A lot of thinky-thoughts were had about writing—or not writing—sex into our fan fiction, so much that we ended up with two newsletters worth! Here's part one.
In part two we talk about resisting (or succumbing) to the pressure to write erotic fic, gigglesome sex, playing superhero, and writing what you want to read.
We end with a call to all cannibals and a request for unsticking stuckedness tips. Enjoy! — Atlin Merrick
The Pendulum Swings (Or 3 Important Things)
By Atlin Merrick
We often seem to go from you can't to you must. Unions become as oppressive as the oppression they were formed to prevent. Women tell other women they have to work outside the home. A browbeaten religious group in America works hard to roll back marriage equality. The oppressed sometimes become oppressors.
The pendulum swings but you know what? We don't have to swing with it, and I bring this up because, though this is about writing sex into stories, the thing I hope you know about that is you never have to.
You can love reading about the sweat and the sucking and the whole rutty business but you need never so much as write the word genital much less arse, vagina, penis, cock or come.
If you want to and you think 'hell, writing sex is hard,' well yeah, it can be. But so was finishing your first fic and you did that.
So here's the thing: I think maybe it's difficult for many of us because many of us write male-male fic and we are female. But here's the other thing: Penetration is so so so so so not the only sex out there and lots of gay men don't even have anal sex.
And here's the third and final thing: We can write about everything else. About the way the heart ramps up and the voice drops a register or goes high and breathy. There's the sweat and the shaky thighs as orgasm approaches. There's the warmth of all those wonderful, dripping fluids. There's the slick activity of tongue and fingers.
There is every. other. thing to write about.
You don't need a dick to write gay sex any more than you need to be a sleuth to write Sherlock Holmes (as NovaNara so brilliantly pointed out in part one of No Shame).
You can write anal sex too though, of course you can, because you have a brilliant brain that can imagine galaxy-spanning starships and can imagine supernatural beings and can imagine a London detective…so imagine gay sex.
And then go a step further by realising you have a bottom. A butt. A behind. An arse, ass, rump, bum and so you can PUT THINGS IN IT! Masturbate to orgasm with those (safe) things in there! Come on now, do eeeet. Then use what you've learned to give verisimilitude to what you write.
Remember, above all, that fiction is about feeling our way to the characters, about using our own unique experiences to love them and give them voice. J.K. Rowling never went to wizarding school, George Lucas never traveled in space, and maybe you've never had a penis but don't let that stop you if that's what's stopping you.
If the actual take home message is you just don't wanna…then don't. Love what you love to read, write what you love to write, because whatever you do, it's up to you to find a way to be joyful.
Atlin Merrick finds her joy writing about tongues and fingers and toys in the bums of her favourite characters. She shouts about these things in Spark, too.
I've written fan fic for almost seven years now and I'm up to about 90 published fics. I realised very early on that I'm a gen writer. I write gen fics. I read the smut, but writing it feels like I'm trying to put words to an IKEA manual. The slot A in slot B is painfully accurate of how my attempt to write smut reads.
In spite of this, I have actually posted three orgasms on AO3, two female and one male. The female ones were femslash and the male one was het, the female ones were from the POV of the person having the orgasm and the male one was from the woman who rode him (in a airplane loo).
One was a prompt fill, one was (almost) a 5+1 with a lot of interrupted sexy times and one time it worked, one was...idk...padding? because I knew I wouldn't manage to make a decent word count out of my idea without some cunnilingus? Seriously, the last one was odd. I have never been so determined to write sex ever and it took up most of the story but it was not even close to the point I was trying to make.
Oh, well. Femslash February.
There are many times my fics touch on sex. They start right after or stop right before. People discuss sex. I have written a lot of fics with asexuality as the main theme which makes you touch that topic A Lot. Sex is just never The Point.
There are a few fic in my WIP folder where the sex IS the point but those will never get finished because I think I'm pretty bad at this smut writing stuff. I know this won't make me better at it, but at the same time, I've written about 90 fics were the sex isn't the point and even if I got better at the smut I probably still wouldn't write that much of it since it not the point. And if it's not the point, then it can fade into the background.
Sometimes I wish I was better at it. More secure writing it. Most of the time I just go "not for me" and write something else. I'm asexual with an objectively unsexy paraphilia which, I think, is part of the reason why all my sex scenes sound like a podfic of a TV guide.
I love reading good smut. Both in Long Fics where the sex isn't the main point and in PWP where it's close to the entire point. I really admire the people who can bring these scenes together. It's beautiful.
I wish there were more...ridiculous sex scenes out there, though? I think my favourite part of half-smut writing is this:
"They tried it once, all three of them, they really did try, but it was doomed from the start. Natasha didn’t really want to touch Clint, and Clint didn’t really want to touch Natasha, so they didn’t, but Laura kept getting distracted by one or the other, and then Natasha made a face when Clint took his pants off and Laura started laughing and they couldn’t keep going." — From Georgic
I love that non-sex sex scene. They tried, they failed, they laughed. I want more of that in fic. I want more giggling.
My parenting goal was to raise a geek, so my son was weaned on Doctor Who, Torchwood, and eventually, closest to my heart, Sherlock. We were serious viewers, but he went on to watch Sherlock without me and I let go. I couldn’t watch it the way I wanted to with him living at home anyway.
I sent my geek away to college this fall and I became a person again, liberated after 18 years, and free to obsess, pore over transcriptions, rewind, analyze microexpressions and indulge my fangirl heart. Season 4 broke me, not just because S4. Because it might be over. I haven’t yet processed Season 4. I may never. But I knew that Sherlock could not end for me there.
I started to read fan fiction, and being a liberated adult, a lot of it was erotic. Some of what I read was brilliant, even of professional quality. Some of it was not and I was pretty sure I could do a better job. I’ve always written, since I was a child. I’ve started 2 novels and a memoir. For several years I’ve belonged to a writer’s support group on Facebook, keeping us responsible to one another for at least 300 words/day. Some days, the words came kicking and screaming and some days they refused to come at all. Until I started to write fan fiction.
It didn’t feel like writing at all, more like taking dictation. Or like I was a court or news reporter, just recording what I saw happening in front of me. I saw the faces and gestures. I heard the voices, saying the words I knew they would say. All I had to do was transcribe it. I felt like a child playing with action figures, only they were doing filthy things. It was enormous fun.
I thought it was good stuff, but who knew? I was too afraid, not just of sharing my writing but of revealing my deepest kinky secrets. I chatted online with writers who urged me to share but I couldn’t. Fear held me back, until a deadline appeared. Another author was starting a chat group for Johnlock writers who had posted online. I so wanted to be part of a community of writers I overcame my fear.
The response was so positive and so immediate, I got addicted. It was a high that pushed me to be better than I was and made me prolific. 300 words/day was laughable. I was writing double that, sometimes four times as much.
And now the ideas don’t stop coming. Song lyrics, everyday life, overheard conversations, they have all become material for new fics. I have a document of prompts 106 pages long. I can’t wait to write. I resent obligations that keep me from it. I wake up thinking about what to write next.
I live two lives now—the ordinary life that people see and the one in which I’m a superhero fan fic writer, able to turn people on with the power of my words.
Some of my earliest memories from childhood involve the creation of stories involving my favorite characters from literature. Even at eight or nine I was weaving romance and sexual relationships (in the vaguest of terms) into those fan works.
As a teen reader I was often frustrated by the fade-to-black approach to sexual intimacy in published fiction, and spent many hours thinking (and sometimes writing) about what might have happened after that first-kiss moment. Fan fic, for me, has been an erotic experience from my earliest memories of fan work creation.
My introduction to online, networked fandom in my late twenties was a revelation: here was a form of literature that I once created in isolation, being created within a socially networked world! At that time, 2008, I was exploring my own queer sexuality and in a relationship with the woman who eventually became my wife (she was, in fact, my introduction to networked fandom!).
I wrote and published my first fan work—a Downton Abbey Sybil/Gwen series—full of righteous, queer feminist anger about the lack of erotic femslash, so my return to writing fan works as an adult had an explicit sexual agenda. I wanted more sexual intimacy, and specific kinds of under-represented desires and experiences, in the stories I watched and read; when I couldn't find them, I created them myself.
I love the communal nature of modern fan fic creation, and the way erotic fan fic provides a space for people to co-create a multiplicity of visions for what sexual intimacy and relational happiness might look and feel like.
As a historian, feminist, and queer woman I am interested in the cultural scripts we have around sexuality and sexual relationships; fan fic is a creative space to engage with—and often challenge—those cultural narratives through story. Writing in fictional spaces allows for imaginative flexibility beyond the bounds of scholarly analysis and historical evidence. Fiction may well be informed by historical and present realities, but it can also re-vision kinder, more joyful pasts and futures full of radical possibility.
I push back against bisexual erasure, for example, and I avoid writing anal sex in my m/m in part because it's so commonly used as the ultimate sexually bonding experience between men. I write m/f that doesn't assume sex means intercourse. I introduce sex toys and lube, and try to make birth control sexy. I write older couples. I write men who are shy about partnered sex and women who are comfortable with masturbation. I try to write bodies that are a bit saggy and leaky, that have creaky joints, wrinkles and scars—and are sexy in the eyes of the lovers who behold them. I try to use every sex scene—partnered or solitary—to tell the specific story of these specific characters having sex, and illuminate why that sexual experience matters to them.
Ultimately, I write the fiction (fan or otherwise) that I want to read, and that fiction has always had relationships and sexual intimacy (often queer, feminist) as at its heart.
ElizaJane has written fan fic in over a dozen fandoms, including Grantchester, The Bletchley Circle, and Foyle's War. She's on AO3, Twitter, and at FeministLibrarian.
Spark asked on Twitter and Tumblr: Do you write erotic fic? Why or why not?
I find sexual attraction and sexual desire to be one of those—very odd things, in that there's such a wide range of what's possible, and so many varieties of activities that people may or may not be interested in, and it lends infinite possibility to storytelling. So telling a story where sex is a primary component just lets you really tap into character's vulnerabilities.
As a person who shifted my identification dramatically over a period of a couple of years (monogamous/straight/vanilla over to polyam/queer/kinky), I got very accustomed to reading about sex, and thinking about sex, and trying to figure out what I actually wanted and where I was going with my life. I feel pretty settled with where I am now--but I like to explore, via characters and smutty fan fic--where I could have gone, what I could have done. 'What if x?', and there's a fan fic.
Exploration aside--I honestly do find writing about sex to be fun. I like how intense sex can be, I like how ridiculous it can get. I like the conflicts it creates & the sheer satisfaction of characters finally working it out. Everybody's experiences are different, and writing smut lets me explore a whole range of possibilities that I didn't feel I had access to when I was writing primarily sex-less work. I really love the intimacy of it, both reading and writing! (end of asks/hope this helps!)
I've written quite a few stories, and if a fic gets long enough there will eventually be a bit of what I call 'explicitude', though my stories are rarely pwp, and I only write explicit sex scenes when it feels right. I like to write slightly before or after, mostly because I like to leave it to the reader's imagination, they can usually imagine more creatively than I can write it, LOL. I have read some brilliant sex scenes, from some brilliant writers and I love reading it. I just don't believe I have to write explicit sex scenes if I can show how they love and appreciate each other without it. The thing I wish we could have had from the Sherlock series was just one morning after—where it was clear what had happened, and they were both happy it happened. Not so much to ask, one would think, but that's a whole nother wasp's nest altogether, LOL. Thank you for Spark. :)
Coming Soon: Unsticking When You're Stuck!
Got a hundred word tip for getting a story unstuck? Tell us please! For me jogging is a huge help because I hate jogging and so to avoid the pain of knowing what I'm doing, I listen closely listen to music. A perfect lyric providing a missing piece to a tale almost always pops up. What unsticky tips do you have?
And we'd also love to hear if you've created something in fandom space that you then tweaked and got published somewhere—fic, poems, art, music—tell us about your adventures in cannibalising yourself!