Guest blog by Brantwijn Serrah, author of All Mad Here
Imagery. By golly, imagery is one of my all-time favorite literary devices. I’ve been told I have a very “immersive” writing style, because when I get on a kick with imagery, I can go on forever. My editor has even had to cut down some of my imagery, to keep the story moving.
Imagery is defined in the dictionary as “the formation of mental images, figures, or likenesses of things, or of such images collectively: the dim imagery of a dream.” A creative writing teacher of mine once added a very important detail to this description, and I have taken it deeply to heart. The teacher told us that imagery appeals to all the senses.
Many times I read authors who forget about three of the five senses. Usually, sight and sound imagery are easy to come by. We won’t bother discussing them today. Touch gets a bit more screen time than taste or smell. I, however, try to utilize at least three, if not more, of the senses in any extended description. In erotica, this is both extremely immersive, and fun.
Scent and smell can be some of the sexiest images utilized in erotic fiction. The way a man smells of cigars or of a woodsy cologne. Go look up some men’s colognes and imagine the scent you interpret from the description: is it mellow or crisp? Mild or strong? The scent of skin—even sweaty skin—can be tantalizing as well. Most literary erotica I read contains a reference to the smell of a person’s sex…and I find it very hot. A few good words for describing smell can be “delicate” (nice for people wearing perfume or something like baby powder), “sweet” (definitely good for perfume wearers or very tender, more innocent characters), “exotic” (this one usually needs a modifier; exotic like what? Tropical flowers? Incense? Opium smoke?), “sharp” (someone recently involved in exercise or sheened with sweat, or also a good one for someone aroused), or “mellow” (think of someone wearing a milder, subtler scent or recently bathed with vanilla body wash).
These are only a few examples to get you thinking about smell, of course. Smells should match character as well as circumstances: someone just out of a hectic fight scene is probably not going to smell like roses. That doesn’t mean they can’t have a scent which is somehow attractive or arousing; sweat and body heat can cause a very primal reaction in potential mates.
Smell is one of the most evocative senses we have. You can create a very organic reaction in your readers with even a one-sentence image appealing to the sense of smell. For more examples, try searching online for suggestions on wine-tasting or coffee-tasting (yes, tasting). I find they can be powerful descriptors, and in many cases, the smell of wine and coffee play a big role in describing its character. Just as it should be for your characters.
Lips, skin, fingers, breasts and sexy southward regions all have a taste. When you’re writing erotic romance it had better be a pleasant taste, but keep in mind that many, many different kinds of taste can be pleasant. Some folks have complained about the description of “salty“; I personally find it incredibly sexy and true-to-life, when describing skin, especially if a person has recently engaged in activity or exertion. Other ways to describe it, of course, are “sweet” (wonderful description for someone freshly showered or conscientiously prepped for something like a date or a formal appearance), “bittersweet” (a more “au naturel” description), “earthy” (also “au naturel”, good for characters who are more rugged or less prone to gussying themselves up), or “savory” (I find this one to be a more masculine descriptor, though that doesn’t mean it is only appropriate for men). I also think a person can be described as “tasting hot” or “of heat“. If you’re talking about pheromones as part of your sensual description, I think “piquant” or “spiced” are good words.
Just like with the sense of smell, you can find good ways to describe and interpret taste by looking up wine-tasting. Some of the most evocative words I’ve ever found come from those descriptions. It can also tell you how taste affects the “character” of something. I wouldn’t describe a femme fatale character or a James Bond type as tasting “sweet” like cupcakes are sweet, though they could be “sweet” like spice cake is sweet. Remember modifiers as well: “her lips tasted of frozen raspberries” has different connotations than “her lips tasted of fresh raspberries”.
One can never downplay the importance of the physical sensation of touch! Especially in erotic romance, the type of touch, pressure, texture and emotion of touch are paramount to good, immersive imagery. The way someone touches you, as well as the feel of their contact, can significantly guidethe tone of a sex scene.
What is the character of a touch? How does the toucher feel towards the touchee? A “soft“, “tender” or “gentle” touch is good for lovemaking, sweet romance scenes. A “hard grip“, “rough” or “demanding” touch is good for rougher sex or BDSM. Of course, those are easy to determine. So how about texture?
Texture greatly affects sensation, and both create deeper character of the image. Consider how a rough or callused hand might feel as it caresses your skin. Feelings that come to mind for me are “rasping“, “warm” (like a deeper inner heat transferring from skin to skin), or “firm“. In contrast, consider a smaller, more delicate hand. I consider this sort of touch to be “fleeting“, “soft“, “cool” (less body heat transfer from lighter touch), or “teasing” (think of the sensation of slender fingertips lightly brushing your skin).
A touch can make your skin “tingle” or “ache” or “yearn“. These are the inner sensations that result from a certain type of touch (as well as outside factors such as environment or tone of the interaction). Other good words for internal reactions might be “sting” (good for BDSM scenes), “heat” (think blushing or flushing with desire), “swell” (use this one correctly and you’ll evoke a sense of rushing pleasure, not a physical swelling as in from an injury, like a broken ankle), or “thrill” (another good one for rushing/climbing pleasure, a bit briefer and quicker a sensation).
Another of my favorite literary devices is synesthesia, and I think it ups the ante on descriptive sensual imagery. The dictionary definition of synesthesia is “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.” An easier way of thinking of it is, when you use a descriptive modifier for one of the five senses to describe something perceived by a different sense. “This tastes blue” is one my husband recently used, to describe a particular kind of candy. It solicited some giggles among us but he was right: the only way I can think of to describe the taste of that particular candy was blue.
This is where I get some of my descriptions such as “she tasted the heat of his skin” or “his hand moved like a melody along my skin“. A very common use of synesthesia that we don’t really think of is when we say something “looks delicious“.
I find synesthesia to be extremely powerful in use with imagery. It can seem strange at first but if you get a little poetic with it, it’s amazing.
Don’t neglect the emotional and evocative power of sense imagery, and don’t forget we have five senses, not just two. As you conceptualize a scene, close your eyes and try to really experience the things your characters are hearing, smelling, touching, feeling. Create a whole, surround-sound experience for your readers.
Practice with this. I guarantee it will kick things up a notch.
When she isn’t visiting the worlds of immortals, demons, dragons and goblins, Brantwijn fills her time with artistic endeavors: sketching, painting, customizing My Little Ponies and sewing plushies for friends. She can’t handle coffee unless there’s enough cream and sugar to make it a milkshake, but try and sweeten her tea and she will never forgive you. She moonlights as a futon for four lazy cats, loves tabletop role-play games, and can spend hours watching Futurama, Claymore or Buffy the Vampire Slayer while she writes or draws.
Brantwijn has published two full-length erotic novels with Breathless Press: Lotus Petals and Goblin Fires. In addition to these, Brantwijn has had several other stories published by Breathless Press, including contributions to the 2013 Crimson Anthology and 2014 Ravaged Anthology. She’s also had a short story published in the Cleiss Press Big Book of Orgasm and the anthology Coming Together Through The Storm. She hopes to have several more tales to tell as time goes on. She has author pages on GoodReads and Amazon, and loves to see reader comments on her work. Her short stories occasionally pop up at Foreplay and Fangs, her blog at http://brantwijn.blogspot.com.
Excerpt from Brantwijn’s New Release, All Mad Here:
Nineva and Nerissa have planned a big surprise for Finn’s twenty-first birthday. Before he knows it, Finn finds himself in a version of Wonderland, racing the Red and White Queens for his fondest birthday wish—of course, his Ladies can’t know his true desires…can they? Will he best the Red Knight, find the White Rabbit’s missing token, outsmart the Cheshire Cat, and win his princesses, before he gets turned into a sheep?
“You are almost free,” Nineva said. “But alas, for riddle number three.”
Finn had no worries. The first answer had been tied to Spring and Autumn, the second to Winter. She had but one Court left to draw from.
Nineva swept up close to him.
“What did my sister give you, which I now wish for you to give to me?”
“Wait, what?” he asked.
She seized him, pulling him to the grass with her, drawing him into a kiss. Finn flailed a moment, caught off-guard, but he planted his hands on either side of her, holding himself above her. The erection Nerissa had stirred to life became rather obvious between them.
“Bloody hell, lass! What do my Ladies mean by all this?”
“Finn,” she said. Her hand stole down, sneaking to his groin, where she teasingly caressed him.
“What did my sister give you, which I now wish for you to give to me?”
“Nina,” he whispered. “The rules of this game are…very unclear to me.”
“Ah, well…allow me to make them clearer,” she said.