Sonni de Soto is the author of the trailblazing novel of romance and bondage, The Taming School, fresh out from Sizzler Editions.
Seven Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel, or The Best Advice I Have to Give
1) Starting is The Hardest Part: Coming up with an idea has always been the most difficult part of storytelling for me. Inspiration is one of those things that never seems to be there when you want it, yet is always there, everywhere. I’ve come to realize that everything is inspiration just waiting to happen, waiting to fall into place and suddenly make sense. For instance, The Taming School came from an essay on virginity by Debra Boxer that I’d found while browsing half-priced books, a Shakespearean play I’d written a paper on in college, and a play by Diana Son about Asian stereotypes that I was in. Three completely different things, wholly unconnected, yet somehow, mixed and melded, they made sense. And still it took years and experience in my local kink community for Kat and Peter to actually come to life. To go from a mediocre first draft into something that felt more real, more honest. I needed all those elements—those ingredients of inspiration—before my story was ready to be told.
2) Writing is All Participation Points: Most everybody has an idea for a story that they want to tell. Someday. But, for most people, someday never comes because stories don’t tell themselves. They need someone to write them, someone to transcend them from mere ideas into something more. Like a lot of people, I’m, by nature, lazy and work best under deadline. I, too often, need a stern watch and a swift kick to get a story from start to finish. It’s why I’m so grateful to programs like NaNoWriMo—that challenge a writer to pen a novel in a month—and writing groups that urge its members always onward. Without which, my ideas would probably still be waiting for someday to come.
3) Write What You Know: It’s the famous first rule of writing. Everybody does it. Because the best writing is honest writing, when the words come and are shaped by real experience. It’s much easier to tell your characters’ stories if, at least in some part—however distantly or convolutedly—they have roots in truth. While I hope none of my family, friends, or coworkers look too carefully at anything I write, nuggets of most of them can be found in my stories. Studied under an intense microscope, I’m almost certain a person could track my life through the tiniest—and some not so tiny—references in my stories.
4) If You Don’t Know, Learn: I’m much more literary than scientific, but I believe in the scientific method. I believe in research. I believe in getting things right. I want each experience that I describe in my stories to feel real, to feel as if they could have or still could happen. And, to do that, you need knowledge of it. We live in an amazing age. YouTube and Wikipedia, Facebook and FetLife, knowledge and connection to that knowledge is so ready and so available. If you want to know about something, half an hour and an internet connection can get you so incredibly far today. If you want to know about knot-work or about the sensory difference between a silicon flogger and a leather one, gaining that knowledge takes minutes. And, even more, there are so many people out there willing to share their expertise and experiences, all you have to do is ask. There were quite a few things in The Taming School that I’d never done before writing them. So I talked to people. I Googled things. I read books and articles and blogs about them. And, basic knowledge in hand, I tried them. So, when it came to writing them, I knew what that was like. I’d learned about it. I’d lived it. For the sake of literary science! I now knew enough about it to write it.
5) You’re Never Gonna Get It on the First Try: Like I said before, The Taming School took years to write. The first draft was written in a matter of months and was about half the size of the finished novel. The story itself took place within a matter of days, from when Kat & Peter met in Donovan’s bar to the end. I remember looking at it and being quite proud of it, even while still knowing that it was far from done. Even while knowing that there were things missing from it. It took years of me learning more about kink and the world, experiencing being in the kink world, and just growing a bit more into myself for me to realize exactly what was missing. A lot of my favorite scenes—like the kitchen word play scene or the very end (pardon the pun) climax of the story—were all add-ins and would never have happened at all, if I’d let my first draft dictate my last.
6) Give the Readers What They Want: Like I said, the very end was an add-on. The original story ended somewhere in the last few chapters and went to a fade-to-black end—again, mostly due to a lack of knowledge on my part to effectively write that end. But, when I let friends on FetLife read my first draft, I was rather shocked to find most readers riotously angry at that ending. Here they’d spent hours reading about the deflowering of a virgin and, at the end…fade-to-black. What was I thinking? If a reader invests hours into a story, they want a payoff at the end. The romantic, erotic, literary equivalent of the money-shot. And, whatever my reasons for not delivering on my 150+ page promise, I had no excuse. This is what they wanted. This is why they’d agreed to read. It’s why they kept reading. It’s something that, as a writer, I always have to work to keep in mind. This idea that—even if I write to please myself—if I plan to then hand it off to a reader, I can’t write just for myself. I always have to remember that a story told is a contract—a relationship—between the teller, the story, and the told.
7) Live: That is my last lesson—and my most important and emphatic piece of advice. Live. Experience things. Try everything. Like I said, everything you read, you see, you touch, taste, hear, and experience is inspiration waiting to happen. It’s the seed of a story waiting to be told. As writers, it is our job to build worlds from nothing; how can we be the creators of worlds if we haven’t even properly experienced the ones we live in? It’s the one thing that all writers do—or should—share, a hunger to know all things. To never let curiosity die. Or let barriers be our guides. Writing, to me, is getting to live infinite lives. To do and be whatever I want. Why wouldn’t I take that same mentality that exists on the page—in a blank, flat, lifeless computer screen—and apply it to the full, rich, beautiful world I live in already? If you want to write, live first.