Saturday, July 2, 2011


By D.L. King

The first assignment in my college photo I course was Texture. The idea was to use texture to make something two-dimensional appear three-dimensional. I think it was the most memorable assignment of my four years worth of photography classes--and there were a lot of them; I majored in the subject.

I went on to teach photography at a high school for the arts and used that assignment with my students because I thought then, and still think, it was probably the most important lesson to learn in art. Make something your audience can feel—something they want to touch, caress, lick (maybe not a photograph, I’m just sayin’).

Texture in writing is as important. When I think of the equivalent to that photo assignment in writing terms, I think of writing to the senses. It’s easy to say, “Use all five senses in your story” but much more difficult to achieve. Like the illusion of three-dimensionality in 2D art, you want your reader to smell the sweat and taste the salt on the skin of the protagonist. You want them to see the tear as it gathers in the corner of his eye before spilling over and leaving its snail trail down the side of his face. The reader wants to hear his ragged breaths, not to mention feel those same breaths on their own skin.

When telling a story, the sense of sight is easy, but it often leads to the dreaded “telling” rather than “showing,” so be careful. And when you’re writing sex, using the sense of smell is easy, too. But let’s stop to think about more than just the smell of sex. That’s a given. What about other scents? Perfume, cologne, sweat, food, the earthy smell just after a quick rain, the smell of salt air near the ocean, a garbage strike in summer, a bar when it’s first opened for the day, before any customers arrive, the subway in August, the subway in January. You name it, it has a scent all its own.

Touch is fun. That’s where the need to lick might come in. The protagonist loves the feel of the whip as it caresses his back and his domme loves the feel of the goosebumps as they form on his arms when she whispers all the delicious things she’s planning in his ear before taking a step back again to let the whip kiss his buttocks. Not only might your reader imagine licking that very responsive skin, but your antagonist might want to lick it too, and then taste the salt of her boy’s sweat.

When I first started to write, I could do little more than incorporate the senses of sight and touch. The more I wrote (and was reminded in critique) the more texture began to seep into my stories. While most of us are born with all five senses, learning to use them to our best advantage, in life as well as in art, is not all that easy. My preference is to not let the good parts become overwhelmed with too many words. And if you do it right, all the parts are good, not just the sex.

D.L. King is the author of The Melinoe Project and the Art of Melinoe as well as many short stories. She edited the erotic anthologies Carnal Machines, Where the Girls Are, The Sweetest Kiss and Spank!

You can read D.L. King's blog here


  1. I was told to incorporate at least three senses into any scene. Two is easy, since we write what the scene looks like, and we hear dialog. That leaves smell, touch, and taste to work into it. Smell is supposed to be our most evocative sense, so I suppose if you want the strongest reaction, that's what you go for.

  2. Hi, Diane,

    We all know that this is a key technique. The real question is HOW to achieve that kind of texture. Comparisons are a prime method for evoking sense impressions but it's so easy for those to become hackneyed. Smell is particularly difficult (as well as important). There are verbs for sound (rustle, crackle, crunch) and touch (slither, brush, poke) but for smell? This is true of taste as well, but all taste boils down to five basic components (or so biologists say). Smell is just so elusive.

  3. Welcome to the Grip, D.L.! I esp. like this line:

    "And if you do it right, all the parts are good, not just the sex."