The 2018 Smut Marathon has ended. 85 writers began their smutty journey in January and last weekend the winner, Exhibit A was crowned. The final 7 stories were, not surprisingly, longer than in previous rounds. With 2250 words to play with there was much more room for the story as well as sex and erotica. Strange then, that not everyone who commented found all the stories as smutty as they might be. This has been a theme throughout the competition and a source of discussion on Twitter. Since Smut Marathon 2019 starts in January and I am considering entering again, I decided to explore this in more detail.
What is smut?
The Cambridge online dictionary definition demonstrates that smut is not always seen as a good thing. A noun that describes magazines, books, pictures, films or jokes that offend some people because they relate to sex. Indeed, the word comes from the German ‘schmutzen’ and dates back to the 17th century – defile, corrupt or make obscene.
Fast forward to the 21st century and while some will still be offended by smut, some of us are actually looking for it. The top definition in the Urban Dictionary is: When two or more characters (fictional or non fictional) has a sexual encounter with each other. It could be all sex with little story plot, or a well thought out story with occasional sex scenes.
Of course, there doesn’t even need to be two people in the story. For two rounds of the Smut Marathon we wrote about sex toys and in one of those, from the object’s point of view.
What do readers look for?
In the comments section for the final round, one of the judges expressed of the winner’s story “Is it smut”. Where as Marie found it: “Brilliant, sexy, hot. I thought that there was smut, but like Charlie; not my thing. Perhaps this is where the issue lies. Smut is something personal.
I put a call out on Twitter to ask how that community defines smut. There were some interesting responses. Floss sets the scene:
“For me Smut can be sexy, explicit, sensual, downright dirty or subtlety seductive, all at once or one at a time works for me. But for it to be Smut it needs to make my mind wander to sexy places. To make me feel like I want some of what had been described. Sometimes I read erotica or smut & I just see no words or imagery or suggestion that says this is meant to woo me into being aroused & excited, either in mind or body. Even if the writing is excellent, if I’m not giddy with tingles then it just didn’t hit my Smut button”
Overt vs Subtle
For Marsha Adams “erotica is anything inspiring sexy thoughts and smut explicitly describes those thoughts.” Similarly Brigit Delaney wrote “I tend to be subtle in my sex scenes, which didn’t go over well. And when I tried to be smuttier, I edited out plot to make room for it and then wasn’t as happy with my stories”.
One of Vida Bailey’s stories was reviewed badly because ‘nothing happened’, for her “erotica doesn’t have to have lots of explicit action, I’d rather read a good story that awoke ideas and feelings in me”.
When you don’t have many words to play with, it isn’t always easy to build a plot and build up to a smutty scene. Plus, not everyone wants their smut to be too subtle. As Chintz Curtain says “something that allows my brain to create a really good, clear picture of said smut. The words don’t necessarily have to be explicit but the sexual intention needs to be clear. I struggle with it being messed with too much. It’s sex. So let it be sex”.
Charlton Todd responded: “For me, smut is evocative. It should make me feel like I’m there physically as well as emotionally. It should be both intelligent and visceral. And personally, I don’t think it’s enough to have just one. You need to have both. I want to feel like I’m transported into the scene, and am an active part of it more than a fly on the wall”
This makes writing for a competition challenging. Because what makes one person tingle, leaves another cold. What transports one into a scene drives another out of the window. As the competition progressed, the writers grew to know the audience they were writing for. As Daz wrote:
“it makes me wonder if the question isn’t so much about what we, as individuals, think of as smut; but more, how you see it (writing for yourself) or your target readers see it (getting the votes).” Also ” It depends why people read erotica; some enjoy the aesthetic(?), some just want to get off on it. Ultimately it’s about why you write…
I set out to try to understand a bit more about smut and what it means and have got the answer I expected. It means completely different things to different people. Some prefer their smut subtle, as part of a developing underplayed story. Others need to see erotic and sexy words on the page before it means anything. Even then, if it isn’t your kink the words may leave you cold.
Maybe it isn’t what you say but how you say it. Which suggests that the most important part of story telling is the edit. Allowing yourself time not just to write, but to read and alter the words. When writing for a competition remember this isn’t a blog post, an erotic story for a meme. That people will judge differently. But, in my opinion, better that we are debating that is and isn’t erotic rather than semi colon placing or the length of sentences. But grammar is another topic and not one I am going to get into.
Thank you to my fellow writers, bloggers and twitter friends for your inspiration and contribution. The final word goes to Bear’s cub who sent me this: