Sexy. Steamy. Dirty. If you are curious about how to write erotica, or ever thought about writing it, this article is for you.
Erotica is blowing up the book charts, but it’s a tricky genre to write well. This article shows you, step-by-scintillating-step, how to write high-quality erotic stories that sell.
Let’s get started.
What is Erotica?
Erotica is writing that is sexually arousing. More specifically it is character growth and development through sexual anticipation, arousal, and action.
Let’s break each “A” down to be crystal clear.
Anticipation is the hopeful expectation or anxious uncertainty of sex.
Arousal is physical, emotional, and mental stimulation, evocation, and awakening.
Action is the immediate and active experimentation and exploration of sexuality.
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Characteristics of Erotica
As with any genre, erotica comes with certain characteristics that set it apart and make high-quality versions of the genre effective.
- Fantasy – It’s usually not about practical IRL sex, it’s about fantasy sex or the idea over the reality. (More on this later)
- Includes explicit sex and sexually related content.
- Builds anticipation. It’s not all about sex all the time.
- Centers on the character’s sexual journey (It’s still a story with story elements).
- Includes character growth and development (This is one of the keys to rising above basement or bargain bin erotica that is nothing more than a series of sex scenes with interchangeable characters).
- Typically, erotic novels range between 60 and 80,000 words (of course, they can be much shorter or longer).
- Series are very common and popular ( book series are a staple of the genre).
Types of Erotica
There are several types or sub-genres of erotica. It’s important to know the differences and to choose a subgenre in which you plan to write. Why? Because writing in a subgenre is the best way for a new writer to make a splash.
Each subgenre has its own reader expectations, conventions, and special characteristics.
Keep in mind that these subgenres are constantly changing with reader interest. Your best (and easiest) bet to stay completely up to date is to check the Amazon subcategories under erotica.
Western erotica takes place in the old West with cowboys, cowgirls, horses and outlaws.
Paranormal erotica features fantasy characters and elements like fairies, magic, aliens and other.
Lions, tigers, and werewolves oh my! Paranormal shifter erotica is erotica with humans that can shapeshift into any other form.
Erotic romance focuses on emotion, connection, and relationship. Many of these books are a bit longer than the other subgenres (not that length matters :)). These books typically have happy (ever-after) endings.
Any erotica set in the past, any erotica not contemporary, falls into the historical subgenre. A common historical time period is Victorian.
This subgenre features hospitals, doctors, nurses and late-night hanky panky in the ER.
This subgenre covers the entire range of BDSM, which stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadomasochism.
This is erotica between two races.
This subgenre features transgender characters.
Rough sex erotica features pain, slapping, choking, spanking and other rough housing of a sexual nature.
BBW features big, beautiful women as the main character or heroin.
Lactation erotica involves breastfeeding partners.
This subgenre is all about characters who like to watch others engage in sexual activities or to be watched as they engage in sexual activities.
As you might imagine, virgin or barely legal erotica features characters who are virgins or who just turned 18.
Anal erotica features anal sex (shocker!:))
In this subgenre, the main character forces his or her partner to watch as the main character has sex with another person.
The name of this subgenre reminds me of alien conspiracies. In truth, this subgenre features sex with the intention of pregnancy.
This subgenre highlights sex with multiple partners.
Gay (Male on Male)
Gay erotica includes men having sex with other men.
Lesbian erotica includes women having sex with other women.
The caveman subgenre takes place in the caveman time period with caveman (and cavewoman) characters and shenanigans.
Amish erotica features Amish characters in Amish country.
The Christmas subgenre takes place during Christmas time with Christmas elements like lights, presents, snow, and Christmas trees.
Mixed Subgenre Erotica
Mixing subgenres or crossover erotica is also popular. When you first start out in erotica, I recommend choosing one subgenre. That way, you keep your writing focused, build an audience, and develop your skills as an author.
After you pen a few sexy stories, then you might consider branching out in more creative directions.
It’s all keywords and being in Amazon’s system… People don’t type ‘good erotica’ into Amazon. They’ll have a specific fetish in mind… and you want to appear in those search results.
If you write a story where a guy and a girl meet in a café… it can be amazing writing, but no one’s going to buy it. That’s no one’s fetish. But if you write to a kink, and it sells, people will see that you’re good and buy all your writing. The more sales you have, the higher you appear in the search results, even tangential ones.
– Peter Hayward, successful erotica authorPeter Hayward goes by the pseudonym “Pandora Box”
Erotica Versus Pornography
A common misunderstanding about erotica is that it is the exact same as pornography.
While erotica and pornography share several overlapping characteristics and might result in the same outcome, there are distinct differences.
Pornography is about immediate arousal and release.
Pornography leaves little to the imagination.
Pornography is about sex, not the story.
Pornography character change is very rare.
Erotica is more about titillation, anticipation, and sustained sexual arousal.
Erotica uses the imagination, among other tools, to generate arousal.
Erotica is about the sex and the story. More accurately, erotica is story told in, with, and through sexuality, arousal, and experience.
Erotica and Sex
One of the most obvious elements that separates erotica from any other genre, including romance, is the inclusion of explicit sex scenes as essential to the story.
Erotica, however, is not all about sex. While You will definitely find explicit sex scenes in erotica, much of the story is about anticipation, imagination, and everything surrounding the actual sex acts.
A series of sex acts with no characterization, growth or plot is not erotica. That’s more akin to pornography.
Erotica and Fantasy
It’s more about fantasy than reality. Writing high quality erotica means combining the best storytelling within a world a fantasy.
Now, it’s not the fantasy of elves and dragons, but the sexual fantasies most people don’t experience on a regular basis.
It could be looking into the subcultures of polygamy, masochism, or furries. Or it could be about the fantasy of being swept away by a gorgeous foreigner on a trip to another country. Or the fantasy of a threesome (or 10-some), but it’s the fantasy idealized version not the real-life version.
We read to escape to a different and interesting world. We have enough of real life in, well, real life.
That’s not to say that your erotica writing is 100% fantasy. Every good story is grounded in realistic details so that readers can relate, cheer for the main characters and transpose themselves into the story.
What erotica is not is boring and mundane.
By definition, it is scintillating, exploiting every means to trigger anticipation and arousal. Erotica is the best version of our fantasies.
How to Get Started in Writing Erotica
Here is your step-by-step complete blueprint for writing an erotica story:
- Choose a subgenre
- Study the subgenre
- Choose an idea
- Create a premise
- Outline your erotica novel
- Write an erotica novel
- Edit your erotica novel
- Self-publish or seek an agent or publisher
Each one of these steps could be its own blog post, book and complete course.
Let’s take each step, one by one, and summarize the most important information for you to know to take immediate action.
Choose a Subgenre
Choose a specific subgenre from the list of subgenres provided earlier in this article (or off of Amazon).
It’s crucial to specialize by niching down to a subgenre so that you have less competition and can more easily master reader expectations.
Once you become a recognized author in one subgenre, you can certainly branch out to other subgenres.
Study the Subgenre
It’s important that you respect Erotica and the genre that you choose.
You’ll likely be spending months and years in a subgenre, so you’ll be much happier and more successful if you like the subgenre.
Here’s how you can study the subgenre:
- Read as many books in the subgenre as possible. 10 would be a healthy minimum. The more books you read in the subgenre the better.
- Learn the conventions and reader expectations.
- Learn the cliches and tropes to avoid or to twist into something original.
- learn what’s been done before so that you can do something new and different.
- Pay attention to style of writing, types of characters, setting details, patterns of scene types and story structure.
Choose an Idea
Now that you have studied the subgenre, you are in a great position to choose a story idea that is both original and that matches reader expectations for your specific subgenre.
Here are some tips for choosing a bestseller idea:
- Combine ideas from two or three different popular stories in your subgenre.
- Ask, what if?
- Start with a character. Create a compelling character and use their strengths and flaws to build out a story.
- Start with the plot. Come up with an exciting external or internal conflict and then choose the type of character that best explores that conflict.
- Start with the theme. Choose a theme like “honesty is the best policy,” and build out your story and characters that are different reflections of that theme.
- Start with a kink.
That last point is especially helpful if you are self-publishing. When people search erotica stories they are usually looking for a specific kink like bondage or first-time virgin erotica.
There’s a whole other section in this article where I show you how to hack Amazon for erotica story ideas. So stay tuned!
Create a Premise
Your story premise is the short one or two-sentence summary of your story, sort of like a tagline for a movie script.
Your premise should follow the pattern of character plus conflict plus setting plus story stakes. It should include all the main elements of your story in short form.
Here’s how that looks written out into a sequence or story algorithm:
Outline Your Erotica Story
One of the most interesting and informative exercises for mastering a subgenre is to make a list of scenes in 10 popular books in your subgenre.
What you’ll likely find is a pattern or structure for your subgenre. You can then use this as an outline for your story.
For a quick outline, I like to use the 15 beats from the bestselling how-to writing book, Save the Cat by Blake Synder.
If you are not familiar with this classic writing book, it’s actually intended for screenwriters. But don’t let that stop you from gleaning all the plot insights from this amazing book.
Keep in mind, the “Bad Guys” in the beat sheet can be any antagonistic person or force in the story.
I created what I hope is a helpful image and free download for you below. Enjoy!
Check out my recommendations post on The Best Writing Books For Beginners.
Write Your Erotica Novel
Now it’s time to actually write your story. I’m going to share with you all of the secrets of how to write a dirty story later in this post.
For now, what I want you to know is that it’s important to match the writing style expected by the readers of your subgenre.
You, of course, can have your own voice and personal style, but you’ll likely find the most success if your voice fits into what readers of your subgenre expect and want.
Again, you figure out word choice, sentence structure and style by studying the subgenre itself.
Here are the writing style elements that you want to consider emulating:
- How much descriptive detail to write.
- How fleshed out are the characters? Are they three dimensional?
- Are sentences longer or shorter in your subgenre?
- How do most of the books in your subgenre start?
- How do most of the popular books in your subgenre end?
- Do the authors of popular books in your subgenre use big complex words or short, simple words?
Edit Your Erotica Novel
After you have completed your first draft of 60 to 80,000 words, it’s time to edit your erotica novel.
Editing a erotica novel is the same as editing any other novel.
Take three passes through your novel.
- The first pass is for the big story elements (like theme, timing, POV, deleting or combining characters, etc.) to make sure you have not unintentionally left any plot holes or character inconsistencies in the story.
- The second pass is to focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling. Look at sentence structure, word choice, etc.
- The third pass is to chunk back up to look at how you can improve and enhance the story.
Self-publish or Seek a Literary Agent or Publisher
This, of course, is a huge subject.
Read my blog post on the 21 best query letter tools if you’re trying to publish with a traditional publisher.
If you’re going the self-published route, read my post on 10 eBook Marketing Strategies (Explode Your eBook Sales)
The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Erotica
Here is a quick list of do’s and don’ts when writing your erotica short story, novella, novel or book series.
- Realistic desire versus fantasy desire (Balance reality with fantasy but lean into fantasy)
- Vignettes (Erotica is a series of erotic moments that escalate and change the characters)
- Less is more (Vary the explicitness in your erotic scenes. Sometimes less is more. Focus on anticipation and arousal.)
- Anticipation is everything (Build up to your sex scenes for the best results)
- Explore all the senses (Don’t forget about taste, smell, and sound in your erotic moments)
- Write to reader expectations (Know what readers expect and then give it to them – in spades!)
- Write down the bone (Go deep. Explore your theme, kink, and the raw emotions of your characters)
- Fearlessly explore your theme (Don’t settle for the surface. Push to the boundaries of your theme)
- Fully explore your story world (Show all the varieties of the erotic subgenre you chose. Instead of one version of the kink, show as many as possible)
- Clues not conclusions (show not tell)
- It’s meaningful if it means something to the character (Everything in the story is interpreted through the response of the main character).
- Erotic settings (Choose settings that either contrast or amplify the erotic moments)
- Erotic dialogue (Characters should speak in sexy ways with dirty double meanings. Not all the time, but certainly in most of the erotic scenes)
- Erotic character arc (The main characters should change as a result of the erotic moments in the story)
- Use a female POV unless your story is male on male or transgender (Most readers of erotica are females, so play to the numbers unless you intentionally choose to write in another POV. Every POV is valuable and needed)
- Be Subtle and Reserved (In your story, choose specific beats for subtlety. Underplay instead of overplaying. The contrast can be very compelling).
- Remember that they live nonkinky lives too (Don’t forget to at least indicate that your characters have adult responsibilities)
- Remember that dominants can be submissive and submissives can be dominant. (Show range and multiple sides to characters by having them act differently in different settings around different people. For example, most people are different with a boardroom full of executives than in a bouncy house at a kid’s birthday party.)
Here’s How You Hack Amazon for Erotica Ideas
Another way to come up with excellent ideas for your erotic short story, novella or novel is to steal insights from Amazon.
Here’s how it works.
You go to Amazon.com.
Next, you search for Erotica in your chosen subgenre.
Take a look at the bestsellers on the page one search results.
Read the Amazon Reviews
Next, take Notes.
Reviews from real readers are priceless. Read what they like and what they don’t like. Take notes. The readers are literally giving you a roadmap to write a better erotica novel.
Maybe the reviewer said they hated the writing, got bored of the clichés or started to get creeped out by the overly controlling alpha character.
These are insights you can use to write a better story. You can also get story ideas by comparing the 5 -star reviews to the 3-star reviews. Readers are giving these ideas away if you pay attention.
Word of caution: Search for patterns of ideas. One bad review doesn’t constitute a rule for your writing. When you notice patterns in bad reviews, then you are on to something. Use reviews to generate ideas of what to write and what not to write.
How to Plot an Erotic Novel
In an erotic novel, sex is the set-piece. Sex here includes anticipation, arousal, or action. Erotic moments are the big moments in the story just like big fight scenes might be the set pieces in a thriller, love scenes in a romance, or funny scenes in a humorous story.
You plot an erotic novel by the evolving erotic scenes. Each scene is a step toward the character goal, a.k.a, the story goal. In erotica, the kink is usually both the conflict and the solution to the conflict.
A simple way to plot, structure or outline an erotic novel is by the kink:
- Introduction to the kink
- Exploration of the kink
- Acceptance and transformation through the kink
Introduction to the Kink
This is where the main characters first encounter the kink. The introduction. Usually there is some hesitation here before experimenting.
Exploration of the Kink
The bulk of the story (the middle part) is all about the exploration of the kink in all its variety. There are often ups and downs, positive and negative story consequences, and character consequences specific to the plot.
This is the part of the story promised by the book cover and book title. This is WHY the reader wants to read the book. Therefore, you must deliver an entertaining exploration section.
Don’t skimp here. Don’t settle for the shallow surface of the characters, story, or the kink. Fully explore every side and angle. Show struggle and triumph and growth.
Acceptance and Transformation Through the Kink
The climax of an erotic novel is often acceptance and transformation through the kink. Sexy stories are fun to read but they can also have depth and character transformation.
How to Start an Erotic Novel
Start with the kink or right before the kink. This is the application of the oft-repeated writing advice to “start in the middle of the action”. In erotica, sex or anticipation of sex, IS the action. The kink IS the action.
You can start right before the kink to show the character’s world before the big change happens when they encounter the kink (This harkens back to the Save the Cat method).
Wait, but how do you actually start an erotic novel?
The best way to choose an effective first page is to read the first pages of at least 10 bestsellers in your subgenre. You will notice patterns and different types of openings.
There is not a perfect opening, just a perfect opening for your story. Choose the type of opening that makes the most sense for your story and go from there.
You can always change it later.
How to End an Erotic Novel
Erotic novels often end with a transformed character, changed through erotic experiences (the middle of the story). The very end is usually another romp with the kink, evolution into a veteran of the kink who is showing a newcomer the ropes, or a bit of steamy dialogue.
Just like with beginnings, the best way to learn how to end an erotica novel is to study the endings of bestsellers in your chosen subgenre. Read at least ten endings, take note of patterns, and then choose the type of ending that makes the most sense for your story.
What’s the Point: The Purpose of Sex Scenes in Erotica
In Erotica, sex is the vehicle of plot and character change. Sex and sexuality (anticipation, arousal and action) have story and character purpose.
In contemporary (non-erotic) romance, the vehicle is relationship. In mysteries, the vehicle is clues. In thriller novels, it is action (of the chasing, fleeing, fighting capacity). In comedy, it’s humor.
The movie Dirty Dancing is a perfect example.
In the movie, dancing is the vehicle for plot and character movement. Dancing isn’t what the movie is about, but it drives the story. Dancing has a purpose.
Each dance pushes the plot and characters farther. Each dance is different.
That’s how to approach sex in your erotica novels. Sex as the driver of story. Sex that exposes character and explores theme. Sex with intention, meaning and purpose.
The 7 Types of Sex Scenes
There are (at least) seven different types of sex scenes you can write in erotica fiction.
- Slow Sex scene – This is the slow burn, take-your-time sex scene where every moment is stretched out for impact and pleasure.
- Urgent Sex scene – This is the slam-you-against-the-wall sex scene where characters rip off each other’s clothes. This is also the quickie sex scene.
- Soft Sex scene – This is the less explicit sex scene where sex is overshadowed by other story elements. There might be more dialogue, more introspection, more emotion. Sex in these scenes is almost secondary and usually falls into the standard sexual positions.
- Hardcore Sex scene – These are very explicit sex scenes.
- Group Sex scenes – These are sex scenes with multiple people involved.
- Kinky Sex scenes – These are sex scenes that revolve around a specific kink like bondage or cuckolding.
- After Sex scene – This is the post-sex scene where characters reflect, interact, and plan the next steps. You could also call this the Between Sex Scenes.
How to Write a Sex Scene the Reader Will Never Forget
Erotica is about anticipation, arousal and action. Some of that action is, of course, of the sex variety.
Follow these guidelines for writing sex scenes your readers will be talking about for years:
- It’s not all about the sex (Include emotion, character, and story elements)
- Sex as story structure (Erotic moments, including sex scenes, should escalate in momentum and emotion as the story progresses)
- Character and story-specific sex (Original sex scenes come from using character and story to build out the scenes. A fireman with one artificial leg will have sex differently than a millionaire businesswoman who practices kung-fu in her spare time)
- Make it change the plot (Erotic moments are the set pieces. Your sex scenes should change the story or be replaced by sex scenes that do)
- Spice it up with variety (Each sex scene should be unique and special. Characters having the same kind of sex in the same place, in the same way, gets boring fast. Change the setting, the positions, the details, etc)
- The sex scene that everyone’s talking about (Your goal should be to create the most original and creative sex scene. Never phone in your sex scenes. Always ask yourself how you could present the information differently – what about sex in an echo chamber on a squeaky bed, but the characters MUST be quiet for some reason? Think outside the box).
- Blockbuster sex scenes (Ramp up the high concept in your sex scenes, at least some of them. Sex in a bed is practical. Sex on a circus tight rope is something to call your friend about. Always challenge yourself to write sex scenes that rival the car scenes in the Fast and Furious movies. These are sex scenes on steroids. Remember, it’s more about fantasy than reality.)
10 Worst Erotica Tropes and Cliches
Like any other genre, erotica is not immune to tropes and cliches. What’s the difference? Tropes are plot elements that show up in many erotica novels. When tropes are overused in a genre, overdone by their mere repetition, they become cliches.
Tropes are expected characters, scenes and plot elements. Cliches are unwanted drops in originality. Tropes are tools for writers. Cliches are tropes turned toxic.
This list has them both.
IKEA Erotica – Almost a parody of erotica, IKEA Erotica is named after the do-it-yourself furniture store with cut-and-dry instructions on how to build things. In IKEA Erotica, sex is reduced to an unimaginative user manual of “Part A goes into Part B”.
Kink Because Trauma – In these stories, people are into kinks because of past trauma, childhood trauma or some other event that flawed them into their sexual preferences. The characters in these stories aren’t kinky just because that’s what they like – there is some dark secret that made them this way.
Endless Sex – In some erotica, the main characters bang for hours 6 or 8 times a day without the need to work, clean the house or check in with friends and family. Lots of sex can be fun and calling in for work or taking a vacation buys us some extra mattress time, but characters have to sleep and eat, you know.
Magical Vaginas – Always wet, never in need of lube or rest or UTI treatment.
Magical Sex – Everything is perfect, fits everywhere, there is definitely no awkwardness, no random weird noises, no one smacking their head against the wall, or ever doing anything the other person isn’t totally into.
Magical Shower Sex – Have most erotica authors ever even had sex in the shower? Sure, it can be really amazing, but you can also get soap in your eye and fall down. Does this ever happen in erotica? Of course not, because all erotica takes place in magical unicorn land.
The Endless Alpha – Yeah, there are people who are alpha 24/7 and they are total a-holes to deal with, so most people avoid them when possible. Most alphas vacillate, follow other people sometimes, and don’t boss other people around all day and night.
Physical Perfection – Six-pack abs and coke-bottle shapes without the need to diet or exercise. Muscles and boobs for days. Because that’s real-life.
Weird Terms for Body Parts – I’m all for creativity in writing, but let’s keep the wordplay to reasonable levels with anatomy. You don’t need to talk clinical terms, cute pet names, or made-up slang (unless it’s story and character-specific).
Crazy Descriptions of Sex – If sex ever feels like glittering waterfalls of rainbow sprinkles, you are not having sex, you are high and probably need medical attention stat.
Resources for Writing Erotica Novels
Naught Words for Nice Writers – A thesaurus for erotica.
The Ultimate Guide To Writing Erotica For Profit – A complete guidebook on writing erotica.
Canva for book covers, blog graphics and book promotions.
Bluehost and WordPress for building websites to promote your erotica
ClickFunnels to build an email list that converts into real book sales.
There you have it: all the best tips, tricks, and secrets for how to write erotica that attracts readers in droves.
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