|Some time ago in one of my monthly columns, I posed the question, "Shirtless or Naked?" I had noticed that my blog, "Erotica with Soul," got more hits from people searching for "[celebrity name here] shirtless" than "[celebrity name here] naked." The overall response to my column was that readers did prefer "shirtless." In other words, it's enough to be teased with a bite of tortilla; you don't need the whole enchilada.
This choice is akin to the one that authors of women's fiction struggle with constantly. Should we include more romance, or more sex? Obviously it's a matter of readers' personal taste, and one woman's off-putting three-way is another's turn-on. It makes writing romance really a challenge at times.
In March of 2007, in an effort to aggressively address the desires of readers, I decided to try a little experiment. I recruited 60 reader-partners to help shape and influence my latest fiction work, eventually entitled Bloodchained. Obviously one of the first issues to address was the matter of "spiciness level," so I put out a detailed survey to my partners. While we had some hard core "naked's" in the bunch, the majority were definitely in the "shirtless" category. The survey determined my assignment was to include sex, but only when it was the natural outcome of the plot.
Well, I for one was quite relieved to hear this. Over the previous three years I'd written over 70 sex scenes, and while there are certainly less fun tasks on my typical day's to-do list, over time writing sex can wear thin. I have great admiration for those authors who have done nothing all their careers but write erotic romance, and year after year never disappoint their readers. After all, you can't expect to arouse a reader by the mere fact that two characters (or ten) are getting it on. There has to be something unique, interesting, unexpected, or really vivid about the prose or else it's going to be just another "insert dowel A into hole B" scene. And that kind of originality is not easy.
On the other hand, to me romance without sex is like raspberries without chocolate...tasty, but not glorious. Take the great romances of literature, for example. Now I realize in the books' historical context it's not precisely appropriate, but wouldn't you love to have gotten to watch Scarlett and Rhett, or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or Jane and Mr. Rochester in bed? The romantic classics Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre are so beautifully written, and the passion of their protagonists so palpable, those scenes would have been dynamite.
But you see, that previous paragraph hits the nail on the head. The dream project for a romance author is to have all the time in the world to bring her characters to life, to establish the intricacy of their relationships, and to make the reader yearn for their love to be consummated. With all that accomplished, even "insert dowel A into hole B" is pretty powerful!
This is why writing Bloodchained has been such a treat for me, and I'm so grateful to my 60 readers for creating a writing assignment that proved so fabulous. I used to feel I had 15 pages, tops, to make the reader long to get the protagonists in bed, and now I have more like 15 chapters! And while I still need to strive to make the love scenes moving, I also get to have fun with challenges like creating plot twists and surprises, developing imaginary cultures in all their detail, and exploring the psychological complexity of a half dozen characters at once.
But what about our "naked" fans, the more "instant-gratification" crowd? Hey, I can sympathize with you guys too. After all, I started writing erotica for my own enjoyment when I was a mere teenager, I know that those of us with "word fetishes" have needs. I'm still committed to the quest I began in 2004, writing "erotica with soul," for readers like me who aren't aroused by the hard core stuff but do love reading about sex. I still feel the several erotic passages in Bloodchained are just as essential to the book as the elements of plot, dialogue, and description utilized in the non-sexual scenes.
The thing is, variety is the spice of life. Just as I've enjoyed employing different seductions, locations, positions, toys, etc. in my 70 love scenes, I'm now really taking pleasure from creating the world of the Roicans (my own take on the vampire theme) and bringing to life a stable of truly three-dimensional characters. Whereas I used to hope primarily that readers would fall in love with my heroes and be turned on by my sex scenes, my dream this time is to write a compelling page-turner that begs for a sequel.
Which is not to say I don't hope the sex scenes are hot! Hey, you can take the erotica author out of the genre, but you can't take the genre out of the erotica author.
In closing, I just want to suggest, if you read erotic romance and haven't written fan mail to your favorite authors lately, take a few minutes and do just that. What they do is really challenging, and they do it just in the hopes that their words will entertain their readers. Hats off to these writers for all they do!
But just hats...we don't want to be completely naked, after all.
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