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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Is My Romance too Sweet for You?

Simple Love

Since writing ‘The Apple Tree’, I have been asked several times why I don’t include erotic content in my stories. “That’s what sells books these days” some tell me, and: “It’s what readers want!” Hmm…I wonder about that. One of the most enduringly successful romantic novelists ever does not even describe a kiss between hero and heroine in her novels. At best the hero offers a well-covered arm for the heroine to lean on as they walk (in other company of course!) But the reader is never left in any doubt about the depth of feeling between the two, because the author has taken us into their minds and allowed us to share their thoughts and emotions. So do readers really want their romances to be liberally peppered with erotica?

I was 11 when I first read Jane Austen. I remember because a cousin gave me a copy of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ for my birthday but then borrowed it immediately to finish reading it (as she had opened it and started reading it on the long walk to my house). She was older than me, so I couldn’t argue and I thought, well it must be good if she can’t wait to finish reading it.

‘Pride & Prejudice’ informed all my ideas about romance. I may have been too young to truly appreciate Austen’s wit, but I do remember smiling a bit, shedding an occasional tear and sighing quite profoundly when things finally worked out between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. I was already a budding novelist by then, of course, copiously filling up cheap exercise books with my literary masterpieces, but after Discovering Jane and graduating from ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to The Classics, I had to put my own literary aspirations aside for a couple of years while I practically moved my bed into the local public library to catch up on my reading. I was hooked!

Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, Emma and Mr Knightley, Catherine and Heathcliff, Jane and Mr Rochester…shall I go on? These characters felt intense romantic emotion for each other and not once did they have to tear off each other’s clothes in order to prove that. Of course the social mores were different and such writing – especially by women - would never have been countenanced, let alone published, but the fact is that these novels are still considered powerfully romantic by modern readers.
Although I wrinkle my nose a bit at the name of the category ‘sweet romance’, this is what many readers today still enjoy. They want the courtship and the emotional intensity, without needing the graphic description of what in the vast majority of cases, takes place in private and behind closed doors. And that suits me fine. I would no more dream of spying on a couple making love than I would of going to live on the moon.

Of course there’s every possibility that Jane Austen might today have enjoyed writing erotic romance and have her name first on the list for the next moon-trek, but I’d be very sad to think that. And in the meantime, I will continue to focus on creating character-driven stories, and an interesting (hopefully) plot that enables me to put them through the emotional mangle before they close their bedroom door on us and bid us goodbye.


Jenny Twist said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I am so fed up with suddenly being confronted with explicit sex scenes. It really puts me off. If I'm enjoying a book, I'll just skim over that bit. But I'm just as likely to abandon the book altogether. Other highly successful authors who eschew pornography are Maeve Binchy, Joanna Trollope and Mary Wesley. Come to think of it, if these erotic authors are doing so well. why aren't THEY on the bestsellers lists? Name one....

Su Halfwerk said...

I've been asked the same question over and over again; why don't I write sexy scenes? It doesn't have to be erotic, but a bit of flesh flashing and hot, intimate moments won't hurt my writing career.
It won't, but the thing is, I like to give my main characters the privacy for that special and intimate act. I focus more on the courting, in what they saw in each other that drew them together. There are sensual moments in my romance, but none of it intrude on their privacy.
Nothing's wrong with writing erotica, it simply isn't my cup of tea.
Great post, Ms. Manic :-)

Harlie Reader said...

I read all genres and heat levels in romance. Jenny I totally agree with your last statement. If erotica is selling...why aren't they on the best sellers lists? Makes you wonder. As an aspiring writer, my writing (voice) is not erotic and I'm proud of that. In fact most people that have read my work, actually appreciate the fact that isn't erotic. My characters are the story...not the bedroom.

Great post...following you now.


Adelle Laudan said...

Well, since my group is called Sweeter Romantic Notions, I guess that shows where my loyalties lie.
I did dabble in erotic romance a bit. I have 3 books out under another pen name. Although, for me it was quite a challenge to write it, I'm glad for the experience. I don't know how these woman do it, day in and day out, sex talk and the like lol Kudo's to them, but it's not for me.
I now know I am most comfortable writing a sweeter, more sensual romance. I even love to write my Tween Mysteries.
Diversity is the spice of life. What a boring world it would be if we all wrote the same type of book.
Great topic!

Emily Harvale said...

I like all types of romance. I've just read a book by Sarra Manning that actually made me blush! It didn't say it was erotic on the cover, so I got a bit of a surprise. But I loved the hero and I couldn't put it down. For me, it depends on how good the story is. My novel, which I've just finished has a couple of 'sex scenes' but they're not overtly explicit. I didn't even think about whether I wanted to close the door or not. I wrote, and they happened - naturally - just like in life. And I'm very happy with them. Speaking as a writer and a reader, I agree with Adelle, Diversity/variety is the spice of life.
Great post.

Paula Martin said...

I uually have one sex scene in my romance novels, but I don't class those scenes as 'erotic', as I concentrate more on the emotions of the characters and not the physical act itself. Personally, I feel that can be more 'erotic' and sensual than any of the so-called erotica, much of which I have found to be somewhat gross and a complete turn-off!

Barbara Elsborg said...

Well, there is actually an erotic romance writer on the NY best seller list. Laurann Dohner. I think the reason that there aren't more is because the mainstream publishers don't publish erotic romance. That genre is largely dominated by the smaller epresses and print is not automatic with them.
I write erotic romance and not erotica. There is a difference. It's not porn either and I feel it's unfair to call it that. My stories are also character driven. They would stand without the sex and that is important to me. I'm not like MOST erotic romance writers whose stories are focused on sex, where the plot is driven by sex. Mine are like ordinary romances but with hotter sex scenes. What I've seen more and more is that mainstream authors are adding sex to their stories and in fact the scenes are hotter than those I write. Several pages of detail in the bedroom, but there are a lot less of those scenes than you'd find in one of my books.
Did I choose to write erotic romance? Not in the way you might think. I was fed up of not getting anywhere with my stories, not willing to tow the Mills and Boon line, and I saw others succeed in getting publishing contracts with sexy stories. So I tried and had my first book accepted instantly. So it was a way into the business for me.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Brilliant post, Lynette - and I completely agree with you! When I wrote my first historical novel which was published in May (Dangerous Deceit), I always intended it would be a sweet romance. In fact it has been commended a few times for its sexual tension between the hero and heroine without any sex whatsoever (and one of those reviews was from a man). I was determined to keep it within the social conventions of the early 19th century - and I prefer the tension myself!

I'm never against a good intimate scene in other novels if appropriate to the story, but I would be far too bored with any more than one tastefully written. So glad there are more of us!

Gilli Allan said...

I quite agree,Lynette. I DO write sex scenes, and quite enjoy doing so, but they are definitely not peppered through my stories. They only happen, when they happen. Which could mean my reader waiting right up until nearly the end of a book. I am sure there are many many readers who either do not want to read about sex at all, or, like me, prefer the sex to be used more subtley.

Deborah Court said...

Actually, I think that as in all parts of life, readers' tastes can be very different. Some of them like erotic scenes, some of them don't or prefer them to happen only occasionally. Both groups have their own reasons, and that's perfectly fine since there are so many books to choose from!

I happen to write erotic romances - not because they sell, but because I love to write and read what's happening behind closed doors - this is something I always asked myself after reading one of the classic romances. I think that "carnal pleasures" belong to life and love, and I like to explore them in my own stories.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that every book needs erotic scenes! Austen, for instance, managed to write a love story without even including a proper kiss and nevertheless creating fantasies in the readers' heads.

There's no doubt that we wonder what kind of lover Mr Darcy will be after the wedding. We just know that he'll be a passionate one, that a beast is sleeping behind that cool demeanour, only to be awakened by the right woman.

However, this doesn't need to be a bad thing. I enjoy to read "sweet" oder "steamy" romances just as much, depending on my mood. Both genres suceed in what they are supposed to accomplish - opening a door for the reader's imagination and allowing them to escape into another world that does or doesn't contain sexual relationships. To me, the most important fact is that nowadays, we have the freedom to choose.

Thanks for another great post, Lyn, I enjoyed your wonderful book! ;-)

ManicScribbler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ManicScribbler said...

I have really LOVED reading all your comments and thank you so much for taking the trouble to visit and write them.
Jenny, Su, Marika, Adelle and Rosemary - it's really heartening to know that other writers feel the same way as I do, that sex doesn't need to be more than implied to create emotional or erotic tension.
Well Jenny, not reading such genres, I was hard-pressed to come up with names, so asked my dear friend Deborah Court (a very successful writer in this genre) to speak for herself. Thanks, Deb for making such excellent points.
And also Paula, Barbara and Gill - thanks so much for redressing the balance too with your fascinating insights - and for pointing out the difference between erotic romance and erotica, Barbara. I am certainly now very intrigued and plan to read your books very soon - and then maybe will come back to write more on this intriguing subject.
Very best wishes and good luck to you all.

Celia Yeary said...

Lynette--My favorite all-time romance novelist is LaVryle Spencer. She retired years ago, and although we're about the same age, I think...she stopped just as I began. I've always used her 26 novels as a benchmark. I don't remember one sex scene in any of her books--if there were, I certainly don't remember them. What I do remember is the emotion, the immense depth of each sentence, a feeling that I know these people, and I couldn't wait to turn the page. A good story doesn't need this, and I am convinced the group of readers who do love erotica only care about the sex. That's's where you are in your life, maybe...I don't know.
Some of my friends write erotica, and they know I don't read it, but there's no problem. What they do is their business, just as what I write is mine.
I'm seeing now, an upsurge in sweeter romance, but maybe not as much as we'd like. There's no doubt sex sells..but so does sweet (I wish we could think of another word--I use "grown-up novels" when I can. You know, adults who do something else beside have sex. Good post--very thougt provoking.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you for your fascinating comment, Celia.
Emotional depth - oh yes - that does it for me! I will look out for LaVryle Spencer, but after I read some of your novels first.
The search is now on for a new term for 'sweet romance'.
Kind regards,

Barbara Elsborg said...

The really interesting thing for me is - as a writer of erotic romance - what do I read? NOT erotic romance, for sure. LOL. That would be my last choice of book to pick up. But, I'm not sure I agree that there's been an upsurge of interest in sweet romances,(yes, a new term would be helpful!) though maybe I'm looking at the wrong books. I repeat the point I made, that what I have seen is an increase in the sexual content of the mainstream books. And I skim those bits!! I'm not a hypocrit really. I just don't enjoy reading sex scene after sex scene. I like interesting characters, humour and plot.

Linda Banche said...

When I read a romance, I want a story. Romances are usually stories about courtship. I want to see the H/H as they get to know each other and fall in love. While sex is part of love, it's not the only part. I want to see the emotional connection between the H/H before they jump into bed. While some sex is fine, books are only so long, and if there are tons of love scenes, there's less room for the emotions of courtship.

I agree with Barbara about mainstream books having much more sex than they used to. Yes, sex sells. But so does emotion. I think there's a hole in romance novels today--where are the non-inspriational books that have no sex? I hope some smart publisher will take advantage of this niche

Hywela Lyn said...

It is very encouraging to read that so many people enjoy reading 'sweet' romance, without the story being peppered with love scenes. Personally as a reader, I don't mind a well written sex scene, as long as it comes after the have gone through trials and tribulations and fallen deeply in love rather than just falling into bed after an instant attraction.

As a writer, I don't find writing sex scenes easy - for me there are only so many times you can describe a scene without it sounding cliched and repetitive. I think of my stories as Sweet to sensual' and rarely have more than one or two love scenes at the most, towards the end of the book when the h and h have come to know and truly love each other, when it is an expression of that love and their commitment to each other.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you Barbara, Linda and Hywela for your great comments.

That is an interesting question, Barbara - do you not even feel a sort of professional interest in reading other writers in your genre? Or is is because, as Hywela says there is a limited number of ways a sex scene can be described? I think that is also a very relevant point.

Emotional intrigues and reactions make far more interesting reading, I think. It's easy enough to imagine the sex (if you need to) but, as Linda says, being drawn in by the courtship (lovely word), romance and intrigue is what takes us into new worlds in which we can escape for just a little while.

Let's hope some of us at least refuse the call for those ever-encroaching sex scenes and keep our romances sweet and emotion-packed!

All the best,

ManicScribbler said...

So sorry Lyn (Hywela) - I think I may have got your name the wrong way around. My apologies.

Tara Fox Hall said...

Hi :) Jenny told me about this discussion, and I wanted to get in on it :) I agree that both sweet romances and erotic romances have their place in the writing world. (BTW - what about "True Romance" instead of sweet? :) While my romance writing falls more in the middle, I've done a well-received erotic story (Kink), and plan on doing others. I enjoy reading mostly mainstream romance, which usually includes some hot details, but I'm not disappointed if the author chooses not to be explicit about sex in the book. There is so much else that's important in a novel, like character development, suspense, interactions within the cast, and plot. But I admit I am concerned about reader expectations. I've read series where each book had a certain amount of "character relations" and then one book in the series abruptly changed, either going way overboard in the sex scenes, or completely leaving out all romance entirely. What do you all think of that? Is there author responsibility to keep the "action" at a consistent level, even if the main characters are going through a life event which causes them to either be chaste or "go overboard"?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lyn,
It’s Ro from Ro-alwaysinpired!
I would like to award you the Versatile blog award for the wonderful contributions you make to the writing world!

Details are at my blog

All the best for your blog in 2012, I'll stay tuned!

Morgan Mandel said...

It takes skill to show emotion and attraction and carry it through in a novel. Amazing how when I watch TV, people are expected to jump into bed as soon as they have any kind of feeling or attraction for each other. Not to say sex is a bad thing, but need it be so graphically described and in our face all the time? I like the waiting and anticipation, or closed door approach.

Morgan Mandel

ManicScribbler said...

Hi Tara,
Thanks so much for your interesting comment. I think True Romance does sound better than Sweet - but it seems to raise the question whether Erotic/Historical (etc) Romance might not be considered true!
I haven't read such series as you described but must assume that readers like them because they are familiar with their format and so can see how it might be disturbing when this suddenly changes.
I think authors do have a lot of responsibility to their readers and I think most keep their readers' wishes foremost in their minds as they write. If they didn't they would soon alienate themselves from their readers - and no writer wants that.
I do admire your versatility and I think it's great to experiment. I have nothing against erotic romance for those who want to write it or read it - it's just not really for me, though.
Kind regards and thanks again for making such great points.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you Ro,
I'm deeply flattered.
I've been to your blog and think it's great - am following.
However I have had this award before and don't know what the protocol is for receiving it a second time - I worry about finding seven more unknown facts!! A girl has to have SOME secrets! Lol.
All best wishes,

ManicScribbler said...

I totally agree with you Morgan.
The worst thing about this eagerness for sex is the way it's confused with love. Just because a couple in lust can have satisfying sex, all of a sudden they think they're in love and will spend their lives together - before they know anything significant about each other. Not surprising that TV soaps are more about relationships going wrong than going right! How can they go right when couples know nothing about each other?
I think a good romance should leave you feeling that the couple not only deserve each other's love but will have a long and happy life together.
Sigh...often sadly different from reality, I know, but that may be because there is not enough real romance to start with.

Liz Flaherty said...

A really good post. What's nice is that there's room in the industry (and on the shelves, even if those shelves are digital) for all kinds of stories. I come down on the sweet side for reading, although my own books contain at least one consummation scene.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you for dropping by and leaving your comment, Liz - that's much appreciate. It's true, of course, that there is no real need to 'take sides' on this issue as there is plenty of book shelf space for all tastes and more than enough different tastes to satisfy all writers. Thank goodness :)

Lesley Cookman said...

I came across this post completely by accident (as you do) and found it fascinating. I don't write romance, or even women's fiction, although my readers are mainly women. I tried, way back when, but soon discovered writing a Mills and Boon wasn't as easy as it looks! However, recently, my publishers, who also publish a very successful erotic imprint, decided to launch a new line and I was asked to write for it. And yes, it was to be - er - literary erotic romance. I asked a few friends if I could read their books to see what it was all about and I hated them. I felt I would have to learn a whole new language and also felt distinctly uncomfortable reading, let alone writing, the stuff. So, something a writer should never do, I turned down a COMMISSIONED novel. And by the way, I'm no prude. Ex actress, model and air stewardess - I've been around a bit!

ManicScribbler said...

Hello Lesley - however you got here, I'm so glad you did and thank you for leaving such an insightful comment.

I think your decision to refuse commissioned work is highly commendable as you felt you wouldn't enjoy it - and that probably would have filtered through to your readers.

You are right too in thinking that it's almost a new language. A good friend of mine who writes erotica tells me she has to spend a great deal of time crafting sex scenes to make sure they flow seamlessly.
I can appreciate that. But I know I could never do it - and I'm no prude either - I just know I would hate to write it.

I'm curious to know more about your writing and hope you'll drop by again for a chat.

Best wishes and good luck.

karma1086 said...

I like the books for the story lane and I usually skip sex or erotic scens all together. I also will never read books with adult content, doesn't matter how good story line they have. I read your story Apple Tree and I like it very much. It's exact story I like. A good story line, and interesting characters. I also like Medical romance, so it was really good read for me. I got your book through Amazone Kindle and thank you very much for writing it. Now I would want to read your other books too.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you Karma,
I really love hearing from readers. I'm so pleased you enjoyed The Apple Tree and I hope you will enjoy Wishful Thinking and my soon-to-be-released contemporary romance, Shopping for Love. In October my romantic suspense, In Loving Hate will be published. None of them contain graphic sex scenes.
I totally respect your desire not to read erotic content - I think it's everyone's choice as readers or writers to read or include such scenes. I personally prefer not to do either.
It's lovely to hear from you and I hope you'll come back to my blog and share more of your opinions. Your kind words have made my day!
Best regards,

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