Today's post is going to be a rant. I never noticed this until I got into the publishing side of editing my writing, but now technical problems with stories drive me up the wall. I've been trying to stay in the frame of mind for erotic romance and as such I've been reading many. I've come to the conclusion it really is like porn: 85% sucks.



Er...that's what he said?

 
There's one author in particular I've hated for years, and I'm not sure why they keep pushing her as an erotic romance writer. Maggie Shayne. Oh, if you like her, we're going to have to agree to disagree, but I now question your judgment. This woman writes in her novels the same story over and over with little variation, and in her short stories she doesn't just swing and miss: the rest of us are playing baseball and she's playing ping-pong. In her story "Awaiting Moonrise" in Hot Blooded she writes about a woman and a werewolf...and never describes him. Seriously, never once. Is he black? White? Asian? Tall? Short? Fat? Skinny? Athletic? Does he have a wooden leg? Does he have long hair, short hair, no hair, or a mohawk? I have no clue.

 
From his dialogue I pictured this guy as an adult, I'm not kidding. The protagonist of "Kick-Ass" as a romantic hero...yeech. I had to stop reading. 


See, she made the classic mistake of erotica authors: she got too fucking technical and forgot the basics. What truly makes erotica erotica? If you said gratuitous sex you're close, but what is the difference between having sex, making love, and fucking? Yeah, it's a little indefinable, but we're going to try.

Fucking is where the other person is a sex toy for your amusement, and if done right, they feel the same way about you. Having sex is about enjoying the experience with another person and sharing in the physical but not emotionally bonding. Making love is...well, I'll be honest, I don't think it really exists, but in books it's where people use sex to convey emotion.


Now in erotica there are 2 technicalities you MUST observe: if it's an erotic romance the sex must progress as fucking-->having sex-->making love. If it's erotica without romance it must be a mixture of fucking and having sex, never making love. That's the first. The second? You must write sensually.



Remember, even in the "fucking stage'" there are limits. 


Sure, this conjures up an image of writing the story in a bubble bath while hot, oiled men feed me strawberries and champagne and rub my feet. Oh, if only that were true. Nope, it means you have to cram every last fucking adjective you can conjure in. You character doesn't just on the chair, she "rested her long limbs gently on the teak Chippendale chair.Wrapping one slim ankle behind the other, her skirt raised over her creamy, shapely calves as she settled into the curved lines, stroking the strong carved arms and wishing it was something else hard beneath her strong, slim fingers." God, that took work, and I want a cigarette just for writing it. 

Every genre has its own rules. Science fiction must describe every facet of daily life, fantasy must linger over food and clothes, mystery must show us emotional detachment and paranoia, and so forth, and so on. Erotica must show inherent sensuality and a certain mix of progression of sexuality.

Okay...so where do so many writers like Ms. Shayne go wrong? Well (I think this calls for all caps) YOU CAN'T FORGET THE BASICS!!! Jesus Christ on a cracker! You still need strong characters, a developed arc, conflict pacing, a cohesive plot, and snappy dialogue. Without that you have just a jumble of words.


 
Sensual words but no meat to the story? Then this is what you get.

I have an associate I will not name, a terribly nice woman who writes erotica. I have to confess, should I ever be captured and tortured, my captors need only ask me to write a book report on any of her novels and I'll break in 5 minutes. Like Ms. Shayne she writes with sensual adjectives about the sky, the wind, the room, the food, the clothes, but unlike Ms. Shayne she has meandering plots, sparse dialogue, and actually, almost no sex. And she writes erotica, not erotic romance. No sex erotica...it's like reading Mormon porn.

That's a common theme in this genre. It's just my opinion, but it feels like most writers of erotica never studied the basics and also are a helluva lot more shy about sexuality than they thought. Oh, not true of all, but it's hard to find rare gems. In the same book Hot Blooded there are 2 stories that will knock your socks off by Emma Holly and Angela Knight. Angela Knight is a brilliant short story writer but her novels...they feel stretched out, like meatloaf filled with flour to feed a family of 8. Emma Holly almost always hits a home run, except for her demon series. They're often erratic and confusing, and goddess help you if you read them out of order. 



In my opinion the single best erotic novel ever written. The characters have actual feelings and develop and the sex is insanely hot. These things can coexist!
 
So the moral of the story is never forget the basics, master them. Ms. Shayne's biggest failing in her short stories and novels is a problem with conflict which I suspect reveals a weird fetish. One important conflict in romance (erotic or traditional) is that your protagonists must be aroused by one another, but something keeps them from fucking the minute they meet. This is where you have to decide if you're writing humor or not. If yes, then the conflict can be external (the hero's mechanical dog won't stop humping her leg). If no, then it should be internal (they work together and she fears a liaison will brand her the office slut). Ms. Shayne chooses physical wounds, i.e., external conflict, but without humor, and inevitably the characters have sex/are aroused through nearly mortal wounds. Hey, I myself am a Dominatrix and a bit of a sadist, but to me a man blindfolded in bondage is erotic, a man bleeding to death just needs medical attention and if that turns you on you're fucking sick.



In Ms.Shayne's world this would precede the first sex scene by minutes

 
I think you should look for these things as a reader as well. When shopping for books of erotica, read a few pages. Do look for the technical sensuality: is the sex not always making love, and do the descriptions sizzle off the page? Also look for good dialogue, strong characters, and thumb through to get an idea of conflict, pacing, and plot. This is why you should be careful buying online, and always try to read reviews. Still, your local bookstore is best. Remember that a solid foundation makes for a good house, and books are the same way. A writer who can master the basics will keep you enthralled, and one who can master the basics, has an original concept, and applies the technicalities of the genre is worthy of adoration.

And just avoid Magie Shayne unless your standards are low. Sure, she's a bestselling author, but popular don't mean right.


In fact, what's popular is often very, very VERY wrong.