Characters are Not Devices

In the earlier days (so, my first year) of online erotica writing, I was surprised to see that people hung on to every character I wrote, no matter how briefly. When I first brought up Jerome in Being More Social (and I think I only ever brought him up in passing twice), a commenter eagerly asked what was his deal and how he was going to end up. My writing style isn’t exactly unique and I thought for sure that I had clearly written him into the story to be someone mentioned, not a major part, so it was interesting to learn that people would still ask about these characters.

That said, in erotica specifically, this makes more sense the more I read of my competition. Sexstories.com in particular right now is going through some sort of phase in terms of interesting stories. To say ‘dry spell’ is putting it kindly – very few, if any, of these stories are interesting to read at all. I went back through some of my older personal favorites ad a few reasons why the modern ones sucked started to pop out. I was intensely grateful that there were actual reasons and I wasn’t just becoming an old man who thought ‘the older days were better.’

One of the biggest differences you’ll notice in a more memorable porn story versus a blah one, almost guaranteed, lies in the use of characters. Not even just how well a character is fleshed out, how they’re used. All things considered, a fair number of my characters are boring if you actually think about it. What makes them interesting (if they even are interesting to you)? My theory is that a good sex story needs breaks from the sex to make the sex more exciting, believable and sacred, and characters are the key to this. A good sex story will have at least one character that isn’t directly related to the sex. More immature writers tend to think that ‘the more the merrier’ and have everybody get in on the action. Every girl you mention in the story? She’s fucking the protagonist. The protagonist’s sister? Why not, they’re screwing too. The family dog? Fuck it, we’re on a roll here. This is a classic example of using characters as story devices.

Plot, or what can be counted as plot in stroke stories, consists largely of sexual advances. Now the two protagonists are having full-on sex instead of just oral. Now they’re bringing someone else in. Now they’re doing it in a new location, or exploring a new kink. These all advance the ‘plot,’ and raise the stakes of the situation. Sexually, more is at stake when more types of things are being done, and more people are doing it. After all, if you write chapter after chapter of Bert and Bertha doing missionary, and this is a stroke story so nothing matters but sex, readers are going to get bored before they read this 104-chapter masterpiece, right? So the obvious solution is to get more people involved, right?

Wrong. It sure is tempting to go down this route, but no. This ultimately devalues the fantasy aspect of erotica. The better you write your characters, the more vividly your reader can picture the people they lust, and the more attached they get to these characters. Using characters as a mere device, another hole for the protagonist’s dick to fill, is not only insulting to what they could be, but also makes for more forgettable porn. A story should stand on other merits. They should not have obligations to make every character have sex. I’ve had Being More Social be criticized for having the characters be too heavily sexualized, which is interesting considering 4 named main characters have sex in sex scenes in the story (discounting James). It’s mentioned that other characters do, yes, but there’s a good amount of characters in the story that never actually have sex in the story itself. Is Salvador a boring character? Would the story have been better off without him? He is completely absent from the sexual portions of the story. He adds to the story in other ways. Better yet, his presence doesn’t add a device to the story, his words do.

In stroke stories, the more existence of a slutty older sister or some poorly-written crap like that in and of itself is a device. That sister doesn’t exist to be a person in this world, she exists because more sex must equal better story. Suppose something completely out of left field happened. Suppose this older sister had cancer. Woah, right? Suddenly, there’s a whole other thing you’re feeling right now. This in itself is another device. Okay, now let’s suppose this older sister (who does not have cancer in this fresh new hypothetical) is incredibly possessive and makes sure no girls talk to her younger brother because she wants to see him in desperation. Now the girl is no longer a plot device. Her motives are.

Motives should be plot devices.

Characters should not.

Every single thing I’ve ever written that was actually fun to read was caused by motive, not a character just existing. Same thing with anything anyone ever wrote in a character-based story. Your stories would be better off if you stopped thinking, “What if the grocery store had some slutty girl who blew him in the aisle?” and start thinking, “What if he met a girl who worked at the grocery store and she convinced him to meet her behind the store?” It may seem similar but it’s crucial you add that extra step and flesh characters out, and pay special attention to their motives. Plus, maybe they’re not meeting behind the store for sex. Maybe she wants to show him an old treasure map of the town and they fall in love while searching for it. Or she hypnotizes him behind the store and turns him into her slave. Maybe she’s part of a secret grocery store cult and he’s their newest recruit. I don’t know, be original. Remember that the basic boy-meets-girl story has been done literally more than a billion times. Literally. What’s so original about yours? There’s only so many plot twists to be made. Odds are your most original selling point will be the characters. Make yours count.

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So for those of you interested in the more stupid tongue-in-cheek stuff I do, my friend Tweed recently asked me to write, and I quote, ‘The saddest shit you can on the fly” for a video he did. So I wrote it, and he narrated it and made a video game ‘let’s play’ style parody video about it. It’s a really weird tongue-in-cheek humor video he did and it may not be your style, but I’ll post a link to it anyway in case you wanna watch it:

 

So that’s a thing. I’ll talk to you all next week.

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