Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Erotica? Romance? Where Are the Lines?

Today the Naughty Chicks welcome a guest blogger, romantic suspense author Terry Odell. Not only is she a talented writer, but she hosts an awesome blog for writers and readers.

I'd like to thank Wynter for inviting me to blog today. I've known Wynter since before she was "born" and we've covered a lot of writing territory together. Before I left Orlando for the remote Colorado mountains, Wynter said I was welcome to post here. The only thing that stopped me, in my mind, is that I don't write erotica or erotic romance, and I wasn't sure I'd fit in.

Now, that's not to say I don't write sex scenes. I definitely do, and it's all on the page. However, I think there's a major difference in the vocabulary choices used in 'romance' versus 'erotica'. Everyone has their comfort level, and sometimes it's just the connotations of a particular word. What's innocuous to one reader might hit the 'ick' factor of another simply because of the word associations.

And being here, I can discuss a few of those factors, something I'm reluctant to do at my own blog, which has a different set of reader expectations.

For a non-sexual example: Some readers are highly offended by the F*bomb, yet that one doesn't bother me at all. I write characters who would be expected to use that kind of language in certain situations, and they do. Linda Howard said she had to sit at her computer and fill the screen with F*bombs to get used to seeing it and getting her fingers comfortable typing it. I never had an issue with that.

However, one of my turn-off words in sexual content is the word "pussy." It simply brings forth nothing sensuous. I thought about it once, and decided it was probably because as an avid mystery and romantic suspense reader, I'm most used to seeing the word used in a totally different situation. To me, it's two sleaze-buckets sitting at a bar, saying, "Hey, let's go find us some pussy." Totally demeaning.

With some erotica vocabulary, I'm more inclined to feel like I'm getting an anatomy lesson than reading something sensual. Romance and mystery author Rhonda Pollero said she hated writing sex scenes because, "odds are pretty good your readers have had sex, and they know what's going on. They're likely to get bored or just skip it."

While those who read erotica aren't in her reader demographic, that's still something to consider.

And, for whatever reason, my gut response to using specifics for female genitalia isn't the same as for male anatomical references. It might be because I've heard a lot more men using words like penis, dick and cock than I have females talking about their own anatomies. I asked my husband (who also happens to be a biologist and is very familiar with all the words) what he thought of in reference to all my 'below the waist' parts. He shrugged. "Crotch, maybe?" (Besides, at that point, are guys really thinking?)

(Side note-sometimes vocabulary is determined by the publisher. One of mine nixes the use of the word 'penis.' Since that's not one of my problem words, I have to go back and change things around a bit for manuscripts I submit to them.)

At any rate, a typical paragraph from a sex scene for me would be this, from "NOWHERE TO HIDE."

He reached between her thighs, cupped her through the fabric of her panties, now damp and hot. Her hands rode faster up and down his back. She reached for him, tried to pull him onto the couch atop her.

“Wait,” he said. Her eagerness was stretching his control to the limit. “There’s no hurry. You concentrate on you.” He increased the pressure at her crotch, squeezing, rubbing.

She groaned in response, and he moved his hand inside her panties to tease those soft curls between her thighs. She shifted to take him, and he slid his finger into that hot, wet, silky place. Fondled the spot that made her hips move to meet his strokes. Slowly at first, then faster, and she moved with him, went where he took her.

I don't need to be told the anatomical names of all the parts. I know what they are, and I think my readers do too. I do, however, draw the line at purple prose and flowery euphemisms.

But beyond the specifics of vocabulary, I think I make my characters work harder and wait longer before I give them that moment (or many moments) of sexual intimacy than they'd have to wait in an erotic novel. At any rate, a recent review for my newest release, NOWHERE TO HIDE, got me thinking. You see, the review came from an erotic review site, "Got Erotic Romance." Not only that, but it received a "spicy" rating and very high marks (4 ½ diamonds out of a possible 5) plus I got a personal follow-up from the reviewer telling me how much she enjoyed the book.

This is what her review said:

The plot is an interesting twist on a police procedural, giving the reader an insider’s view of the workings of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. But the main appeal of the book is the characters. They are layered and complex—real people with real emotions. The author has taken care to show Colleen and Graham’s developing love affair as much more than just sex. As a result, when they do make love it’s the culmination of an emotional journey from pain to joy.

The entire review is here: http://goteroticromance.blogspot.com/2010/07/nowhere-to-hide-by-terry-odell.html

For the record, that first fully consummated sex scene between Graham and Colleen, excerpted above, begins in chapter 24 and ends in chapter 26.

And I think that sums it up. Regardless of the language, or the frequency of sexual encounters, there has to be that underlying emotional connection. Characters can't be hanging in the bar wanting nothing more than nameless pussy.

Terry Odell writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press, The Wild Rose Press, and Five Star Expressions. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website at http://www.terryodell.com. She'd also love for you to visit her blog, Terry's Place, at http://terryodell.blogspot.com


Terry Odell said...

Thanks for having me, Wynter. If my Internet connection cooperates, I'll respond to any comments.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think you're right that the difference between the two genres lines in the vocabulary and description.

And LOL about your biologist husband trying to come up with vocab for women's below the waist! :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, thanks for finding me over here--I'm thinking this isn't one of your usual haunts.

Cara McKenna said...

Hi, Terry, and welcome! There are a few romance writers lurking among us Naughty Author Chicks, so never fear—we'll be gentle.

Snerk—crotch. Possibly the second-least sexy term after "junk". Then again, I'm sure I've used both in my writing.

I write [steamy] romance and erotica, and the differences are many, and in my mind, clear. I love the freedom of erotica—you can write short vignettes or sweeping epics, a single, long, detailed scene or a 120,000-word masterpiece. You aren't beholden to romance's requisite happy and committed ending or its one-man one-woman rule. I've found I write in my truest voice in erotica and still have my stories picked up… I swear quite a bit and and I tend to create woefully flawed characters, and it's nice to write in a genre that doesn't bat an eye at those things, as long as the sex is hot and frequent and writing solid.

Romance is more challenging for me…you have to play by its rules, hold your tongue if you have a potty mouth like me, give plenty of focus to outside circumstances (when some days I'd love to let the main characters' relationship be the story's sole crucible). But challenges are good too. And of course, some days weaving explicit sex into every chapter is a heck of challenge.

I'm glad I'm able to work in both genres—freedom on the days when I'm focused on erotica, a workout for my plotting muscles when romance is in fore.

Great to have you here with us today, Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Cara - thanks for the welcome. My second genre is mystery, and I know what you mean about shifting gears when you go from one genre to another. I include relationships in both genres, but the level of sex on the page is vastly different.

Michelle Polaris said...

Welcome,Terry. I love hearing from the other end of things on this blog. And I do believe your lovemaking paragraph was hot. I never had to practice the naughty words I use in my writing and I am glad I have them as tools to use. But I respect having to make a scene hot without those words. I've done it in my non-erotic writing and it has its own challenges.

Wynter Daniels said...

Glad you finally accepted my invitation to visit;-) I write in multiple genres as well. Now that I write erotic romance most of the time, I find I have to rein in my sex scenes for my straight romance. I enjoy pushing the envelope in my erotic work. DH often jokes that I won't say many of the words I am comfortable writing!

Terry Odell said...

Michelle- thanks for the welcome. I think your comment about my paragraph being 'hot' was part of what prompted this post. Different readers are looking for different things, and a lot of it seems to boil down to vocabulary rather than actual content.

Wynter-I think the sub-genres allow for some pretty big envelopes. And it's funny how our 'writer' selves aren't the same as our 'real life' selves when it comes to word choices.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I'm with you on pussy. For some reason it bothers me too. Almost nothing else does. Maybe cunt.

Nice sex scene! Congrats on the "spicy" rating:)

Terry Odell said...

TerryS - thanks, although I wasn't really thinking about ratings when I wrote it. I just wrote what seemed right for the characters.

Jina Bacarr said...

Your points re: language are very well taken, Terry. A thoughtful and provocative post. Thank you for stopping by!

Re: word usage: writing erotic historicals provides its own set of challenges, e.g., acc. to Dictionary.com and other sources, the word "cl*t" for clitoris wasn't in wide use until the 20th century (circa 1950s-1960s).

Terry Odell said...

Jina - I could never write historicals. Too much to research (and I never liked history class). On the flip side, I'm the PERFECT historical READER because any errors slide right past me.

Cara Bristol said...

I write erotic romance that probably borders on erotica. Writing a sex scene is challenging due to the English language and our ambivlence as a culture with sex. There are very few graphic words that are positive to describe the sex act or the parts employed in the sex act. There are clinical words, ribald words, and crude ones, but few romantic, nice ones. So in writing a sex scene, I do use crude terms as well as euphemism. Yes, there are words that turn me off, but I find that the more I use them, the more they lose their power to offend.

Dalton Diaz said...

Great post, Terry, and hi!
I'm with you on certain words, and I have to admit that "pussy" was one of those I had to get used to using in my erotica. Thing is, it's better (in my book) than that other four-letter one that begins with a "c". No problem with any for the guy, tho. I think you're right; it boils down to what you're used to hearing and/or writing.