What makes a good erotic story?

It’s a common question in my inbox, so I’ll try to answer all the different variations of that question here.

I believe the
defining feature of visual pornography is titillation – where there’s no reason to think deeply or care about what’s going on. It’s just
like the ‘action porn’ blockbusters that are really just sequences of evermore outrageous fights and things
blowing up. 

Some written erotica falls into the same trap. It hurries into explicit descriptions of sexual acts.

Now, I love the cold open narrative technique, where the story jumps straight into the action and then provides some backstory when it’s hooked the reader by their eyeballs. But it’s easily abused, some stories just carry on describing the opening scene, until it becomes the whole story, and it ends.

Cold opens only work if the storyteller is willing to pause the ongoing drama, backtrack and do some exposition. Without changes in dramatic tension, there is no chance of building that most crucial aspect of an erotic story: sexual tension.

A story devoid of sexual tension is unfulfilling. Titillating stories offer no
opportunities for emotional investment. There are no characters to care
about, no points of view to take sides on, no ambiguity, no drama,
secrets or surprises.

If you’re telling a story – and this applies to any story, from a two-page short story to a two-hour movie, you have to make things matter.

For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is World Building. There is nothing so satisfying as fleshing out a complete imaginary world, deciding on its setting, anticipating its past, present and future, and crafting it until it’s logically consistent and believable.

World Building is the defining characteristic of fantasy novels, because they’re set in imaginary worlds. The best create a ‘universe’ with its own history and geography. Think of Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or Middle Earth or Westeros. These are immersive worlds for the reader to get lost in, to be thinking about long after the story ends. 

I like to think of my stories as meandering waters, I don’t aim to write tales that are flood torrents, a few pages that sweep readers away and they’re gone. I prefer to write stories that take time to tell, which will describe an imaginary world, and take readers on a satisfying journey.

The latest story, Head Girl, is a good example.

Like Inevitable, it’s set in an imagined world, a future that might yet come to be. The world of Head Girl feels competitive and impersonal, it features familiar tropes in unfamiliar settings. And it explores how new technology, like ultra-high definition immersive virtual reality – has the potential to alter our perceptions of what really constitutes our reality.

And you’ll notice, none of this is to do with sex. Great erotic stories are rarely just about sex. They’re adventures, expeditions into the unknown. Opportunities to experience something only our imagination can provide. A chance to vicariously indulge in danger and risk, taboos and boundary-breaking.

And where better to surprise and delight your readers than in an detailed imaginary world – somewhere beyond anything they’ve ever been able to imagine before…