Plot/porn balance! Or, How to get your story accepted

An author asked me this in an e-mail exchange recently: [H]ow much erotic content are you looking for? Obviously at least one sex scene […] but what are you picturing for the overall plot/porn balance?

This was a subject that I had never thought about in depth before. I tend to write and read very instinctively, which is one reason why I love to talk about writing: because I’m not going to think about if I don’t have anyone to talk to! But this was a good question, and the author needed an answer; the gears in my head started turning.

My first answer was that I was looking for as much erotic content as the story demanded, whether it meant that there was only one sex scene or that it was full of erotic scenes. Both of these were okay, i said, as long as there’s purpose for both the reader and the characters in the erotic content; as long as the sex wasn’t gratuitous.

(I tangented a little, at this point. Because I do like gratuitous sex, but if you don’t know the characters it’s a bit like watching someone you’ve never met before have sex–there’s no emotion/meaning attached to the characters, so it’s just bodies. Not something many authors can get away with outside of established universes.)

I want the sex to mean something, I said, once I wandered back on topic. It doesn’t matter how much or little sex there is as long as the sex is as important to me, the reader, as it is to the characters. There’s not a straight answer to this question, because it varies story-to-story. As long as there’s at least one romantic scene, it’s gravy.

So how does this translate to you? How does this translate to your story?

At Storm Moon Press, we publish erotic romance. Sometimes it seems like people put more emphasis on the first word than the second, and it ends up meaning that they write a story that’s centered around the sex that the characters have–or don’t have.

I will be the first to admit that sometimes this works. Sometimes an author can put enough conflict and emotion and importance into the sex that it carries the story without any need for an over-arching plot. Strong romantic conflict can be very enthralling.

But. And this is a big but.

Storm Moon also loves non-romantic plots. I love non-romantic plots. It creates even more conflict, which means more is going on, which means there are more things that are making the reader ask the question every author wants to hear: what happens next? (Thank you, Neil Gaiman.)

If your story has me asking this question, chances are that you’re going to get a contract.

Conflict not caused by the relationship (most especially if this conflict still has an effect on the relationship) is a big, easy way to do this. Sexual tension/friction–otherwise known as unresolved sexual tension, or UST–is another. I want something that will draw me in and make me care, and both starting with conflicts/problems and make bad choices that create problems are a good way to do this.

Just make sure you resolve it. I don’t want that UST to stay unresolved. I don’t want the biggest conflict to not have some kind of resolution–even if it’s obviously temporary. I want the story to end in a way that solves the conflicts that we’ve spent the entire story caring about, spent the entire story investing ourselves in what the outcome will be for these characters.

Bullet points, if that was tl;dr:

  1. Include as much or as little erotica as the story demands.
  2. Plot is never a bad thing.
  3. A strong conflict is the key to pulling the reader in.
  4. Make sure the conflict is resolved.

Sounds easy, right? I’m still working on it, myself.

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