Writing VS Content

I don’t know if this is a post about wonkiness, though it’s probably going to turn out to be. It’s just something I’ve been thinking of, lately, in regard to several different phenomenon – namely 50 Shades of Grey, the inexplicable popularity of my latest book, and other things that float into my thinking parts.

Does it matter what the writing is like, if the content is what people want to read about?

I mean, you only have to look at summat like the Da Vinci Code, to realise that yeah, it’s probably not the writing. The writing in that book is like a set of stereo instructions:

“Pouffy Haired Tom Hanks walked into the room. He saw Paul Bettany. He ran away from Paul Bettany. Put the CD into that circular part.”

And yet people still read it in droves. Sometimes an idea, a theme, a trope, is worth far, far more than elegant prose. In fact, I think that’s the case all the time. After all, no one could really argue that 50 Shades of Grey is the most incredibly written book. It’s at times clumsy, with far too many of the “rules” broken. Bella Ana exclaims a lot, and there are a number of mangled sentences, amongst other problems.

But here, it’s the story that’s important. It’s the compelling story – of the kind people really, really wanted to read – that’s caught the public’s attention. In erotic romance/erotica, people really, really want to read about a submissive virgin being intiated into the world of BDSM by a sexy svengali.

They just do. And I know this, because I’ve recently benefited from this rule. This different writing rule, that can probably be expressed in an algebraic formula like: V + SA – (fuck that writing’s weird) = HOORAY, in which V is a virgin and SA is a svengali alpha, and I actually manage some small bit of success.

Because my writing is kind of weird. In an amongst all the attention Sheltered has been getting, there are many, many comments about my extreme use of internal monologue, and my stream of conscious-y writing, and how annoying some people find that…

And yet they loved the story anyway.

Which is the key, isn’t it? Write about stuff people want to read about, and the fact that you’re weird at your core may well be overlooked. Which is probably the opposite message of this site, when I really think about it, but what else can you really take away from these lessons?

My most popular book has a repressed virgin heroine and an in control punk alpha hero. There’s only one thing I can garner from this.

Or is there? Because the thing is: the hero, Van, isn’t an asshole. In fact, he’s so far from being an asshole he’s almost all the way back around into being an asshole again. He’s the anti-asshole. He’s kind. He’s thoughtful. He doesn’t want to force – he wants to wait.

He looks like a badass, but he really isn’t. He’s a softie.

And people like that.

So what does this tell me? That people don’t want different? That they don’t want wonky? I’m not sure it really does say that, at all. Because clearly, Sheltered is reaching a section of readers who are tired of the Alphole. They don’t want a jerk hero, who masterminds everything and forces everything and is basically a bully.

They want a good guy – just like in real life. Of course, people say that women want a bad boy. That they’re after a jerk, secretly, and don’t want “nice” guys. But then as many sites have pointed out, a “nice” guy isn’t usually a nice guy at all. It’s just the same jerk masquerading as nice, so that he can whine about his failures with women.

“Oh why won’t women sleep with me? I’m so nice!”

And I don’t think readers or women want that guy, either. They want true heroes, real men. Men who can be tough, but are also thoughtful and kind. Who might be a bit possessive, and possibly hugely horny for the heroine…but don’t have to always do something about it.

I’m glad I wrote Van. He’s my paean to truly good men everywhere, and I’m so thankful and thrilled that readers like him. It means I get to write more like him, and not worry that no one will read my books. And that’s what I want to do:

I want to write about good men, who deserved to be liked. And I hope more people out there do, too.


My absolutely and totally wonky book, Power Play, was released last Thursday. And this one isn’t just a slight skew away from the traditional, either. It’s full on wonktastic: femdom, submissive hero who’s all big and goofy and sly and joyful, dominant heroine who doesn’t know what she wants, emotionally, workplace setting, kinky shenanigans…

If you still want to try it, you can find out things about it, an excerpt, and a buy link at my blog, here:




About Charlotte Stein

Charlotte is a writer of erotica and erotic romance, with a book currently out from Black Lace, and an almost-novella in the works with Total-E-Bound! Read more >
This entry was posted in Writing Wonkomance. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Writing VS Content

  1. Amber says:

    Well, you already know that I absolutely love your internal monologuing/stream of consciousness writing. It creeps into my head and then there I am, having sex with Van. It was good. Yeah. And that never happens to me. I mean, not the good sex part, the becoming-a-character thing. Usually the writing is a barrier to really getting immersed in a story.

    I heard someone say the hardest part of writing is getting out of your own way. They might have actually been talking about promo, but I’m thinking it applies to the craft of writing. We are so busy being cute sometimes, and following all these writerly rules (rules like don’t make up words! Crazy editors…) and then we’re like wait, what was the story again?

  2. Sarah Wynde says:

    This was nicely timed for me. My book got its first one star review on Amazon this week (an exciting moment!) and I’ve been thinking a lot about taste and how much it varies between people. I’m pretty sure that the exact qualities that inspired one reader to give the book one star are what inspired 39 other people to give it five stars. It’s a simple story, simply told. So one reader says it’s as if a middle-schooler wrote it (which made me laugh, actually, and think, wow, her kids must go to a really good middle school if they often write about sonoluminescence, quantum vacuum radiation, and cosmological multiverse theories) and many more say well-written, a fun read, excellently crafted. But it’s a weird little book, which I always knew (my geeky heroine is a physicist, my hero likes playing video games more than working), and my writing style’s very straightforward. So I’ve also been thankful and thrilled and, I admit, sort of surprised!, by how many people have appreciated that.

    • Thanks, hon. That’s lovely to hear! And that’s exactly what I hope to achieve with my writing – that’s what I love, as a reader! But I totally get why some people don’t. It’s something I’ve discussed in my creative writing class many times – that deep POV is popular at the moment, but a lot of people don’t like it. I think it does make some people uncomfortable for just that reason – it’s too close. There’s not enough distance. And I’m slowly coming to terms with that.

      And you’re totally right, too, about getting out of your own way. Worry too much, and you can’t even get words onto the page!

    • Think I just replied to you instead of Amber…sorry if that looks weird!

      Now, onto what I was going to say to you – am so glad that my post had that effect! It’s been really comforting to me to know that sometimes, people just won’t connect with your writing. Or that they might connect with it because you wrote the right kind of story. Or that my books can get as many as 39 good reviews (that’s orsum, BTW!), so that one negative one doesn’t hurt half as much.

      And I have the opposite problem to you – my writing is not straightforward at all. My writing is a goddamn spaghetti junction. But that’s probably caused me far more problems than your writing has caused for you – embrace and love the fact that you have a clear, clean, direct style! It’s a far greater achievement to be able to be straightforward, to be taut – and it’s more beautiful, too, than a million overused words.

      The point being, I guess – someone is always going to dislike what and how you write, because they just like summat different. And that’s okay.

  3. In the mental health realm, there’s this phenomenon of cyclical or periodic changes in the popular diagnoses of the day, and it isn’t solely attributable to better reporting/more specific diagnostic criteria, etc. Some of it’s just that people seem to go crazy in similar ways for awhile, then some nebulous but critical mass is achieved and the trend veers into some other flavor of crazy for awhile. And some of it’s just anecdotal, of course, but I really like and agree with the idea of this, that there’s just a zeitgeist and it’s nearly impossible to predict where it will take the collective consciousness next. Right now, it’s BDSM with the brilliant V + SA – (fuck that writing’s weird) = HOORAY formula (I am SO going to be using that). And I certainly hope that affects all our backlist sales.

    But who knows why, really? I mean, as you point out, The DaVinci Code? Really? I thought as I read it, knowing how vastly popular it was, and wondering if there was something I just failed to grasp (there wasn’t).
    Let’s just hope this current trend lasts awhile so we can all benefit. It’s about damn time somebody realized that what the world really needs is more romance novels with lots of kinky sex!

  4. Ruthie Knox says:

    Such an interesting post. I am not at all strong at the “story” part of writing stories — the part where you have to have a plot — and I sometimes think I would do so much better if I just figured out the five plots people like and wrote them over and over. But I have an unshakable resistance to that, so instead I come up with these semi-plotless, convoluted ideas, and Agent Emily shakes her head at me.

    Which is to say, I wish I were better at figuring out those formulae.

    But one thing I think about Sheltered is that you found a story there that’s actually the perfect MATCH for your style. You do so well with sexually curious, HOMG-what’s-happening, shame-filled heroines, and that’s exactly the voice you needed for this one. And I think so many of us have been attracted to a Van and wanted him to end up being just like yours — loyal and understanding and kind and brave. So I don’t know — maybe this book just hit a sweet spot, somehow, between what people want to read and what your voice demands that you write. And the trick, I suppose, is just to figure out how to keep hitting those.

    Some trick, though, eh?

  5. When I teach my “Writing the Novel” class I tell my students there are two ways about it. 1. Write something that’s been done before but do it better or 2. Write something that nobody’s seen before. And that good ideas are usually more “valuable” than good writing, in the publishing world. Then I give them a moment and tell them to get really mad about that. Then I tell them to get over it, because being mad for too long doesn’t help anything. :)