When I first realized I wanted to be an author, I found that I was easily overwhelmed by the extreme learning curve I had before me. And it wasn’t just stuff you had to learn, but also execute every day after that. To keep from getting ulcers (jury is still out on that) I told myself that if I could just learn one new thing a day, I would be okay and I wouldn’t get so stressed out that I wanted to quit.
Well, that kind of worked. Ha! But I thought I would share some of the things I learned along the way on this blog.
Sh!t I Learned Today: Know Your Sex
This is a topic I’ve been wondering about lately. My End of Days series has a bit of sex in them, and I really didn’t know how to classify what kind of sex is involved. Is it explicit sex or subtle sex? Am I walking a line between sweet romance and erotica? It was all very confusing, so I set out to find the difference.
Sylvia Day’s website has a great breakdown of the difference between types of sexy subgenres within the Romance category. I am putting this in my own words.
- Porn: These stories are, like, literally porn. Imagine all those awful late-night skin shows you watched on Showtime or wherever. You laugh at the awful plot and character dialogue. Well, that’s because these kinds of stories focus on the sex part to excite readers and don’t worry so much about the plot, character development, etc. That’s not to say all porn stories have bad plot. So don’t get your panties in a bunch…literally 😉
- Erotica: So here we start walking a fine line. Erotica books focus on the individual character’s journey, which is inherently tied into their sexual exploits, feelings, and emotions as related to sex. These books revolve around sex and how sex affects the character. Romantic developments can be involved but are not a requirement. Happily Ever Afters are not necessarily included. Basically the focus of these stories is the sex not the romance.
Tangent: Sylvia Day brought up a really cool facet of this blurry line between Erotica and Erotic Romance. Some publishers are categorizing true Erotica stories as Erotic Romance. Readers are picking up these stories hoping for a true romance, happily ever after, and steamy sex scenes. Well, they may get the steamy sex, but the actual romance and HEA may not be included. This type of incorrect categorization (whether on purpose to garner more sales or purely by accident) only hurts both genres. Don’t piss off readers who need their warm and fuzzy.
- Erotic Romance: Here we go. This is the big, hot trend of today. You get your shmexy hot sex, hunky dudes, wine and dining, AND your happily ever after (which is required). Sexual interaction is an important facet of the story and the romance. Sylvia Day says it best when she says the sex, “couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline.”
- Sexy Romance: Here’s another blurry line, and I believe my End of Days series falls into this category. There is sex, even explicit sex. But it’s not intrinsic to the story or the characters or even the romance itself. Sylvia Day says, “[the sex] could easily be removed or ‘toned down’ without damaging the storyline.” Think Nora Roberts’ kinky sister writing a romance with I-wish-my-husband-did-that kind of sex.
Okay. So there are the categories broken down. I had no idea what my paranormal/fantasy series was until I looked at this. But I’m kind of shocked that actual romance authors who write in these categories don’t know where their stories fall.
So then I started delving into what constitutes explicit sex? In my books, I try to be more subtle than explicit but what is the line? Let me tell you. It gets vague from here on out. I found out that most romance sites or blogs use a “heat” level rating system. I pulled the following information from All About Romance’s site, and put it in my own words.
- Subtle: NO explicit sex. This means kissing and touching, but once sex actually happens, it’s not described or is only alluded to. No he put that there kind of stuff. Readers with good imaginations are required.
Apparently, my books are NOT subtle. While I explain details, I don’t use explicit words to describe things. However, up to the actual act, I describe things pretty fully. Until now, I thought I was being subtle. I believed explicit sex described the actual sex act all the way through to the GRAND FINISH LINE. I’d assumed by describing up to the point of take-off and then only alluding to the actual act and finish that I was being subtle. Apparently, I was only being a half assed explicit author. Who knew?
- Warm: Here is where I believe my books fall now. ‘Warm’ rating includes moderately explicit sex. The characters do have sex and the reader is there with them during the act. Details are described but not graphically. Imagination comes into play here as do euphemistic ‘code words.’ Sex scenes are rather limited, but when they are included, it’s more about the emotions than the physical feelings.
- Hot: Explicit Sexiness! These books have a lot of dirty pondering. Think about being in a 16-year-old’s male mind. Well, maybe not quite that bad or quite that sitcky. So characters think about sex a lot, and the sex is graphically explained with ‘code words.’ The sex scenes may increase in number, and become more of a focus in the book. The scenes themselves are normally longer in general (i.e. more detail). Physical and emotional feelings are both important.
- Burning: Here we get into the Erotica Romance category. Sex scenes are explicitly and graphically described in detail. Characters think A LOT about sex, and sex is a driving factor in the story. Things may even get a little kinkyalicious.
Well, this was all great but I’m still kind of confused. What constitutes explicit? Is it the words I use or the sex itself? And what the hell are code words? Tori MacAllister has a great online article called How Racy is Racy? that you might want to check out if this interests you.
I Googled. And if you want to LAUGH OUT LOUD today, check out Deb Stover’s Purple Prose. She talks about some of these awful ‘code words’ writers use today. And holy cow, in my effort to be subtle and not explicit I think I’m guilty of some of these. Here’s a sampling of code words from her online article: manhood, manroot, his tumescent tube of fire, throbbing member, her moist warmth, and OMG SO MUCH MORE. Really, y’all need to read this.
So ultimately, I don’t know what I learned today. Maybe I have a better understanding of the sexiness I’m putting in my books. Hopefully, I do so I can convey that to my potential readers in an appropriate rating. I agree with Sylvia Day that this is an important categorization technique to get right. This is a hot topic for readers. They want to read the book they bought, not a book they thought they bought.
I would love to hear what you guys think constitutes explicit sex or explicit terms. What do y’all like to read in your romance? And what “ratings” or categories do you look for when you buy a book?