GeorgeGlass

What women (and men) want...in their fiction

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In the time that I've been posting (mostly erotic) fiction on various sites (AFF, Hentai Foundry, and Inkbunny), my experience with male and female readers has been, to me, extremely counterintuitive:

--I've written several stories that, at the time I wrote them, I considered "woman-friendly." That is, the female characters have strong roles and are equal partners in sexual activity. Female readers never review these.

--Of the first dozen stories I posted on AFF, the only one that any openly female reader (ie, a reader whose username or profile makes her gender obvious) has reviewed was one in which the female protagonist is repeatedly gang-raped. Her comment was "Very good fic."

--Only male readers express dislike for my non-con stories. A male reader who reviewed one such story yesterday told me that it was well written but made him want to vomit.

--In contrast, the only stories I've written on which women seem interested enough to comment (always positively) are stories that involve rape, incest, or both.

Now, I generally don't talk to my female friends about their tastes in erotica, so my only RL source of info about what women want to read is my wife. So when I think "woman-friendly," I'm thinking "something that won't make my wife smash the computer screen and run away screaming." But then, I can't imagine my wife visiting AFF, so maybe she's not a good representative of what women who like erotic fiction enjoy.

Anyway, I've blathered long enough. I'd love to hear what other AFF users--male and female--have to say on this subject.

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The first thing I look for (unsurprisingly) is the summary. I don't read a huge number of fandoms, and those I do read tend to lend themselves to serious amounts of plot mixed in with the erotica. I like plot as opposed to PWP.

I both read and write slash and het. I'm not overly fond of femmeslash, but I will read it if it's well done, and not just an excuse to parade girls in strap-ons or futanari. And at the first sign of one female calling another her "ass-bitch" or "anal slut," i'm gone. Sorry, but I don't care for women who emulate the worse of male behavior.

I don't like rape when it's presented as enjoyable, or an excuse for a character to decide to fall for their rapist. Really? I'd be much more likely to want to see the son of a bitch dead in a dozen really creative and hideously painful ways. I can accept rape as a plot device, I prefer it to be presented as the bad thing it is, and I certainly don't squeal with happiness when I encounter gang rape.

Same thing with incest, for the most part, although I will happily make an exception for Elladan and Elrohir because that is just too delicious a bit of twincest to ignore.

So what DO I like? I like characters that have flaws, characters that are complex and interesting, and plot. Lots of plot. I like women who aren't always beautiful, who don't have every man lapping at their feet, and who can take care of themselves for the most part. I like men who can look a woman in the eye, or who can have a relationship with another man without turning into a queen who cries during sex. (There is NO crying during sex.)

That's a bit, anyway, of what I like.

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Not surprisingly, Bronxwench and I share a lot of the same tastes. Oddly, it seems, for a woman, I like a strong female lead. She doesn't necessarily have to be the dominant partner but I certainly avoid the wishy washy women. I do not do rape stories. If it is essential to the plot of the story, well, I can tolerate it but I find nothing even remotely erotic in rape. There are those who do though. I like strong male characters as well. But the most important part of what I like is the actual story, whether it's multi-chaptered or a PWP - it should be well-written, planned out and at least plausible.

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I put it to you that if a female does dislike rape content in your stories, she has been socially conditioned not to state it in a review and to instead just abandon reading it without confrontation. This may be why it has not occurred yet - although I'm sure if you exposed it to a large enough number of females it would be inevitable that would would comment against it, but don't forget that all stories on this site are very clearly tagged and if a woman doesn't want to read rape, she won't.

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I put it to you that if a female does dislike rape content in your stories, she has been socially conditioned not to state it in a review and to instead just abandon reading it without confrontation. This may be why it has not occurred yet - although I'm sure if you exposed it to a large enough number of females it would be inevitable that would would comment against it, but don't forget that all stories on this site are very clearly tagged and if a woman doesn't want to read rape, she won't.

While I might argue the "socially conditioned" portion of the above, I do agree. And it is very true that we insist on trigger tags specifically so that people CAN avoid rape fics and other things they find objectionable. (Like scat, thankyouverymuch.)

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If you look at the trends, rape fic, bdsm, and incest are pretty big right now. For examples I'll use 50 Shades of Grey, which is terriablly written but a best seller, Monster/Dinosaur erotica is pretty big for Amazon downloads, and the Mortal Instruments series of books which has the main love intrests as brother and sister through most of the first 3 books. Make of it what you will but those are the trends I've noticed lately in female fiction.

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Thanks to everyone who has responded so far.

Most of what you all are saying jibes completely with what I initially expected when I first started posting stories--which makes the actual behavior of readers (as I have observed it, anyway) all the more puzzling. My plot-heaviest story is actually my least popular one by a wide margin in terms of hits and reviews, and the only reviewer thus far has been a man (or used a male name, anyway).

Muhabba makes an interesting point about all the formerly taboo material that has is mainstream these days. Maybe the people who read that sort of thing are more representative of the internet-erotica readership in general.

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The largest selling segment in the erotic romance market right now is slash, which is roughly half the market. The primary purchasers are women, and most of the publishers that handle this market ask for Happy Ever After, or at least Happily For Now endings. Rape is pretty much off the table, along with a few other quirks. You can actually look at the submission requirements for most of our advertisers to see what they want.

Here at AFF, we prefer to remain free of censorship as far as content, but we do ask that it be tagged to avoid having readers encounter trigger issues like rape unprepared. The tags can be offputting, however, and many authors would prefer not to have them right up front like that. But it boils down to the site admins' decision to protect readers first and foremost, while acknowledging that tags can cause readers to avoid certain stories.

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Here at AFF, we prefer to remain free of censorship as far as content, but we do ask that it be tagged to avoid having readers encounter trigger issues like rape unprepared. The tags can be offputting, however, and many authors would prefer not to have them right up front like that.

I don't understand that attitude. It sounds like those authors want to deceive readers into reading something they won't like. What's the point of that? If I put a bunch of kale in a casserole and don't tell the people I serve it to, I have only myself to blame if they spit it out and call me a lousy cook--or have a violent allergic reaction.

But it boils down to the site admins' decision to protect readers first and foremost, while acknowledging that tags can cause readers to avoid certain stories.

I'm all for that. I'd rather readers be able to make an informed decision about what they read.

Besides, I consider tags to be as much ads as warning labels. They're a way of saying, "If you're into [insert fetish here], you might like this story."

Getting back to the subject of the thread, the tagging is part of what makes readers' selection patterns so interesting, because their choices are deliberate and informed.

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Being female myself (though I'll admit that my username doesn't necessarily convey that), I will say that I agree with the points BW, DG and PW noted.

I can and do read rape; that tag is not going to turn me away from a good story. This doesn't mean that I like it, but I'm not utterly revolted by stories that didn't happen to real people. For actual people, I tend to muster more empathy; my own mother has been raped and traumatized by it, so I learned a number of methods to help with what I could.

Personally, what I find most off-setting is fluff. Yes, that's right: fluff. I have never once in my life had a moment that could qualify as fluff, and I have an aversion to reading it. I don't mind angst as long as it's not overdone, supernatural creatures are usually successful lure on me, and a good action/adventure/fantasy gets me every time. SciFi is great, steampunk is awesome if done right, and romance is okay. Comedy is perfect if the author can use it right; I don't care if the story is dark or light or tense with action/drama. But sheer drama? If I want drama, I will go see my family before I read it or watch it on television. And dark stories tend to get looked at two out of three times.

I'm not into F/F; just not my thing. I like males too much. Sometimes I read het, but I don't generally go out of my way to look for it. Slash is much more to my tastes.

I agree, too--tags are as much ads as they are warning labels.

And part of the issue with readers/reviewers is probably that most of the people who come here appear to be looking either in specific fandoms or for PWPs. Frankly, I'm not much into original PWP stories; I want time to get to know the character. In fandoms, I don't have to, so PWP is fine there. Still not my favorite, but acceptable.

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Readers make no sense, lol. Often the ones who take the time to review, aren't in the majority. It struck me today: frequently what repulses us in reality does indeed attract us in fantasy, i.e. incest. At its root, incest is just - so wrong. But when reading fanfiction, without the "realness" of the characters, even I will openly admit that Wincest or Twincest is quite adequate for heating up a frigid day amid this despicable polar vortex thing.

Write for yourself; what you enjoy. Screw the rest.

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All I can really say is that people are weird, and I think you'd be best not to dwell on it. The sad fact is that reviewers are a minority of their own here on aff, so trying to dissect that small percentage to find out what the majority desires is an exercise in headaches.

As to what wome want from fics, well, I can't really tell you. I can tell you what I want in a fic, but I'm just one woman, not the entirety of women kind.

Personally, if there has to be sex in a story it must mean something. It doesn't have to be the crux of the plot, though it's nice when it is, and it doesn't have to be long and drawn out, but I want to see the characters build up to it, fall into it, and see the aftermath it leaves, see the characters change and grow because of it. Sex is a big deal, and nothing turns me off a story more than pointless smut being shoved into every chapter just for the sake of having smut. Don't get me wrong, I love a good pwp as much as the next person, but if there are going to be multiple chapters I expect the characters sex to actually amount to something in terms of character development or plot, depending on what sort of story it is.

As for rape, well, if rape is sexualised, or trivialized and used as a device for some other plot point then I'll drop a story like it's hot. The former because it is not what I'm into that and the latter because it upsets me and makes me frustrated with society. But if a story actually explores to trauma and aftermath of rape and shows a person struggling to heal or to get on with life, that's the sort of rapefic I'm interested in reading, though I usually avoid the tag because the latter type of story is scarcely found.

Just don't focus on making things women-friendly or man-friendly, in this day and age people can decide what they want for themselves and will take it as they find it. Just focus on crafting good stories the way you want them, and eventually your audience will make themselves known.

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Cuzosu: Personally, what I find most off-setting is fluff. Yes, that's right: fluff. I have never once in my life had a moment that could qualify as fluff, and I have an aversion to reading it.

Never one moment of fluff in your life? Surely that's impossible. You've probably had such moments while on this site. :) (Unless "fluff" has a more specific meaning than I think it does.)

Pittwich: It struck me today: frequently what repulses us in reality does indeed attract us in fantasy, i.e. incest. At its root, incest is just - so wrong. But when reading fanfiction, without the "realness" of the characters, even I will openly admit that Wincest or Twincest is quite adequate for heating up a frigid day amid this despicable polar vortex thing.

I think you're right on the money with that. It occurred to me the other day that almost every story I've written has involved some sort of taboo--incest, rape, prostitution, bestiality, or what have you. Breaking the rules of society is hot. :)

Pittwich: Write for yourself; what you enjoy. Screw the rest.

I guess I'm not really trying to cater to a particular audience--the stuff I write is probably too varied for all of it to be to any given person's taste, anyway (other than mine, that is). I just find reader behavior extremely counterintuitive, especially when it comes to what men and women like.

LockedBox: Just don't focus on making things women-friendly or man-friendly, in this day and age people can decide what they want for themselves and will take it as they find it. Just focus on crafting good stories the way you want them, and eventually your audience will make themselves known.

I sometimes wish I could connect with the audience a bit more. I have a few readers who regularly leave me reviews, and I write responses to them in the forums, but I have no idea whether they are reading those responses. But I do see your overall point.

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Never one moment of fluff in your life? Surely that's impossible. You've probably had such moments while on this site. :) (Unless "fluff" has a more specific meaning than I think it does.)

To me, it does. I come from a blend of families that tend toward tough love. We're more likely to fall about in laughter or to have a knock-down, drag-out fight than we are to have a fluffy moment. Things start getting fluffy, my grandmother starts to cry, and whether good tears or bad, every family member who has contact with her jumps to do her bidding when she cries. We panic, baffled and at a loss, I admit. The closest the rest of my family comes to fluff is movie/game night, when things get ridiculous, or in the mountains when we just sit and enjoy the company and the scenery and, above all, the simplicity. Because of this, I am not sure I understand the traditional meaning of "fluff" in the fan world, but I guess when the family's fluffiest moments tend to be a pat on the head and the words, "Good job," it may be a lost cause.

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I'm considered a fluff writer on other forums, and I used to be put down about it, because fluff isn't seen as a decent expression of storytelling. As a person who escapes into writing, I can't imagine opening a document to work on some gritty, dark angst.

I saw this quote the other day, referring to trends in superhero genres: This false connection between gritty realism and literary quality is a common theme in the way we interpret popular fiction, but it’s particularly noticeable in the superhero genre, where “realism” is always going to be a matter of opinion. (source: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/marvel-dc-captain-america-superman-debate/)

I thought the way that quote jumped out at me was telling, personally. I instantly felt better about what I worked on and I REALLY started to enjoy my own writing.

I can never really decide what I want to read in fiction, as a cis-female. I know I write futanari under this moniker, and I like that. On the other hand, I write a lot of m/m slash and I'm into f/f slash as well. I know I like a good story, but sometimes I'm just too impatient to get to the fapping bits.

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Damned if I can remember who or where, but I did read somewhere that a good novel-length story should have 3 crises and an ending that resolves them. The crises don't need to be overwhelmingly dark or gritty, but that seemed to have been seen as the key. With that in mind, I thought about most of the books I've read and found memorable, and there seems to be something to that theory.

In a short work, you can have one issue, and as long as you resolve it for the reader, it's all good. But novels need something more, and sometimes the viewpoint that life isn't always pretty, or orderly, or even very fair works for those crises. I think that's why I enjoy doing short pieces here, because it's actually much more of a challenge to create short fiction that holds a reader's attention while letting them enjoy the fapping bits, too. :D

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