"Gabrielle Holly spins her stories in a way that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster you'll never forget!"
~Paranormal Romance Junkies

Monday, December 10, 2012

Erotic Romance or Porn?

My hackles are up. I recently got a message from an acquaintance inviting me to coffee. Neck deep in writing, I asked for a rain check. I wrote back, “Let’s try to get together next week. Right now I’m focused on working out a tricky plot point.” His response was, “Plot? I thought you were writing erotic romance!”
Firstly, he’d outed himself as not having read any of my books, but that’s not what pissed me off. My annoyance came from his assumptions about the genre as a whole. The implication was clear: “Those Books” are just a collection of sex scenes strung loosely together… in a word – “porn.”
Anyone who’s actually read erotic romance (and certainly those of us who write it for a living) knows that it’s not masturbation material populated with cardboard people whose only function is to serve as a collection of body parts to stick into one another. These books are full of multidimensional characters with the full range of human emotions, stories that compel, and – yes – plots.
I tried to give the guy the benefit of the doubt… walk a mile in his shoes, and all that. He’s told me that he frequently posts “stories” to BDSM boards. I read a sampling and these writings are, in fact, whack-off material. They are about nameless, faceless men and women who have sex without emotion and for no other purpose than to reach orgasm. That’s porn – I’m not judging, just observing – and the difference between erotic romance and porn is clear.
This situation made me wonder what his perception would have been if I’d identified myself as a Romance Author without the “erotic” qualifier. Would he have been surprised that my work had plots? Almost certainly not.
That got me to thinking about the difference between “mainstream” fiction and erotic fiction. Both require complex characters that people care about in situations that make readers want to find out what happens next. The difference is that in one the reader is left out in the hallway while the characters go into the bedroom and close the door. In the other, the reader can peek through the keyhole.

To me, describing the act of sex is a natural storytelling progression. I would be bored to tears if I read about characters attending a feast: “And then they ate the appetizer. And then they ate the second course. And then they ate the main course. And then they had dessert.” I want to read how and why the characters got there and what they’re feeling. I need a detailed description of the rich color of the shrimp, the velvety mouth-feel of the soup, the savory aroma of the meat, and the decadent sweetness of the dessert... Without that, it’s just porn.
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All three books in my Paranormal Erotic Romance series - Ghost Encounters - are available now. Drop by the website for excerpts and purchase links. Like all of my books, each one in this series has characters you'll care about and one hell of a plot!
xoxo ~Gabrielle




12 comments:

  1. Well said!
    Hopefully your friend will come to realize this too. When I run into this problem - and I say 'when' and not 'if' because I just know this is bound to happen to me sooner or later - I'm going to have them read this post. :)

    ~Jen

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    1. Thanks Jen!
      I suspect it will take a little time to correct misconceptions about erotic romance. But, with such a wonderful selection of books out there, I'm confident it will happen eventually.
      I know you invest a lot of blood, sweat and tears creating wonderful characters and intricate plots in your "Finding Home" series http://authorjenwright.wordpress.com/book-list/finding-home-series/
      Hugs, Darling!
      ~Gabby

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  2. "The difference is that in one the reader is left in out the hallway while the characters go into the bedroom and close door. In the other, the reader can peek through the keyhole."

    So true! I've struggled for a long time on how to "categorize" my writing without getting that knee jerk response. At first, I just said I wrote "cheesy romance" to hide the fact that I wrote M/M. It stopped questions before they started and I was easily able to avoid "Where can I read it?" Because honestly, I didn't want most people I know to read my stuff. They wouldn't like it and they'd be über judgmental, not only because of the m/m relationship, but also that I write erotica.

    Recently I've started leaving out the "erotica" qualifier and I think you hit the nail on the head as to why. It's immediately dismissed as tripe. Almost as if I'm sitting at home churning out only sex scenes, and garbage ones at that. What I'm really doing is stewing over characterization and plot to the point that I've started carrying a notebook with me everywhere so I don't forget these things. Writing the sex scenes are a more more organic process to me than the rest, and I probably spent 5% of my time on the sex scenes compared to the rest.

    Sadly, I think a lot of this backlash is related to the whole 50 Shades thing. That was a very poorly written book, but most of the world now thinks 50 Shades and erotica are the same thing. They are SOOOOO not!

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    1. Hi Posy,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Another misconception is that everyone who writes ER is self-published and, therefore, ANYONE can write it.

      I see that you're with Dreamspinner Press, so you well know how high the standards are for getting a contract with a good publisher. You also know that reputable publishers don't just let writers jot down some mindless drivel then plunk it on the Internet for sale. A lot of the real work comes *after* we've written the first draft. There are teams of editors who make sure that our plots make sense, our characters are believable (and that we don't overuse the word "cock" ).

      I'm so grateful to Total-e-Bound Publishing and Resplendence Publishing! Their teams have helped make me a better writer.

      Happy Writing, Darling!
      ~Gabby

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  3. Gabrielle, basically you noted the difference between erotica and mainstream by saying that the difference is that you get to go into the room in erotica rather than fading out.

    And honestly, that distinction is gradually disappearing as well. There are many mainstream writers who write explicit hot sex and have their books shelved in other sections than erotica. Some in romance, some in sci-fi, some in fantasy, some in literary.

    I think it's helpful to kindly remind people that when we say we write erotica, it doesn't mean we aren't writing the story and the characters first and foremost. We just don't see the need to pull the curtain shut when a lot of people really want to know what happens on the other side of that curtain.

    Sure, erotica probably displays far more sex and far more adventurous sex than non-erotica and, indeed, real life. But musicals also present more songs than ever happen in real life, too, so it's a story function of the genre. But that doesn't mean that the sex is meaningless. Far from it, sex in erotica operates with a great profundity of meaning, much as the songs do in a musical.

    It's a fantasy-ish genre, but I wish it were not as dismissed as it is. I find it just as fulfilling as my mainstream writing.

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    1. Hi Aurelia,

      Thanks for the comment. Point taken on "mainstream" becoming more open and explicit. And, I think that's a great thing!

      However, just as there is a difference between mainstream romance and erotic romance - and erotic romance and porn - there is also a distinction between erotic romance and erotica. In erotic romance the story/romance and characters are paramount. In erotica, the sexual element informs the story. Thankfully, there's something out there for every taste!


      Maybe it's a case of tom-AY-to/tom-AH-to, but gosh darnit, there IS a plot.

      Congrats on the upcoming release of "Winter Howl," your debut with Total-e-Bound!

      Hugs,

      Gabby

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    2. Thanks! I shortened it to erotica for the purpose of brevity, but I do recognize a difference between erotica and erotic romance, given that I write both. :D Most people outside the genres don't, though. :)

      But yes, the point is that there is a plot. A full novel would get rather tiresome without one.

      After all, who really watches a whole porn video?

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    3. Aurelia...

      "After all, who really watches a whole porn video?"

      Too funny! :-D

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  4. I've written erotica since, well, forever, and have grown quite comfortable with talking about it. Some people really don't make the distinction between erotica and porn. They see certain words and that makes a story "dirty". And for some people, that's what erotica is... and they love that about it. :D And they say, do you write dirty stories? To which I have to answer, "No. At least my characters don't think what they're doing is dirty, and neither do I."

    There are just so many shades of erotica, including that erotic content appears in every genre, that it's difficult to find firm borders. So I happily tell people I write fantasy, or romance, and only mention the erotic content if they seem interested.

    No one has ever questioned whether or not my work has a plot, though. Maybe I just look... plottish. :D

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    1. Hi Tali,

      "Plottish" ... I love it ~ and your answer to the "dirty stories" question is priceless!

      I'm tempted to send my misguided friend a promo copy of one of my books so he can actually read the damned thing before passing judgement on an entire genre. However, I'm way too stubborn :D

      Thanks for stopping by and best of luck with your novel "Thick as Thieves" http://talismania-brilliantdisguise.blogspot.com/

      Hugs from the SNOWY Heartland,
      ~ Gabby

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  5. Well said! I too find that the word 'erotic' leads people to think of 'porn for women' rather than a 'real book'. As a author this used to offend me, now i just shurg it off as i know they've never read what i write. I offten send them a copy of one of my books and say, "Read it for yourself and then judge". They are always suprised.

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    1. Hi Danielle,

      Thanks for stopping by and great advice... maybe I should send him a copy of one of my books.

      Congrats on your SCANDALS OF NOBILITY series with Total-e-Bound!

      Hugs,
      Gabby

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