Hey, where’s my conflict? – on writing solo sex


It’s a truth universally acknowledged (or it should be), that the things that other people like best are not always the pieces you loved writing.

Little Silver Bullet came from nowhere, and not, all at the same time. Since the Smut Marathon Round 4 assignment (‘One character. One sex toy. No brand names.’) was announced, I’d been percolating a different piece. Not a different toy, I should say – in real life, toys are one of the few areas where I put efficiency and function way ahead of brand – and I’ve been repurchasing this pretty much since I turned eighteen (no, they don’t stock it anymore and yes, I’m worried).

The story I planned to write – the story that, until I decided to write this post instead and until Little Silver Bullet did so well I don’t want to betray it by writing an alternative and asking which people prefer – also featured a bullet vibe. But I’d envisaged an office Christmas party, a solo woman working with a team of extremely sexist and corporate salesmen, and a Secret Santa gift designed to undermine her. I’d pictured her slipping off to the loo in a city bar, and getting off as she pictured them fucking her one by one. The t story would have come straight from my fantasies, but LSB? LSB came straight from my *heart*.

The unnamed protagonist could be me. It is fiction, but I’ve been there, many times. And I think lots of women have. I think that’s why it resonated. It’s not a clever story, it’s just an honest one.

Clever is one way to stand out in something like the Smut Marathon, but writing clever can be exhausting (although that said, the clever entries in this round blew my mind). You can spend so much time trying to think of the alternative angle that you forget to write something that’s true to you. And – I know it’s my bugbear – clever should never override story, in my opinion.

Although I’d written and submitted this piece by the time I attended it, this round made me think a lot about a writing workshop I went to recently, a workshop which I tweeted a bit about but never finished my thoughts on, hence this post.

The theme of the workshop was generating new story ideas and, at the start of the session, we were asked to write down the following things:

  • three names for fictional characters
  • three names of places (geographical places or places in e.g. the home)
  • three objects.

We then had to cross out one of the character names, one of the place names and choose one of the objects and then do twenty minutes free writing with the five words we had left. And … it works. It makes you write.

Afterwards, the instructor explained why it works. It works because all good writing needs conflict (much easier when you have more than one character) and progression (moving from one place to another guarantees physical progression at least). The object is intended to embody whatever the theme of your writing is, although I’d be inclined to say that that’s a optional extra and depends how much you like symbolism in your work.

The Smut Marathon assignment only technically allowed for one character, which makes  creating conflict REALLY FUCKING HARDI, along with many others, decided to interpret this as meaning you could only have one character in the room, participating in the actual masturbation scene, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t mention people who were in your character’s thoughts/fantasies – as it turned out, everything I voted for took this approach.

Lots of the feedback I’ve seen on this round suggested that readers were disappointed that more of us didn’t pick more ‘out there’/unusual toys. I’m happy to admit that I think most, if not all, of the stories that did take this approach were really creative, but I still don’t think it was the only way to do a good job in this round. Think about the sex writing you’ve loved most – it doesn’t follow that you’ll always like anal scenes more than missionary because the former is technically more exciting.

It’s the human in the scene that matters, not the silicone.


Self-preservation: 2 ways

So … you remember friend with the ex-fling who ‘joked’ about her being a size 14? Well, he’s been cementing his reputation as a total cunt this week by getting drunk and making more great jokes – this time about how, the morning after he slept with a girl, he drew a map to the nearest bus stop, gave it to her, rolled over and went back to sleep. That girl is my friend and they work together. It’s not like he was never going to see her again. But the deal breaker for me is that he regaled all her other friends and colleagues with this story on a night out – ok, he didn’t say it was her, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something she wanted to relive. She was, understandably, pretty upset. But she didn’t let him know this, because this is her version of self-preservation:

Self-preservation #01

When someone, whether it’s a guy, a friend, a family member or whoever, does or says something that hurts you, you *never* let them know that it bothered you because that would just add to how humiliated and stupid you feel. You might, after a time, rant to other friends about it, about how he made you cry, or why you wish your mum would just shut up for once, but on no occasion do you mention it to the person concerned. If it’s particularly bad, you might give them the silent treatment for a while, but the key feature of this approach, to me at least, is ‘Quick! Brush it under the carpet!’

Self-preservation #02

Personally, I prefer approach No. 2. The only thing this has in common with approach No. 1 is that it sometimes involves the silent treatment, but rarely. More often it involves ranting and raving at the person who hurt you until both of you have lost the thread of the argument and are absolutely exhausted. Why do I handle things this way? Because just as my friend says it’s embarrassing to let someone know that they’ve got to you, I cannot internalize how much I hate myself if I think someone’s treated me badly and I’ve just gone along with it.

That’s the logical thinking behind it, anyway. The reality is more instinctive. If, for instance, I get a text or see something online that I don’t like, I immediately get pins and needles in my hands and feel like I can’t breathe. For a long time, I thought this was just me being melodramatic – I’ve since realised that it’s actually a mild panic attack, and as someone who suffers with anxiety and depression, I’m not sure why that surprises me. I’ll immediately fire back a text or an email with my gut ‘How dare you!’ response, because it feels like the only way to exercise some control over the physical reactions.

I should probably learn some relaxation techniques, but I’m far from ashamed of approach No. 2. Yes, it often backfires, but hopefully it sometimes also forces difficult conversations that wouldn’t otherwise be had (sometimes being the key word). I wouldn’t switch to approach No. 1 for the world.

How about you? Which of these approaches do you think works better? Or do you have a third way? Are you , *gasp*, capable of talking things through calmly?!