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Thread: When does romance become erotica?

  1. #1

    When does romance become erotica?

    I have a vague feel for this but my novel really feels like its floating in a weird place the more I develop it. I was curious what do AWers consider the line when romance crosses over to erotica. I assume erotica is when the conflict is sexual in nature, but other's might consider it the percentage of pages dedicated to sex. I may need to change the genre of my WIP novel lol. Genres are tough.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW lianna williamson's Avatar
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    My understand is that if the story is, at its heart, about the development of a romantic relationship, and that relationship is in a happy place by the end, then the story is a romance even if most of the "action" in the story is sex.

    See the Is my book a romance? Flow chart.
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by lianna williamson View Post
    My understand is that if the story is, at its heart, about the development of a romantic relationship, and that relationship is in a happy place by the end, then the story is a romance even if most of the "action" in the story is sex.

    See the Is my book a romance? Flow chart.
    XD That's hilarious. Love that chart. I'll keep that in mind. I didn't know the couple had to be alive and well at the end.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    It could also be erotic romance.

    For erotic romance vs non-erotic romance: If you took the sex out of the book/changed all the sex to fade-to-black, the story would fall apart, because it is a central part of how the relationship develops.

    For erotica vs erotic romance: As mentioned above, in romance, the relationship is central to the story and the characters need to end up together at the end: happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN). Erotica may be focused more on a single character's erotic journey.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by LJD View Post
    It could also be erotic romance.

    For erotic romance vs non-erotic romance: If you took the sex out of the book/changed all the sex to fade-to-black, the story would fall apart, because it is a central part of how the relationship develops.

    For erotica vs erotic romance: As mentioned above, in romance, the relationship is central to the story and the characters need to end up together at the end: happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN). Erotica may be focused more on a single character's erotic journey.
    Thanks that's quite helpful. I think mine may be more leaning towards Erotic Romance/Mystery. I'll have to ask some beta readers what they think when I'm ready to have it read. I was mostly curious because I worried my standard of erotica in novel form was too low because I used to write short stories which are more straight forward.

  6. #6
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    It doesn't. A story can be erotica and not romance, romance and not erotica, both romance and erotica, or neither romance nor erotica--but a certain amount of sex does not make is stop being romance and start being erotica instead.
    Emily Veinglory

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Bacchus's Avatar
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    Someone said to me once that Romance is tickling with a feather - Erotica is using the whole chicken.

    I wouldn't use it as a hard and fast definition, but it always makes me smile.
    Last edited by Bacchus; 05-25-2017 at 08:02 PM.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW Noizchild's Avatar
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    To me, when the sex scenes are more frequent and have more details to them to turn on the reader.
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  9. #9
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lianna williamson View Post
    My understand is that if the story is, at its heart, about the development of a romantic relationship, and that relationship is in a happy place by the end, then the story is a romance even if most of the "action" in the story is sex.

    See the Is my book a romance? Flow chart.
    Love the chart, though "central to the story" is the hard part for me. How central? I take it to mean that there really wouldn't be a story without the romance, as it's the main conflict and plot-driving element, or that the plot would at least be really different without the romance between the two central characters. Yet I've read plenty of romances where there's a distinct problem that one or both protagonists has--being accused of a crime, regaining the family fortune, being accepted into high society, being recognized for one's accomplishment, saving the ranch--hiding one's true identity etc--that could certainly be a story without the romance (or sex). But with a romance, the relationship between the two characters tends to be central to the problem's ultimate resolution.

    I've been told that with erotica, the sexual journey is central to the plot (and a romance may be tangled up with that, of course) and part of the resolution of the protagonists' problems.

    There are romances that aren't remotely erotic (even entirely chaste), and there is definitely erotica that isn't a romance, or even terribly romantic (just about the sex, not loving emotions). But there are books that are both, too. I'm not sure where, exactly, the line is drawn about where to shelve or categorize the book in these cases (is it an erotic romance vs a work of erotica with romantic elements).

    However, I have a similar issue with deciding whether a book is a fantasy novel with a very important romantic arc vs a romance set in a fantasy world.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 05-26-2017 at 09:07 AM.
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  10. #10
    Dragon of the Multiverse AW Moderator Zoombie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacchus View Post
    Someone said to me once that Romance is tickling with a feather - Erotica is using the whole chicken.

    I wouldn't use it as a hard and fast definition, but it always makes me smile.
    This saying always bugged me.

    It feels...dismissive. Like, using the whole chicken IS the right thing to do if you're cooking and eating the thing.

    I mean, if I was designing the phrase, I could say, "Erotica is pizza, romance is just the bread."

    But see, as Roxx said, there are romances that are entirely chaste. It's almost like the genres, while similar, are doing different things for different ends, making neither better nor worse. Just different.
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  11. #11
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zoombie View Post
    This saying always bugged me.

    It feels...dismissive. Like, using the whole chicken IS the right thing to do if you're cooking and eating the thing.

    I mean, if I was designing the phrase, I could say, "Erotica is pizza, romance is just the bread."

    But see, as Roxx said, there are romances that are entirely chaste. It's almost like the genres, while similar, are doing different things for different ends, making neither better nor worse. Just different.
    This, I think, though they can definitely blend or meld too.
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  12. #12
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin meaghangray's Avatar
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    I'd say the difference is in (1) how detailed the erotic situations are (2) how early the erotic situations begin to occur and (3) how often the erotic situations occur. For some novels, the idea that sex is the central part of the story may be the thing that pushes the story into erotica, but for most romances, I'd say that definition is too confusing because sex can be so deeply involved in "non-erotic" romance.

  13. #13
    Thick Skin Pre-Installed Zombie Fraggle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacchus View Post
    Someone said to me once that Romance is tickling with a feather - Erotica is using the whole chicken.

    I wouldn't use it as a hard and fast definition, but it always makes me smile.
    Nah, that old saying is about the difference between between kinky and perverted, not romance and erotica.

  14. #14
    Ni. Peng. Neee-Wom. edutton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by meaghangray View Post
    I'd say the difference is in (1) how detailed the erotic situations are (2) how early the erotic situations begin to occur and (3) how often the erotic situations occur. For some novels, the idea that sex is the central part of the story may be the thing that pushes the story into erotica, but for most romances, I'd say that definition is too confusing because sex can be so deeply involved in "non-erotic" romance.
    And I look less at the frequency of the sex and more at the purpose (or result) - do those scenes reflect or change the characters' relationship? If not, and they're just in there to be sex scenes, in my view that would tilt the story more towards erotica; in a romance, everything is in service of the developing relationship.
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  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Sara Raynott's Avatar
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    I've always wondered the difference as well. I've read some popular romance books where the sex was extremely hot, but the books weren't labeled under erotica. Personally, I love these stories, but I've wondered if the authors got many complaints from readers.

    I agree with the idea that as long as the sex helps to build the relationship, it is okay in a romance novel. If the book is mostly about sex, then it should be erotica.
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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    So, if a book has several sex scenes (let's say, 5) but there's a mystery/thriller story at the heart of the tale, is it an erotica?

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  17. #17
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    Nope. In the opinion of most readers and publishers, for a book to be a work of erotica, the sex scenes are the heart of the tale, not something delightful that also happens.
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  18. #18
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    There are genres where they are used to seeing sex (spec fic, memoir) and ones where not so much. But it remains the case that no amount of added sex changes the core genre. Only moving the focus of the story to a sexual theme does that.
    Emily Veinglory

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    Nope. In the opinion of most readers and publishers, for a book to be a work of erotica, the sex scenes are the heart of the tale, not something delightful that also happens.
    Awesome, thank you!

    Quote Originally Posted by veinglory View Post
    There are genres where they are used to seeing sex (spec fic, memoir) and ones where not so much. But it remains the case that no amount of added sex changes the core genre. Only moving the focus of the story to a sexual theme does that.
    I figured romance was a genre with a lot of sex, but I didn't know memoirs were. >.>

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  20. #20
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    I'm writing my first maybe-erotica. It's a short story, which has no sex in it at all. The concept grew out of a fantasy of mine which is part of a larger tale. I've always found it to be erotic as hell, but I admit my mind is wired a bit differently. While there is no so it the book relies heavily on dominance and submission; I have a difficult time imagining in a romance genre. Plus there's no HEA. I don't know, what do you think?
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  21. #21
    Outside the box, with the bunnehz KimJo's Avatar
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    Romance by definition has either a happily-ever-after or a happy-for-now ending, so if yours doesn't have that, it definitely isn't a romance.

    Some publishers consider anything with kink to be erotica, or at least erotic romance, even if there's no sexual content. Personally, I'm not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, BDSM can be extremely erotic for those involved even if nothing sexual happens. On the other hand, I associate "erotica" or "erotic romance" with "lots of hot sex."

    BDSM romance is totally a thing, by the way. I had a few published under my romance pen name, though all but one are out of print now. There are a number of romance authors whose books focus on BDSM relationships.

  22. #22
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    For me the question to ask in order to get to the solution is : What is the emotion driving the sex?

    If the sex is driven by lust and that lust is the main emotional arch which makes the other emotions and their subsequent reactions/ actions to be subplots or even fleeting mentions then it's erotica
    If the sex is driven by love, a need to connect and is a tool to intimacy so as to grow the relationship and not the reason for the relationship to being then it's romance
    *Frequency of the act is important in determining the genre as well

  23. #23
    figuring it all out Paula Davids's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bacchus View Post
    Someone said to me once that Romance is tickling with a feather - Erotica is using the whole chicken.

    I wouldn't use it as a hard and fast definition, but it always makes me smile.
    Whoah! Hey, I get this thing about erotica being where the chicken is central to the story. But how's this for a quibble: it’s porno (bad, naughty word that) if the plot, characters and originality of language are secondary to the titillation of the reader and it’s… romance maybe (???) if the plot and characters etc. are substantial and the sex is driven by them. (Well, maybe not romance, per se, but… good writing?)
    Last edited by Paula Davids; 07-06-2017 at 08:40 PM.

  24. #24
    No, you're the grease monkey. Fruitbat's Avatar
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    I think in romance, the relationship is the journey and in erotica, the sex is the journey. Of course, there's also erotic romance (or "romantic"), where the relationship is still the journey but it's a very hot journey, I think?

    And then there's the big debate over erotica vs. written porn, which some people consider to be the same thing and others consider separate, with porn being raunchier and having no journey aside from rutting.


    So all this is what I've heard through the years but other than secondhand knowledge, I really have no idea what I'm talking about haha. :p
    Last edited by Fruitbat; 07-12-2017 at 08:47 PM.
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  25. #25
    figuring it all out Paula Davids's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fruitbat View Post
    I think in romance, the relationship is the journey and in erotica, the sex is the journey. Of course, there's also erotic romance (or romantic), where the relationship is still the journey but it's a very hot journey, I think?

    And then there's the big debate over erotica vs. written porn, which some people consider to be the same thing and others consider separate, with porn being raunchier and having no journey aside from rutting. :p
    Actually, I really like that. It’s not prescriptive, as in, so much of this, so much of that. It’s more like the zen of romance/erotica. I find that far more intuitive as a guideline (but then, I am an intuitive, not by the numbers, kind of girl – apologies to those who work differently).

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