Friday, July 8, 2011

Fine-Tune-It Friday: When Spicy Becomes Erotic

Welcome to what I call Fine-tune-it Fridays… a day to look at some of the skills and techniques in writing, and those necessary to writing spicy and erotic romance.
In fact, that’s the first topic I’m going to tackle. When does spicy become erotic? That line’s grown finer and finer over the years. Having cut my romance teeth on stories that always shut the bedroom door right when it started to get good, it’s difficult to imagine some of the books on shelves in stores now.
Deciding exactly where the line rests, though, is a problem I’ve encountered as an author. Having written what I considered to be simply a very spicy story, my editor asked me to remove some scenes because they were too hot. In the end, it didn’t matter. One scene in the book resulted in its move from simply being spicy to becoming erotic.
So, what was the line in the sand? When I asked, a senior editor explained that if the sex scenes moved the plot forward in some way, i.e. through characterization, increasing tension or resolution of the story, as long as we didn’t get into obvious erotica territory, then that was all right, but if the love scene was sex for sex’s sake, designed solely to titillate the reader? That’s erotic.
Another editor draws a more definite line by saying an erotic romance has sex and the development of the relationship through sex at its core. This may be a clearer definition, but isn’t always entirely accurate. Stick in that gratuitous sex scene and find out what happens (see above), sex certainly wasn’t at the core of that novel’s plot.
Author Sylvia Day defines erotic romance as, “stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline.”
As with any romance, Happily Ever After is a requirement, although that too has been stretched to “Happily for now.”
Of course, there are still topics that are off limits for anyone hoping to land a contract with a mainstream publisher: rape, incest, bestiality, necrophilia, for example. Hmm, wonder how everyone justified those zombie romances?
Like every other business, romance writing has trends—like zombies—and the trend in terms of sex has been to throw the covers off and come out into the open. I write hot stories. I like seeing how the hero and heroine interact with each other in what is, let’s face it, all of our most vulnerable moments. Truly making love with a partner requires you to lay yourself bare, literally and figuratively, and it can reveal a lot about the characters in your book.
Does it also entertain? I hope so. That’s the point of writing romantic fiction after all, but the important thing to remember is keeping the romance at the forefront.


  1. Thanks for the post today, Laura. It is very interesting and something to definitely chew on! I tend to agree that, for me, I like it spicy but needless (in my opinion only!)sex scenes sort of take away my enjoyment of the book. A perfect example of that would be that I loved, was TOTALLY hooked, on Laurell K. Hamilton's paranormal/horror/romance Anita Blake the beginning. The first 4 or 5 books are my favorite. I think she is on possibly number 12 or 13 now, and it is way too much for me. I think her justification for this is that the heroine is now an emotional succubus, but when 2/3 of the book (and entire chapters) is devoted to graphic sex scenes- that is erotica, in my mind. I'm not a prude, I lkie a hot sexy romance as much as the next girl but I just miss her original books, when it was more story, less sex. I wonder if she meant to cross that thin line, or if that's just how the writing evolved for her. :)

  2. I enjoyed your post and wonder how hot is too hot. Not that I've found the answer yet, but the definitions you provided from editors are what I've read in a lot of how-to book and heard in workshops.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. I would have to agree with Dana. Sometimes hot is too hot. Some authors just write sex scene after sex scene and I want some plot, characterization, emotions, the works. Some erotic authors that I read are so good, that if they left out the sex, the book would still sell and be good.

    As a newbie author and not sure how to draw the line about sex scenes, the editors thoughts that you shared are invaluable.

    I used to like Anita Blake, too. **sigh**

    I also used to think that if p**sy or c**k was used in the book, that it was labeled erotic. I'm a wrong in this?

    Thanks for a great post.

  4. Great definitions, Laura! I write spicy. I read spicy and the not so spicy. And I've read some pretty hot books, but I think the author was justified with each sexual encounter described. Not sure I'm interested in reading erotica though. Whips and chains do NOT excite me. lol!

  5. Cock is used in a lot of mainstream romance these days, not just erotic romance. However, pussy still crosses the line. There are such specifics about what you can and can't say, I'm thinking about doing that for next Friday's blog if everyone can stand the blue

  6. Thanks, Laura, for posting. You've hit on a couple of my pet peeves in today's romance market: (1) trying to understand those thin lines between similar genres and (2) the trend today to load sex into a story just to load sex into a story. Maybe it boils down to matter of taste?

    Personally, I love a good steamy story, but I too want a developing relationship based on more than just sex, and I want a plot that keeps me interested when the main characters aren't scorching the sheets!

  7. That's very helpful, Laura, thanks for sharing.

    Just my opinion, but I can do without the blue words in novels. I think they're vulgar, and for me, vulgarity and romance don't go together. We all have our own personal lines, I guess, which is part of what makes it difficult for the industry to strictly define these categories.

    I'd love to see a blog post on what you can and can't say in each of the categories.