Forum: Sexuality in Middle-earth

Discussing: What makes good het?

What makes good het?


Now that the discussion has stirred interest in writing and seeking good het-fic, I have a question:
What do people look for in het? (This actually applies to slash as well, of course.) When you read something labeled het, what do you expect? What do you want? What advice might you give the writer before the story is presented?

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

My two cents about het...

Firstly, I have to say I began writing just a a bit more than a year ago, but I've always been an avid reader and I have read quite a lot of things despite my young age.

There are some things I that always put me off when I read them in romance novels, and I noticed they are always in het fiction. I don't read slash usually, but these aspects I'm going to point out are not present in most of the slash fics I read.

1. Clichés: I'm referring to sentences in this case. Surfing the numerous LOTR fiction sites on the web, I noticed there are too many sentences in het stories that are porn-cliché, especially those involving OFCs. In a Tolkien fic, it seems really out of place in my opinion. But then, I would avoid them even in other erotic writings. Just me.

2. Overdone dialogue: [see above] Personally, I think love is something one can express mostly with actions. It feels unrealistic to have a person rant for hours, and in exaggerate terms, about his feelings for another. Note that I said rant. Not long ago I found a Legolas/OC romance in which she asked him "to bathe her womb with his seed", and he replied with something close to "I'm going to sheath myself into your tight, slick hotness and ride you to..." Would it not have been better if they just skipped this part? I cannot imagine someone say something like that, much less an elf.

3. Unrealistic sexual situations: I have nothing against simultaneous orgasms, but maybe the sex should be less "perfect". Nobody is always confident, nobody is always doing the right thing, no one's body is always smooth and perfect.

4. Excessive presence of adjectives referring to body parts: some descriptions, and even some simple sentences, have too many of those... I remember reading a sentence that was really overdone, something like "...her dainty back rested against his marble-hard, large chest, [...] and she spoke with her musical, sweet voice...," and so on... As in the story there were lots of sentences like this one, the overall impression I got was that the author was just interested in having the protagonist drool all over the heroine (self-insertion?) and having sex. Full stop. No developing, no reasons for the pairing. Just put them together because they're cute.

I think it's clear that I would love to see more realistic behaviour and situations. The things I pointed out, however, are things I've almost never read on HASA. I think it's something that has to do with the huge mass of new writers that discovered fanfiction with the movies. I am one of those, and I'm guilty of some of the aforementioned "mistakes". I re-read some of my first fics, and now that I'm a bit more experienced, I am rewriting them.

One last note: I love romances, but I think it's hard to write a good one. The risk of "overdoing it" is high. When I read/write a romance fic, I want to have the feeling that the couple is going through something and that they're not there just for snogging. I love to read stories in which there are difficulties, internal debates, pondering, not just the "romance" itself. I’m not saying light-hearted romances or PWP are not good; on the contrary, I like them, if they have a purpose (I don’t how to express this idea better!) I try to write keeping this in mind, and I hope I'm succeeding in conveying this feelings through my own work.

Thanks for reading!

-LaP

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Lady Peredhel, that was really interesting and I agree with everything you say. I don't want to read the same old cliched images and metaphors or the sort of dialogue that simply wouldn't. come out of someone's mouth. Unrealistically perfect sex is not that interesting - especially when couched in dodgy terminology. I don't read a lot of straight romances or "chick lit" because it's like eating junk food - it goes down easily but is very unsatisfying and leaves me feeling slightly ill. That's not to say I'm not a sucker for the romantic bits of a book whose main concern lies elsewhere. Or for books about relationships. So I guess what I am looking for in is a credible relationship. I want the characters to be bringing their own baggage and motives to the situation, not just thinking the other party is hot. Some of that may be "situational": Have they had a tough day and they're not in the mood? Are they afraid of pregnancy? Will there be consequences the morning after (angry husbands or annoyed courtiers?) and how does that influence how they proceed? What is there in their history that might one party be reluctant to get involved? Some of it might be "sociological": do the characters have certain beliefs about relationships that will colour the way they proceed or are there cultural taboos on certain behaviours. Umm, I guess I just want fully rounded characters who have lives independent of each other. And if it is a LoTR fic, I want them to stay reasonably in character so that they remain recognisably who they are. I would also add that I am something of a cynical romantic - I may want happy ever afters, but I don't believe they happen. However much a couple are in love, the real world intrudes and has to be dealt with. Hmm, maybe I would like to see more "five years into the marriage" fics rather than courtship fics.... I'll stop rambling now. Liz

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

I second (third?) the motion for believable characters, not just cardboard cut-outs.

(Incidentally Liz, thanks for the welcome over on the other thread! Darn it, I'm going to find it really hard to return to lurker-dom when you people are being so nice... )

I also agree with Lady Peredhel that scads of over-wrought dialogue is a real turn-off. The "show, don't tell" rule that applies to fiction generally *definitely* applies in this case. But I do think that dialogue, if it's well-written and used sparingly, can be a really great way of "showing" what's going on, and of moving the scene along without getting too bogged down in the mechanics.

I think what you are both getting at above, and which I completely agree with, is that the sex scenes should not take place in a vaccuum. This is why most PWPs just don't work for me, unless they are part of some larger story universe. I need there to be context, and character/relationship baggage as you said, Liz, and cultural or situational factors that affect what's going on in bed etc. or I'm just not interested enough to keep reading.

Having said that though, it doesn't take *that* much background to rope me in. I'm not saying authors should have to write a whole backstory into every sex scene - a few subtle references to show that there are layers to what is going on is often enough.

And finally, as far as descriptions go, "oblique" is almost always better than "straight-out graphic", IMHO. I really liked the idea - it was yours, Liz, on the other thread - of writing a very detailed mechanical version of the scene first, so you as the author know exactly what is going on, and then cutting about 90% of it...so the reader is left some room for imagination (heheheh). That way you also run less risk of the problem of one reader's erotic being another's "ew!" It definitely worked for you in "Later" - well done.

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Ooooh, finally, I've found a discussion I can relate to. So I have finally decided to join and post.

I've found that I can skim and appreciate a well-written epic sort of story, but strangely, the fics I remember usually had good smut. But in regular fiction I hardly want smut at all. Must be something to do with the source material. Tolkien didn't write smut, but he wrote good characters and plot. Ergo, as a heterosexual romantical sort of female, I want to see the good characters having sex.

To do that, you don't necessarily have to build an entire 100-page epic just to get a canonical couple into bed... and you don't need all the characterization and build-up. We already know the characters-- take them as written by Tolkien, and let them go at it.

And finally, as far as descriptions go, "oblique" is almost always better than "straight-out graphic", IMHO.

I think straight-out graphic can work, if there is tenderness. Of course, a little obliqueness may be in order, and to do this you sometimes have to resort to odd nomenclature or cliches, just to avoid "Penthouse-izng" the scene with C--- words. That would be my one best suggestion-- some cliches are OK-- just AVOID THE C WORDS, especially with het.

I really liked the idea - it was yours, Liz, on the other thread - of writing a very detailed mechanical version of the scene first, so you as the author know exactly what is going on, and then cutting about 90% of it...so the reader is left some room for imagination

Oh, this absolutely true! It works. Keep some of the clinical parts-- they can work as sexy, and the rest you can take as "imagined" or glossed over.

Above, someone also mentioned to "make the sex less perfect." I agree. I think sex is pretty hilarious, actually, and too much intense passion can get boring, if you're reading about someone else doing it. Break it up a little. Put a little fumbling in there. Drop someone. Fall asleep.

Hmm, maybe I would like to see more "five years into the marriage" fics rather than courtship fics....

Oooh! Oooh! Trying that one... and without sex or anything...

Great discussion
Kristen



 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Hi jedishampoo and welcome

glad you've found a thread you can leap in on!

To do that, you don't necessarily have to build an entire 100-page epic just to get a canonical couple into bed...

Absolutely not - it's a given that canon couples, (well, certainly after they're married!) are going to go to bed together. Non-canon couples on the other hand, almost always do require 100 pages to get them there

I think straight-out graphic can work, if there is tenderness.

To me, there's a difference between "explicit" and "graphic". Explicit is that you know perfectly well what particular sex act the couple are up to, but exactly what's going on is left to your imagination and personal preferences. Graphic describes the act in such complete detail that the reader is forced to accept the author's particular "take" on how that act should be performed. And if there's just one little thing that I personally don't find erotic, the whole scene becomes squick for me.

Hmm, maybe I would like to see more "five years into the marriage" fics rather than courtship fics....

Oooh! Oooh! Trying that one... and without sex or anything...


Oooh, let me know when it's ready! (Especially if it's an F/E one! I know you left me a nice review over at SoA for one of my F/E fics, so I assume that's your preferred couple )

Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

1. Clichés: I'm referring to sentences in this case. Surfing the numerous LOTR fiction sites on the web, I noticed there are too many sentences in het stories that are porn-cliché,

A little real-world experience can only be a good thing for written descriptions. I'm afraid that far too many of the really awful sex scenes are written by virgins who are not even ambidextrous, much less experienced in hetero- or homo- sexual pairings. If an author's only experience is thru overwrought descriptions in tacky porn stories, that's the only thing they'll be able to reproduce in their own writings.

I am of the belief that real plot and believable characterization make the sex even better. In the best stories, the sex advances a reader's understanding of the characters or contributes to the plot. It's more than just grafted on for the titillation aspects.

Gwynnyd

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Lady Peredhel, I like your listing above - many of those kill a story for me as they make me giggle or say turn my head in embarassment. Said embarassment is not for the sexual aspect, but sadly for the naive or overblown nature of the writing. The 'bathe my womb' line strikes me as antisexual, and the response seems a parody.

As for the adjective part you mention, it reminds of Tyellas' parody 'Elf Slash Sarcasm' which I thought was hilarious.

Lady Peredhel, JeannieMac and Tanaqui all mention something that I find for myself. The more careful the character/scene preparation, the less the good author has to write to be convincing about the sex. Less really is often more here. Subtlety is good, it draws the reader into the story.


Tanaqui,
Hmm, maybe I would like to see more "five years into the marriage" fics rather than courtship fics....

Great! And when are you going to write it? Or if you have, point me toward it!

JeannieMac - The extent of the squick factor was a surpise to me when I read some LotR erotica. Not just the obvious, common ones, but small everyday things that people have different reactions to. I have found though, that something well written and well characterized can carry me past somethings I wouldn't ordinarily find erotic.

I don't how I missed all these posts originally, but I'm glad to see them now.

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

To do that, you don't necessarily have to build an entire 100-page epic just to get a canonical couple into bed... and you don't need all the characterization and build-up.

I agree you don't need an epic to do this. Some authors manage to give the characterization in remarkable little space. I do think the build up in tension is important for many erotic or romantic stories, though not all.

I'll be looking for the five years into the marriage' story.

lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Tanaqui,
Hmm, maybe I would like to see more "five years into the marriage" fics rather than courtship fics....


Great! And when are you going to write it? Or if you have, point me toward it!


Not written yet and won't be for a while (currently back into piling serious grief onto Faramir at the moment). But I should warn you, it's going to involve Denethor and Finduilas.... my beta reader is completely sold on evil-movie-Denethor, so I have to try and convince her Denethor was lovable once... And I'm not sure if it will be next fic I write, since I have ten Denethor-related nuzguls nipping at my ankles and don't know which one will get a grip next.

If you want the start of a five-years-married (actually ten years) fic for Faramir and Eowyn, try Lady Aranel's What Thou Lovest Well. I will declare a vested interest in that I'm betaing this for her, so of course i would think it's good! It's a WIP and there are only two chapters up at the moment. (The third and fourth are in limbo while she writes Elf-smut for the brothel challenge). There's not much "romance", but I think she's capturing the family dynamics well.

The extent of the squick factor was a surpise to me when I read some LotR erotica. Not just the obvious, common ones, but small everyday things that people have different reactions to.

Yes, the point I was trying to make (and why I was worried my own explicit hetfic would come across as ridiculous rather than erotic).

Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

I'm afraid that far too many of the really awful sex scenes are written by virgins who are not even ambidextrous, much less experienced in hetero- or homo- sexual pairings. If an author's only experience is thru overwrought descriptions in tacky porn stories, that's the only thing they'll be able to reproduce in their own writings.

I am of the belief that real plot and believable characterization make the sex even better. In the best stories, the sex advances a reader's understanding of the characters or contributes to the plot. It's more than just grafted on for the titillation aspects.


It sounds like most of us agree on the plot/characterization aspects, and that titillation alone makes for mediocre storytelling.

The experience issue came up on another thread, and it was pointed out that there are some authors who do an excellent erotic story without much of the experience you'd expect. I was surprised, too. One very sucessful author said:

Lack of experience is not an absolute bar to writing a good sex scene, even a very explicit one; research and imagination can make up for a lot, and even if it doesn't boost you to the top of the genre, you can still outwrite probably a good 85% of writers who *are* sexually active simply by exercising a little restraint.

As for writing lime-y romances, you don't need to have experienced a romance in order to understand something about how people react to each other; a little observation and careful reflection can give you the basis to write a romantic fic well.


So it seems to come down to researching what you don't know and doing a good job with what you find. This makes sense, as I would guess 95 percent of those who write m/m slash have no experience of a m/m homosexual relationship. The femslash numbers are probably somewhat different.

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Interesting topic!

What do people look for in het? (This actually applies to slash as well, of course.) When you read something labeled het, what do you expect? What do you want? What advice might you give the writer before the story is presented?

One of you talked about purpose, and I think that sums up what I, as a reader, would look for or expect from het. Why am I writing this scene? (It is easier to talk about this when it relates to het, as opposed to PWP) What do I expect to accomplish with it? What do I want to have my readers do/think/feel/understand after having read it? This would mean using sex as a medium to achieve something, rather than and end in itself, and often this end relates to character development, but it could also be taken to the political, social, and other types of exploration (with me, the end is usually the exploration of _____), which would make up for very interesting and deep conflicts that would surface without necessarily stating them.

When the purpose for the story is clear, I think the rest of the elements fall into place. Gratuituous graphic descriptions would be restrained according to the end we are pursuing, and the other tensions that dominate the characters and circumstances would then take first place. And, I agree with you all: too much of those, instead of helping the story, diminish its quality.

Other issue would be our selection of the pairing, and whether that pairing works well, if it is believable in terms of what we already know about the characters.

As I was reading your posts, I started thinking about the matter of pacing. Do you think that would be important in het? For me, it would be, and I don't know how to explain this. Pacing would do so much to enhance the kind of emotion that one is hoping to create in the story, and I think it would do wonders for a het scene, if used wisely. As I read some of the examples you shared earlier, I was just thinking that the overworked dialogue can just kill the scene and make it completely un-believable, whereas the right combination of dialogue and action would serve to bring out more issues than we are effectively able to write down. What kind of moment is portrayed in the story? A tender, slow scene, a loving moment, a wild rush? All of those would be crafted differentely, and serve different ends. I guess that goes with the exploration of the character and how s/he would react in different situations, and is more of a mechanic variable, rather than a help in creating the story.

So it seems to come down to researching what you don't know and doing a good job with what you find. This makes sense, as I would guess 95 percent of those who write m/m slash have no experience of a m/m homosexual relationship. The femslash numbers are probably somewhat different.

That is a good point, Lyllyn, and I also think it makes sense. Although experience could, in some cases, help, I think you could do an excellent job without conveying any of the graphic details that one does not necessarily need to read (and sometimes, on rather NOT read).

Here's a snippet from a book called 'Self-editing for fiction writers.' This chapter is on Sophistication, and talks a bit about sex-scenes. It's really interesting:
'When it comes to handling sex scenes, the last thing you want is to seem to be working hard to achieve your effects. The subtler stylistic approach will nearly always be the more professional-looking choice. This means you'll want to avoid heavy breathing, whether it's the type appropriate to novels with titles like Love's Helpless Fury or the type commen to novels with titles like Motel Lust or Lust Motel. There was a time when explicit sex scenes added a sense of sophistication, of authenticity to a book (to say nothing of boosting sales). But in a day when photographs that once would have been sold under the counter are used to advertise blue jeans, this approach has lost its power to shock or titillate.
The subtle approach, on the other hand, engages your reader's imagination and so is likely to be far more effective. This is an area where it might be a good idea to bring back an old-fashioned narrative convention: sexual encounters that take place in linespaces. After all, if you leave the physical details to your readers' imaginations, they are likely to be far more engaged than if you spell it all out. A line space may be a far more erotic place for two characters to make love than a bed.
For instance, take a look at what is arguably the most famous sex scene in modern literature, from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind:
He swung her off her feet and into his arms and started up the stairs. her head was crushed against his chest and she heard the hard hammering of his heart beneath her ears. He hurt her and she cried out, muffled, frightened. Up the stairs he went in the utter darkness, up, up, and she was wild with fear. He was a mad stranger and this was a black darkness she did not know, darker than death. He was like death, carrying her away in arms that hurt. She screamed, stifled against him and he stopped suddenly on the landing and, turning her swiftly in his arms, bent over her and kissed her with a savagery and completeness that wiped out everything from her mind but the dark into which she was sinking and the lips on hers. He was shaking, as though he stood in a strong wind, and his lips, fallen from her body, fell on her soft flesh. He was muttering things she did not hear, his lips were evoking feelings never felt before....

And the scene goes on. At some points, it sounds a bit too fluffy (you know what the book is about) but we are gratefully spared of some details that were not necessary, and we are left to wonder. What I like best about it is the way it is presented in the book as one long paragraph (the matter of pacing again) with no breaks. Reading it like that brings out a new sense of what's going on and why, what the characters are feeling and experiencing, without having to resort to other means. Of course, we do not always have to agree with what other authors think, and the above scene may not work for everyone, nor that approach be appropriate for every situation, but there are some key things that we can draw out and can effectively use in our own writing.

Hope any of that made sense (and if you would like the rest of the scene, I can e-mail it or post it if you wish. I just did not know if it was appropriate to write it all here).

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Hope any of that made sense

It makes perfect sense. As to:
This is an area where it might be a good idea to bring back an old-fashioned narrative convention: sexual encounters that take place in linespaces.

A nice distillation; I intend to keep it in mind for my own writing.
On the whole, I agree with this for romance, and sometimes for erotica.Taking it as the spirit instead of the letter, I'd guess that even for PWP, subtlety is more effective.

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Starlight - makes perfect sense and I think we're all agreeing that less is often more. I do like: A line space may be a far more erotic place for two characters to make love than a bed.

You are right about pacing too - if your characters are reaching a climax, then the pacing should be expressing that

And just to agree that the Gone with the Wind excerpt works for me because it's almost all metaphor and very little description of what's happening (it's a touch overwritten for my taste, but I have to admit I've never read the book, only seen the film, and it is a melodrama....)

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

On the whole, I agree with this for romance, and sometimes for erotica.Taking it as the spirit instead of the letter, I'd guess that even for PWP, subtlety is more effective.

It is so hard to draw a boundary between what would be considered 'good taste' and/or icky, specially in regards to this sort of scenes. With het, even though you need to have the sex to remain in the genre, I suppose that not all of it needs to be spelled out. You said it so much better when you wrote: Taking it as the spirit instead of the letter...

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

And just to agree that the Gone with the Wind excerpt works for me because it's almost all metaphor and very little description of what's happening (it's a touch overwritten for my taste, but I have to admit I've never read the book, only seen the film, and it is a melodrama....)

I know, talk about melodrama! I suppose it was all so exciting for the people of that generation. But, I think it works in the same sense that you think it works. Little description sometimes could be effective. Het needs the sex to remain het, but I guess one needs to use restraint with what one writes to bring out the best of the story, and the best, most favourable reaction in the readers(-hopefully!)

 

 

Re: What makes good het?



Belit sprang before her warriors, beating down their spears. She turned toward the swordsman, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerians's pulse, even in the panting fury of battle. Her rich black hair, black as a stygian night, fell in rippling burnished clusters down her supple back. Her dark eyes burned on the Cimmerian.



She was untamed as a desert wind, supple and dangerous as a she-panther. She came close to him, heedless of the great blade, dripping with the blood of her warriors. Her supple thigh brushed against it, so close she came to the tall warrior. Her red lips parted as she stared up into his somber menacing eyes.



"Who are you?" she demanded. "By Ishtar, I have never seen your like, though I have ranged the sea from the coasts of Zingara to the fires of the ultimate South. Whence come you?"



"From Argos," he answered shortly, alert for treachery. Let her slim hand move toward her jeweled dagger in her girdle, and a buffet of his open hand would stretch her senseless on the deck. Yet in his heart he did not fear; he had held too many women, civilized or barbarian, in his iron-thewed arms, not to recognize the light the burned in the eyes of this one.



"You are no soft Hyborian!" she exclaimed. "You are fierce and hard as a gray wolf. Those eye were never dimmed by city light; those thews were never softened by life amid marble walls."



"I am Conan, a Cimmerian."



/snipped/



With unerring instinct of instinct of the elemental feminine, she had found her lover, and his race mean naught, save as it invested him with the glamour of far lands.



"And I am Belit." she cried, as one might say, "I am queen!"



"Look at me Conan!" She threw wide her arms. "I am Belit, queen of the Black Coast. O tiger of the North, you are cold as the snowy mountains which bred you. Take me and crush me with your fierce love! Go with me to the ends of the earth and the ends of the sea! I am a queen by fire and steel and slaughter - be thou my king!"



/snipped/



Her eyes were burning like those of a she-panther in the dark as she tore off her ornaments, her sandals and her silken girdle and cast them at his feet.



And she danced, like the spin of a desert whirlwind, like the leaping of a quenchless flame, like the urge of creation and the urge of death. Her white feet spurned the bloodstained deck, and the dying men forgot death as they gazed frozen at her. Then, as the white stars glimmered through the blue velvet dusk, making her whirling body a blur of ivory fire, with a wild cry she threw herself at Conan's feet, and the blind flood of the Cimmerian's desire swept all else away as he crushed her panting form against the black plates of his corseleted breast.



****



Here is some melodrama for you, overwritten - yes, but how exciting. Pirates on the high seas, she takes his ship, then takes him, right there on the bloodstained decks with only the darkness to hide their shamlessness from her crew.



This is snipped from Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E Howard. The longstanding and devout readership speaks for itself, regardless of how anyone would critique the style, there is no doubt of its popularity. This story was first published in 1934, the reprint I have is the SIXTEENTH printing, Dec 1986.



But notice there are no bleepable words, no explicit detail of what you know happens next. The scene is in the stage-setting, stirring the emotion of the reader. There is nothing soft and gentle in their love-making, but a strength and intensity of passion that is unmistakable. You know that without one word of detail.



I've been following this thread with interest, but I wonder if 'good het' can be defined by style and level of detail. I don't think so. I think people's ideas, ideals and personal tastes are too different. There have been a lot of good suggestions here, as far as avoiding cliches, doing in-depth research, and having a plot, but past that, I think you have to simply write for yourself.

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

That's funny: though both examples are very overwritten, IMO, I found the Conan example much less gagworthy than the GWTW one. (Maybe because the female character knows and claims her own power instead of just being Swept Away(tm) by a man.)

But I'm going to defend explicitness for a moment here: the sexually sophisticated reader MIGHT not necessarily know exactly what's going on between the characters in terms of sexual acts, and what meanings they have. If it's a het pairing, do we _assume_ it's missionary-position penis/vagina intercourse? I don't, not at all. Perhaps they hold back from that, and it could mean any number of things (desire to avoid a pregnancy, perhaps? Aversion to it from past bad experiences? Wanting to keep virginity, technically? Feeling it's too intimate--or not intimate enough?) Perhaps one character insists on only pleasuring the other and refusing to be brought to orgasm themselves--what could that mean? Maybe one insists on oral and the other is scandalized by it? (Cultural difference? Personal difference--varying desires/hangups?) Or perhaps they DO have intercourse--what position? And what is the meaning of that position? Is penetration the, ahem, climax of the story, or is orgasm? (If the latter, whose?) Or is it the reckoning with emotions and actions before or afterwards?

If the story is in some way about sex, then I think the author shouldn't back down from all the nuances of this very intense form of character interaction. Leaving the reader to just guess at Tab A/Slot B seems to weaken the possibilities a lot.

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

That's funny: though both examples are very overwritten, IMO, I found the Conan example much less gagworthy than the GWTW one. (Maybe because the female character knows and claims her own power instead of just being Swept Away(tm) by a man.)

Another thing to notice is that in both scenes the characters compliment each other. Not so much in the GWTW example, but in the larger story. With GWTW, much of the story is their conflict; in this Conan episode, he and Belit are perfectly matched and the story is how they, together, face danger.

But I'm going to defend explicitness for a moment here: the sexually sophisticated reader MIGHT not necessarily know exactly what's going on between the characters in terms of sexual acts, and what meanings they have.

I think that in some cases, the sophisticated reader that has a range of life experiences and a vivid imagination can get less out of a scene where every movement and feeling is detailed and it is the less sophisticated reader who needs the additional detail in order to get the full effect of the scene.

If it's a het pairing, do we _assume_ it's missionary-position penis/vagina intercourse? I don't, not at all. /snipped./

I see this, in part, can be extended from characterization if the writer has done their job in building the character.

I see Scarlet as a tease, a prude and a control freak, Rhett will have to teach her what he learned from the girls in town. I imagine he is highly skilled in a variety of pleasures, but still a gentleman; she will pretend afterward that she didn't enjoy it. Conan would hesitate at nothing short of force in search of pleasure.. sauces, ropes, varied positions, multiple partners (except I doubt Belit would share).


snipped

If the story is in some way about sex, then I think the author shouldn't back down from all the nuances of this very intense form of character interaction. Leaving the reader to just guess at Tab A/Slot B seems to weaken the possibilities a lot.

true, and for me it depends on the level of description in the story. the sex should fit smoothly in the story, be a real part of the story, not just have the framework of a story loosely framed around it. What I mean is, if the level of detail of all the scenes and conversation are detailed, I would expect the sex to be as well. But if the details of background and such are more general, I wouldn't expect the sex scenes to be graphic unless there is a specific reason.

The level of detail required would be dependant on the role of the encounter in the story. Does one of the partners have trust issues that has previously inhibited such encounters, do they have fears or moral hesitations, then (in my mind) these things needs to be worked through in detail. Does it matter to the story if the tab goes in the slot, or which slot it goes in. In the case of a PWP, where the sex *is* the story, yes, we need those details, if it is a romance, then I may not need every move each player makes.

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

But I'm going to defend explicitness for a moment here: the sexually sophisticated reader MIGHT not necessarily know exactly what's going on between the characters in terms of sexual acts, and what meanings they have. If it's a het pairing, do we _assume_ it's missionary-position penis/vagina intercourse? I don't, not at all. Perhaps they hold back from that, and it could mean any number of things (desire to avoid a pregnancy, perhaps? Aversion to it from past bad experiences? Wanting to keep virginity, technically? Feeling it's too intimate--or not intimate enough?) Perhaps one character insists on only pleasuring the other and refusing to be brought to orgasm themselves--what could that mean? Maybe one insists on oral and the other is scandalized by it? (Cultural difference? Personal difference--varying desires/hangups?) Or perhaps they DO have intercourse--what position? And what is the meaning of that position? Is penetration the, ahem, climax of the story, or is orgasm? (If the latter, whose?) Or is it the reckoning with emotions and actions before or afterwards?

If the story is in some way about sex, then I think the author shouldn't back down from all the nuances of this very intense form of character interaction. Leaving the reader to just guess at Tab A/Slot B seems to weaken the possibilities a lot.


Hmmm, I don't think the author has to avoid telling what happened. I do think that most of the very mecnanical "tab A/slot B" stuff isn't appealing ( to me, at least). I would clarify my previous answer to say that restraint, appropriate to the genre is usually better. If the writing is showing the intense character interaction through the nuances of the action, I could see that making a good fic.


I can think of very explicit stories I've liked - which drives me crazy trying to figure out what makes some of those work when others make me shudder (like the parts above from the Howard book). So what do you see as the distinction? What differentiates a good explicit or graphic story from a "then he put his throbbing hardness in her slick wetness" type?


Lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

I can think of very explicit stories I've liked - which drives me crazy trying to figure out what makes some of those work when others make me shudder (like the parts above from the Howard book). So what do you see as the distinction? What differentiates a good explicit or graphic story from a "then he put his throbbing hardness in her slick wetness" type?


Is it the writing in general rather than specifically the sexual descriptions, that is making or breaking the story for you.

-because in the Conan example, there is very little sexual detail. no tabs, no slots; so I wouldn't expect that it is the level of intimacy that is making you shudder. Are you shuddering at the blood, the fact that the crew is watching or the extra adjectives and long sentences?


 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Is it the writing in general rather than specifically the sexual descriptions, that is making or breaking the story for you?

-because in the Conan example, there is very little sexual detail. no tabs, no slots; so I wouldn't expect that it is the level of intimacy that is making you shudder. Are you shuddering at the blood, the fact that the crew is watching or the extra adjectives and long sentences?


Oh, definitely the writing! You're right of course, there isn't any real sexual detail. I'd say the adjectives, sentences and general 'over the topness' of it. It contains some cliches that kill things for me:
"heaving breasts," "her panting form" are classic, as is "Take me and crush me with your fierce love!" And he uses 'supple' too often.

lyllyn

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Vulgarweed
If the story is in some way about sex, then I think the author shouldn't back down from all the nuances of this very intense form of character interaction. Leaving the reader to just guess at Tab A/Slot B seems to weaken the possibilities a lot.

I would definitely want to know which Tab A/Slot B - I just wouldn't want to know how Tab A got into Slot B in such excruciating detail that it would risk squicking me out - unless being squicked out was the aim of the scene (eg a rape). As an example, many of the descriptions of penetrative sex I've read seem to me personally to be very rough ("thrust hard and deep" would be a phrase that could easily kill a fic for me). Now, that would work for me if the fic is about power games or domination or if the violence reveals something about the character(s). But if it's supposed to be a genuinely loving relationship, I'm going "ouch" rather than "oooh". Whereas "He moved within her (him, if it's slash)" would allow me to put my own preferences on the scene.

I also agree entirely about your point about not assuming standard missionary position or even penetration - in the one fic I've written with sex scenes, penetration is definitely not on the agenda for either character, because it's pre-marital. In fact, the fic is partly about the two characters exploring and negotiating is what is acceptable between them at this stage in their relationship.

Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Sulriel made a good point; it's all relative to what people like to write or read.

I can think of very explicit stories I've liked - which drives me crazy trying to figure out what makes some of those work when others make me shudder (like the parts above from the Howard book). So what do you see as the distinction? What differentiates a good explicit or graphic story from a "then he put his throbbing hardness in her slick wetness" type?

I've never been too upset at the throbbing and wetness! It's the overblown stuff that drives me crazy. "He gazed at her-- her flaming amber eyes, and said "I will have you" and he took her, etc." With fanfiction, just tell me what happened-- give a little of what led up to it, then tell me who touched who first and where.

I think it's the characters I like to read about --whom I find interesting to see in these positions (ahem)--whether the PWP could be used over and over for different fandoms just by exchanging woman A for woman B, etc, or not. It's preferable if there is SOME characterization, just to ground you with your couple of choice. Like I've said, I enjoy well-written stories but tend to gravitate to smut for the pure sexy value of it. Men (and some women) have porn or Hustler graphic-ness, I (and many women I know) shun the c-words and read good fanfiction smut about characters we like. Plebian tastes. ;)

I don't think it necessarily depends on your level of sexual sophistication. Sometimes it's just interesting to see what sexual positions/order of foreplay/silly stuff that happens that people come up with. And then to try and write it yourself, no matter how much it makes you giggle at the typewriter. I always struggle with metaphor; can't write it worth a damn. But the first time I wrote smut-- THAT was hard. It's almost like a writer's exercise to do it again and again.

In fact, part of the question the two characters explore and negotiate is what is acceptable between them at this stage in their relationship.

And a very good job you did of it too; and very appropriate for the characters. Kudos! But unfortunately, I have to admit that smut must often be hopelessly out of character.

 

 

Re: What makes good het?

I don't think it necessarily depends on your level of sexual sophistication. Sometimes it's just interesting to see what sexual positions/order of foreplay/silly stuff that happens that people come up with.

I just want to clarify: I wasn't trying to make any value judgments or imply anything about anybody with that "sexually sophisticated reader" remark--I've just heard people say that fiction doesn't need to be explicit because "we all know what the mechanics are." Well, no, we don't! It is at least a bit different for every couple and every time, after all, and it's the particulars that are interesting.


 

 

Re: What makes good het?

Jedishampoo

Sulriel made a good point; it's all relative to what people like to write or read.

Absolutely. As I have remarked elsewhere, one person's erotic is another person's frankly ridiculous and vice versa.

I've never been too upset at the throbbing and wetness! It's the overblown stuff that drives me crazy.

Well, bad writing would just turn me off from any kind of fic, not just a hetfic or PWP....

And a very good job you did of it too; and very appropriate for the characters. Kudos!

Aww, shucks, thanks! But, to echo your comment above - writing THAT was hard. And I had a very good beta reader saying, "no, no, no! NOT erotic!" at many parts of my first (and second and third) drafts.

But unfortunately, I have to admit that smut must often be hopelessly out of character.

In which case, IMHO, I would probably not clasify it as good hetfic, because I don't particularly care for smut for smut's sake. Now smut about characters I care about and am invested in is an entirely different matter...!

Liz

 

 

Re: What makes good het?


Absolutely not in regards to making judgements.

I took 'sophistication' to mean, and used it in a way, that what we have experienced (or read of other's realistic experiences) enhance our own imaginations.

I read some situations that my personal experience allow me to enhance in my imagination because of the experiences I have lived. If my experience/imagination is too far different from what is written it diminishes the reading rather than enhancing it. If the writer closely matches what I know (have experienced, have read about extensively, find believable) the writer may be able to enhance/stretch that experience past what I have previously imagined.

I see these issues as highly personal and individual and I seriously doubt guidelines could ever be developed as to what is 'good' or 'bad' unless you first defined groups of readers.

In the two samples above, reading about Rhett does not excite me as much as Conan because I've not experienced, not wanted to experience, and don't frequently read about being ravished by someone I've been pretending I do want / don't want / do want / don't want. It could be over-written, under-written or have received an A+ from six different professionals, but while I enjoy it, it doesn't stretch my imagination.

the Conan snip brings an intense range of feelings and emotions, with the battle and the blood and death, the swaying of the ship under their feet, the touch of breeze on bare skin, the wooden deck, the armor he is still wearing; the exhaustion of her dance as she collapses at his feet. There is no denying that it is a vibrant picture. If you have never, can't imagine ever, and don't even like to think about a sweaty barbarian still wearing bloody armor - you will never connect with that snip, or anything remotely resembling that snip, no matter how well written because your sensibilities will be reeling in fear and disgust.

It seems to me that writing 'good het' or 'good sex' has absolutely the same rules as 'writing good story'. Have a plot, have believable characters (within their realm). Their dialogue and actions need to be IC and provide reasons for their encounters. I think the rest is more along the lines of personal tastes.

 

 

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