Thursday, 2 December 2010

Thursday Thoughts: Bitter Lemons & Sour Grapes

Lemons. Straight, slash, cannon or just plain freakin' weird, they crop up in the majority of M rated fics and, let's be honest, sometimes that's why we read a fic. You know from the very beginning there will be a lemon in every chapter and whether it's a sensitively written love story or just fuckery for the sake of it, you know what to expect.

But that right there is the major problem I have with some fanfics: You know what to expect.

I'm not talking here about stories that are meant to be pure smut. They have their place, of course. I'm talking here about stories that are meant to have good plot lines and well developed characters but which are masked behind a veil of sex so thick you'd need a werewolf claw to break through it.

Call me weird, but I like a bit of diversity in my fruit bowl. Every single encounter does not have to be the same and follow the same formula. I've lost count of the fics where I've read the exact same sequence of events in more than 3 chapters. Girl-meets-naked, boytongue-meets-pussy, girl-gets-screwed senseless, ladies-always-come-first. Yes, yes, I understand; there are (as my beta-wife so eloquently put it) 'only so many ways you can write 'in-out-in-out'; but you're writers for heaven's sake. ust because you decided to use someone else's universe and work in the Fan Fiction arena does not excuse a complete dearth of imagination.

I don't know, maybe that formula is the universal idea of the perfect encounter (not mine but heh...); read it 14 times in a week and it's boring. With a capital Z. Once in the same story is fine, possibly even twice; every writer will write that same formula differently a couple of times. A superb writer could make that encounter interesting maybe four times. More than that and you're risking people skim-reading through your carefully crafted lemons to find the next plot sequence.

Now, I'm not claiming to be the oh-so-wonderful-guru-writer-of-lemons. Far from it. My lemons suck and not in a good way. I generally try to skim over them in a teen-rated way so I don't actually have to write them at all or only write them in a nasty, darkfic way so I can get away with not having to write the same stuff everyone else is. But I know what I like to read and 51 chapters of the same old, same old, is not it. I've given up on some fics that started out as my favourites because the last 25 chapters are just one long excuse to have sex.

I've given it some thought and here's what I like to see as a reader and what I don't;
  • Same thing over and over and over... Please, if you must write 'the formula' only do it a couple of times. Switch things up a bit. Add in a comic relief moment where your vamps break the bed. Swap your pairs over and let someone else be on top for once. Drop in a bit of kink - you don't have to do hardcore BDSM to have someone getting frisky with the ice cream. If all else fails, move locations. A porch swing will do just as well as a bed.
  • Don't write what you don't know about... You may think that because you've read lots of other fics with lemons in, that you know what you're writing about, even if you've never passed first base yourself. Sorry, you don't and unless you're an exceptionally skilled writer, we can tell. I don't mean to discourage you from trying but please, at least grab a sexually active friend or relative and ask questions. Similarly, if you're a girl, writing a boy POV is tricky. The majority of your FF readers are probably female and won't know any different, but imo you should do some research beforehand. Most boys will be happy to tell you what it's like from their end, though they tend to brag a bit. And please don't tell me you can't get a gay guy to tell you all about it because if can't then you obviously don't know any.
  • Sex is not always perfect... Formula mark #2: They both 'cum' together or within a very short space of time, one orgasm pushing the other 'over the edge' as they 'scream each other's names in ecstasy'... Yeah right. I'll say to you what I said to my beta-wife; I've never met a guy who could remember my name or his own during the Big-O, let alone articulate it. I don't know, maybe our English boys aren't like your American boys, but to me it's unrealistic. Again, it's the ideal encounter for a lot of people but ideal and perfect are not the same. Perfect doesn't mean 'according to the preset formula' it means 'exactly right for your characters in their present circumstances'.
  • But it is sometimes very funny... One of the best lemons I've read (and shamefully I can't even point you to the link because it was before I used to save links - please let me know if you recognise it) was one where Emmett & Rosalie were getting it on and he got so enthusiastic he fell off the bed, resulting in the pair of them rolling around on the floor in hysterics and a very confused empath in the house. This was a comic relief moment in a very serious and dark fic and it was not over-done. It wasn't slapstick, it was just one of those things that happens and it was maybe five paragraphs of a whole chapter. But I remember it.
  • Showers make you wrinkly... What is it with you people and showers? I once read a fic where in the space of 18 story-hours they had 15 showers because of the amount of sex. Now one or two I get. You have to get clean at some point and shower sex is an obvious 'yes' in the shake it up a bit arena, but really, no one takes that many showers unless there's something wrong with them. Look at your fic in real time and see if it's even possible to do what you have them doing. Granted if it's two vamps, pretty much anything is possible, but there's fantasy and there's WTF? 15 showers in 18 hours = WTF.
  • Vamp guys don't fall asleep right after... So why aren't you making the most of it? No I don't mean yet another round, I mean what about some pillow talk? Take advantage of the fact that your guy is not falling asleep mumbling something that may or may not be 'I love you' and move your story forward; or fill in a gap; or have him think back to something in his POV while your human heroine falls asleep in his arms. Anything. Except more of what you just wrote for the last 15 chapters. And don't forget your femmes. They have thoughts afterwards too. Why not clue us in on some of their history by thinking back to the first time? Or their honeymoon(s)? Or remember an encounter from their human life?
  • Vary your language... There are only so many ways you can name things and we know that. But you don't have to use the same four words in the whole story and you don't have to throw every dirty word you know into the first lemon. Change tone from one set of characters to the next. Esme & Carlisle might be romantic and use non-descriptive words; Rosalie & Emmett can be quiet raucous; Edward probably uses the correct anatomical terms for everything whilst Domsper is all about the dirty words. Not to mention adding in extras like a bit of foreign language. Seriously, no one will mind you trawling Google translate for a couple of endearing Italian terms for the Volturi couples or the odd Spanish phrase for Maria. They may try to correct your grammar (good, you learn something new) and they may need you to translate in an A/N at the bottom, but they will at least realise that you're trying to add some spice to your lemons.
  • Coming up for air... Yes, sometimes kisses are so earth shattering that when you end them you're gasping for breath. But if you're ending them because you're gasping for breath, I feel I must impart this important biological fact to you. It's possible to kiss and breathe through your nose at the same time. Seriously. Try it. I once had an encounter with a very beautiful boy called Ben during a snow day where we kissed on his sofa for around 25 minutes and didn't break apart once 'for air'. And yes, he was totally 'on a  par with Jackson' hot. Ooh and that tongue... *ahem* Sorry, I digress...
  • Sometimes it's just not necessary... Yes, I said that! It's not always necessary to include sex in your story. I know the peer pressure of trying to get reviews will have you thinking it is, because stories whose reviews go through the roof often include the smutty lemons, but it's not necessary. For every person who enjoys a good lemon, there is a person who'd rather not read that stuff and is happy to gloss over it. If you have a strong plot and well rounded characters you can get away with none at all. I've read fics where the characters did nothing past second base and still enjoyed the story immensely. Yes, it'll get you reviews and readers. But is that what you want? Or would you rather have a few dedicated followers who enjoy your writing and don't mind that you don't have them schmexing it up every two hours? After all, SM managed it didn't she?
  • They are called cliches for a reason... Please, can you at least try to be a bit different? In my exemplar (below), the writer has used 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy' in a previous chapter. But she did it in Spanish and Bella had no idea what she was saying to Jasper. Char had set her up, Bella was baffled and Jasper nearly swallowed his tongue before laying into Peter, who he thought was to blame. Simple, effective, different.
Now, I understand that a list of do's and don'ts is very subjective and often difficult to make sense of, so I give you Exhibit A. My exemplar.

Long Way Down by forthelongestday (FFn link & TwiWrite link)

I'm linking you here to the latest chapter, Ch21 which is the first full on lemon, though there has been plenty of hanky-panky previously. If you don't have time to read the whole thing (shame on you, it's awesome), here's a rough synopsis of the story so far:-

Jasper stayed with Bella, working with the wolves to protect her, but Victoria got through anyway and Bella was so seriously injured she had to be changed. Bella's newborn time was difficult and she had trouble reconciling the fact that Jasper had changed her, while he struggled to hide his feelings for her. She's hell-bent on revenge against Victoria, so enter reinforcements - Peter & Char and Rosalie & Emmett. At this point in the story Bella is learning to fight from Peter, who she is only just learning to trust. Emmett & Rosalie are scouting the newborn encampment where Vicky & her crew are and Jasper & Bella have recently figured out that they're in love and mates no less.

Jasper & Bella have been taking things slooooow. Up to this point they've been warily working their way through the bases, waiting for Bella to feel like she's in the right place to take it all the way. In the last chapter she decided it was indeed time to take her cowboy for a ride.

Ch21 has everything you could possibly want from a 'this is the moment we've all been waiting for' chapter. It has a great start, moving Jasper forward and building Bella's confidence, then there's a lemon that's so sweetly written as to be totally erotic and heart racing - no harsh words, no standard formula, no rampant sexploits, no sexathons - just Bella & Jasper finally being together in a way they're both completely ready for, resulting in an emotionally cathartic release for both them and the reader.

But wait! There's more! Yes, after a brief rest, out comes the pillow talk. We're taken back in time a bit to the first night they were together, we get some more insight into Jasper's true feelings about the Victoria situation and Bella realises that while being strong for Jasper is good, she also has to be willing to show her vulnerabilities so he can show his. It's the last piece of the jigsaw of their relationship, slotting into place before the big run up to the finale.

In short, it's everything I expect from a lemon chapter and more. Read it. You won't be disappointed.


  1. I've said it once and I'll say it again... there is only so many ways you can read 'in out in out.' I've stopped reading so many fics or skimming over them to find the damn plot so many times! Especially recently. I've decided with TAoR, I wouldn't be writing a lemon every chapter... I don't want to be that kind of writer. No granted, there's gonna be sexin', but those crazy kids are gonna be doin' it on their own time. LOL.

    I really liked this article. It made me laugh and than go "duh" *smacks forehead*. I think my absolute biggest pet peeve is when a virgin writes a lemon. Y'all may know about foreplay and all that jazz but leave the act itself to someone that has experience. Sex is about feelings. You don't have... you don't really know those feelings.

  2. OMG, wifey! I about busted a gut laughing about the kissing and breathing being possible. How is that nobody seems to know that? Have all of these fic writers never had a kiss that lasted longer than a few seconds? I feel for them all...what a shame.