin, I started to feel like I was writing a technical manual. I was reading a lot of craft books that advised me to show, show, show instead of tell. However, what I didn’t realize at the time was that telling is actually an important tool for Romance writers, especially when writing in first-person. Love and sexuality are incredibly personal subjects. If the characters aren’t baring themselves both physically and emotionally, they can come off as cold, stiff, and unrelatable—the kiss of death for a Romance novelist. No, you don’t want to drown your readers in exposition and if I can convey attraction with a shy smile and a head-tilt rather than flat-out stating, “I think you’re dreamy,” I will. But Romance readers expect that inner monologue, and for good reason. It’s a staple of the genre that places the reader inside the protagonist’s head and then guides them throughout the rest of the story, helping them understand why the character might feel or react a certain way. Speaking of which…

4. If the characters are resisting, something might be wrong. I’m not talking about dragging them kicking and screaming into necessary hardships. I’m talking about recognizing a dead end when you see one. For a while I tried really, really hard to convince two of my characters to get friendly, but they wouldn’t have it. That I even needed to “convince” them was a red flag that I wasn’t being faithful to their motivations. Coming up with a great scene is only half the battle. Ensuring that all the pieces align to make said event happen the way you want requires forethought. You need to sow those seeds early so that each action a character takes makes sense.

5. You won’t know how good (or not good) it is until you get some distance. Now, this is another area where a lot of writers differ, but I happen to identify with the camp that needs to tuck a finished piece away for a while before they can effectively edit it. How long this period lasts depends on length. Short stories need maybe a few days to a week, while a novel would require significantly more time to breathe—at least a month. I like to use that in-between time to refresh my brain with shorter projects, like anthology submissions. Each new venture has the potential to stretch you that much further, improving your voice and strengthening your storytelling muscles. By the time you pull that old project out of the digital drawer, you’ll be looking at it with a brand new set of eyes.

Bonus: It really is all about finishing. There are few good reasons not to finish and sucking isn’t one of them. All first drafts suck. We hear it time and time again: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page” (Jodi Picoult). Granted, knowing when to abandon a project is a skill unto itself, but I’d venture to say that you’re better off at least finishing a first draft before making that call. Finishing is about more than just ending a story. It’s about resolve and proving to yourself (and others, but that’s less important) that you are capable of doing what you set out to do. If you can do it once, you can do it again. And again. And again.

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Postcards from the Writer’s Den

Tis the season to hunker down with a cup of tea and a pair of warm, fuzzy socks and that’s exactly what I’ve been up to, parked in front of the laptop, typing away at my WIP after a hectic workweek.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been slacking on my blogging and social media duties. Oops.

I marvel at the social media and writing powerhouses who manage to divide their attention in ways that seem effortless: blogging, commenting, writing, Tweeting, Facebooking, Tumblring, etc.

Can I borrow some of your mojo? Pretty please?

Since my job is tied to the academic calendar, I’m extremely fortunate to be heading into a nice break. My plan is to finish “The Cabin” before the end of the year, even in the midst of holiday craziness.

This time of year is ripe for miracles, right?

In the meantime, I’m curious as to how other writers (and creative people in general) juggle their blogging and social media engagement with their primary work, i.e. the big projects. Do you see them as one in the same, means to an end, or do you sometimes resent having to forsake one in lieu of the other? Are you like me in that you prefer to hole yourself up in peace and quiet or do you seek lively, energetic environments like busy cafés to coax your muse out of hiding?

Personally, once I’m in the thick of a major task, I tend toward a certain level of detachment from the outside world, though it’s not often possible or even preferable, in most cases. I am by no means immune to the occasional twinge of guilt when I miss a blogger-buddy’s post, or when friends and family send messages asking if I’m still alive, though the clever ones have discovered that I will periodically leave my hermit’s cave for the promise of a good Irish Benedict and crispy home fries—and maybe a blueberry pancake on the side.

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All right, I’m off to put last weekend’s plotting efforts to good use.

Plotting and Pants-dropping

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Oh, hey there weekend. It’s about time you showed up.

Today I am plotting the next chapter of my otherwise pantsed novel. I’m in need of some serious organization and deliberation that only a package of index cards arranged and rearranged across my living room floor can accomplish. That, or, Scrivener, but while there may be a fresh Douglas fir standing next to my fireplace, Christmas is still a few weeks away.

According to my Kindle, I am 82% of the way through Rachel Aaron’s book, 2,000 to 10,000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. While I feel that some of her suggestions might not work as well for erotica and romance writers as they would for, say, science fiction or fantasy authors (Aaron is a sci-fi and fantasy author, herself), her advice on plotting has been helpful, as evidenced by the highlighted portions and notes on my device.

Consider this quote from her section on Story Architecture:

“In day-to-day terms, this means knowing what you’re going to write before you write it, but in the bigger picture of your life as a writer, it means understanding your story choices on a deeper level. If you want your writing process to be fast and reliable, it’s not enough to just trust your feelings for what works. You need to know why it works and how it works, if you ever want to make it work for you.”

My goal for this post isn’t to convince pantsers that plotting is the way to go because everyone approaches storytelling differently and there’s no such thing as the Eternal Correct Method for Everyone and Everything. I can even see the benefits of flexibility between projects. For example, a short story might pour effortlessly from one’s subconscious while a novel may be better served by an outline and character sheets. Experimentation is paramount.

Regardless of which style you subscribe to, rewriting is an integral part of writing. However, since I also happen to be posting the story chapter-by-chapter online, I have to be really certain about my timeline and events, because once they’re up, I can’t change them.

(I’d like to take this opportunity to state that I have no intention of publishing this story elsewhere, at least not in its current form. It’s generally a bad idea to post a book in its entirety for free on the internet, regardless of what route to publishing you intend to follow. I’ll go into the reasoning behind that some other time.)

While I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised by my subconscious’ ability to tie certain aspects of my story together without much prompting from me, I’m at the point where there are too many loose ends to simply let my fingers fly and hope for the best. I’ve had an idea for how I would like the story to conclude for some time now, but I’m beginning to think that it might not be what’s best for the plot. When your characters refuse to do things, even fun things, like hook up, you know it’s time to sit back and ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?”

Yesterday, I utilized one of Aaron’s tips for establishing motivation: character sheets. In her book, she suggests noting certain factors for each important player in the story, such as Name, Age, Physical Description, Likes, Hates, and Wants. Since my characters are already established, I skipped Age and Physical Description and went with this list:

Name:
Likes:
Dislikes:
Wants:
Knows/Believes:
Doesn’t Know:

Those last two are my own additions. At this point in the story, I’m attempting to keep track of who’s been lying to whom, who is oblivious, and who is secretly privy to sensitive information. It’s a lot to manage, hence the usefulness of things like timelines and character sheets.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between? Do you have any tried-and-true techniques that keep you from getting and/or staying stuck? Share your wisdom!

All right, time to refill my coffee mug and make a mess on my living room rug.

The One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Award

This post has been a long time coming.

Exactly one month ago, I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by the fabulous, Lace Winter. Then, less than two weeks later, I was nominated again by the marvelous, Felicity Johns. I am beyond touched that these ladies chose to include me in their nominations alongside so many other amazing bloggers, a few of whom I’ve come to consider blogger-buddies of my own.

I must admit, I was a little (okay, a lot) intimidated by this award. Having only launched this lil’ ole’ blog exactly three months ago, I’m constantly blown away by the quantity and quality of fiction, poetry, and personal narrative being posted by those who’ve been at it much longer. It’s both daunting and inspiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. By engaging with one another’s work, we push each other to be better. I’ve learned so much since I set forth on this blogging journey and I’m grateful to each and every friend, unbeknownst mentor, and follower who has chosen to come along for the ride.

So, first, an introduction to the remarkable women who’ve so graciously nominated me:

Lace Winter: Romantic Novels with an Erotic Edge

Lace is an aspiring romance novelist who has quickly become one of my most cherished blogger-buddies. I can always count on her for a thoughtful, insightful comment and a sexy, sensual read. I’m a huge fan of her flash fiction, poetry, and general writer-musings, and always look forward to reading excerpts from her novel-in-progress, Switch, and her current, shorter project, Partners and Crime, both of which I strongly urge you to check out. She’s a genuine, longtime fan of the erotica and erotic romance genres, and it shows in both her knowledge and execution of the craft. Thank you so much for the nomination, Lace. It’s been a true pleasure getting to know you and your work.

Felicity Johns: The Dark Night Chronicles

Felicity writes dark, sensual, passionate poetry and prose. I am constantly blown away by her level of mastery and boundless creativity. While I can’t recall exactly how I stumbled upon her blog, I do remember thinking, “Wow. This is definitely one to watch.” At its core, her work is primal, vulnerable, and deeply relatable. She’ll soon be joining the ranks of the self-published with her debut ebook, Erotic Passages. Be sure to follow her so that you can snag a copy for yourself. Thank you so very much for the nomination, Felicity.

All right. So, the rules for the One Lovely Blog Award are as follows:

You must list the rules to the One Lovely Blog Award (Like this).

You must thank the person(s) who nominated you and include a link to their blog (Done and done).

You must add seven facts about yourself (See below).

You must nominate 15 other bloggers and let them know they have been nominated (See below).

You must display the award logo and follow the blogger who nominated you (Done and way ahead of you!).

Oh, dear. I’m afraid my personal life isn’t nearly as exciting as my fiction, but them’s the rules, so here are seven facts you might not know about me:

1. My pie crust always comes out tender, flaky, and perfect. (The secret ingredient: booze, of course!)

2. I love to sing and have been told that I have a pleasant singing voice, but you won’t hear it unless I’m really comfortable around you.

3. I have difficulty envisioning my characters from scratch, so I tend to use celebrity (usually actor) visages when crafting fiction.

4. When I was sixteen, I had maxillofacial surgery in which my top jaw was broken, moved forward, and then screwed into place in order to correct a rather severe under-bite. The first thing I mumbled to my mother upon seeing my swollen, post-surgical face in the hospital bathroom mirror was, “Look, mom, I have porn star lips.”

5. I could eat Japanese food, especially sushi, every day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it.

6. I adore boots, especially the high-heeled, over-the-calf variety. Yeah, I know, they’re bad for my feet, but paired with a short skirt or skin-tight jeans, they make my legs look awesome.

7. I’m terrified of spiders and I can’t stand flies, but I love snakes and rats and mice and other misunderstood critters, including seagulls, pigeons, racoons, and skunks (at a safe distance).

Now, onto the nominations! First, I’d like to state that being nominated does not require you to participate. I am simply listing bloggers whose work I’ve come to eagerly anticipate and admire. If I’ve included you in this list, it means that I think you are deserving of recognition and want to share your brilliance with my little corner of the Internet. I do not automatically follow everyone who follows me, so including you here means that I genuinely appreciate your content and look forward to seeing your posts in my feed.

Again, do not feel that you need to participate or even acknowledge this nomination. My love for your blog is unconditional and without expectation. (Plus, I would bet that at least a few of you have been nominated for this award more than once.)

First, my fellow sex, erotica, and romance bloggers (some of which may be NSFW) in alphabetical order:

Aaron Causer: erotic fiction, sexy stories and the occasional image that turns everyone on

Abezure’s Diary of Being Owned in the BDSM Lifestyle

Anna Bayes: Writer of Erotic Romances for the Fiercely Loyal

Bree Guilford Erotica

Delilah Night

Flowers and Floggers: sub, dreamer, lover, writer

Illicit Thoughts

Malin James: Erotica. Sex. Culture

MrFoxwood: 13th Step Study (Tumblr) | MrFoxwood’s (WP)

Tamsin’s Superotica

Tara Crescent

These next four bloggers straddle the lines between the romantic, erotic, and platonic. Some write poetry while others dabble in experimental prose. All of whom write bravely, passionately, and wholeheartedly:

Another Bad Conversation

DragonflyLady’s Writey Ramblings

Mytwosentences

Writing in Airplanes

Again, please do not feel obligated to accept this award. I’m simply expressing my appreciation and gratitude for all that you do.

For the Love of Poetry

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Shortly before the end of my first semester at college, I became acquainted with an English teacher who self-identified as “hard to please.” A polarizing force, students either loved or hated her—most often the latter—and for some mysterious reason, she took a liking to me.

I remember sitting across from her in the café of a bookstore that no longer exists on the corner of Church and Cherry. We ordered tea, chose a seat by the window, and chatted for a solid hour about various topics pertaining to writing and academia. A published author herself, she was remarkably encouraging.

At the time, I was writing a lot of poetry and personal narrative and she had asked me to bring along a few pieces she hadn’t already read for class. She noted that the majority of my poems were about love and then made the casual remark that love was a common theme amongst young people, as though it were something that one would naturally outgrow.

Seven years and two degrees later, I still think about this comment.

I went through an extended creative dry spell after transferring schools and switching majors, but on those rare occasions when I felt the tug of the elusive muse and put pen to paper, out would pour those old, familiar sentiments: love, lust, heartbreak. The phrasing was different (as were the subjects) but the desire to gather my emotions and translate them into something tangible was still there.

Love, passion, intimacy—these are the things that stir my muse; the forces upon which I’ve chosen to construct my creative foundation.

I’ve heard it argued that all writing is an act of love, whether it’s love of another person, an ideal, or a deep appreciation of story. By that logic, even hate mail can be construed as an act of love and most certainly an act of passion—albeit perverse—for what is hate if not the space between the way something is and the way we wish it to be? Hate requires a great deal of emotion and care, unlike indifference, which is arguably harder to stomach.

Perhaps all poems are love poems, in a sense.

I don’t think I will ever outgrow love poetry insofar as I do not think it is possible to outgrow love. I’m not talking about infatuation, though even that has its virtues, if only to remind us that we’re still bleeding and breathing. No, I’m talking about the kind of love that seeps into your bones and lingers for years, even decades, long after the initial belly-flip has flopped and butterflies have flown. I also do not limit my definition of “love poetry” to romantic attachment, since one could argue that poetry pertaining to friendship and filial tenderness is just as valid and potentially longer-lasting.

The English teacher and I have since fallen out of touch. I like to think that she’d be glad to know that I’m writing again, even if my subject matter has only gotten—ahem—more explicit as I explore the deeper, darker corners of love and intimacy.

I’m curious. For those who write about love, sex, passion, attraction, etc., how has your work changed over time? Were there periods in which you found yourself veering away from these topics, consciously or coincidentally? What sorts of reactions do you provoke when you explain (or even show) you work to others?