I just got asked a number of questions on writing erotica.Â The requirement was for nice concise answers and one of the things that defeated me was my attempt to discuss the place of the narrator in erotic writing. In any piece of writing, there is a three-way going on between the reader, the story and the narrator. Yes, I’ve left the writer out. Bear with me on this, because the relationship between the narrator and the writer is a whole other post.
When Christopher Isherwood wrote: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,” he was lying. There is nothing passive about a camera. It decides where to look, what kind of focus, what kind of lens, the framing of the shot, etc.
In a first person POV story, the narrator is obvious to the reader because he or she is also a character: the one who calls themselves ‘I.’ In third person, the narrator is not as easy to spot but they are still there.Â They are the camera. They decide what to point the reader’s attention to. When you, as a reader, are shown detail, it is the narrator who has chosen which detail to show you. The narrator also lies in the language that is used. Are the heroine’s lips presented in positive or negative terms? Let me give you an example:
- The thick, red, greedy flesh of her mouth spread wide in invitation. He kissed her.
- The lush, generous red lips curved in an inviting smile. He kissed her.
Same description of a woman smiling, but who has decided how the reader should see them? The narrator. There is no ‘I’ in either of these sentences, but there is a bias in the way the scene is being presented. In that bias lies the personality of the narrator. In the space of one sentence, you may not ‘feel’ the presence of the narrator, but start reading 5,000 words of story and, as a reader, you will feel his or her presence, if only subconsciously.Â And subconsciously or not, as a reader, you will begin to decide either to trust or not.
So far the discussion of the narrator could be applied to any type of fiction but, when it comes to erotica, I think the relationship a much more intimate one. Erotica often invites readers down veryÂ personal paths to explore desires and acts of eroticism that most people would not venture down. And whether you, as a reader, will suspend your disbelief and give yourself over to the story, and follow along as an engaged participant is going to depend on whether you like and trust the narrator.
Readers of erotica play interesting parts. They are both voyeurs, in the company of the narrator/guide and, if the erotica is really good, they are participants – body snatchers who pour themselves into one of the characters in the story and experience it from within. This is really the most powerful of all reading experiences, and when it’s good, it leaves you wet or erect with the scent of that fictional sex still on your skin. It was the narrator who persuaded you to go that deep.
For me, the narrator is like the Dom to the reader’s submission to the story. They have to be responsible enough to take you through the harrowing play and you must trust them enough that you come out intact, and get the aftercare you need. It doesn’t mean that they mitigate the strength of the experience, but they are always there, through it. They don’t change and go switch on you in the middle, and they acknowledge the impact of the experience at the end.