Writers’ Toolbox: Erotica: Plot is a Necessary Tool

by Helena Hunting

Smut. Smutty, smutty, smut, smut. It’s the reason we read erotica. Any story befitting the erotica genre bill is designed to titillate, to seduce, to quench the craving for sexual gratification through the written word. The question remains, is it all about the sex, or is there more to it? Does erotica require plot to be effective, or should a writer cut to the chase and give the reader what they crave: smokin’ hot sex?

Readers of erotica or romance have been known to devour smutty scenes like a triple scoop banana sundae after a month of dieting. It’s the dessert of the story, sweet, scrumptious and scintillating. The sexiest sex scenes in smutty fiction are more than the whipped cream mountain with a cherry on top; they’re tantamount to the entire damn sundae.

However, if there is no plot that sultry sex scene could become, dare I say it, superfluous.

Whether it’s erotica or romantic fiction, the sexual tension between the main characters often functions as a character itself. The content leading up to the explosion of sexual energy begins a slow burn. Or in the case of short stories, the paragraphs preceding the sexual encounter inspire a flash fire, pulling the reader into the passionate fray. At times, this lead up can be as gratifying and arousing as the actual act.

Under this assertion, plot is a necessary tool in erotica. It doesn’t matter if the story is two, twenty, or one hundred thousand words; it needs a plot. If a story isn’t grounded in something, it has nowhere to go. The characters need an origin, a reason to be, to exist, and to want to be with each other.

Have you ever opened a book and found the characters immersed in an epic sexual tryst but find yourself scratching your head, not turned on at all by the event taking place? It might be the word choice, an unconventional act or something else that prevents you from getting hot and bothered by what the author no doubt intended to get you hot and bothered. Yet often failure of a sex scene to be erotic can be pinned on the author’s failure to write a strong enough connection between the characters. Doesn’t ineffective smut defeat the purpose of reading erotica? I’m assuming, of course, the primary reason to curl up under the covers with a smutty book or to download smut to our kindle is to immerse ourselves in sexual fantasy.

I need to want the characters I’m reading about to get it on. Even if it’s a short story, I crave a reason for the characters to get hot for each other. It can be as simple as pure chemical attraction or as complex as an intense emotional, physical and mental pull toward each other. But there has to be a motive for the sexual adventure and it needs to be believable. Once that connection between the characters becomes established through a feasible plot line, then the sparks can fly.

Some of the best romance novels I’ve read have an intricate plot and complex relationships between characters, making the unresolved sexual tension that builds between them a powerful catalyst for the sexual act, once it arrives. While erotic fiction differs in many respects from romance novels, many erotic works blur the lines between the two, creating erotic-romance where the story is just as important as the connection between the characters.

Can you write erotica without plot? I think that’s like asking if a writer can create a work of fiction without characters. The story would be missing an integral part of what makes the narrative work. A sex scene needs to be grounded in the core idea of the story to give it context and plausibility for the reader.

Without plot, smut is an unanchored boat, floating on an ocean with no destination in sight. How can we reach the ultimate climax if there is nothing compelling us to be titillated by the titillating content?


Helena Hunting is an aspiring romance writer. She has recently completed her first manuscript and is about to fall face first into the terrifying world of query hell. You can follow her on twitter @helenahunting or visit her blog at www.helenahunting.com

1 Comment

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One Response to Writers’ Toolbox: Erotica: Plot is a Necessary Tool

  1. Rob

    I agree that erotic fiction needs a plot. I don’t read much but am writing it and my stories take a traditional main plot which pushes two characters together into an intense relationship. But without the main plot (be it crime or supernatural) the two characters would not even meet.

    I believe it does add something to the sex scenes because the reader, while they may not realize it, has appreciation of why these two characters are involved and what they mean to each other.

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