Maya Berger answers some frequently asked questions on editing erotica:
1. Are erotica authors less receptive to feedback than other authors because the text is more personal to them?
Thankfully, this hasn’t been my experience so far. Anyone who writes a story has some attachment to the characters they create and has written things that personally resonate for them. How receptive an author is to editorial input is more a matter of their understanding of an editor’s remit, their own attitude toward the writing and editing processes, and the strength of the relationship they have with their editor. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with erotic fiction authors, as well as authors of various other genres, who are eager to improve their texts and who engage respectfully with my suggestions and comments even when they disagree with an editing choice that I’ve made.
2. Are these stories more thrilling to edit than texts in other genres?
Honestly, no. I don’t edit erotica because I’m looking for a cheap thrill – I do it because I believe that stories about human sexuality and intimate relationships deserve to have the same high-quality writing as other literature. When I edit any type of fiction, I read a text in a very particular way, even before I start making any changes to the text. I am looking for a coherent narrative, interesting characters that grow and change throughout the story, and a sense of the author’s style and voice. There is enjoyment in my work, but it’s the same enjoyment I’d feel reading about a compelling character, rich setting, exciting plot point or elegantly crafted sentence in any fiction genre.
All that said, when I’m editing a work of romantic or erotic fiction I do look at whether any of the story elements take away from the overall eroticism and whether the story would appeal to its intended audience. I will sometimes suggest changes to create more evocative imagery or remove elements that break a reader’s suspension of disbelief, especially if I am doing structural editing or copy-editing, but also when proofreading if changes can be made at the word or sentence level. This often leads to the removal of…
3. What are some of the most unsexy things you’ve read in a sex scene?
Thankfully, I haven’t yet read anything to rival the hilariously misguided winners of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award, but I have come across sentences that were seemingly constructed using a random adjective generator. In those cases, it’s worth reminding the author that long, meandering sentences filled with flowery descriptions for every person and every action can distract the reader rather than entice them. Sometimes less truly is more, and the author should be confident enough in the characters, setting and narrative to avoid over-describing them with adjectives and adverbs. Verily, I say, heartily and with purposeful intent, such powerfully, mind-blowingly, epically tragic word choices are made at the unwary author’s engorged peril.
The most memorably unsexy word choice I’ve seen, however, has to be the use of the words ‘bowels’ and ‘intestines’ during a lovemaking scene. The author was clearly trying to emphasise the depth of one character’s… er… physical closeness to another, but there is nothing appealing about the word ‘intestines’. Moreover (and not to be too blunt about it), no matter what kind of sex you’re having, if your lovemaking involves those parts of your lover’s anatomy then something’s gone horribly wrong and you should seek medical attention immediately!
Maya Berger is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising in erotic fiction, sci fi and fantasy, YA fiction, and academic texts. Maya can talk for hours about censorship, sex and gender politics, and everything that’s good and bad about Fifty Shades of Grey. www.whatimeantosay.com
Originally published on the ‘What I Mean To Say‘ blog on 7 September 2016
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.