This week’s chapter in The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux is “Writing the Erotic.” The opening paragraphs of the chapter were apropos to prose writing as well as poetry.
The erotic is such a primal part of our lives that it’s not surprising that it’s the subject of our imaginative writing, but until fairly recently, it’s been taboo. Now that writing about the erotic is becoming more accepted, more and more authors are struggling with how to write about it — including what language to use. Obviously, it depends on what tone you’re trying to set. What’s not so obvious is how to go about it.
In the old days authors shut the door on the bedroom altogether. Then they used euphemisms (throbbing manhood, anyone?) and graduated to metaphorical language, usually weather related, to convey the emotional and physical impact of the act without being either crude or clinical. (Personally, I think this last can work sometimes — if used judiciously.) Finally, some authors have traveled beyond the sensual and begun writing erotic romance.
Erotic romance is substantively different from traditional romance. In traditional romance unresolved sexual tension (URST) builds throughout a significant portion of the book. The focus of erotic romance (ERom) is not on URST. There is no URST. Sex usually occurs early and often. Instead the focus is on how the relationship develops through the sex the characters are having. And to describe that sex, most ERom uses language that is frank, blunt, and often raw.
I enjoy a good sensual read, and with the increasing popularity of erotic romance, I wondered if I could travel that route to publication. I surveyed some of the books being published by a few of the epublishers and small presses that specialize in that sub-genre, and I came to the conclusion that ERom wasn’t for me.
I prefer the build-up of URST to “getting on with it.” I still write scenes that are highly sensual, my emphasis is just different. And I still struggle sometimes with what language to use.