Welcome to the next round of Pillow Talk Secrets! Today, Malin James, Tamsin Flowers and I—your host for the day, Jade A. Waters—have some major details to discuss…physical details, that is. The question is, how much physical description is “ideal” in erotica, and is it the same for readers as it is for writers?
We are so delighted you’ve joined us—so without further ado, let’s talk about those dirty details…
Pillow Talk Secrets
Jade: Hello, ladies! So nice to be back together again! How are the both of you?
Malin: Hiya! I’m doing good—got my first cup of tea right here, so I’m feeling fine (though I’ll feel better after the third!).
Tamsin: Hello girls—hope you’re both well!
J: Good to see you both. I’m very excited for today’s session! Shall we dive right in?
J: All right—today is all about the dirty deets. As in, how much specific physical detail do we like to read and write in our erotica? It’s a pretty broad topic. Any initial thoughts?
T: Just to explain how this topic came up—I was having a chat with Malin as she’d been beta reading something for me, and I pointed out that I’d never mentioned what colour hair the protagonist had. So I asked her if that mattered.
M: And my response was that, for me, it definitely didn’t. I actually preferred it. I’m a “less-is-more” kind of girl whether I’m writing or reading. I like selective amounts of specific detail, and then I like to let my brain, (or the reader’s), fill in the rest.
J: I get the sense this is a common feeling for the three of us—and maybe a lot of other erotica authors as well. Sometimes, too much detail can throw things off. For example, if a character is described as having enormous breasts, or a certain color hair, or a freckle on the forearm… that paints a very specific image.
T: I find there’s nothing worse when I’m reading a story if the action breaks off for a whole paragraph of physical description, like the writer’s going down a checklist of hair, eyes, height and so on…
M: Absolutely. It feels manufactured. You basically want your reader to identify with the characters—if you lay in a ton of generic detail (large breasts, curly hair, etc), it can make it more challenging for the reader to put herself or himself in the story.
J: I don’t want to discount some detail—I think some detail orients the reader. The key is just enough, without becoming overkill.
T: Drip feeding it is the preferred way, I think. A small, specific detail here, another there, to build up a gradual picture—not all at once.
M: It’s also important to drip feed those details (I love that, by the way) in as they become relevant. Don’t give us a dossier the moment the character walks into the room…
J: Exactly. I kind of feel like it’s the same as back story, in some ways—you can’t dump it all up front, so you have to pick and choose what’s necessary. Plus, if you paint a ridiculously concrete image: this shape, this hair, these eyes, this build, this and that etc. and on and on, where do I get to imagine what this person actually looks like when I’m the reader?
T: No, I have to disagree a little. I think, drip fed, you do want very specific details. Not just blue eyes—everyone has that—you want a shade of blue, or an eye shape or something that sets your character apart from the bland, generic stud in every other book. A scar or wrinkle or a dimple—these details don’t have to be the ideal of handsome.
M: And along those lines, what’s the expression in the glacial blue eyes? Is he or she unreadable? Carnivorous? That’s the stuff that draws me in…
J: I love “carnivorous”! But I think I explained my earlier comment poorly—I do think having a sense of what the character looks like is important, but it’s got to be colorful enough to not hit me over the head with a cardboard image.
M: Agreed. I also think that a lot can be learned about a character by the way she walks into a room. Or what he has tattooed on his arm—a 1940’s pinup says something very different than a Buddhist mandala or barbed tribal ink.
J: There we go. Specific, but colorful. Exactly what I’m talking about!
T: But I’d love to know what readers think—do they want vague characters so they can fill in the gaps or really detailed characters so they feel they get to know them?
M: Let’s invite the readers to comment on this one. I’d be curious to hear what other people think. As with most things in erotica, I think it comes down to personal preference.
J: Totally. But before we ask the official question—I have another I’d like to discuss as well. What about the super dirty details—as in, how much detail do you like in your sex acts? (Um, in stories of course.) :)
T: That’s a tough one to answer. It varies. Too little detail and you don’t get a feel for what’s happening—but too much can also be a bit of a turn off and make the scene go on for too long. It just depends how it’s written.
M: For the most part, I agree, though I would say that by the time most people read erotica, they’re familiar with the mechanics of sex, so describing everything in mechanical detail can be a bit repetitive.
J: Right. “He put his hand here, she put her leg there, he inserted his cock into her pussy, he moved back and forth…” That’s a little much. No, that’s a lot much.
M: Exactly. What I like to read and the way I tend to write sex scenes is to focus on the details that make the sexual act specific to the two characters involved—what’s turning them on and how do they respond to the, uh, stimulus.
T: Definitely—it’s got to be about the response to each other and the feelings, not the body parts!
J: I swear we share a brain. Can I just say that? But back to our discussion…to me, this is the difference between “erotica” and “porn”—erotica needs that connection, not just the body parts.
M: I would very much agree with that distinction. I also think it’s funny that we keep trying to go for fun debates and end up on the exact same page all the time. ;)
T: Yes. However, I’d definitely like to hear from the readers on this one—we three write erotica and because of that we read a hell of a lot of it, and I know sometimes I can feel a bit jaded when I get to a really long, drawn-out sex scene. But for a reader who reads it only occasionally, maybe this is what they’re after…
J: True. But before we close shop, wasn’t there something else we wanted to discuss?
T: Yes. I have to ask—how did you enjoy last time’s poetry challenge?
J: That’s what it was! Oh my goodness. As I’m sure you can guess, I loved it. What about you, Malin?
M: I have to say that I loved it too! It was a nice departure for me. Plus, the poems you both produced were such a pleasure. I was inspired and completely impressed!
T: I’ve read both of your amazing poems—and Jade’s challenge to herself, to write seven poems over seven days, was incredible.
J: But so was your poem! Geez, woman, you wrote a sexy sonnet. Wow!
T: I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, not really being a poetry sort of girl. That sonnet was the first poem I’d written since the dim and distant days of doing them for school homework—so I think it didn’t turn out too bad!
M: I have to admit that I almost felt as if I cheated with the free verse after reading your sonnet, Tamsin! The bard would have been proud—it was properly filthy!
J: I agree. And Malin, yours was gorgeous too! A big kudos all around for the effort. Hurray for erotic poetry!
T: If you missed our poems, you can find them here:
Tamsin’s Sweat Slick
Jade’s Poetry Page (includes all seven poems she wrote for the challenge)
Malin’s I Am…
J: Thanks for such a great challenge, Tamsin. Now I think it’s time to head back to our main topic—readers, what do you think about details? What do you like to read in terms of both physical character details and specific sexual details? We’d love to know! Please comment below. :)
Jade, Malin and Tamsin
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