What is erotica? Is it different from erotic romance?
My first novel was listed under erotic romance. A mistake, surely? There was only one sex scene that didn’t go into too much detail. No, my publisher insisted, it’s erotic. She was wrong.
Erotic does not equal one sex scene. So, what does it mean?
Firstly, that anyone picking up said novel was horribly disappointed. I recently read a submission that promised FLAMES. I got to halfway and had yet to encounter anything more a damp squib. One sex scene. One that had been rudely interrupted. That was it. On the heat-o-meter that registered as a 1, a low heat, certainly not erotica.
Why would you do that to your reader? If they’re expecting heat, the book better deliver.
This rather points to attitudes about sex, rather than writing. (If you’re all a flutter about sex in a book, then there’ll be plenty books out there that won’t be for you, not only romance, just saying)
A romance doesn’t need to have a sex scene. It can be sweet. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to put on your big girl panties and leave that bedroom door open, know what’s expected from your reader.
Erotica is where the sexual journey of your character is depicted. This could mean that they discover their latent BDSM proclivities, question their sexuality, or embark on a torrid affair with the milkman that makes them realise they want something more in their life. Erotica does not have to have a HEA. My novel, Watched,is about a woman embracing her sexual self. Lots of people weren’t happy with the ending because it wasn’t the HEA they were expecting, but the novel wasn’t about the romance. It was about my character and her sexual exploration.
This doesn’t have to mean that there’s a sex scene every chapter, but if it’s about a character’s sexual journey, the focus will be on sex. A great example of this is Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren. It’s incredibly erotic but with only a few sex scenes. Erotica still engages with the character’s emotions as they undergo their journey – that’s what separates it from merely physically arousing material, or porn.
If your novel is sex scene after sex scene after sex scene with no emotional involvement, you’ve written porn.
Erotic romance is a little different. This is about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. These two didn’t mean to fall in love while they were doing their thang, but they did. The Warden’s Possessionhas Cait start a steamy romance with Duke in some seedy nightclub. No prizes for guessing what happens next as lurve takes over where lust laid the foundation.
HIGH HEAT LEVELS
Then there are books with high heat levels. Couples that are ‘romancing’ who get it on with the bedroom door open (that means graphic scenes with detail). If your book has one such scene, it’s a medium to low heat, depending on the amount of detail. If it has none, or the scenes fade to black, it’s sweet.
What you choose to write, is up to you. Just make sure it’s categorized correctly so as not to get yourself a one-star read from either a disappointed or irate reader (or both).
Let’s talk about sex! Most romance novels have some level of heat. They can be ’sweet’ reads that end in one or two kisses that fade to black, or they can be ’steamy’ with open bedroom explicit scenes. They have one thing in common though: the heroine always gets off. Always. It’s about her pleasure. Her wants. Her needs. Her desires. Something that cis het women can’t always agree happens in their real lives.
As the author, Lareign Ward, states: "But I think the real issue Society in General has with romance novels is that they’re books centered on a woman’s desires, including her sexual ones, and they’re usually written by women. When done right, that sort of thing can feel revolutionary."
But how do you go about writing sex? There’s plenty written about bad sex scenes - including awards for the worst. The Guardian’s 2018 list included James Frey and Haruki Marukami. I expected better, right?
What makes a great sex scene? Your 5-step quick go-to guide (ahem!):
1) Know your heat level. A low level heat novel isn’t looking for graphic scenes that span pages and pages. And a scorcher novel isn’t looking for chaste kisses and closed bedroom doors. A book doesn’t classify as erotica unless the sexual relationship is the focus. In novels with high heat, the sex adds to the relationship -there’s a difference. Level 1-2 tends to focus on kissing with either no sex or fade to black. Levels 3-4 starts to move into the more detailed sex scenes, with erotica as its own category. As a romance writer, you’ll have to identify your heat level for prospective publishers.
2) Shiver with antici.........................pation. If they’re doing it from page one with no build-up (emotional conflict), the reader will be bored. You want the reader to be longing with you. Check out the Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz. What’s sexy is the stop-start, the will-they won’t they, the almost but not quite. But, if they are doing it left, right and centre, make sure there’s a strong emotional plot driving the series (Sleeping Beauty’s evolution, Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelare).
3) No purple-prosed euphemisms. Some of the worst I can think of: pulsating manhood, hunk of burning love, love sausage, meat injection. Pretty sure you’ve encountered worse. Again, check your heat level. Hard works great for most levels, cock, for those on the 3-4 scale.
4) Connection. If there’s no emotional connection, you’ve written a porn scene.
5) Using your senses. Sex is a sensual experience - literally all of your senses are on high-alert. This is the time to roll out your sensual writing. Taste, touch, smell, sight and sound...all important.
Writing sex is no different from writing any other scene. All the same principles apply - does it further the conflict of the novel? Does it reveal character? Does it make things more complicated for the characters? Yes? Then job done.
Maybe get a big glass of wine first though!
A little something to get you started on your writing journey:
Do you want to write a romance novel?
Everyone wants a HAPPILY EVER AFTER (HEA).