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The List of Erotica Clichés You Should Avoid in Your Heat Submission (revised)

8/8/2017 6:56 pm

Whenever Sofawolf Press opens up for submissions and I find myself snout deep in the stories, I can be counted on to be tweeting out #TalesFromTheSlushPile, little anonymized slices of the life of an editor. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes frustrating, sometimes praise, sometimes curses. Last year, as we were winding down with the Heat selection process, I wanted to tweet, “Writers, please stop doing ___ in your stories. #TalesFromTheSlushPile,” but I realized that I had a lot of different things I wanted writers to stop doing.

And so The List, as some writers in the fandom affectionately dubbed it, was born. More appropriately it was “The List of Erotica Clichés You Should Avoid in Your Heat Submission.” The List spawned numerous discussions, a full-length episode on a fandom writing podcast, and even a satirical story that tried to use as many of the clichés as it could. Kyell Gold was kind enough to collect the full list in Storify format. (

Now, a year on from the creation of the list and with Heat submissions due in a little under two months, I want to step in and go through the list again, trimming some things out and expanding on others with more than 140 characters to work with.

So here goes.

The world bends towards sex.

In an erotic story, erotic things should happen. In a romantic story, romantic things should happen. In both cases, however, the erotic or romantic parts should occur as a natural outgrowth of the story and not require a plot hole the size of Belgium to appear.

In the slush pile, we’ve seen hardened warriors covered in wounds, on the brink of exhaustion, and surrounded by their foes suddenly decide to strip naked. We’ve seen characters who have only ever been described or acted as shy get on stage and participate in an orgy in front of a packed audience. We’ve seen hard-boiled detectives in the midst of the details of a grisly, gory murder think that was the perfect time for some hot guy-on-guy police room action complete with juvenile references to a character’s “donut hole.”

These stories broke the suspension of disbelief as though it were a twig. Bomb timers, guard patrols, and other immediately dangerous situations should not be ignored just to make sex happen. Characters should not suddenly decide to do something out of character just so sex can happen. And, unless you are writing a farce, the tone of your story should not swap from grim and morbid to happy, raunchy fun times just to make sex happen.

Don’t make sex happen. Let it happen.

“The Adventures of MyFursona McYifferson”
(Original Character. Do not steal!)

There are only a few things that will make us reject a story without reading it.

If your story is not furry, we will reject it without reading.

If your story is 50% over our max word limit, we will reject it without reading.

If your story is nothing more than the sexual escapades of your fursona (or someone thinly disguised as your fursona), we will reject it without reading.

There is such a bad precedent of self-insertion Mary Sue fanfic, that if you include yourself as a character in your own story, no matter how well-written and amazing the story is, it looks amateurish. We have seen this happen multiple times in the slush pile, and inevitably, every time, the story would be improved by removing the self-insert character.

Along similar lines, if your characters have names which are clearly fandom names or internet handles (and they aren’t at a con or chatroom), that’s not good either.

Everyone in the universe is just like me.

Imagine a writer who really likes jazz. To them, liking jazz is a perfectly natural thing and is perfectly common. So of course all the characters in their stories like jazz too, much to the confusion of the reader, who is wondering why such a diverse group of characters has this one particular trait in common and why the author keeps mentioning it.

Unquestioned assumptions of how common a trait or viewpoint is can sink an otherwise great story. We’ve seen cases of everything from medieval fiefdoms to ancient Rome to far-flung generation ships where characters behave and have priorities identical to modern day, 8-to-5 Seattle suburbanites.

With erotic stories in particular, we see two frequent problems. First, we see lots of stories written by men where every character of consequence (except the love interest, possibly) is male. Second, we see lots of stories written by gay men where every man of consequence is gay or bi.

However, much like the Bechdel test, failing this doesn’t necessarily mean you did wrong. Setting is key. If you’re telling a story with only a few characters or in a setting that restricts the characters who would appear (like a gay bar), then it may make perfect sense for the characters to share a particular trait in common.

So be careful of the scale of your story. As the scope of your story widens and you include more characters in more settings, we expect to see variety.

The lovedoll love interest.

Most erotic scenes involve at least two characters.

A lot of authors give us great main characters who are wonderfully fleshed out, three-dimensional, interesting, and engaging, with partners who are... not.

These partners have no development or life of their own beyond their interaction with the main character. They only appear on the page because the protagonist wants to be with them. They might not even have a job or interests ever mentioned, and when they are mentioned, they are only used to contrast with the protagonist’s job or interests.

A good way to avoid this: ask yourself what the partner wants in life, independently of the protagonist. And then make sure that want is clearly displayed on the page and influences their actions.

The porn star statistics.

One thing a lot of beginning writers could work on is their description. Specifically, their character descriptions and the lack thereof.

We see lots of characters described by what we like to call the porn star statistics: species (because this is furry), some distinguishing physical feature (typically eye color or their clothes style), and the size of the erection or breasts. That’s it. We’ll never learn about their height, weight, build, fur coloration, distinguishing marks, posture, gait, mannerisms, accent, or anything else. It’s only those three things.

When we look for stories to publish, we want fully realized stories with fully realized characters, not “generic porn extra #3.”

Oh, and don’t forget, you can describe a character through action too. Think of someone like Hagrid from the Harry Potter books. Rowling often described his size indirectly through him needing to duck under doors, or hunching in rooms, or chairs creaking as he sat on them.

The missing conflict.

A lot of erotica serves as escapist fantasy, but some readers lean a bit too hard on the escapist part and give us a story where everything is so happy and gay that there is no tension. So little ends up happening that these stories barely qualify as stories. A story should introduce us to, guide us through the development of, and usually resolve a conflict. (Rare stories pointedly do not resolve conflict.)

Conflicts can be big, life-or-death situations, or as small as a husband and wife who aren’t talking (as in Crimson Ruari’s Heat 14 story). Whatever story you are telling, be sure to include some conflict. And whatever conflict you choose to include, be sure that you don’t let characters downplay the conflict: if they are constantly telling us how it’s no big deal, why are we bothering to pay attention to them?

The sex is a reward (for the reader).

Some stories set up a nice conflict, build it up, and resolve it... and then keep going for a third or more of the story so that we can get the sex in there.

These are the stories where we do have a conflict, but the conflict ends and is completely resolved before we get to the sex. This makes it feel like the plot and the sex belong to two different stories or—far worse—like the sex is a reward for the reader for having to have trudged through that icky, icky plot stuff.

If the culmination of your story is a sex scene, don’t let the conflict end completely before the sex starts. If you want to resolve things before, try including a secondary conflict that gets resolved during or after. For an example of this, see Crimson’s story again: the major conflict of the couple not talking to each other is resolved prior to sex. The secondary conflict of their indecision over children gets resolved after.

Sex is perfect.

This is similar to, but not quite the same as, the issue of missing conflict. And again, it is likely due to wanting erotica to be escapist. We want to imagine that perfect moment of sex.

The problem is that the perfect moment of sex, as often described, is boring. Because nothing goes wrong, because there are no surprises, it tends to become a mechanical reenactment of tab A into slot B (repeat until finished). Beyond that, such sex scenes tend not to be memorable.

As with conflict, you don’t have to include big problems during sex. They can be small: slip-ups, mistakes, wrong starts, needing to move position, interruptions, and so on. For that matter, you can have a sex scene at the start and make use of something going wrong in order to start the conflict (as Huskyteer did in “Flight Path” in Heat 10).

A selection of plots we see too often.

These aren’t things you necessarily must avoid: we’ve published stories that fit these archetypes many times. Some of them can even be quite good... when done right. But, as it stands, these are all stories you should be careful with. We’ve seen a lot of these over and over again in the slush pile. If you are using one of them, you need to put a fresh spin on it or let the archetypes below just be an aspect of the story rather than the whole story itself.

  • Student falls in love with the high school jock.
  • Student falls in love with their teacher.
  • High school lovers fret over the changes that graduation will bring.
  • Single college student frets over the changes that high school graduation brought.
  • Protagonist falls in love with a jerk, they have sex, and they come to regret it.
  • Protagonist breaks up with a jerk, immediately falls in love again.
  • Character moves to new town, immediately falls in love.
  • Career-driven man meets Manic Pixie Dream Girl who teaches him to loosen up (with sex!).
  • An action story where to succeed the hero must seduce the villain or one of their minions.
  • A heist or escape story where to succeed the hero must seduce a guard.
  • Character wants to have sex but older/religious/conservative characters (possibly parents) disapprove.
  • Experienced character teaches a virgin (or otherwise inexperienced character) about the joys of sex.
  • Characters sneak away for sex during a party.
  • Lovers who haven’t seen each other in years have sex within a day of meeting again.
  • Famous person has trouble forming a loving bond because they are too used to a fast and loose lifestyle.
  • Famous person seduces an innocent, adoring fan.
  • A husband is caught cheating, but is quickly forgiven.
  • Protagonist cheats on their partner.
  • They feel very sad and conflicted.
  • Sex worker is hired by a mysterious client.
  • Poor protagonist is forced into prostitution to make ends meet.
  • They feel very sad and conflicted.
  • Protagonist rescues character from life of crime, poverty, and possibly prostitution, is rewarded with sex.

There you have it: The List (revised).

If you’ve already started work on your submission for Heat this year, check over these nine items to see if you are doing them in your story. And if you are, don’t panic! You don’t need to scrap your story and start over. Almost all of these can be addressed with revisions, sometimes really small ones.

Keep your eyes on the lookout here for a follow-up post on the things we want to see in your Heat submissions.

—Dark End (August, 2017)

Out With the New, In With the New: Heat

7/15/2017 5:30 pm

Heat Volume #14 Front Cover Summer is the time for Heat at Sofawolf Press! We generally prefer Minnesota's Fall, Winter and Spring seasons, but we'll endure Summer knowing that cooler weather is on its way. Sitting around in the air conditioning is also a good time to celebrate the release of our latest volume of our anthology by the same name, and to set things in motion for the start of the next.

Announcing: Heat #14

The latest volume of our anthology dedicated to stories of love and romance of all sexual orientations, Heat #14, was released at Anthrocon earlier this month. It is also available for purchase now on our website, so please pick up a copy if you haven't done so already! This year's edition includes a great collection of stories, comics and poetry from talents new and old, and it comes to you thanks to the hard work of Editor Dark End and Art Director/Layout Designer Black Teagan.

Submissions for Heat #15 Are Now Open

Starting July 15, we have begun taking submissions for Heat #15 stories, poetry and comics via Submittable. Submissions will be open through Sunday, September 17. Everything about the submission process is the same as last year other than the volume number!

Start your submission process here:

Hot Dish #3 Submissions Opening Soon!

We will also begin collecting submissions for a new volume of Hot Dish starting August 15. We don't want to directly overlap the Heat submission period, but we also don't want to wait too long to get started either. We have tentatively set the submission deadline for two months later: October 15.

Hot Dish is our anthology series that collects stories of love and romance of longer length than fit into our Heat format. It is also a gooey form of casserole popular in the Upper Midwest. Try it out in book form: Volume #1 and Volume #2! Or come to a potluck in Minnesota for the hot gooey variety.

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