Writing Porn

Ullf Lehmann, one of our writers here on Scribe’s Forge started a discussion on our forums about the things that annoyed him in fiction. The first was a lack of proper sentence structure — Ulff writes in English and, as he comes from Germany, he understands grammar better than most of us from the United States. The second was bad continuity and logic.

The third was porn.

I do not mean the x-rated stuff, but rather the excessive use of details in either combat or describtive text that really does nothing (to me) in terms of furthering the story. Some of the books I read were so detailed in terms of where the hero’s feet were, how they were spaced apart, which way he stepped before twisting his lean torso to the left, his blade going in a wide half-circle only to be met by the adversary’s weapon. Could have just said, his first few swings were met with equal force. This pinpointing, zooming in on specific actions of the body are really not much different from porn, plus there’s also a lot of groaning and grunting and screaming going on, and it usually ends up messy also. If the battle is there to build tension, sure. If it is there to give more insight into a character, of course! But if it is just there as an orgiastic display of violence, absolutely not!

— Ulff Lehmann

Porn in writing is more than just the prurient and puerile poison that we usually associate with the word. We’re moving beyond ‘Lady Chatterley’ here. What Ulff is talking about is the gratuitous and self-congratulatory excesses in writing. Long passages of pointless detail. It’s writing at its most selfish: gratifying the author’s ego at the expense of good storytelling and beautifully structured literature.

The same can be applied to “dressing”. I know I will get stoned and tarred and feathered for this, but take the Lord of the Rings. Sure, it was written in a different time, and even R.E. Howard uses too much detail at times, but the excessive detail that does absolutely nothing for the story has made me put down the book five times so far. Trees are nice, and there are a lot of them in a forest, but the term forest already implies there’s more than one tree. If the setting is important, why not use it in context? Why not integrate it into the flow of the story? You can describe a door in all its glorious detail, down to the splinters, sure, but isn’t it more interesting for us the reader to catch only a glimpse of it before the character who passes the door moves on because there’s something much more important going on on the other side of the door?

–Ulff Lehmann

William Goldman, in his wonderful book ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade‘, says that ‘Story is Structure’. This means that a story has to be built on a solid foundation of plot, setting and characters all of which work dynamically — and sparingly — to create the complete argument of the story. Porn is a form of ‘chrome’ — glittery, shiny stuff that momentarily attracts your attention but which promises everything but delivers absolutely NOTHING of substance to the story. It certainly applies to gratuitous and vomitous sex scenes that go on and on in pointless detail … but it also applies to graphic, explicit violence — another form of porn — which tries to hide a lack of story behind a wall of gore.

It may even apply to language itself: using the ‘f-bomb’ or other shock language to ‘chrome over’ the fact that the writer has no talent for dialogue. Watch the original movie ‘Casablanca’ and listen to the dialogue there. Intriguing and filled with subtext; powerful and driving the story forward with force and fate. It’s compelling … and not a single swear word in the soundtrack.

Since we’re watching Casablanca anyway, let’s consider the scene where a young newlywed woman by the name of Annina Brandel (Joy Page) comes up to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) to ask his advice. In their conversation it becomes clear to us that this young woman is so in love with her husband that she is considering ‘selling herself’ to Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in exchange for their exit visas — so that her husband and she can start a life in America. She wants to know if Renault will keep his word if she does this … and whether her husband could ever forgive her. It is a gripping scene about VERY dark and desperate sexual power dealings … and there isn’t a single word about sex in any of the dialogue. This towering scene grips us because it is all about the story … and has nothing in it that would detract or distract from the power of what is going on.

No amount of chrome will make a car run better. Porn detracts, lessens the power and impact, of strongly crafted and well written story. Or, as Ulff concludes…

Or, maybe a more adequate question, if the story is so weak that you have to introduce porn, shouldn’t you reconsider it and maybe flesh (I am aware of the irony) it out more so you don’t have to rely on the proverbial sock in the pants?

Leave a Reply