But Is It Still a Story?

by Greg Herren

The notion that erotic writing (henceforth referred to as ‘porn’ so I can cut back on my keystrokes) is a lower form of literature—if not the lowest—is probably one of the most insulting of the condescending notions born in university writing departments and perpetuated by the martini-swilling snobs who frequent literary parties in Manhattan. I have, over the course of my six years as an unashamed pornographer, been told, with the utmost seriousness by other writers—whose publishing credits might run to a short story sold to a small quarterly literary journal with a circulation of about seventy five Gay Lit professors nationwide—that writing porn has forever tainted me in the eyes of ‘serious’ writers and critics; that any future real writing I might do would never be taken seriously. (Note to the last person to say this to me: I’m still waiting to hear about your multi-million dollar deal for that Pulitzer Prize winning novel you were writing five years ago.)

I suppose what leads serious writers to say things like this is fragility of self-confidence; I must put your work down and consider myself to be superior to you because I truly don’t believe my own work is any good. It used to bother me a little; now I just shrug and think, “get therapy. Quickly.” This notion that I should be somehow ashamed that I’ve written, edited and published porn is ludicrous to me—and says a lot more about those who think that than I would really care to know.

In truth, I consider porn to be the most powerful form of writing being published today.

A pretty bold statement, don’t you think? But it’s true. Porn is the only form of writing that can provoke a physiological response in its reader. Well done porn will not only get its male reader erect, but should get him so horny he needs to do something about it—jack off.  That’s the goal of every porn story, and what should be in your mind when you sit down and start writing: everyone who reads this story is going to get so turned on their cock will drip and their balls will ache.

            And it’s not as easy as those crème de la crème snobs think it is.

When I wrote my first porn story, I have to admit, it turned me on and it also embarrassed me. I’d been writing my entire life—and had never once written a graphic sex scene. Usually, in short stories or novels-in-progress, if I ever got to a point where characters were going to fuck, the violins swelled; the waves began crashing against the beach; and the lacy curtain came down. Cut, fade to black. But now, I was writing a story that specifically had to include a graphic sex scene. I had to think about choreography; who was going to fuck whom; where and how; what were the smells and tastes; what was going through the heads of the characters while they were fucking. So, I sat at the keyboard and called up in my memory my favorite sexual experiences. The anthology I was submitting the story to was sports-themed; so I decided to make it about wrestling.

And when I was finished writing it, I was happy with it.

It told a story.

One of the biggest mistakes rookies make when writing porn is they forget it’s a porn story. I’m not certain if this happens because they are so focused on getting a hot sex scene down on paper, or if it comes from that self-same mentality that ‘porn is not a valid form of fiction’—but that is the surest road to not getting published. You have to believe in what you are writing, and you have to take it seriously. If you don’t, it comes through loud and clear on the page. Sure, there is a formula to porn—two men are attracted to each other, they fuck, and either stay together or go their own way. But the formula is merely a skeleton, and it’s up to the porn writer to put some flesh on those bones. But just because there’s a formula to it doesn’t mean you can’t make art out of it.

In my story “The Sound of a Soul Crying,” the main character is an empath. He has a power he doesn’t understand, but he feels other people’s pain—and his power is so strong that he can sometimes even visit the people in their dreams. In this story, the person is another gay man who is suffering; and he feels an overpowering attraction to him. They do have sex at a point in the story; but neither is sure that it’s real—and the story comes to an end with the two men actually meeting in a bar.

My goal in writing the story was to tell that story, as well as to write a really hot, lusty sex scene that would get the reader hard. I believe that the more connected the reader feels to the characters, the more involved he is in their story and their lives, the hotter the sex will seem to them. Just like in life, it is possible to have a hot one night stand with a guy you will never see again—but the hottest sex is generally with someone whose body you know; whose personality makes you comfortable to be around; and whose buttons you know how to push. Sure, you can write a story where the characters have names and descriptions, have some hot sex, and then go their separate ways; but while that story might give the reader physical satisfaction, it will not give emotional.

When I teach workshops on writing porn, I say, “Take the sex out of your story, and read it again. Just delete the scene out; and type in ‘Then they fucked’ and read the story again. Ask yourself, is it still a story?”

            If the answer is no, your story still needs work.

1 Response to “But Is It Still a Story?”

  1. 1 Rad February 14, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Why is it that desire and passion (the sine qua non of a romance) suddenly become anathema when depicted graphically? Why does sex writing automatically equal “less than” other writing? No doubt, as Greg says, part of the prejudice stems from the artificial divide perpetuated in lofty (used loosely) circles where “literary fiction” is somehow given ascendency over popular fiction, the stuff most of us (ie the masses) read. Part of the knee-jerk negative response to sex in fiction where we traditionally have not seen it (romance, mystery etc) also comes from the narrow view of what defines genre. Who says sex doesn’t belong in a mystery? We as a culture have locked ourselves physically, psychologically, and intellectually in the closet by restricting sex to rigidly defined circumstances in life and fiction. I happen to think sex writing without story is porn, and sex writing WITH emotion is erotica, but those are definitions we can argue over coffee. What matters to me in my writing is that writing about love without sex only tells part of the story. I’m with Greg — writing good sex is tough work, but few things challenge a writer more.


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