A Practical & Sarcastic Look at Word Choice
Across many different genres and age groups there should be an emphasis on an author’s voice and word choice. As someone who is very sensitive to the connotations of words, I can say that very little consideration is given to this concept in much of the content I read. While I suffer no delusions about my reading choices and how poor they might be, I don’t believe they need to be written that way. Perhaps most of these authors started out writing pulpy romance with no prior experience hoping to cash in on the feral market that Kindle Unlimited offers. In time I hope many of the authors that enter this space give more consideration to the tone their word choice sets.
A general example would be phrases like “knocked up” versus “expecting”. In this example they both mean the same thing, except that one has a very negative connotation. I’m sure you can infer which is less appropriate in polite company, it leaves the mouth with a crass nonchalance. It emphasizes the act, leaving one to surmise that the result was less than intentional or done deliberately for unfortunate reasons. It is perplexing how simple delivery could change the context to mean something very specific or its opposite. The other phrase, “expecting” is reserved, if not a little shy while it considers its subject. The wording never alluding to the action preluding the event. Additionally it implies a “baby” without ever committing to saying so. It explains just enough while leaving all detail far away and removed from the conversation.
Below is a list of most of the terms and phrases I find less than desirable in erotic/romance genre. Most people tend to agree (I hope), leading me to wonder how we haven’t created alternatives that compliment the various writing styles of the genre. Especially when the majority of people are excited less by the crude and physical aspects of sex, benefiting more from the chemistry of the relationships or circumstances that create the tension.
Surely the fantasy is broken by most of these terms:
Moist: Arguably the most hated word in the English language. Variations of this term like moisten or moisture also need to be stricken from erotic descriptions. No.
Velvet clad steel: SMH. I have to admit, the first time I read this description I went with it. Actually a pretty inventive way to explain the feeling, and it utilizes my favorite “show don’t tell” technique. It wasn’t until I was a few books deep into the spicy genre that I realized this was not a unique phrase. Almost immediately I rolled my eyes, I had been played like a bad pickup line, I had to give it credit for being as bold as it was. Fooled me once…
Spurt/squirt: So many of the worst terms arise from our use of “wet” adjectives and verbs. Some people actually love every humid part of the coital fluid exchange. It is a given- mandatory for enjoyment and climax. But if you are about to use either of these words- take a breather. You might be in too deep to see the issue. These terms are kinda gross. Outside of a sexual experience how/when do most people use these terms? Almost always in off-putting descriptions. Zits, boils, maybe if the subject matter revolves around faulty plumbing? That seems like reaching. In short- most people aren’t exposed to these terms in alluring or positive connotations, so why would they associate them with something good in this context?
Dripping: I do not have anything against wetness. Truly. Described well enough it can be an immersive detail. As well it should be. However this term is a bit overused. Compared to the other terms here, I honestly have the least issue with it. Other than the imagery of a leaky faucet that sometimes comes to mind in poorly written scenes. Drippage can be intense or it can be subtle. The key to using this term is perhaps in how wet you make it.
Mound: I get it, I do. This seemed like a better allusion to the curve of the pelvis into the deeper parts of female anatomy. But does that make it good? No. I think of a mossy hill or a burial. Please stop.
Vagina/Penis: Clinical terms are aseptic and honestly strange in this context. Unless the erotic fiction takes place in a hospital or at an OBGYN appointment- please refrain.
Dick/Cock: So clinical terms are off the table for sure. So what do we say? These terms aren’t ideal but make sure to choose the version that fits the character or dialogue. If the character using this term is vulgar or demanding maybe they should use the harshest term. But these terms do have slightly different connotations.
Pussy/Cunt: The female anatomy has so many odd euphemisms. Why not just use one of these direct terms? Can we call it something vulgar and borderline demeaning? Yes. As long as it fits the character or dialogue. Does the character have a degradation kink? Then Cunt is the way to go. Using terms like “pussy” or “pussy lips” constantly tends to sound juvenile though, so it is important to use these terms for the sexes sparingly or only when absolutely necessary. Generally the audience already knows how sex happens and where, and doesn’t need a reminder.
Coochie: Did you just say this? Get out.
Seed: *swallows vomit* This term should be used exclusively for breeding kinks. No exception. No excuse. This biblical version of “baby batter” is a red flag. Just because this man is plowing a hoe does not mean he is a farmer. ***Also baby batter is NEVER ACCEPTABLE***
Womb: *See Seed.* Honestly, unless the audience is supposed to consider the baby trope an aspect of the story, please do not. If the scene is getting intense, few things are more jaunting than suddenly being confronted with the character’s inner monologue about their womb.
Basic anatomy time! You can sing along if you know the tune: The labia’s connected to the vagina, the vagina’s connected to the cervix, the cervix is connected to the uterus… In Fact, unless there’s some intense monthly cramping, or a child filling that space women don’t feel their wombs directly. Cervix, 100% if it is being assaulted by God knows what.
PSA: The cervix is attacked every few seconds in the fictional world. For the low cost of $1 per day, you can spread awareness of the manhandling of cervixes firsthand and support a starving author.
Bulbous/girthy: Nope. Is this a chode? Is this a budding medical condition? You know what, it doesn’t really matter. At this point I’m leaving the room.
Tight buds/nipples: There are a bevy of involuntary reactions that occur while being seduced. Detailing nippular responses is not inherently bad. I think it adds to the chorus of events surrounding proper arousal. However, maybe use it sparingly, unless nipple play is a key to every sex scene, women in the audience know how this one works.
Also, if they “bud painfully tight” or “peak painfully” please seek medical attention and remember to check yourself regularly. Obviously when your partner is not tugging or biting into them. Pain is a kink so if it’s a character trait by all means! But nipples aren’t made of rubber. They are actually quite sensitive and do not require a lot of rough actions like scraping or stretching them constantly in order to stimulate us.
Thrust: Chronic overuse. Yes this is a key motion.. It provides optimum force and angling. But does the audience need to be told every time our MC or their current counterpart is gently or aggressively thrusting into their hips from front, behind, and sideways? I can confidently say that without being told, it is assumed in most of these positions and instances.
Throbbed/pulsed: Yes the sexual organs do move and react independent of a person’s will at times. They are involuntary reactions, and most of the body operates in that way. During scenes of heightened arousal please do use descriptive terms (in small doses). It is important to show whether or not a character is in conflict with their body or with the events taking place. But DO NOT tell me every time a character’s junk twitches! This is not only a redundant trope, much like the overuse of terms like “pussy/cock”. But constantly reminding the reader each time this happens seems juvenile and unnecessary. It actually distracts from the tension you are trying to set up.
Mounted/Mounting: Unless the genre has to do with monsters or primal kinks, I refuse this term. Humans do not mount each other. Cringe every time!
Panting: Similar to the monsters/primal kinks, panting really seems like a sloppy, breathy way to convey rising physical excitement. I can only imagine something like intense mouth-breathers. I suggest another “show don’t tell” technique in place of this criminally overused term.
Daddy: I was tempted to put “mommy” in this too as it would be just as cringey. But I honestly haven’t found many books that feature a dominant woman-submissive man dynamic. I know it exists deeper in the erotica genre; I might just be too new to have found it. But I would love to see more equal representation nonetheless. Daddy kink is very mainstream, I’m not kink shaming. But in some of the books I have read, the progression into the dynamic is poorly written or not well-explored. The result is that suddenly a character goes from being “generic name” to “Daddy” without much prompting or portraying them as having that interest or dynamic. Then it is used constantly afterward.
Aside from a bland attempt to create something with this, the BDSM community and its values and lifestyles are almost never well-represented. These fictional books are fantasy, and we all know the morally gray male characters in them are toxic AF. Therefore never assume the “daddies” in these books are representing a true Dom/sub dynamic. Misrepresentation continues to give the kink community a terrible reputation. If your interests are genuine, please do your research independently. Otherwise, just take these novels with a grain of rock salt. In the same way porn is a fantastical representation of sex, so too are these spicy novels. But by all means, have fun!
Growling/baring teeth: I was tempted to call this a uniquely primal kink at first. Alas, I cannot. The growling, the possessive nature that goes with the dominant and dangerous male lead… I had a hard time understanding what it sounded like. Likewise, baring teeth sounds sexy yet I’m convinced less than 1% of the population can do this clenched teeth-angry expression while achieving desired results. Suffice it to say, Booktok/kinktok came to my rescue giving ample thirst traps designed to show me all that was missing. ASMR growling was too much. So while this is a prime offender of the “overused” tropes, I cannot shame it all the way. However a word of caution: few actual humans do these things when threatened or challenged. Make sure the actions fit the characters, please!
Too big/size: Alright, this is a lurid detail, but honestly “show don’t tell”. It comes off as corny and utterly ridiculous. Every reader knows where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. Women are made to birth babies, if the foreplay is good, yes it will fit. Every time. Sorry not sorry.
*I understand that this might make me seem a bit prudish, but I assure you that this list is fueled by the frustration and hilarity of so many ruined characters, scenes, books due to poor wording.*
At this point I begin to wonder, what terms could be used in their place? What could possibly be more effective writing than showing our MC panting while having her moist mound mounted while her SO’s bulbous cock is thrusting and squirting his seed into her dripping, pulsing coochie?
I don’t know, but I’d love to find out. I refuse to speak for everyone. But I can say that creative writing is full of infinite possibilities- literally whatever the mind can conjure. Perhaps the genre needs a reboot. Put the “creative” back in writing and remember the most exciting part of the human experience is in the psychology of it: how it feels, what is left unsaid, the sub context that lines the experience. Elevate the genre.