Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sex and the Story

Hi, I'm Jackie Barbosa, and I write erotic romance.

Sounds like a confession at a 12-step meeting, doesn't
it? Except I have no intention of stopping. Because
midway through 2007, I sold an erotic historical short
story, Carnally Ever After, to Cobblestone Press and honestly, I'm
hooked! I now have a contemporary novella contracted
with Cobblestone, titled The Gospel of Love:
According to Luke
, which has an anticipated
release in June of 2008.

When I started writing seriously a little less than
two years ago, I didn't set out with the intention of
writing erotic romance, historical or otherwise. You
see, at the time, I wasn't even aware that such a
thing existed. What I did know was that I liked my
romance novels a bit hotter than the ones I was
reading at the time and felt I wasn't finding those
sorts of books. In retrospect, I realize I just wasn't
looking in the right places.

So my first novel began as an attempt to write a
traditional romance, just with a little more smut. I
have since completed that manuscript and consigned it
to the Magical Mulch Pile1 under my bed,
but I learned a lot from writing it, and one of the
things I learned was the characters can't just have
sex because the author wants them to have sex. You
see, I'd fully planned to get my hero and heroine in
the sack by no later than page sixty in that projected
400-page novel, but as it turned out, the characters
I'd created steadfastly resisted that plan. It just
didn't make sense for them to start tearing up the
sheets before about page 300, although there were
plenty of longing glances and so forth leading up to
that moment. By the time I actually got the two
characters in bed together, it made sense, but it
certainly wasn't what I'd intended when I started out.

I took a real lesson from that experience, however.
When I set out to write Carnally Ever After
(more or less on a dare from my friend Ann
, (who has since contracted several books
with Ace), I knew I had to have a reason to get my
characters into each other's pants (or more
accurately, trousers and drawers) early and often. And
the sex couldn't just be there because I wanted it to
be it had to move the plot and, most importantly, the
romance forward in a significant and meaningful way.
Each sexual encounter had to change the story question
in some way, to affect the hero and heroine's goals
and motivations, and heighten the conflict and the
question of how they'd arrive at their happily ever

A common criticism of erotic romance seems to be that
the stories contain sex for the sake of sex, and
perhaps in some cases that's true, but I certainly
don't believe it has to be so or that it ought to be.
A few weeks ago, I was responding to a question on a
loop (a common one): What's the difference between
erotic romance and sensual romance? And my first
blush response was, I cant explain it, but I know it
when I see it. Then it occurred to me that I had a
better description. I responded, In a sensual
romance, but the romance drives the sex. In an erotic
romance, the sex drives the romance.

YOUR TURN: What do you think distinguishes erotic
romance from sensual or traditional romance? I'd love
to hear your opinions!

1The Magical Mulch Pile is a coinage of my
fellow Manuscript Maven and dear friend, Erica
Ridley. Check out her blog sometime. It's full of fabulous


B.E. Sanderson said...

I don't really read books with too much sex. I don't have a problem with them, but it's just not my thing. However, I would think the difference between the three would be exactly how much sex is going on throughout the book, and how much detail is given in describing the lovemaking scenes. For instance, in traditional, they seem to only hint at the fact the characters are having sex. A discreetly closed door, mood music, or some such thing. In sensual, it may be a little more. In erotic, it's a full-on blow-by-blow (pardon the pun) description of what the characters are doing. And if they're well written, they aren't so much an insert tab A into slot B kind of thing, but also not a throbbing love missile/silken power purse thing either. I can't really explain the distinction any better than that. And remember, it's just IMO. =o)

Kate Pearce said...

For me, one of the most essential parts of the h/h's journey is the sexual one. Most of the problems in the plot are because of the way my characters view sex. Hopefully, by the end of the book they have worked out some of the 'kinks' (ha ha) and found a partner who loves and understands them for what they are.
That's why I think I write erotic romance rather than steamy or erotica. They are still love stories, even if a little unconventional!

Jackie Barbosa said...

Hi B.E., glad you dropped by! I kind of agree with your description of the difference between sensual and erotic, except that I've read plenty of "sensuals" that contained full-on blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex act. Which is why I think the line has become increasingly blurred.

Kate's description is a good one, I think, because in an erotic romance, the sexual journey is one of the major (if not THE major) plot elements.

Deanna Lee said...

I think the line between sensual and erotic romance is pretty much the language used these days. A great many sensual romances have explicit sex scenes without a lot of explicit language- where as erotic romances have both and have a lot of both.

I read, write, publish erotic and sensual romance -- I enjoy both. I don't, however, really appreciate stories without sex as I like to see a relationship fully develop between characters in a romance.

Kelly Jack said...

Hope I did this right. I heard about the contest on a yahoo group (Aspiring Romance Writers) and thought the prizes and your writing Jackie irresistible!!!!

Jane Lockwood said...

Hi Jackie,
Great to have you here!
It's funny that we spend so much time analyzing what is sensual vs. erotic when publishers seem to know (but aren't giving away their secrets!). For me, I think it's a question of voice more than anything else, and having the sex as an organic part of the story. And also an opportunity to subvert or dismiss some of the more mind-boggling conventions of romance.

brownone said...

Hi Jackie! I usually meander over here once a day and found your topic to be pretty intriguing. I've just recently "re-discovered" erotic romance after picking up a novel by Sylvia Day. I thought, the character development we get nowadays is awesome and it's not sex for sex's sake (which used to be the case with a lot of them). Your books sound interesting and I'll definately be checking them out!

Tammi said...

I was the same way. I never knew there were different types of romance novels. I knew I had read some where there were some pretty racey scenes, but I didn't know that type of romance had a specific genre title. I love reading your blogs. You give me hope that one day I'll get to publish one of my WIP's.


Jackie Barbosa said...

I don't, however, really appreciate stories without sex as I like to see a relationship fully develop between characters in a romance.

Deanna, I think this is about the most succinct description I've ever seen of why I find sex an essential aspect of a fully-developed romance. It doesn't have be graphic, necessarily, but I need to see the characters interact with one another at the most intimate and vulnerable moments, and sex is certainly one of the most important of those in a romantic relationship.

Hi, Kelly! Looks like you did everything just right to qualify for the contest. Check back on Tuesday :)!

Jane, I agree: publishers seem to have a better bead on what constitutes erotic romance than writers do. They seem to have a better bead on a lot of things than we do, drat them!

And it's nice to "meet" you, brownone and tammie. Delighted you stopped by all the blogs and enjoyed them! Remember, prizes will be announced on Tuesday!

Darcy Burke said...

Hi Jackie! Great post! Kate has a really good point re: the sexual journey. Made me realize how important that is in my hot historicals even though they aren't "erotic."

lacey kaye said...

Jackie, you have a fangirl!

Erica Ridley said...

Hi Jackie! As you know, I loved CEA. And for the first time, I can honestly say I can't wait to read the Gospel. ;-)

Isabel said...

Jackie, I love your explanation of Sensual vs. Erotic. I'm still trying to figure things out in my own writing, like you on my last The Magical Mulch Pile WIP, my characters don't get together until almost at the end. When I first started this story I intended for them to get together sooner than that.

You can't just make two characters have sex unless the story and the characters are ready for that step.