How to create compelling characters for more powerful stories

I don’t think that anyone will claim that you need to have highly developed characters for Erotica writing, but you may find that your writing is stronger – and your audience more appreciative – if you have more knowledge of who they are than “the cop” or “the pizza guy”. If you intend to write longer stories – from novellas all the way up to a series of novels – then you will need to know more about your characters than they know about themselves so that they are able to drive a dynamic story forward.

Create Characters for Short Stories

It’s always tempting in a short story – particularly in Erotica – to fall back on clichés when you create characters: horny secretary; naïve barely-legal teen; sweaty plumber. I think that Erotica is a genre which supports and encourages cliché, and that for the most part you will always find a reader who is looking for a familiar story told in a new voice.

Time and again, though, the stories which stick with people for a while longer are those which buck cliché, even if only a little. Erotica is also a genre in which you can’t buck trends too far while remaining successful – Rule 34 always applies, but that doesn’t mean millions of customers are lining up to read it.

Have a think about the characters in your story. All characters require three things to make them compelling:

  • They must want something
  • They must need something
  • What they want and what they need must be different

You will find that knowing what your characters want and what they need will readily enable sequels should your story take off. Let’s look at an example.

I created interesting characters from old cliches for Urgent Delivery

Urgent Delivery was my first Erotica. I had the terribly standard idea of “sex with the delivery guy”, but that isn’t enough for me to build a story around. More work was required, so I had to think about goals and desires to create characters.

Alex – our delivery guy – wants Jason, one of his regular customers. But what he needs is to be controlled. Unbeknownst to his Vanilla self, Alex is sexually submissive, but hasn’t yet encountered a partner to help that side of him flourish.

Jason – the customer – wants to dominate Alex, but what he needs is romance. Jason is knowingly sexually dominant, but hasn’t yet encountered a partner to cherish and lavish attention on.

In a short story, only glimmers of this dynamic show through: what is important is that the author knows these things. When the time came to write a sequel, Bound By The Law almost wrote itself, because I already took the time to create characters who would propel the story on all by themselves.

Create Characters for Longer Stories

For a series, novella, novel, or series of novels, you must know more information about the people in your stories. Even supporting casts require histories, motivations, and personalities.

You must know at least as much about a character as they know about themselves. For most people, this includes:

  • His or her own date of birth, as well as that of immediate family, long-term partners, and closest friends.
  • The schools s/he attended, and what s/he thought of them.
  • Whether s/he is still in contact with school friends.
  • What pets s/he had or currently has.
  • His/her employment history.
  • When and where s/he met his/her best friends and/or lovers.
  • Their names (usually, although it speaks volumes about a character who can’t list their lovers).
  • What s/he likes and dislikes (from food and drink, through to holiday locations, political viewpoints, and “certain kinds of people”).
  • Date of death of anyone important (a parent, a sibling, a best friend).
  • Their favourite hobbies and pastimes.

Tyrion LannisterNotice that characters very rarely have any awareness whatsoever of their needs; they start out being driven by their desires, but conflict arises because their desires aren’t actually their requirements. This discrepancy drives every single character in Game of Thrones:

  • Tyrion likes to apply his fierce intellect to protect less able people, but needs respect and recognition from his Father (despite loathing him).
  • Daenerys wants the Iron Throne, but needs to bring love and kindness to a world lacking in both.
  • Robb wants to avenge his father and restore the family’s honourable name, but needs love.
  • Jaime wants a simple life free from politics and manipulations, but his long-buried driving need is for justice.

As you can see, such simple-seeming motivations can drive entire countries. Think of how far they can propel your protagonists.

What a character wants can change throughout the course of their story, but once everyone has what they need, the story is over. Your goal as a writer is to hold off on giving your characters what they need until the very end, and make the ride as enjoyable as you can. Dragging things on past the end of everyone’s stories leads to the inevitable Shark-Jumping. You don’t want to do that.

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