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Title: PWP? WTF?
Creator: cesperanza
Date(s): September 4, 2008
Medium: online
External Links:
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PWP? WTF? is a 2008 post on LiveJournal by cesperanza.

It has 146 comments.

The post was written in response to cesperanza's questioning of a fan labeling her story At the End of the Pier a PWP.[1]

results of the livejournal poll created by cesperanza to determine the commonly accepted meaning of "PWP"

Links to Post and Comments

Excerpt from the Original Post

Like, what's the difference between "plot" and "story"? (I don't mean technically, I mean in this context.) Because even a short story whose point is sex has to have a story, right? Sex has a story--like, an arc: seduction, arousal, climax, afterglow. Or is it that things that are PWP normally don't have those things? I mean, a plot is--I do a lot of plot, space monkeys are attacking-type things; that's plot. You only get the sex AFTER the time travel or the giant rescue or the visit to earth or whatever it is the plot is about, and I like to write sex as part of the climax of whatever emotional turn the narrative events have put the characters through.

But now I'm wondering if maybe NONE of these words mean what I think they mean! For me, PWP is "Plot, What Plot?" which I've always interpreted in my own head as--like, huh, wuh, there was a plot? because the story was so OBVIOUSLY about the sex, you know? Like, if you're looking for the plot, you've missed the point, because the story of the story was the story of the sex! The sex is the story, no flying monkeys or juggling clowns needed. Which is why I called "Pier" a PWP; nothing happens in it except the two of them have sex in Rodney's room, and declare love in their own emotionally stunted ways. *g*

But if PWP is PORN WITHOUT PLOT, hm. I don't like generally like the word 'porn' as a synonym for fanfic in general, because just think fanfic is a lot more than porn, and though I'm pro-porn, I don't like to see all the myraid arts of fandom reduced to JUST porn--though some IS porn. I guess for me, porn doesn't have a plot; or all porn is PWP--i.e. the plot is nominal; the plot is just an excuse for sex. But can porn be a story? Does porn mean it's NOT a story--it's just an excuse to see characters do sexual gymnastics and be pretty? Does porn without plot really mean porn with no emotional story arc at all? (I feel like it can't mean that...?)

Excerpts from Responses

  • comment by kass:
    I wonder to what extent this terminology stuff reflects where and how we came into fandom. I mean, PWP reads as "Plot? What plot?" to me, but I'm sure that's not a universal interpretation; it's just the one I grew up with, as it were. To my mind, yeah, a very short story whose point is sex still has plenty of story to it. The dramatic arc may be "they rip each other's clothes off and have sex," but there's room for character insight, personal growth, emotional change, all kinds of good stuff. They may never leave the loft John's quarters, but they're going somewhere, right? There's plenty of action, even if they never leave home. This is not to knock stories that are pure burn-your-face-off erotica, in any way. I've got favorites in that genre from every fandom I've ever loved. But the ones that really stick with me are the ones that also say something about who the characters are, or what they long for.

  • comment by cathexys:
    I think of plot as the condensed version of what happens (as opposed to story, which includes atmosphere, etc....I think the difference may be more obvious in certain styles and genres, i.e., in Great Expectations, plot and story are pretty tied together whereas in Finnegans Wake? Not so much so!), so that in a PWP the plot's the andthentheyhadsex. But really, in reality, I think PWPs merely denotes that porn is the way through which the story's told. I think we have other stories like that...the curtain story uses domesticity to tell a story. I think in both scenarios (best case), we should have learned something about the two and their relationship and (even better scenario) so should they. But it's done via a seemingly plotless scenario. OK, now that I'm stepping back and thinking about this some more...maybe much of modernism is PWP???? :P Or rather PWP are this interesting intersection where we really have the emotional engagement of an introspective piece merged with an extremely limited action...namely the sex. possibly that's why we need a separate term (other than to find the porn when we want it :)--it defies our internal/external development notions?

  • comment by florahart:
    I have heard both PWP meanings so many times it means both to me. I think I think it can mean lots of things: 1. Porn AS Plot--the sex is the point of the story and also is in fact plot in its own right with, like, buildup, conflict and (heh) climax. 2. Porn which has no plot--just fucking (or other sexual behavior), no context. 3. Story in which the plot isn't actually a focus for whatever reason, though usually because the focus is on the sex. But, for instance, I could write a ficlet in which there is sex, and there is no other plot, but the actual focus of the story is on imagery, which happens to be plotless and sexual. I expect that could also be labeled porn without plot (er, which, it occurs to me, might mean explicit content with clear artistic merit might often be PWP, which entertains me because of the negative connotation some folks think the term carries). I think it's a neutral assessment kind of for the same reason I don't attach a whole lot of ethical weight in either direction to straight-up fucking done simply and entirely for the purpose of getting off. Which a person can do with a stranger in the bathroom of a bar or with their partner of 30 years; I don't actually think there's anything wrong with either of these, though I think if one's entire sex life consists of the former, it's kind of unfortunate to have such a one-note experience. I would hope most adults do some of that and some, you know, candles and moonlight and some comfort sex and some celebratory sex, and... Or something. I could be wrong.

  • comment by erda 3:
    Hmmm.I would call At the end of the At the End of the Pier an episode tag rather than a PWP, because, uh, the terms are slippery at the edges? To me a PWP is more about eroticism, often a little kinky and tends to be somewhat independent of setting. As soon as you position the story in canon and empahasize characterization over sexual details you start moving out of PWP land, I think. The story is borderline to me.

  • comment by perspi:
    I think of PWP as Porn Without Plot, as in, the point of the story is the sex. That doesn't mean it's not a story for me--not at all! I like porn with a story to it, with an emotional resonance. But Plot, What Plot? could ALSO mean a drabble, or a character study, or something along those lines, at least to me, and I see the PWP acronym as denoting only stuff with porn in it. That DOESN'T mean that I think we're reducing the myriad arts of fandom to just porn--I see PWP as its own genre, a genre in which we get to the sex fast and that's the point of the story. I see other stories with sex in them as potentially porny, but there's all kinds of other stuff going on, too, which takes it out of the PWP genre in my head. hm.

  • comment by viva gloria:
    The 'without plot' or 'what plot' decryption does vex me, because the best PWPs have plenty of plot. Even if all that happens, on-page, is sex, a good PWP will have characters behaving so utterly in character that the plot is about character interaction as much as tab A / other tab A. That said, there are quite a few PWPs that don't have that. That aren't always even in character. (Alien rituals and sex pollen and exotic drugs all have a lot to answer for.) There are stories that don't have the arc you describe (or demonstrate in 'Pier', which is Hot, With Plot: there, new acronym!). So I'll go with 'genre of its own' with all the variety that implies -- from straightforward* sex scenes where the characters only interact via sex, to stories where the sex (in the context of how they got there, or where they're going next, or why this particular iteration is special) is the plot.

  • comment by estefee:
    Regardless of the physical plot, I agree the best PWPs do include emotional context/arc along with the incredibly hot sex--because even if the story is only sex, there are still people doing the sex, and the more subtext, the less anonymous they are, and so the hotter the sex. PWPs where it really just is the pretty body Olympics are eh. Tremendously not worth reading. But I don't think that means they aren't both PWPs, just different kinds.

  • comment by crysothemis:
    I had people argue with me about the designation the one time I posted a PWP, too. But I'm with you -- sex has an arc, and a PWP can portray a meaningful turning point in a relationship. So I'm not entirely sure I understand the argument. I mean, the fact that it's a PWP doesn't automatically make it meaningless sex, does it?

  • comment by sorchasilver:
    I tend to think of PWP as Porn without Plot, which to me means that the sex is the focus of the story. It can have an emotional arc or not, but the story is about them having sex. If there is significantly more going on plotwise in the fic, then it isn't PWP - to me. And PWP is just a label in my mind, like schmoop or hurt/comfort or crack or whatever, it just lets me know that this particular story is about the sex. I don't like porn as a synonym for fanfic either, and I agree entirely that fanfic is a lot more than just porn, but I tend to think of PWPs as those fics which are just the porn. It's a way of saying that this isn't fic in which sex occurs as part of a longer story, but a fic in which the sex is the main focus. (Since it seems that it might be relevant, I'll add that I am a fairly new arrival in fandom - it's been about 5 years.)

  • comment by china shop:
    I've always said Porn Without Plot because I'm not very fond of rhetorical questions. ;-) And I think it's a genre where the fic consists entirely of sex (sometimes with a brief lead-in of how they got there), but that people use it to refer to their own stories in a slightly self-deprecatory/tongue-in-cheek kind of way if they feel like they haven't included enough external plot. I think it's very hard to do a first-time PWP, because there's too much story and context required. Established relationship PWPs are much easier/more common. I also use a friend-coined term which is KWC (Kink Without Characterisation), which is basically bodyfic -- PWPs where the plot and characterisation are secondary to having the characters act out situations the author and readers think are hot.

  • comment by toft froggy:
    I was weirded out when people argued with you about 'Pier' being a PWP - I had the same thing recently when I wrote 'Fix', which was entirely sex. Like you, I was confused that people felt the need to say something wasn't a PWP because they thought it had substance. I don't really distinguish between 'Plot, What Plot', or 'Porn Without Plot' (mostly because I don't think of porn in a fanfic context as something that has to be storyless, 'just' sex or whatever). But I certainly never thought of PWP as being a negative thing, ie. something contentless as well as plotless. Like you, I think a story which is just a sex scene is still a story - so PWP, for me, is a neutral term for a genre. I'm glad you mentioned this, though, because it is something that's been bothering me.

  • comment by rodneyscat:
    When I first asked, back in 2002, 'what does PWP stand for?' I got the answers 'plot, what plot' and 'porn without plot' pretty much 50/50. In my head it became 'porn without plot', but it definitely doesn't have a negative ring to it for me. At least not in my little fanfic world out here, where there is just as much attention for John's floppy hair and Rodney's crooked smile as there is for their cocks. It's out in the big bad world where porn has a negative ring to it, as in potential close-up cock-in-cunt ploughing with no fun whatsoever.

  • comment by hivesofactivity:
    I think I understand what is meant when I see something designated as a PWP. Nonetheless I’m not totally sure that it’s even possible to have a pure PWP, however, er, stripped down it is, because even if I read a good story where the focus is on the sex, then I still have all this backstory in my head from all the rest of the same fandom, layers and layers and layers of it, lots of it conflicting, sure, and a gazillion first times and many different takes on each character, but most of it reinforcing that there is a real connection between character x and character y (and sometimes also characters a and z), so that the sex is never in a vacuum, it’s part of their stories. If there’s a story on offer about two random underwear models having sex (or even underwear models given character names, but not the characters’ voices), and I knew nothing else about them, well, I’m just not terribly interested, even if the sex is well-written. I am interested (very, very interested) in John and Rodney having sex, or Ray and Fraser, or Ray and Ray, or Ronon and John, or Jack and Daniel, or Jim and Blair, or, or, or (I could be here some time). Or also any original characters where I have become invested in them and who they are and what they want and how they feel (and since with SGA I read the stories before I ever saw the show, in a way I started out reading them as original characters, even though I knew they were not). I do understand why people call slash porn, but that’s really not how I see it at all, not even PWP.

  • comment by dancinguniverse:
    I think it is a tricky line to walk. To me, honestly, a lot of the time I do think I agree more with what you put forward in your last paragraph there. I think the point is to get to the sex, and enjoy the sex, and there isn't any story, it's just porn. That said, I think porn can be well written, so that doesn't mean it's a bad creation, but I do tend to view it as just porn. Isn't that what erotica is for? A story that contains porn within it, but also has it's own story and emotional arc? I don't think something that contains graphic sex for the enjoyment of reading about graphic sex is automatically without merit, but I do think there's a difference between what I think of as "just porn" or something more like erotica (although now I'm sure people can start arguing about the use of that word).

  • comment by copracat:
    I think Plot? What Plot? came from the tradition of long-arse stories and was used as a gentle warning that the writer didn't consider the story a serious one or didn't think the audience would consider the story seriously and wanted to put them in that frame of mind/expectations before reading. It's more grown into a valid fan story form, like 'five things'.

  • comment by lim:
    I've always known it as Porn Without Plot. That's how I encountered the term and I'm not aware of having seen, say, a gen story, or actually any kind of story without explicit fucking being labelled PWP. But then in my fandom trajectory, nobody used porn as a negative term. (I mean, nobody who write sex used porn as a negative porn, like, I write beautiful love but your stories are just porn, or w/ever.

  • comment by runpunkrun:
    Because of that type of in medias res approach to PWPs, I always cringe a little if people describe one of my fics as PWPs. I tend to assume the worst when I hear that, like my fic was just SEX and didn't have any character moments or emotional growth in it. So I rarely use the term when talking about my writing. But, oddly, I had no trouble with you using it to describe your fic because I knew you'd give us a complete story, even if it didn't have a big space monkey battle in it.

  • comment by cesperanza:
    Right--that's--now I guess I'll be offended if someone calls my story a PWP f I didn't do it first. But I never had a stigma to PWP; it wasn't ATG, which I DO hate and which bores me. If the story isn't THEM or isn't about ANYTHING or is only about the most obvious sex cliche: the first time being penetrated--without any thrum or specifics, that's just BAD, no?

  • comment by wickwords:
    For me, PWP is "Plot? What Plot?", indicating that the reader is so turned on that they wouldn't notice if there was an action plot or character arc because they are so focused on their own reactions to the sex. It's reader-focused in that the statement is about reader reactions. 'Porn without plot' is a writer-focused statement. The writer intends the scene to be erotic, and there's no planned plot outside of that. There may be a little character development--because as fans, we find character development sexy as hell--but it's writer/reader foreplay, and not the main focus of the story the writer is creating.

  • comment by wickedwords:
    I do think the 'Porn without Plot' thing came out of Anime, though, along with lemons, limes, and the erotic fruit basket. I think it then surfed it's way into a more common media fan usage through Harry Potter fandom. I think there may be a fan-generation component in this, so learning how long someone had been in media fandom (as opposed to anime fandom or one of the monolithic threshold fandoms like HP) and which definition they gravitated to would be of interest. I do remember us spending some time working to reclaim the term PWP from being the generic for bad erotic writing by fans, but I think that was back in dinosaur days and mailing lists.... According to the documentation that Klangley and I both pulled from Blake's 7 zines, the term seems to have come into vogue in the later 1980s/1990s, well before Potter fandom. Back then, the term meant 'Plot? What Plot?', while 'Porn Without Plot' may have been derived from fans seeing PWP and using context to reason out what it meant.

  • comment by vsee:
    I may be a little old school, but I am *still* nervous at the use of the word porn to describe fanfiction. Because even when it is, you know, smutty and sex filled, it just IS. It is its own thing to my mind, and that is never a word I wanted to claim. Even the most graphic fanfiction isn't porn, IMO.

  • comment by cybel:
    I'm old school myself and must agree with you. I've never liked describing fanfic/art as porn. The word just has too many bad connotations for me. What I read is slash, mostly, and porn means something entirely different to me.

  • comment by irishamber:
    I read it as Porn without plot and take it to mean one big honking gratuitous sex scene with lots of shocking tab a, slot b, c or d in great detail without any regard for character development, character arc or character motivation. Basically a bunch of body parts, substitute any imaginary character of you choice. straight porn. no story (or any story that is there is so ridiculous as to deserve great eye-rolling). This has been learned by experience as during my first year on-line, that's what I got when I clicked. When things are labeled PWP, I usually just skip them. I love hot sex scenes, but for me a sex scene isn't hot w/o character development, motivation and arc (and written by a decent writer).

  • comment by catalenamara:
    I first came across the term PWP in about 1984 or 1985. I was attending an early slash convention, IDICon. As soon as I arrived at the hotel I was informed I'd been drafted to be on the "Plot? What Plot?" (aka PWP) panel. (The panel was quite a lot of fun, too!) Other definitions have cropped up within the last few years but unless someone comes up with a definition that predates 1984, "Plot? What Plot?" is the original definition of PWP.

  • comment by syrenslure:
    I've seen Plot? What Plot? since my entry into (Xena) fandom in 1998. Porn without Plot is more recent, and sometimes I will use it in my head. I don't think of it as derogatory. Everyone has fic preferences, but to me it just indicates a little set-up and then sex with little to no outside details or interference. I also don't think "porn" is necessarily derogatory, but i don't think it does justice to fanfic, even this kind, because lots of times we are seeking the emotional connection as well as the smoking hotness... I mean one of the most often complaints about bad sex scenes is when they are reduced to tab a and slot b and not the characters. We want characterizations and connections, we also just like smoking hot sex too.

  • comment by cesperanza:
    Maybe I won't use that term anymore if this is now what it means, broadly, in fandom. I dont want to signal, "Hey, I was sloppy with this and it sucks, but there's orgasms!"

  • comment by carodee:
    I label 90 percent of my stories PWP because I'd love to reclaim the genre from badfic. There really isn't another fan term (such as erotica) that works. If it's a short story centered around a sex act then it's a PWP. A well-written PWP has all the characterization, depth and development of any good story. I've tried telling people that sex works just as well as the ever popular H/C to strip a character down to the bone. They don't believe me. :-( PWP =/= badfic.

  • comment by cleo2584:
    When I came into fandom about 15 years ago, no one was really using the term PWP. We just called it smut. But now that everything is over categorized, PWP has always meant "Plot, what plot?" to me. When you ask what the difference between plot and story is, even within the context, you can't get away from the technicality. Something doesn't have "story" because that's the medium. PWP, ficlet,'s all narrative/story. All "plot" is is the organizing principle that arranges events--the events themselves are the story. So, plot is just an element Some lit books will tell you that plot is what remains when we edit out everything that is nonessential PWP has always been more like a type of vignette--a brief episode, a description without a real border or destination--to me in that there is no need for suspense, or climax (no pun intended), or falling action, etc. But it's always good to keep in mind that terms are relative, and their meanings are always evolving. And with something as big as fandom, it's hard to have one definitive interpretation (take, for example, the argument of whether femslash is a genre of slash, it's own genre, shouldn't exist b/c it's all slash...etc).

  • comment by bookshop:
    Sorry, please don't mind my intruding, but I just wanted to say that this: hot pizza delivery guy rings the doorbell...the guy is hot, not the guy must be punished, over and over and over... That *is* a plot, and that plot, even as a rudimentary excuse for sex, doesn't necessarily equal "shallow." If astolat were writing John Sheppard as the pizza delivery guy, the plot could still easily be that simple. But the writing would also be "high-minded," even if the plot itself wasn't. The loosest definition of a plot can be applied to generally all porn: inroduction, rising action, climax (erm), falling action. What you're saying is that once the writing reaches a certain literary standard, the porn *becomes* story with sex, regardless of how loose the plot is, right? I agree - but it's not like at that moment the story *stops* being a PWP. Calling it that isn't an insult. The simplest pornfic can have superlative writing (god, see resonant8's pornlets as these little mini-nuggets of transcendent examples of this), without expanding the strict definition of what a PWP is, how it functions, or what's AWESOME about it. :D :D :D

  • comment by franzeska:
    I've always used "Plot, what plot?" because I heard it first and I imagine it said in a funnier tone of voice. I've heard "porn without plot" for several years at least. To me, they would be equivalent: a short fic (meaning like one chapter to be read in one sitting, not a drabble) with explicit sex and without any action scenes or substantial change of location. There can be copious references to past events, including plot and action, so long as they aren't full-blown flashbacks. The sex should be the point of the story. Frankly, I think that "porn" always has a plot of some kind. Saying that something is "just porn" means that you're identifying its primary aim as that of arousing its audience. To me, the term doesn't say much about whether the work can be seen as artistic--you're just highlighting that one aspect of it. (I think the distinction between "erotica" and "pornography" is completely specious.)

  • comment by biktauna:
    Well I have to say the pwp was explained to me in the dark ages as porn without plot. Its also used in a derogatory manner by most old school fandoms. I love 'em myself and tend to write alot of them. I think for some of the characters I love sex is the only time they would ever feel able to allow some of their emotions to be seen. It's a great way to get certain types of motivations and problems to surface or even talked about by these amazingly repressed guys. I'd rather a good pwp than one of the preferred romance novels/implausible constant misunderstanding OMG my feelings! wallows that seem so praised

  • comment by klangley:
    The term was coined in the late 80s. Here's your historical reference for the day, Ces: 1) From the May-July 1989 issue of THE FEDERATION ARCHIVES (a "Blake's 7" letterzine edited and published by L. Terrell), one LoC refers to OBLAQUE and OBLAQUER (two B7 slash zines) thusly: "The editors have also created a new category of story: PWP. It stands for Plot? What Plot?" 2) From the ON THE DOUBLE #13, November 1989 (a slash adzine, published by A. Hughes), an ad from GBH Productions for OBLAQUEST includes this: "Many fifth season stories and just to lighten the load, a few PWP's (Plot? What Plot?)." The usage was so new that the editors felt a need to define it in their ad. It referred to a type of story which already had been around for many years (it just hadn't been "named" yet)--stories with little or nothing beyond a sexual scenario. Stories for which the entire point was inserting Tab A into Slot B. Resolving conflict (your basic man against nature, man against man, man against society, man against himself stuff) was not the point. Exploring or developing characters or relationships was not the point. Seeking the Greater Truth was not the point. Just the sex. One-handed reading material, as it were. As with any fannish usage, particularly in the farflung universe of the Internet, the use of PWP is morphing. Porn Without Plot is gaining ground. And, as has been noted, it's showed up even in reference to gen fiction. This is the kind of thing that happens when fans see a term they aren't familiar with and try to figure it out from the context (hell, that's how the fannish usage of "smarm" came into being).