WRITING EROTICA - otherwise known as fulfilling the missing linkI've been a published erotica writer for quite a few years now. So how did this all begin? I believe the foundations were laid when I first started reading romance novels, as a teenager. Let me explain.
As a young reader I was glued to romance novels, but as soon as the author described the hero's broad shoulders looming closer and the heroine's fluttering breath, followed by a description of the flames in the fireplace -- and then cut to the heroine's blissful happiness in his arms -- I wanted to know what exactly had brought about this state of ecstasy in the heroine. I used to flick the pages back and forth, seriously convinced that someone had torn some pages out of the book, because something was definitely *missing*.
That I would try to write about the missing links I kept encountering in my reading of traditional romances was pretty inevitable...
I remember my first "erogenous moment" reading a Mills and Boon novel. Sadly, I can't remember the title or author, but there was a moment where the hero stroked the heroine's inner wrist, at length, while holding her against her will and telling her something about herself. Reading that caused me to experience something inexplicable, indescribable, well…grown up, you know! It also unlocked something else in me: my awareness of senses in both the reader and the writer.
My theory is that erotic writers are made early in life. What intrigues me is whether reading books with behind-the-closed-door or cut-to-the-fireplace love scenes might have forged in them the possibility to be an erotica/erotic romance writer. If you are an erotic romance author and have thoughts on this, please mail me: Saskiawalker@gmail.com I'd love to collect opinions on this subject and post them here.
In my own reading I would set down the book and my mind would rove - who knows where, because I really didn't know what went on! - but it was as if the bait was set in my blood. I would always be curious and, more importantly, I'd always want those scenes to live up to and fulfil the rest of the story.
The scene I've described above is about subtle interactions between the characters, but it’s their very subtlety that I believe taught me how erotica and erotica romance could work on so many levels, through the character's reaction. Reaction to a look, a touch, a smile, or the whole missing link scene. To me erotica is not particularly about close ups of graphic scenes, but more about the reactions that the characters have when in those situations. Oh, you have to describe the scene, yes, but I'll bet you if you examine the most lifeless sex scene you can think of, it doesn’t live because it doesn’t describe the characters reactions to their situation. Nothing is as boring and uninspiring as a description of Tab A being inserted to Slot B, without knowing how it makes Tab A and Slot B feel...
Sexuality is part of human nature so for me and writers like me it just doesn’t seem right not to include sexual relationships in a story about intimate relationships between people. It is part of what being human is about and the most basic as well as the deepest of human emotions and experiences can be found and portrayed in the act of physical love. Moments of conflict, too, can be profoundly moving during intimacy. When I write erotic scenes in erotic romance, it's an integral part of people exploring each other, responding to chemical and physical attraction, falling in love and expressing that to each other. When I write erotica with sex for fun, it's about adventure, the thrill of the ride, the danger of the unknown, the heady pleasure of decadent sex - all those things that call to the wilder side of our souls. Sexuality will be part of everything I write to a greater or lesser degree.
It wasn't until I had started writing erotica that I heard it was one of the hardest things to pull off successfully in writing. Thank goodness I hadn’t heard that beforehand! That sort of comment would have stumped me. Crucially, writing is about sustaining the reader's suspension of disbelief, and during intimate acts it's so very easy to lose the reader with the wrong turn of phrase or word. But desire is such a powerful emotion, to distil it into a story and make it come alive for the reader is a great achievement. My overall goal is to provide a story that gets the readers turning the pages through a combination of the erotic aspects and the plot, to carry both off isn't easy, but it's my goal.
Okay, onwards with some thoughts on definitions. Now, I don’t think there is any need to say what the difference is between "erotica" and "erotic romance." The clue is that the word "romance" is missing. However, I've seen people define "erotica" as "sex without emotion." Hmm. I think what they mean is portraying sex outside of the sphere of love and affection. Emotion as a definition includes such things as joy, happiness, delight and reverence. These things are found in erotica. But the gist of it is that erotica may not necessarily be focused on sex within a romantic relationship -- although, having said that, many of my erotic shorts are about committed couples who are deeply in love. In my opinion there are just not enough committed couples in erotica and I'm doing my little bit to help change that.
So what about the difference between "erotica" and "porn," many people seem to have an issue with this. Can I just point out that I don't. In dictionary definition terms the words are almost interchangeable and that’s increasingly accepted in the mainstream, especially so in these days when porno culture seems commonplace. For me "porn" is sex devoid of story, where "erotica" does more than just depict sex. It's a literary endeavour, an experiment with words to stimulate the senses through the imagination. I want my readers to turn the pages through a combination of compelling story and arousing content. I dislike labels in general, because they hamper as much as they reveal, but it seems we must be labelled. I write erotica and erotic romance. To me "porn" has a much wider trawl net - and "sensual romance" doesn't say enough - but I'm not in the least offended if someone says I write porn, simply because it's their take on what I do. My take is that I write erotica. If we look at Jahsonic's online encyclopaedia of culture we get some real gems on this topic.
Erotica, from the Greek eros, "love", refers to works of art, including literature, photography, and painting, that deal substantively with erotically stimulating or arousing descriptions. It is rather a modern word used to describe the portrayal of human sensuality [love] and sexuality with high-art aspirations, differentiating such work from commercial pornography.
While pornography popularly focuses on unadorned and unemotional lusts; the explicit depiction of sexual acts, erotica tends to define material and higher emotional content, the development of place, character and story line, or of an overall artistic theme. However, such distinctions are necessarily subjective and may say more about the critic's own tastes on erotic material than the artistic and other attributes of the material itself. In the motion picture sense, soft porn is a similar kind of commercial art form that resides in the area between erotica and hardcore pornography, although erotica, as a type of fine art, may also be highly explicit.
It has been said, euphemistically, that "The difference between erotica and pornography is simple. Erotica is what I like; pornography is what you like, you pervert".
So funny! But Jahsonic makes the important point about the eye-of-the-beholder. No matter what labels you adopt or get stuck with, the person on the receiving end of your work might well view it differently, hence part of my laissez-faire attitude towards labels in the first place! The bottom line is that the characters in my stories are consensual adults who want to enjoy each other. It's escapist fantasy for pleasure, simple as that. If you find characters expressing their sexuality difficult to deal with, you're in the wrong place.
Early on in my career I had the opportunity to work with Dr Lonnie Barbach. Lonnie bought one of my shorts for an anthology called "Seductions." Lonnie's story is an interesting one. She was a psychologist practising with non-orgasmic women and found that reading erotica helped women lead more fulfilling sex lives, promoting health and happiness. She published her findings in academic papers and then crossed over into the mainstream. This resulted in many fabulous help-yourself books and several collections of erotica. When Lonnie bought my story, The Welcome Home, for a Penguin Putnam anthology she praised it richly and said it was unique and educational. I was thoroughly amazed. It was only my second erotic story and her encouraging words helped me strive on with my work at a crucial time. Nowadays, if I ever feel the moral brigade breathing down my neck or I am made to feel uncomfortable about what I do by people who don’t relate to erotica, I think of Lonnie, her work with women and her words about my budding attempts at this type of writing. Working with Lonnie put me on an even footing right from the start and since then I've worked with some fabulous editors who use pleasure, sexual health, fun and fantasy as their benchmarks.
And finally, a word about erotica and erotic romance markets. Fellow Secrets author, Kathryn Anne Dubois, bravely got to grips with some of the subtle differences in the erotica/erotic romance market in her thought-provoking 2002 article.
The key thing is to know the market you're aiming at and the only real way to do that is to read what they are currently publishing. It's part of the whole eye-of-the-beholder thing again, and you have to keep it in mind. What is one editor's steaming kink is smooth vanilla to the next and likewise fetishistic sex or extreme BDSM will not go down well in certain publishing circles. Write what you are comfortable writing - if you're not comfortable it will show - learn your market and what goes in it, and then go for it!
If you have any questions or comments about what I've said here, please don't hesitate to contact me: Saskiawalker@gmail.com
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