Saturday, August 25, 2012

For Mature Eyes Only - When Does Romance Become Erotica

Firstly, thanks to JD for hosting me on my blog tour and thanks to the Literary+ team for offering such a great opportunity, and especially, Paul Carroll, who organised the tour.

For Mature Eyes Only - When Does Romance Become Erotica?

As a slash writer, I've been creating erotica and romance stories for a lot of years. However, with the advent of the term 'Mommy Porn', I started mulling over my own experience of sex in fiction and the line between erotica and romance and considering if there even is, or should be such a line.

Sex in fiction isn't new. I first came across it at age 13 or 14 when I bought a couple of cheap books, one from a jumble sale and one from Woolworths. Neither of them, by any stretch of the imagination, could have been called mommy porn, since one was a hard-noised spy novel and one was science fiction, but both contained graphic sex scenes. Neither of those books could have been called romance either, but then, some people would argue that is also true for the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. I will state up front, I haven't read Fifty Shades and don't intend to, not my type of book at all, so I won't be making comment. However, the debate about whether Fifty Shades is porn, erotica, or romance does highlight how blurred the lines are between these genres.

So, let's start with a few personal definitions. This is what these terms mean to me, this is purely in my head, there is no legal definition intended, just my opinion, so when I talk about them, you know what I mean.

  • Pornography: well, for me, porn is devoid of emotion, it's describing rod 'a' into slot 'b'. I don't like reading porn, it offers me no connection to the characters and therefore no satisfaction in the book. Some romance/erotica writers set out with good intentions but end up with porn if they don't spend enough time with their character development and, importantly, interaction. :)
  • Erotica: this is much more difficult to define, because, just like romance, this genre deals with emotion for me. Okay, there's probably going to be humping involved :P, but, as I mentioned above, if there is no connection to the characters, it's porn. For me, character involvement and growth is the most important thing about erotica. The same rule applies to erotica as applies to any other writing, if a scene is not important to plot/character development, then it should not be in the story, so if a sex scene does not develop the story at all, then there is no point for it being in the book. That is the challenge of good erotica, how to titillate, but tell a story at the same time. The plot does not end at the bedroom door.
  • Romance: definitions get a bit grey here, because a lot of modern romance can be very explicit and overlap with erotica, but, for me, romance is the PG13 end of the spectrum, a little bodice ripping, some heaving bosoms (male or female), but fade to black in the juicy bits.

Okay, so these are my instinctive definitions, but it gets a lot harder for me when trying to apply them to actual books I've read or written, especially since other opinions vary so widely. This is particularly difficult when sites only allow you to stick your book in one or two categories. For example, I have a science fiction, fantasy story out called Bonds of Fire. I put it into sci-fi and fantasy categories, because it's main story is about dragons and a dragon-warrior, Drekken, who has to help a group of dragon hatchlings and their carers, two empaths, through a war zone. However, alongside the action, I have a developing romance. Now, in my head, it is firmly on the romance end of 'sex in fiction', because there's a growing friendship, a little bit of nudity, but nothing explicit, and some kissing. Sound like a romance to you? Me too. However, add into the mix that the relationship is male-male, and that there happen to be three of them and, well, one reviewer slammed the whole book, despite admitting to liking the story, because, 'the gay sex was terrible'. Other folks loved the saucier side of the romance. So, should I have defined this as romance, or erotica, I mean, there was a little nudity, I described an arse or two? ;) Personally, I'm still firmly in the it's a sci-fi/fantasy story with a side order of romance camp for this one, but I have since listed explicitly on the book description that it contains a male-male romance. I do think m/f romance writers can get away with a lot more of ye olde bodice ripping than m/m or f/f romance writers and still call it romance, simply because there has been more exposure (literally) to male-female relationships.

Bonds of Fire was complicated by the fact that I didn't class it as either romance, or erotica on the book site. However, I do have several erotica books out as well. They're explicit, so, instantly erotica in my head, however, I would say some of them also fall into the romance category as well. See, even I can't get my head around my own definitions! Maybe I should qualify that and say, they are also romantic, i.e. the characters are falling in love. Some of my erotica isn't romantic. That doesn't mean it is porn (my definition remember), it's not just describing sexual activity, there is emotional attachment, just not romance. In one case, The Need In Me, there are in fact two romances in the story, but not between the parties involved in the erotic part of the action. However, this book does follow the rule that the sex has to develop the story. I don't write what are termed PWP's, which means, Plot-What-Plot, which are sex and only sex for titillation's sake. That's not to say I haven't tried, just for fun in some of the slash fandoms I'm in, but somehow, they always grow a plot :).

For me, the important thing about a story, be it explicit or non-explicit, is the intent behind it. I don't find a person treating another person badly at all romantic, whatever their gender. This was my problem with the Sharon Green Terrilian novels. The Warrior Within and The Warrior Enchained were another couple of books I read in my teens, I had no idea quite how sexually driven they were when I opened them, but the power dynamics in them and the implication that subjugation to a man made the female lead 'complete' really made me uncomfortable. I never got as far as The Warrior Rearmed. I didn't even consider them romances, although others do, because the dynamic was so skewed that I couldn't see any romance in it at all. Wuthering Heights as well, definitely not one of the greatest romances of all time as some have dubbed it. It's a brilliant novel, but it's a tale of obsession, not love, in my opinion, Cathy is too selfish and Heathcliff too damaged for there to be any romance.

Seems I find it easier to define what romance is not, than what it is. As you can tell with me wavering between definitions, the journey from romance to erotica is not a simple one. There are many shades of grey along the way and distinction will be different for different people. Personally, I don't really care about the distinction, because explicit description of sex doesn't bother me unless it's done badly. What I'll leave you with is that, there's not really a line between romance and erotica, it looks more like this:

Sophie Duncan

Sophie was born with the writing bug in her blood, boring her primary school teachers with pages of creative writing and killing her first typewriter from over use when she was thirteen. She began publishing her work on line while at university where she discovered the internet and fanfiction. It took another decade for Sophie to realise her long-time dream of releasing her own original fiction as an author through Wittegen Press.

Death In The Family (Heritage is Deadly #1)

Leaving a good London school with solid prospects, Tom Franklin has the world at his feet. Yet one thing has always haunted his perfect life: his dreams. When Tom discovers that the nightmarish images of dark places and even darker instincts are in fact repressed memories from his early childhood, he must face the heritage from his birth-father, a savage vampire known only as Raxos.

Realising his memories are his only hope of controlling his awakening instincts, Tom returns to, Coombedown, the sleepy, Cornish village in which he was born, unknowing that the night-breed in his veins will lead him into danger.

Death In The Family is a young adult, paranormal novel.

Death In The Family Literary+ Blog Tour Schedule:

  • 27th August 2012: Is it the teeth? - vampires and why we like them. Host: Brooke Johnson
  • 28th August 2012: Scare me, Shock me - paranormal fiction vs horror. Host: A. K. Flynn
  • 29th August 2012: For Mature Eyes Only - when does romance become erotica? Host: JD Savage
  • 30th August 2012: There were 3 in the bed... ménage, ewww or gimme gimme! Host: Tressa Green
  • 31st August 2012: The Sidekick - plucky, loyal and just a tad annoying :) Host: Paul Carroll
  • 1st September 2012:Feedback - Taking It - Giving It - Enjoying It. Host: Leonard Suskin
  • 2nd September 2012: Mad With It - The Highs and Lows of A Writing Imperative Allisyn Bridges

Literary+ is a marketing initiative which was founded and led by Shen Hart. This is a time of evolution and progress, the market is being opened up to e-books and self-publication. As a fellow writer, Shen understands that self-publication is a hard and often lonely road. She started Literary+ to bring together authors and related creative specialities with the goal of helping each other. With a tight knit, friendly and welcoming community at its core, Literary+ holds a strong focus on marketing. As Literary+ continues to grow and evolve it will use innovating, original and experimental marketing methods and schemes to get its member’s books into their reader’s hands.