Out of the Slush

By Victoria Janssen

Erotica stories, by their nature, are somewhat the same. The gender or sexuality of the participants, and the sexual acts involved, are barely an issue in the structure.   One needs to understand this structure before you can work with it to make your stories stand out.

Here’s a breakdown of this basic plot structure down into an outline. Your mileage may vary.

Basic Structure of an Erotic Short Story

1. Introduction of the characters to the reader. Are they an established couple? Have they known each other for a while, and this story shows a change in their relationship? Are they meeting for the first time?

2. Establishment of conflict. Some stories skip this part; I call those “porn.” This is, essentially, the plot’s fuel. What does one character want, and how will he or she obtain it? Will it be obtained? What obstacle is in the way of either consummation of the relationship or pleasant consummation of the relationship? Etcetera.

3. Actual sex scene, which mirrors classic plot structure: rising action, climax, denouement. Frequently, the denouement includes the possibility of the relationship continuing into the future.

What You Can Do With Structure

Because the structure is very similar across the board, the differences–the more salable differences, that is–are elements other than plot.

Characterization is my favorite. Write about people with problems. They’re more interesting, and more memorable.

The other choice, especially applicable to genre writers, is setting. Two people meet in a bar is a common plotline, but if the bar is in, say, a spaceship, or in Napoleonic France, it’s automatically standing out from the crowd. This technique can be especially useful when submitting to themed anthologies, because standing out is more difficult when not only plot structures but themes are already set.

Standing Out

The writing process starts with an idea…well, if you want to be philosophical, the process really starts with the desire to write…or perhaps the writer’s birth. Or conception. But anyway. My ideas sometimes come out of my head, randomly, the desire to write about a particular action in an interesting way, or a particular sort of character, or a particular setting.

More often, the desire to write and thus the idea are sparked by a call for submissions. When I said I sold most of what I wrote, part of the reason is that I am often writing to a specific market, which helps improve my chances. Taking that initial idea and identifying the approach that will make it different from most of the other submissions, or at least more appealing to the editor, is the harder part.

Setting is one thing, as I mentioned before. So far, I have written and sold stories set in a spaceship in the middle of a war; a futuristic prison planet inhabited by giant people-eating turtles; an aid station in World War One; a fairy tale land with sea monster; and a pseudo-historical version of France.

Whenever I see an opportunity to write a genre story, for example, I take it. I could write a story about a girl on vacation, or I could write it about a girl on vacation In Space. Easy decision. If I happen to be doing research for a novel, as I did with WWI, why not use that research for a short erotica piece? In fact, why not use it more than once?

As for characters, I like to vary them in their basics as well as in their more esoteric qualities. “Twisted Beauty” features a man with paralyzed legs; “Worship” an older couple, one of whom is becoming crippled with arthritis. The story can be more intensely involving if the characters have something specific to overcome. It needn’t even be the obvious.

In “Worship,” declining physical condition was part of the problem, but the protagonist’s own doubts were even more so. Trusting her partner, and herself, was the solution. In “Twisted Beauty,” the protagonist’s paralysis wasn’t the issue for him as much as continuing with his sex life as it had been before, finding someone who would see him not as a “cripple” but as a man who, incidentally, enjoyed a little domination.

Finally, style does matter.  If you take the time to polish your writing style and your own voice, it will stand out.  Since I’ve had a Kindle and have been downloading samples, often I can make a decision within a paragraph, based purely on my engagement, or lack thereof, with the author’s style.

Most important of all?  Don’t give up.

Victoria Janssen is the author of The Duke and the Pirate Queen; The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover; and The Moonlight Mistress, all from Harlequin Spice.  Her work has been translated into French, German, and Italian. She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Broad Universe, Romance Writers of America, Romance Divas, and Novelists, Inc.

To find out more about Victoria, visit her at:

*This article was contributed by a member of Romance Divas*