September 14, 2014

Talking Shop: Love in the Time of Erotica

Does erotic romance have to have love wound into it?

Short answer? Yes.


If you're a writer (or reader) of romance, you've probably heard by now a breakdown of the differences in "Romance", "Erotic Romance", and "Erotica". ARe Cafe has a short rundown here, but the quick and the dirty of it is:

Romance is a love story.

Erotic Romance is a love story with explicitly sexual description.

Erotica is a sex story. Love need not play a part; the focus is on a sexual journey.

By definition, erotic romance has to include a romantic element (just like my ice tea better have some damn ice in it). Oftentimes, though, when sitting down to write a new erotic romance story--especially if it's a short story or anything less than 20k words--incorporating that sense of true, abiding love, with time to also pursue hot, frisky sex, can make for a bit of a balancing act. If one element of that balancing act wobbles out of time, it can throw off the whole show.


Today in our Talking Shop post, let's look at ways to strike that balance without losing our sense of frisky fun.


As a reader, I find lots of short erotic romances make a rush for that sense of "love", perhaps so that they can justify the main characters hopping into bed together sooner rather than later. I have a problem with this, mostly because it leads to obscene overuse of lines like, "She didn't know why she was so immediately drawn to him" or "He couldn't understand this effect she had on him".


A bit of a clue to authors: if you find yourself writing something to this effect, there's a reason. Your characters are probably telling you they don't understand their own motivations. This can lead to stories which feel contrived or ingenuine.


Prophecy and Destiny


As with all things, of course, there is a time and a place for lines like these. When a character questions the immediacy of their feelings or the intensity of such feelings in such quick time, I find myself primed for the old "fated mate" setup: there is something behind these feelings, and it's the deus ex machina of Destiny. Readers may already know my feelings on deus ex machina and fated mates, but I will admit that there are cases in which these devices can be workable. Prophecy and destiny, after all, are staples of many genres. The trick to using them is to using them in the right ways. They aren't a quick fix to explain why your characters are drawn to each other the minute they meet; actually, if you look at classic literature, prophecy and destiny are usually much better used to complicate the plot, rather than to simplify it.


Love at First Sight


Ah, the classic Disney version of romance. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, and they immediately fall into a deep, abiding love, merely from looking into each other's eyes.


I don't think I have to point out the problem with "love at first sight". It's based solely on sight. Which is a poor indicator of a person's potential love match, if any of our other fairy tale staples are to be believed (Hello, Beauty and the Beast).


When an author leaves me with the open-ended question of why Lady Lover feels so inexplicably drawn to Handsome Sir, I get an idea something like this.



My advice? Don't leave the reader with the open-ended mystery of why your lovers fall in love so very quickly.


Balancing those Feelings of Love


Now, yes...erotic romance as a genre does require an element of love within the plot. Or, requires an element of romance.


This does not actually mean your leading lovers must find true love with one another. It doesn't even mean they must be on the path to eternal wedded bliss (or the equivalent) by the end of the story. And it doesn't mean they must become each other's "One and Only" forever thereafter.


What it means is that your story needs an element of romance and passion.

As most progressive minds will tell you, "true love" is not necessary in every romantic or sexual encounter. This is where the genre of pure Erotica excels: celebration of sexuality and sexual identity without requiring love or promise of a future together. You don't need love as an excuse to throw your characters into bed together.


Where do you find your balance, then?


As a writer, I personally tend to write longer works: most of my serious "love stories" are 75k words or better. This has served me well for space and time to explore deeper promises of love between my romantic pairs. A lot of time I suggest to fellow writers, "Make it longer. Give the love story more room to breathe. Take time with it." I feel many authors feel the need to rush, but as noted, rushing love leaves something to be desired. So my first bit of advice is, don't force it; let it develop at its own, natural pace.

However, the genre of erotic romance doesn't always facilitate longer works, and writers can definitely make a living at this writing pure novella-length works. So what do you do when you're only planning on writing 20k words?


A few suggestions:


Start with a love pair who already has a history. 


Not every story needs to be about "When they first met".  If you establish a history between these two characters, it is a bit easier to move that history (romantic or non-romantic) into a believable bond of true affection. As a side-note, be wary of using lines like "He'd always been there for her" and "She'd always felt drawn to him". That's just retroactively using those earlier inexplicable lines we discussed. If your characters have a history, give them a real history. Maybe he pulled on her pigtails in grammar school and she chased him around the playground one day to kiss him and make him blush, but they had never explored a deeper relationship until the day he appeared on her doorstep with a dozen roses and said "I should have asked you out years ago" (and maybe that's where your story begins!).



Write About A Stepping-Stone in their Journey 


Whether or not your love pair has always felt affectionate or is just falling in love within the confines of your 20k, there must be real moments and concrete stepping-stones leading them to that feeling.You can establish that with a history between them, or you can write a story where they are in the middle of those stepping stones...or maybe even just taking the first one!

Erotic Romance does not require that you tell a couple's whole story, from beginning to end, with fully-culminated true love realized within its pages. And as previously stated, sexual connections do not require true love, either, so there's no reason to feel your pair must realize they are soul-mates before they get frisky with one another. 

Don't Wait for the Love, to Get to the Sex


Kresley Cole (whom I mention a lot, yes) does this particularly well. Very commonly her love pair faces some egregious obstacles to realizing their true forever-destined love match...but they don't mind fooling around a little, regardless, while they search. Cole realizes the libido is not ruled by the heart, nor must her characters be. As adult creatures they can happily indulge themselves with their partner without needing to be bound by true love... yet.


In many cases with Kresley Cole's stories, this manifests when the love pair realize they desire each other physically, even if they aren't ready to commit to anything romantically. They indulge the attraction--establishing some limits with one another first, such as, "I may be willing to scratch an itch with you, but that doesn't mean we're getting married"--and are happy to do so.


Since Kresley Cole does write paranormal romance, though, the romantic element does come in... eventually. It does have to be there, mind you... it just doesn't have to come before the naughty parts. The point here is, there's no need to rush the characters affections as an excuse to get to some good, satisfying sex.


Why Worry About Balance? 


The fun of writing Erotic Romance comes from indulging both our sweet romantic side, where we want to see tender love stories and exciting journeys, and at the same time flaunt a wild, shamelessly sexy side.  A lot of good has come from blending these two elements: for one thing, female characters enjoy a lot more freedom to be sexual, adventurous and even experimental; for another, gay, lesbian and transgender stories have more freedom to move out of the genre of "pure erotica" and tell love stories as well as stories about sex and lifestyle.


To fully embrace the potential of an erotic, romantic story, authors do need to understand their character's motivations for romance, affection and love. This is why we need the balance: otherwise, our characters end up wondering "How did I get here?". When the character doesn't understand his own feelings, neither does the author, and neither will the readers.


Read, write and be merry!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for explaining. I was struggling a little when are the feelings coming into play and I have to say I agree with you 100% because if you fall in love in the beginning there isn't much of a story from there. Thank you!!!


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