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Berlynn Wohl’s Awesome Slash Tutorial For Cool People

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I now have a slash advice blog! If you like this tutorial but you have more questions, visit

Berlynn Wohl’s Awesome Slash Tutorial For Cool People

Hello, my name is Berlynn Wohl. I’ve been writing slash for ten years in five different fandoms: U2, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and BBC Sherlock. You can find all my work here on AO3.
Reading the off-topic posts on the Sherlock kinkmeme, I noticed lots of comments from nascent writers who were anxious about their first fics. They were stuck for ideas, worried that their characterizations would be poorly received, or they just plain couldn’t write their characters into bed.
So I decided to write down some of my thoughts about the slash-writing process in the hopes that it will guide and encourage new slash writers, and also maybe entertain more experienced writers and anyone who enjoys my work. While it’s got a very instructional tone, really I just want to say to novice writers, “Yes, it’s hard work, even for people who make it look easy. If your porn refuses to magically appear, that’s okay.”
This tutorial is just based on my own personal experience, and is not meant to be an authoritative guide or rule-book. Its purpose is to encourage people, not discourage them by implying that there’s only one right way to do it.
The emphasis in this essay is on slash fiction. There’s plenty in it for gen writers as well, I think, but really what I aimed to do was encourage anyone who is nervous about writing porn.
I welcome others to comment with their own suggestions and experiences.
Table of Contents
I. Preparing to write
   A. Read about sex
   B. Read slash
   C. Your fandom
II. Ready, set, PORN!
   A. Michelangelo’s Horse
   B. “Where do your ideas come from?” “If I knew, I would go there.”
      1. Getting the porn out of your head and into your car onto the paper
         a. Never let an idea get away
      2. Writing the first draft
         a. Sit down, before you fall down.
         b. Just keep writing until you get to the porn
         c. Exactly how realistic do you want the sex to be?
         d. I want my fic to put people in their bunks. How can I make sure this happens?
         e. You can write what you know (even if you’re a virgin)
         f. Keep the canon close at hand at all times
         g. Writer’s block. Or: GAAAGHH I CAN’T I JUST CAN’T
      3. Revising (and revising and revising and revising)
         a. The Enhance Button
         b. Is my porn still hot?
III. Wrap it up, label it, ship it. (Well, I guess you have to ship it first, don’t you…)
   A. How do I know that what I’m about to post won’t enrage people?
   B. How to stigmatize your fic before anyone reads a word of it.
IV. Now you’re a slash writer. What happens next?
V. Conclusion
I. Preparing To Write
This section will help you build a firm foundation upon which to construct your tower of porn.
A. Read about sex
This is something that I believe everyone should do anyway, because it encourages thoughtful and responsible behavior, but for purposes of this tutorial, if you want to communicate ideas abut sex to other people, you should know a lot about sex to begin with.
When I was a teenager, I would sneak into relatives’ attics and wherever else they’d stashed their decades-old book collections, and steal their sex books. My reasoning was, they’ll probably never open these old boxes again, and even if they did, and realized that The Joy of Sex, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, and The Sensuous Woman were gone, what were they going to do about it?
That was just my weird, twentieth-century way of hoarding knowledge. These days it’s easier than ever to get your hands on sex manuals. If you’re broke, go to the used book store. If you’re really broke, go to the library. If you’re under parental supervision, try Google Books.
And even if you, like me, are only planning on writing hot man-on-man action, it doesn’t hurt to read hetero-centric books like the ones above, to develop a more comprehensive knowledge about:
- How sex works, anatomically, biologically, and chemically
- How cultural attitudes about sex have changed over the last fifty or so years
- Why people have sex, how they feel about it, and the experiences they choose to share
- Emotional and physical complications and difficulties that sex can cause
- Nuts-and-bolts stuff such as which substances are preferable to use as lube, which are acceptable in a pinch, and which are a big NO
Being a prolific reader will help you every step of the way when writing. As the saying goes, when you steal from one source to write, you’re a plagiarist, but when you steal from one hundred sources to write, you’re -- guess what -- a writer. A head full of sexual data is the best foundation upon which to build your own porn.
Other books that have (sometimes unexpectedly) influenced my fics include Gay Ideas, A Queer Reader, A History of Sexual Customs, Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, The Guide to Getting It On, The Joy of Gay Sex, and The Gay Kama Sutra.  

You didn’t write your report on the Battle of Agincourt without first reading a bunch of books about it, did you?
Oh, you did? Er…



There are also websites (such as Minotaur’s Sex Tips For Slash Writers) that provide step-by-step guides to how gay sex works. Minotaur’s site is great, but I’m old-fashioned and I think books are charming, and sometimes when you’re just browsing and not targeting specific data, you stumble upon helpful things you would have never thought to look for.
B. Read slash
If you are a slash writer, then reading slash will become more than just a pastime intended to send you straight to your bunk. Every story will be a learning experience. The more you read, the more you’ll start to form a gestalt in your mind:  How is slash structured? Which tropes are ubiquitous, and which are specific to certain fandoms? Which words and phrases get overused? You’ll notice trends in how certain topics are treated, how characters are interpreted, common plotlines and conflicts, and so on.
And the more you read, the more likely you’ll be to start making decisions about your own fics based on what’s already out there. This will be covered more in the section “Michelangelo’s Horse.”
You might also find it helpful and encouraging to read meta-works, that is, essays that are about slash. (Like the one you’re reading right now!) Reading about how slash producers and consumers have operated, communicated, and thrived for the last fifty years can be very inspiring, and once again, it never hurts to know lots of things about stuff!
Lastly, when you read slash you will, by necessity, absorb data about where the fic databases are, who the most popular (or notorious) writers are, and how the fandom operates in general. Which brings me to…
C. Your fandom
Learning about your fandom’s culture goes hand in hand with reading slash. People tend to lurk for a while when they get into a new TV show or movie or band, and this is a good thing. Lurking is when you simply observe and absorb fandom culture. You’ll discover where the biggest fan fiction hubs are, what the most popular ships are, and what the general mood of the fandom is (friendly? unified? sedate? older? younger? balkanized? cracky? flame-y?). If you’ve stumbled upon a fandom as massive as, for example, Lord of the Rings, you may see splinter groups for a particular ship that are as big as other entire fandoms.
And as you consume the back catalogues of fan fiction, art, and meta content, you’ll watch some participants improve and grow over time, others lose interest in the fandom and slowly disappear, and still others trying to purposely alter their status/notoriety within the fandom. (All I’m going to say on this topic is: It’ll never fit if you force it.) You’ll see misguided participants getting smacked down, and thus you will learn what behaviors are not tolerated. You will see fandom producers elevated to god-like status for their contributions, and thus you might find a level of creativity to aspire to. (And you may see these two things happen to the same individuals.)
And every time you move on to another fandom, you have to repeat this step over. Assuming that your work and your persona will be received the same way in your new fandom as it was in the old might get you off on the wrong foot with your new cohorts. Lurking never stops being a vital part of the process.
This is especially true if your fandom or ship is, for whatever reason, defensive and ingroup-outgroup. I’ve seen this happen with ships that are considered squicky (like incest or interspecies). You might find that followers of that pairing are suspicious of outsiders, more sensitive to ridicule, and wary of anything that might upset the delicate equilibrium of their sub-sub-sub-group. Lurking is the first and best way to show your respect and win favor. 
Okay, kids! You read, you absorbed, you lurked. Now it’s time to put words on a page!
II. Ready, set, PORN!
I’ve been told that I write great first lines and great last lines. My response to that is, “Hell, those are easy. It’s the seven hundred sentences in the middle that are hard.”
Let’s take our first tentative steps into crafting those middle sentences.
A. Michelangelo’s Horse
I almost deleted this section when I was editing this tutorial, because it’s kind of a negative way to start. But the fact is that even the best fandoms have weak spots, and even the best writing has room for improvement. This applies to the professional world, as well: Stephen King openly admits that his books are the McDonald’s of literature. JK Rowling may have used her talent to become the richest woman in the world, but she never managed to overcome her greatest weakness: adverbs. Anyway, this section is about using the turn-offs you’ve read to help motivate you to craft turn-ons.
As I mentioned above, if you intend to write slash, you will find yourself becoming more of a critical thinker when you read it. You will see that certain terms and phrases are used and overused. You will take more notice of tired premises and misguided character interpretations, which distract from one’s enjoyment. In short: boner-killers. This will all be opinion, of course; one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure. But what matters for the moment is that you feel that if you are compelled to read that same florid description of a particular character’s blue eyes one more time, you’ll puke on your shoes.
So. The story goes that Michelangelo was asked how he managed to sculpt a horse out of a hunk of marble. Michelangelo replied that it was simple: he just cut away all the marble that didn’t look like a horse. Then he probably went off to have sex with another man. So he’s an inspiration in two ways.
Your first approach to what to write may be thinking about what not to write. You may say to yourself, “I am not going to write YET ANOTHER FIC where [character] is [misguided attribute]. I’m going to write him as [opposite characterization], like he deserves to be written!” Or, alternately, “I am tired of [two characters] always having their first time [before/during/after] [event]. I want to write a story where they do it for the first time when [completely original event occurs]!”
Wanting to improve on existing tropes/fanon can be a powerful motivator. But be warned: no one wants a writer swooping into fandom proclaiming that they’re here to save the day. Please do save the day, by all means! But leave it to others to make that judgment. I learned this the hard way, years ago, in the days before Anon, and was effectively shut out of a very exclusive ship forever. *sheds single tear*
B. “Where do your stories come from?” “If I knew, I would go there.”
There are two approaches to coming up with ideas for your slash. The first one is the super-easy one, assuming your fandom has one: the kinkmeme! Kinkmemes are brimming with ideas. Just Google “[your fandom] kinkmeme,” and keep reading until someone posts a prompt that ~speaks to you~.
In fact, if you’re ambitious or type-A, like me, you may want to set up a spreadsheet or database, with every prompt you see that you think you might want to try filling, including the Part and Page each one was found on, for easy reference a month or a year from now when you do write it.
But maybe your fandom doesn’t have a kinkmeme. Or perhaps that’s simply not the way you roll; you want to surprise the world with your original concepts. This is what I call “the old-fashioned way,” and it requires a little more work.
When I decided to write slash for the first time, I crafted an epic 17,000 word fic detailing Bono and the Edge’s sexual adventures over a twenty-year period. One might say, “That’s fairly ambitious for a first timer,” but the truth is, I thought it would be the only fic I would ever write! I crammed every smutty idea I came up with over six or eight months into this one fic, assuming that once I had, I’d have gotten the smut-urge out of my system, and would move on to the next activity.
Ha. Ha. Ha. After that first fic, I went on to write 60,000 more words about Bono and the Edge. Then I wrote 56,000 words about Spock and McCoy. For god’s sake, I wrote 18,000 words about Joel and Mike from MST3K, and they only met for five minutes in the canon! (Mystrade fans, take heart.) And this was all pre-kinkmeme. No one had made any requests of me (except to write more, which was nice to hear), no one had thrown ideas at me. I just couldn’t. Stop. Writing. Porn.
Okay, so, good for you, Berlynn, you’re a non-stop porn machine. What about me? I can’t think of a thing. Well, here are some places I’ve gotten ideas from in the last ten years:
* And then what happened? Probably the most popular starting point for slash. That meaningful look two characters gave each other right at the end of the episode? The two band members who walked off stage with their arms around each other’s shoulders after the encore? The gang of soldiers who had a deep, revealing conversation around the fire before retiring to their respective bedrolls? Well, then what happened?
* A is for Anal Sex, B is for Bondage, C is for Cock-rings… This is a good way to go if you have any kind of sex manual handy. Sometimes I would just browse a book, and say to myself, “Well, I haven’t written someone spanking someone else yet. Let’s write that.” Good remedy for the “Tab A Goes Into Slot B Once Again” Blues.
* What would a character bring to bed? This is a good one if someone in the fic is a bit of an odd duck. What is their approach to sex? Perhaps a science geek would bring a home-made sex toy, or a lubricant of his own devising. (Whether the results are stratospherically erotic or hilariously awkward is up to you.) A bookworm, go-getter, or type-A character might stop the proceedings constantly so that they can refer to their Deluxe Illustrated Pop-Up Kama Sutra. The band’s lead singer might bring a camera, being -- as lead singers tend to be -- unable to not be a performer for five frickin’ minutes. And a hobbit will probably bring food.
* Alternate Universes/Crossovers. When I see requests on the kinkmeme for crossovers, they tend to fall into the “I just want to see what happens when Sherlock meets House” category. Nothing wrong with that. But when I wrote a series of sci-fi AUs featuring Bono and the Edge, I specifically did not include any characters from those other ‘verses. I watched Red Dwarf and thought, What if Bono and Edge came down with that flu that makes your hallucinations manifest physically? That concept, I felt, had more potential than “How would Rimmer get along with Bono?” (Answer: The same way he would get along with Ace Rimmer, probably, so it’s pretty much already been done.)
* Nightmare Mode: Write something that squicks you. This may have happened to you like it’s happened to me. You see that your favorite author has posted a new fic. You go to read it and, surprise, it’s squicky! But you are ~strangely hypnotized~, because your favorite author is your favorite for a reason, and the prose remains compelling despite the content. When this happened to me, I often turned around and wrote that squick myself, thinking, “Hell, if so-and-so can make that squick hot, maybe it’s not a squick after all. Maybe it’s, you know, just hot.” Challenge yourself by writing something “gross” in a way that makes you not think of it as gross anymore. You might end up changing other minds, as well.
1. Getting the porn out of your head and into your car onto the paper
I say “onto the paper;” I’m an old-fashioned type, and I write my first drafts with paper and pen. Some people go directly to their keyboard, and that’s perfectly fine, but if you’re using one method and having trouble getting the words out, you might want to switch to the other, to see if that helps. I find it’s tougher for me to type a first draft. So I write first.
Another good reason to write on paper? If you’re at your computer, you might have a question about the spelling of a word, or the sequence of canon events, and get on the internet to look it up, and BAM, you’ve lost six hours to TV Tropes and you’ve got no fic written. That won’t happen if it’s just you, a pen, and paper.
If it’s possible, keep a pen in your hand and paper nearby at all times (at all the times?), because you should…
a. Never let an idea slip away
I suppose it doesn’t have to be pen and paper. A notepad-type app on your smartphone will do. But especially keep something of the kind next to your bed. I mourn for all the brilliant ideas, even ones completely unrelated to porn, that were lost because someone thought of them five minutes before they fell asleep, and forgot them come morning.
The method is less important than the reason behind it: you don’t have to have the whole story in your head to begin writing. If a voice pops into your head, and it’s Character A begging Character B for some cock, write it down. If, the next day, you form the mental image of the playful way Character B would tease Character A with that begged-for cock, write that down too. Pretty soon, you’ll have half your story written.
Here are some of my own notes:


This is what my handwriting looks like when I’m writing while lying on my side, in a darkened bedroom.




I have notes like these scattered all around the apartment. It gets weird when my mom visits.




Okay, so, that’s great, I have piles of half-legible notes. But having piles of half-legible notes is not necessarily the best way to build a fic. So once I can get sat down at a desk, I’ll re-write all these notes neatly on lined paper, so it looks like this:


The Porn Orphanarium.

Spoilers below if you haven’t read Sherlock’s Laboratory, Episode 1: Romance




I cross off blurbs when I find a home for them. The rest sit there, waiting
to be plunked into fics later...sometimes months later.





Now I have a little archive of dirty talk, sexy mental snapshots, and basically just a lot of inventive ways to say “They fucked.”
Sometimes a single sentence will inspire a whole fic. I might take one of these lines and write a thousand words around it, as a vehicle for it. Exhibit was pretty much written around John’s frustrated declaration, “Sherlock, you are the laziest fuck I’ve ever had.”
On the other hand, I often will write a first draft, and only then look over my archive for bits and pieces that will fit into that particular fic. And sometimes these sexy one-liners simply remain unused, unto the seventh generation.
I keep plot ideas in a separate list or set of lists. Step one to getting a fic written is often writing out the entire plot in seven to ten lines. Each section of the fic is one line, super simple, nice and neat and unintimidating. Then, instead of struggling to come up with a brilliant first sentence, I can say, “Today I’m writing the scene where they have sex in the nocturnal animals enclosure at the zoo. Perhaps tomorrow I will write the scene where they meet for the first time.”




The outline for Sherlock’s Laboratory Episode 2: Intrusion. Spoilers if you haven’t read it.





If you're despairing of ever being able to successfully articulate the porn in your head, take heart: The genesis of a super-explicit, thousand-word sex scene was this single sentence: "Sherlock sort of trips and falls and accidentally has sex with Gogo."



2. Writing the first draft
I’m not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on standard writing techniques. You can find a million books full of writing exercises to improve your prose, and hopefully slash is not the first thing you’ve ever tried to write. But there is one “standard” technique which I believe bears repeating for those who are struggling to specifically write porn:
a. Sit down, before you fall down.
Perhaps when you were very small, just before a long car trip or a supermarket outing, you were told you should go use the bathroom, right then. You’d protest that you didn’t need to go right then, but, being four years old, you couldn’t be trusted with that kind of decision-making, so you would be instructed to sit on the toilet and “Just try.”
This actually translates to good writing advice. Even if you don’t feel like you could sit right down this minute and bang out a thousand words, if you have the time you should at least go somewhere comfortable with your writing materials and try. Maybe give yourself fifteen minutes. If fifteen minutes of sitting quietly goes by and you can’t bring yourself to write that first sentence, then get up and do something else. But you might surprise yourself. Sometimes all it takes is just assuming the writing stance, and you realize that you did feel like writing after all.
b. Just keep writing until you get to the porn
Something I’ve heard from more than one newcomer: I can’t get my characters into bed! I’m writing and writing, and they won’t do it!
I think this problem stems from two things: number one, the writer’s just afraid to write about sex. This whole tutorial is dedicated to helping people feel more comfortable with that, so if that’s your thing, just keep reading. The other reason, I think, is that little nagging voice in the back of your mind that says, “Why are you trying to make these two dudes kiss? Do you really think they’d do that?”
When I wrote my first story for the Sherlock fandom, I had thirty-two fics from four other fandoms under my belt. I knew a thing or two about a thing or two. And yet, I was faced with the same old hurdle to leap: why are these two characters going to have sex with each other? One of them is canonically straight as an arrow, the other is canonically asexual.
Even though I’d already read lots of fics with lots of reasons for Sherlock and John to go to bed, I felt like I had to have my own reason. It didn’t have to be a completely original reason. It just had to make sense to me.
So before I wrote a word of slash, I wrote a one-page essay about why John and Sherlock would want to be together. Here are a few excerpts:
…Perhaps SH’s disinterest in sex does not mean he’s asexual, but rather he just hasn’t met anyone interesting/worthy enough to compete with The Work hold his attention, until JW comes along. This can come off as a tired romantic premise: you entered my life and then EVERYTHING CHANGED. But it’s not so much “I want to be with you because when you entered my life everything changed.” It’s more like, “I want to be with you because you’ve entered my life and things won’t have to change.”
From the start, SH and JW validate each others’ existence: JW doesn’t want to be coddled by a therapist; he wants to know that it’s okay to be an adrenaline junkie. SH says (without words) exactly what JW has wanted to hear since he got back from Afghanistan: “This is not a Coldplay song and I will not try to Fix You, because you are not broken.”
…It’s not that JW found some sort of switch on SH that reads “ASEXUAL – SEXUAL,” and he just flipped it to “SEXUAL.” Instead of a light-switch, I’m suggesting more that he had a dimmer, or a rheostat. SH had compartmentalized sex until it was a tiny box swamped under other compartmentalized boxes in a (metaphorical) closet, as one might gradually bury a box of supplies for a hobby they always meant to get to but never found the time or desire for...
After writing this, I had a track upon which to put my porn train, so that I might guide it safely to Slash Town. When it came to writing my first fic, I decided to make it a case-fic, with a plot and everything, to help me get where I wanted to go. It took six thousand words, but John and Sherlock were wanking each other in the sitting room in due time.
After that, even if I was writing another first-time fic, the path to porn was far easier to navigate.
(P.S. I do not mean to offend any real-life asexuals with the above suggestion that Sherlock “isn’t really asexual and only needed to meet the right person.” I understand that things don’t work that way in real life, but this is porn, so I bent reality.)







At some point, you may have thought to yourself, “I wonder what Berlynn Wohl is like in real life.” Well, I have a great full-time job, an awesome boyfriend, and an apartment of my own, specifically, one of those tiny apartments that inexplicably has a thousand cubic feet of cupboard space. My food only requires about two, so I use the rest to store other things…including folders full of the written drafts of all the smut I’ve ever authored. But you see, the particular cabinet I keep those folders in is eight feet up, accessible only if you climb on the counter. That’s a lot of trouble, so I put off doing that by just stacking written drafts in the lower cabinet, on top of the food, for the time being.



Folks, you heard it here first: Berlynn Wohl keeps porn in her kitchen cupboards.





c. Exactly how realistic do you want the sex to be?
This is a subject that ties in with all that preaching I did a few sections back about doing your smut research, so I won’t spend too much time re-iterating it. Learn about how sex works between the gender or genders you are writing about. If you happen to be sexually active, use your own sexual experiences to inform your writing.  If you do either or both of those things, you won’t have to stress too hard about this next section.
Writing “realistic” porn has always been and will always be a tricky topic. First, every individual has a different definition of “realistic.” Second, every individual has a different level of desire for “realism.”
Here is a link to an essay criticizing “unrealistic” porn. It makes a lot of good points, but if you don’t want to take the time to read the whole thing right this minute, I will just say for now that the main thrust (*snerk*) of the criticism is that 1) slash is written by teenage girls who have not yet had sex, and will never be able to actually experience man-on-man sex; and 2) the aforementioned girls are learning how to write slash by reading fics written by other aforementioned girls. So the end result is a self-perpetuating, self-congratulating ourobouros of unrealistic copulation.
Every word of that essay is true, to an extent. I’m not denying any of it. However. That doesn’t mean you must never write any of the tropes mentioned in the essay, and it doesn’t mean that just because you’re a female teenage virgin, you’ll be hopeless as a pornographer. It just means “take it easy on the ‘magical tongue’ thing.”
Pornography is unrealistic. But that’s great! When you think about it, the more real porn is, the more horrifying it can be. And textual porn is unrealistic by its very nature, in that text distances the reader from some of the harsher truths of sex. When you read, you get to use your imagination, rather than having bodily imperfections, embarrassing noises, and inconvenient excretions thrust upon your various senses. If I wanted something that was mortifying, inconvenient, awkward, stressful, poorly timed, and disappointing, I wouldn’t bother looking for porn, I would just have real sex.
On the other hand, some people take joy in writing and/or reading “imperfect” sex, fics featuring sexual incompatibility, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, coitus interruptus, HIV, unexpected pregnancies, santorum, and other instigators of embarrassment or angst. Some of these fics are dead serious, and some are satirical, or are making a statement about “fantasy” porn.
So you’re going to have to decide, as an author, where you want your fic to fall on the sliding scale of Real to Fantasy. Do you want to bring the action to a screeching halt so that Sherlock can say to John, “Wait! Before you rim me, I want to make certain you’re aware that even though I have just washed, you face a small but significant risk of consuming fecal matter and contracting hepatitis!”
Oh baby. I’ll be in my bunk.
That’s kind of an extreme, comical example. But here’s one that is more common: Do you want your characters to use condoms? I have never included condoms, myself. I think that some writers consider them necessary because condoms are such a ubiquitous part of many sexually active people’s real-lives. You just don’t have sex without a condom. Well, I leave condoms out of the picture, because I trust that my readers do understand that condoms are a part of real life -- that, indeed, you just don’t have sex with a new/casual partner without them -- and won’t forget it just because I wrote a fantasy where no condoms made an appearance.
However. Other writers might find it OOC for a thoughtful and educated character to leap into bed without protection. If foregoing condoms seems reckless to you, by all means include them.
The most important thing is that you, as a writer, are comfortable with what you’re writing. If the closest you want to get to harsh reality is a passing reference to the taste of semen being maybe just slightly unappealing, then don’t let someone shame you into writing about the Doctor gagging until he throws up in his mouth a little because he’s got one of The Master’s pubes stuck in the back of his throat.
As I said before, I think that if you have a solid grasp of how sex works, physiologically, you shouldn’t be ashamed to write about characters who can come from prostate stimulation alone, or to make anal sex the Ultimate Goal of your porn. It’s PORN.
d. I want my fic to put people in their bunks. How can I make sure this happens?
Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff. The soft, chocolatey core, if you will, of this overly verbose tutorial.
Whenever a novice slasher humbly presents a chunk of their writing and invites constructive criticism…any time a writer sends their newly-minted fic off to their beta…the moment those two magic words are written, “Feedback appreciated!”…what’s really going on is, a nervous writer is crying out into the void: It will make me feel a lot better about writing filth if you tell me that you fapped to it.
The kinkmeme phenomenon is only a few years old; the first one was launched in 2008. Having written slash pre-kinkmeme and post-kinkmeme, I can tell you one thing that’s changed: writers used to be mainly inhibited by fear that their story might be too outrageous. Now that everyone is able to post outrageously kinky things as Anons, people have instead become more inhibited by the unprecedented number of complaints that are leveled by other fans with the privilege of going Anon.
Here’s a true story, which illustrates how pre-kinkmeme fandom could inhibit a writer: Back in 2002, I wrote a scene that included snowballing. I showed it to two friends, and both said, “Ew, gross.” I thought, “Oh, whoops, my bad, too kinky.” And so I left it out of the final draft.
Cut to nine years later, when I read the Sherlock kinkmeme for the first time. I was flabbergasted, in the best way possible. “Jesus,” I thought, “not only do these Anons want snowballing, they want rimming, they want fisting, spanking, pissing, medfet, DP, tentacles, they want John coming on Sherlock’s face, they want Lestrade coming on Sherlock’s face, they want Moriarty coming on Sherlock’s face…” (Not that I blame anyone, by the way. If I had a penis, I would want to come on Sherlock’s face, too. He just has that kind of face.)
Back in those days, it was a much bigger deal to criticize things you didn’t like in fic, because you didn’t want to be That Fan, who pissed in everyone’s cornflakes. Very few fandoms had fics in the triple digits, so most slash readers would hope that a lousy writer got better over time, rather than criticize her and risk scaring her away entirely.
Now that readers can go Anon, complaints are more common (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say ubiquitous). Maybe you’re on the rant post and you see someone sound off about “all these stupid fics where Sherlock wants to have sex with John ‘as an experiment.’” What you might miss is the response to that post, where another Anon says, “Actually, I like experiment!sex. I think it’s fun and silly and awesome.”
Just as some readers -- in slash and in the mainstream -- want to read about a guy’s “hot, throbbing cock” while others prefer to read about “his manhood,” so do some readers want to read neverevenhadanorgasm!Sherlock, while others prefer reasonablyexperienced!Sherlock. If you write well, if you have a firm grasp of prose and an insight into your character’s needs and motivations, then it doesn’t matter if Sherlock’s seen a million dicks or none at all, perhaps not even his own. (Huh. That’s an interesting idea. Excuse me for a moment while I pop over to the kinkmeme.)
Here’s some advice I gave to a writer who was self-conscious about having written an OOC woobie!Sherlock (slightly edited to reduce redundancies):
I'll happily read a fic about someone acting OOC, if the writing is clever. In fact, I often find humorous stories more appealing if the characters are a bit OOC. Think of how trashy fantasy/romance/thriller novels are often compared to candy: you shouldn't have it all the time, but occasionally you just want to stuff yourself with junk.

Remember that you're in Fandom, which thrives on infinite variety in infinite combination. No matter what content you produce, someone's probably into it. One individual on the kinkmeme might opine, "I am offended by fics where Sherlock is asexual and then John 'cures' him with Magical Healing Cock! That's not how real life works, thankyouverymuch." And then the very next prompter will say, "Guys, I really just want to read some good old-fashioned Magical Healing Cock!" Often, people know that what they want is stupid/unrealistic/OOC, but they don't care. If your Sherlock is the woobiest woobie that ever woobied, chances are that you will still be thanked profusely for your post.

If you try to force your characterization somewhere that you don't want it to go, just to please your potential audience, it will show. Write what comes naturally. You'll enjoy the process more, and others will enjoy the end result. I love virgin!Shelrock, and even if people told me that they thought virgin!Sherlock was stupid, I could not bring myself to write promiscuous!Sherlock just to please them.
So don’t be put off by one person who complains about a certain trope. In an earlier section I mentioned how reading slash will teach you what tropes/phrases/characterizations are overused or ridiculous. That knowledge is only supposed to inform your preferences about what you write. It’s not meant to discourage you from writing in well-trod territory. Guess what: my first Sherlock fic was the biggest cliché in the fandom: a breathless, adrenaline-fueled first time after the thrilling conclusion to a case. I knew perfectly well that it was a cliché when I wrote it, but it turns out I had no fucks to give about that.
Since then, I had a writer whom I respect very much tell me -- not referring to my fic, but fic in general -- that she abhorred characters making “animal noises” in any context. Okay, I get that someone “purring” or “barking” might seem silly, but the next time I wrote a fic, John “growled,” and I went Uh oh, someone won’t like that! So I substituted another verb. Then Sherlock “came with a roar” and I went, Hell, I did it again. I dived for the thesaurus. But finally, I thought, You know what? Fuck it. I can’t keep trying to force new words in to replace the prose that’s naturally coming to me. I’m sorry, darling fellow writer whom I love dearly, but fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and I’ve gotta write about “John growling” ‘til I die.
This applies to the level of explicitness, as well. If you squirm at the thought of writing the word “arsehole,” then just write “opening” or “entrance” or “perfect pink bud” instead, whatever makes you feel comfortable. Even “anus” works…particularly if it’s medfet!
I do want to add a caveat, though: One thing I have never, ever seen defended anywhere -- the one thing I will just come out and say is OBJECTIVELY, INARGUABLY BAD -- is identifying the characters in your fic as “the taller man,” “the dark-haired man,” etcetera. Unlike fluff, unlike non-con, unlike mpreg or crack or AUs, using those phrases is BAD, END OF STORY. I once saw a novice writer (bless her heart) very bravely post her first fic, asking for criticism, and got multiple responses along the lines of “I read ‘the shorter man’ and just skipped the rest.”
Use character’s names. It’s alright. You might feel the urge to use those abhorrent phrases for variety, because writing the names over and over seems repetitive. But if your fic reads like this:
Sherlock did this to John. John did that to Sherlock. That made Sherlock feel a particular way about John. Then John did something else to Sherlock.
…then you probably need to go back and start again. Not every sentence has to be Subject-Verb-Object.
One thing I do when my prose gets like that is to press the Enhance Button. More on the Enhance Button in the Revision section, so keep reading.
e. You can write what you know (even if you’re a virgin)
Earlier I mentioned reading books to learn about sex. Let’s assume that at this point you are thoroughly knowledgeable about sexytimes, but you need to do some research in order to add non-sexual content to your fic.
Once again, I beg of you: don’t just go to Google or Wikipedia, read books as well.
There’s nothing wrong with using the internet to find quick facts (“How many kilometers from London to Edinburgh?”). But if you’re writing a story where, say, I dunno, Sherlock and John go to Antarctica to solve a mystery, then reading books written by people who have lived in Antarctica will serve you better than eight or twelve random articles from the web.
I had decided I wanted to write about two things that had never been featured before in a full-length Sherlock fic. I settled on Antarctica and Dungeons and Dragons. I had plenty of off-the-top-of-my-head knowledge of both these subjects already, but I didn’t write a word before re-reading my two favorite memoirs of Antarctic life, and digging through D&D manuals for just the right spells.
These little details will give your fics flavor, even if certain facts aren’t directly relevant to the plot. For example, I know a lot about serial killers. Writing for BBC Sherlock presents lots of opportunities to use that knowledge. In Passionate, Unironic, I based the crime scene on a typical attack by Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, who terrorized Los Angeles in the summer of 1985. In Pumpkin Seeds, Sherlock expresses a fascination with one of the personal quirks of Ted Bundy, who kidnapped and murdered co-eds all across America in the late 70’s.
But the thing is, I’ve never had much of a social life, so I have all the frickin’ time in the world to read about a million esoteric subjects. What if you’re sixteen years old and there’s only two things in this world that you love: Sherlock and social networking? Hmm, well…why not write a casefic about The Twitter Killer? I dunno. Maybe you could find a third thing to love.
f. Keep the canon close at hand at all times.
Fanfic 101 is that the canon is invaluable not only for inspiration (JESUS DID YOU SEE THAT EYE-SEX RIGHT THERE), but for reference as you go. When I’m actively writing, I try to occasionally re-absorb at least parts of canon with the specific intention of comparing and contrasting my own character interpretations.
Timelines are also helpful references, and most big fandoms have diligent fans who put their heads together constructing a year-by-year history of the Old Republic or the Cylon Wars or whatnot. And if you’re writing Real Person Fic, your fandom might even have the luxury of book-length timelines. I know that the Beatles, the Monkees, and U2 have had day-by-day, song-by-song references published about them, and I’m sure there are plenty more besides; those are just three I happen to have read. These books can prove very useful in making sure your characters are in the right city, recording the right song or playing the right show, on the right day.
g. Writer’s block. Or: GAAAGHH I CAN’T I JUST CAN’T
There are two kinds of writer’s block: the kind where you simply do not know what happens next, and the kind where you do know what happens next, but you just can’t get it written.
Honestly, I don’t have much of a problem with the former, so someone else will have to provide advice about how to combat that. I try not to start writing until I know how the story will end. But that just means I have LOTS of experience with the latter problem, knowing what will happen but not knowing how to articulate it. So here’s what I have to say about that:
If you “force” yourself to write porn, your readers will definitely sense that it is forced. However, sometimes you get a fic 95% written, and you’re stuck on the last 5%. In this case, I give you permission to barrel through that 5%, just to get the damn thing finished, and then you can, as anyone who’s ever produced a Def Leppard album must have said, “Fix it in the mix.”
Many has been the time when I was bogged down writing a section of the sex scene that was important, but which I found a little boring. Ho hum, another blow job, sixth one I’ve described this week. I put it off as long as I could, but not having the fic finished was driving me crazy, so I just wrote, “Sherlock put his cock in John’s mouth. John sucked it. Sherlock came.” There. The fic is now technically done.  Print it out, get out the red pen, and we’ll try to make it a little more evocative next time ‘round.
Which leads us directly into…
3. Revising (and revising and revising and revising)
To illustrate my previous point, here is what my first draft looks like after I’ve done my first revision:







Not every page looks like this. But you can tell that this is one of the passages I struggled with in the first draft, and ultimately just hammered out some trash to get it done. Even though it was murder to get those few sentences written in the first draft, everything you see in red ink flowed quite naturally when the time came to revise. Just having the whole story finished and laid out on paper unblocked something in my brain, and the purple prose joined the party fashionably late.
So don’t worry if your first draft is a little forced in some places. It’s nothing to fret over until you notice that your second, third, and fourth drafts are forced. If that happens, maybe it’s time to go back to the “Ideas” step.
Okay, so more about revision:
As you can see above, I don’t do my revision on the computer. I print out a copy and get out the ol’ red pen. I do this because it’s easier to keep it linear, replicating the way my audience will read it. If I revise on the computer, I’m tempted to jump around, stop to do “finds” for Brit-pick terms, and other things which compromise the simple process of reading something just to see if it is smooth and well-paced.
And as I mentioned before, stopping to check things on the internet might get me distracted from the task at hand. So if I’m not sure about a term, or I need to Brit-pick some detail about the NHS or something, I will write a note to myself on the draft to do that, then take care of it later, when I’m typing.
It’s also nice to have printed/red-inked drafts, so that if you suddenly realize, “Oh, I had it right all along when I wrote X but then I deleted it,” you’ll have a hard copy of your long-lost draft. If you keep re-saving over the same file, that cool idea or phrase that you mistakenly nixed in the last draft will be gone forever. Or if (heaven forbid) your laptop is stolen, then you’ve lost your electronic draft entirely. A stone-age pen-and-paper copy won’t seem so silly then.
a. The Enhance Button
If you’ve ever seen a suspenseful TV drama like The X-Files or CSI, you’ve seen someone watching  CCTV footage who notices a blur in the corner, and they say to the boffin next to them, “Can we zoom in and enhance the image?” And then, ta-da! They’ve got the kidnapper’s license plate. A ridiculous technique when it comes to grainy black-and-white video, but infinitely useful in fic. You don’t have to focus on the details of every individual hair on a character’s left shin, but once in a while, when you’re revising, stop and say to yourself, “Can I zoom in and enhance this image?”
So let’s refer to the stilted, minimalist passage I plonked out in the previous section. “Sherlock put his cock in John’s mouth. John sucked it. Sherlock came.” We’ll take each sentence one at a time:
How did Sherlock put his cock in John’s mouth? Did he push it in eagerly? Did he place it on John’s lips, and then John moved to take it in? Did John lick or kiss it first? Did Sherlock make a noise when he felt that initial contact?
How did John suck Sherlock’s cock? Is he experienced at it, or is this the first time? Can he taste pre-come while he does it? Does he like sucking cock? If not, does he still feel okay about it because he loves Sherlock? Is he working like mad to make Sherlock come in a hurry, or is he tormenting Sherlock by dragging it out? Does he grin mischievously as he ducks under the covers? Does Sherlock watch him do it, or does he close his eyes?
What happened when Sherlock came? Did he make any noise? Did he warn John he was about to? Or did John pull away to catch his breath at just the wrong second and take a shot in the eye? What did they say afterward? Did Sherlock thank John?
There. Zooming in and enhancing that three-sentence image just got us about fifteen more sentences.
b. Is my porn still hot?
This little morsel of self-doubt will never, ever go away, no matter how many Kudos you get, no matter how many people Friend you. You’ll write and then revise and revise and revise and revise until the words “tight ring of muscle” no longer have any meaning, and then you will go, “Uh oh.”
Don’t panic. Of course it seems stale to you. You’ve read it a thousand times, and thought about it a thousand more. But think back to when you wrote the first draft. If you kind of felt like heading to your bunk afterwards, then chances are it is still bunk-inducing, and will be received as such by your audience.
III. Wrap it up, label it, ship it. (Well, I guess you have to ship it first…)
This section will provide some tips on what happens after your fic is finished.
A. How do I know that what I’m about to post won’t enrage people?
Well, you don’t, for sure. Not until you post it. Posting Etiquette 101 clearly states that you must warn people if your fic contains: consent issues, graphic violence, suicide or suicidal ideation, psychological disorders, major character death, incest, underage sex, mpreg, gender-bending, or alternate universes. If you clearly label/tag your fic with those warnings, then you’re all set. People who might potentially be upset will know to bypass the fic in the first place. (There is more on labeling your fic below.)
But let’s say your fic doesn’t have any of those things. Maybe you’re just worried that people won’t dig the fact that John falls in love with Moriarty, or that you made Sherlock a brony. You can handle this in a number of ways. You can ask a beta, or post anonymously, or use the concrit post on your fandom’s kinkmeme, if one is available. Keep reading for more on dealing with criticism, but I’ll reiterate that people like all sorts of things, so if the writing’s good, the rest will follow. (By the way, if anyone knows any brony!Sherlock stories, can you link me? Thanks.)
B. How to stigmatize your fic before anyone reads a word of it.
Just by posting the vital statistics of your story, you are going to lose potential readers. I have personally read the following assertions by slash consumers (paraphrased):
1. “I’m here for porn and I won’t read anything that’s not NC-17/Explicit.”
2. “I don’t bother reading fics that are less than X-thousand words, because I don’t think someone can write a fic where anything worthwhile actually happens in less than that.”
3. “If it doesn’t have a summary, I won’t bother clicking the link.”
4. “I will never read [watersports, mpreg, non-con, AUs, etc]
5. “I only read finished fics, no WIPs.”
6. “I think [drabbles, poetry, songfics, etc] are worthless.”
So, chances are plenty of people will look at your summary and scroll right on by. Don’t let this get you down. All it takes is one person liking your fic enough to rec it on their Tumblr, and then BAM, a hundred clicks. And then when you post your next fic, people might see your name and click automatically, just because they enjoyed your writing last time.
On the flip-side: if you name-check a sought-after kink or rare-pair in your summary, you’ll have a built-in readership. There are always folks who wait and hope and pray for tentacles, sex-pollen, kid!fic, crossovers, and so on. So a summary is a curse and a blessing.
Another thing to keep in mind: I have gotten lots of comments along the lines of “I normally would never read [watersports, mpreg, AUs,], but I love everything you write, so I read this and LOVED it.” That is just about the best feedback you can get, in my opinion, because it means you’re talented enough to overcome a person’s squicks, which is quite an accomplishment.
IV. Now you’re a slash writer. What happens next?
Once you’ve posted your first fic (or your first fic in a new fandom), you will likely be filled with all sorts of ~feelings~. Hopefully, the positive feedback you receive will make you feel like all the struggle and doubt in the writing process was totally worth it. You may then feel a new kind of stress: the pressure to write a follow-up, as quickly as possible, to further establish your reputation. This pressure, not just in slash but in all artistic endeavors, often sadly results in the “sophomore slump,” or as one musician put it, “you spend the first twenty years of your life writing your first album, and fourteen months writing your second.”
On the other hand, a relative dearth of feedback may make you despair. Don’t be discouraged if your first fic isn’t flooded with comments; that can mean a lot of things. If it’s a tiny fandom, it can be blamed on a shortage of readers, not your shortage of quality. An overly large fandom may swamp your fic under the seventy-three others that got posted that day. If your fandom is glutted with past and present fics similar to the one you wrote, it might get lost in the crowd. Move on to another, smaller fandom six months later, or write a rare-pair, and readers will roll out the red carpet. Such is the mercurial nature of slash.
Persistence is the key. With each fic, you will gain new readers, and someone who might not have bothered to comment on your first fic might feel compelled to tell you, two months later, “I can’t keep quiet anymore, I just have to tell you that everything you write is so wonderful!”
And just as with any skill, the more you write, the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get. Okay, maybe your first few fics were a little lackluster, but your fifth might be the one that shakes the fandom to its very foundations.
Bad feedback delivered right to your doorstep is actually pretty uncommon in fandom -- if a reader isn’t enjoying your work, they’re far more likely to just close the window and move on. There are really only two situations where people would be more inclined to give you bad feedback: when you specifically ask for it, such as on a concrit post; or when you’ve offended them. Perhaps your work included subject matter they felt should have been tagged, or maybe they feel your treatment of a psychological condition was insensitive, or perhaps they have a differing opinion about the level of consent demonstrated by a character. Use your best judgment when you get criticism of that nature. Concede to the critic if you think they have a good point, ignore them if you feel they’re being unreasonable. You have the right to present your fic on your own blog in whatever way you want, but likewise, you must accept the responsibility for that presentation, specifically the effect it has on your reputation.
V. Conclusion
Treat porn like SERIOUS BUSINESS when you’re writing it, but like pure-and-simple entertainment when you present it. Because it is both of those things. Shower your fans with love and respect (and more fics, if you can manage it), always work on improving your writing, and don’t let anyone spoil your fun.  :)