We are delighted to have this brilliant guest post by Mrs Fever about the power of words and how we can use them to make the reader feel our writing on the Eroticon Blog. You can find Mrs Fever regularly heating things up on her own blog Temperature’s Rising
The Power of Words
Words have power.
Sex writing – like all writing – has the power to impact readers in intensely personal ways, and those impacts are all the more potent when the details of our individual stories are shown (not just told) in such a way that the reader feels a connection to the words. The key word being feels.
“Show, Don’t Tell” is oft-touted advice, and is particularly applicable to sex writing.
As sex writers, we are in a unique position to take “Show, Don’t Tell” to another level, to create somatically empathetic experiences for our readers ~ i.e., to allow them to share in our experience: to see what we see; to feel what we are feeling.
Q: How do we do that?
A: By breathing life into an idea – quite literally – by making it come alive in the body.
Most emotions and intellectual responses are not concrete — they are concepts. Likewise, the adjectives created to embody those concepts are not *precise* in terms of corporeal manifestation. Love, lust, pain, fear, jealousy, arousal… These are cerebral words. They are concepts. Anger, delight, embarrassment, beauty, desire… These are concepts. Ideas.
‘Idea’ words are meant to be descriptive, but used alone they fall short of the mark. Your idea of ‘terrible’ and is likely to be quite different from my idea of ‘terrible,’ for example. Even something like “This room is a mess” is vague. While the intended descriptor is ‘messy,’ its meaning is… well… messy. It’s unclear. “A mess” meaning… What? “A mess” according to whom?
By taking the cerebral out of the equation, by removing the conceptual word and instead appealing to the reader’s senses by putting it in the body – by making our experiences physically palpable through what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch/feel – we can create an empathetic reading experience for our audience.
Making sex and sexuality empathetic means making it relate-able. Relate-ability is key to reaching people, and in this time of voices being silenced, reaching people ~ not just being visible in terms of search engine find-ability, but being seen and heard and felt and understood on an individual level by those who *do* find us ~ is more important than ever.
Getting In Sync With Your Senses
To reach people, we have to make them feel. And to do that, we have to take conscious steps as writers to go out of our minds a little. Not in a ‘drive ourselves crazy’ kind of way (though I know several authors who would find that particular drive to be a very short trip 😉 ), but in a ‘stop thinking and feel instead’ kind of way.
Let’s use as an example, shall we?
As a practice exercise, we’ll flesh out the concept of ’embarrassment.’
Writing “She was embarrassed” is not a bad start. It’s an experience most people can relate to on some level. But the adjective alone is a vague descriptor. It’s a wide-angle cinematic panorama, a slap-dash brushstroke of background color on an otherwise blank canvas.
To broaden our palette and detail our depiction, we need more. We need to zoom our lens.
Words have power. If we want to use that power to share our sexual experiences, we have to find the words to embody our feelings. Literally. So let’s talk about embarrassment in terms of the body: What does it feel like? Taste like? Feel like, inside and out? Think: temperature, texture, solidity, movement.
What does embarrassment sound like? Is it audible? Can you describe its sonancy? How does it look? What happens to your face when you are embarrassed? Your skin? What is its flavor in your mouth? Is it audible? Can you describe its sonancy?
How does embarrassment feel? If your first response is, “It’s uncomfortable,” perhaps it would help to examine the physical aspects of embarrassment first in terms of temperature: Is it hot or cold?
If you said hot: Hot how? Does it burn? Is it fiery? Like the sun or like a dragon’s flame? Perhaps it doesn’t ‘burn’ hot so much as it stings. How? Like a sunburn? A match strike? A tattoo needle?
Okay, then. Let’s try again:
Embarrassment tattooed its needle-hot sting across her cheeks.
Ah. NOW we’re getting somewhere.
What about the rest of your body? What are you experiencing in your stomach, your throat, your thighs, your feet when you’re embarrassed? Are you nauseous or do you have butterflies in your belly? Perhaps your your butterflies are dive-bombers? Is your throat dry? Constricted? Do the muscles in your thighs shake? Maybe they tense or flex under your skin? Are you ready to run? Or do the muscles in your legs lock you in place? Do your feet freeze, despite your brain’s desperate plea to MOVE?
What do you see when you’re embarrassed? Can you see? Perhaps it’s a blinding experience.
Her belly squirmed in rippling constriction under the blinding hot spotlight of her own inadequacies and she felt the tell-tale sunburnt blush of humiliation prickling across her cheeks.
Now embarrassment has taken on new dimensions. It roils tightly in the stomach, it blinds under the magnifying intensity of white heat, it abraids the cheeks like a sudden sunburn. It’s humiliating. And this time its cause is known: it’s related to a feeling of inadequacy.
Filling in the details like this – adding color, depth, focus, and texture via somatic exposition – is what will allow the reader to experience what it means to walk in our shoes. Breathing life into an idea by making the conceptual become physical invites the reader in; it creates a close-up view, transforming our reader from the un-invested observer of our wide-shot landscape to the vicarious subject of our detailed self-portraiture.
Exercise Your Writing Muscles
To get from the brainstorm questions to the second example sentence in the section above may feel like a stretch. And that’s okay. Stretching your writing muscles is a good thing, and a simple exercise to build your sentence-structure strength is to increase your vocabulary. Not sure how? Read.
The best writers are readers. Stretch yourself. Make it a point to daily peruse something new. Start with authors and formats you already enjoy. When you find a new word, concept, or idea: remember it. Let the seeds of new ideas take root. Foster them in the fertile soil of your imagination. Watch them grow.
Did you find a new word that has you stumped as to its meaning? The dictionary is your friend.
Need another word for ‘hot’, or an idea of what direction to take the concept? Open your thesaurus. There, you’ll find blazing, blistery, burning, chafed, flaming, incandescent, irritable, piqued, sunburned, and hundreds of other options right at your fingertips.
Words are malleable. Bend them. Shape them intentionally. Practice this until you are flexible.
Then spin them a little differently: Add a twist.
Her belly heaved in roiling pleasure under the hot-blind spotlight of her own inadequacies and she felt the sunburnt flush of embarrassment tattooing its prickling heat across her cheeks. She’d never felt so humiliated – nor so ALIVE – as she did in that moment…
…and her cunt had never been so wet.
Embarrassment is still in the body – rollercoastering in the belly, blinding the eyes, heating the cheeks – but has become something new through the juxtaposition of ‘pleasure’ and ‘inadequacy.’ This is not just embarrassment; it’s humiliation, and it’s clearly turning her on.
Now it’s your turn.
Words have power.
Choose a few to use. Take them outside of the mind and put them in the body.
Build on their strength.
Allow your readers to feel too, and they will better understand – and relate to – your writing.
Find the words that embody your experience…
…and do something powerful with them.
I found this article very useful. It has given me lots to ponder on. Thank you.
Thank you for that feedback; I appreciate it. Best of luck with your writing! 🙂
I also found this thought provoking. I’m learning so much writing a blog but I have a lot more to learn. Show don’t tell is more complicated than it seems on the surface. It really is an art.
“Show, don’t tell” is just three simple little words…
But – as is true of three other little words – ‘simple’ does not necessarily equate to ‘easy’. 🙂
Really useful explanation of conceptualising how to write to engage the readers’ senses. I need more time to read and practice my writing!
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