About this genre...

Question: OK, I'll just say it: Erotica. There, now that we got that out of the way... I just really would like an actual writer/author's explanation of what it really is. I mean, I have a general idea, I've looked at the wikipedia article and all that, but I find that an actual writer is the best source of information on a literary genre, even if that writer is not involved in that genre. I mostly write fantasy with the occasional sci-fi, and I pride myself on a very descriptive writing style. One of my friends had been telling me, half-joking, that I should at least try my hand at erotica. I'm pretty hesitant, but I figure I might as well look into it a bit. What is it? How does it work? Is it just porn in words, or does it go beyond that? What's the market? Are there really any taboos in a field like that? Just any sort of overview and, if possible, advice you could give me would be more helpful than I can say. Thanks a lot!


Answer: Well, I must confess I neither write erotica nor read a lot of it, and I have struggled with the definition myself. That said...

One way to describe erotica is to call it pornography for women (in the sense that emotions and relationship matter much more than in stories of sex written for men). Though, a more non-sexist way to describe the difference is that erotica is more about be-ers and porn is about do-ers. The main character in erotica experiences being sexual in a way that is often taboo, either because she has been raised to be prim and proper or because she has never allowed herself to be vulnerable or adventurous enough to explore more exotic sexual experiences.

Erotica is also about the main character's obsession with the impact character, who introduces her to new sexual experiences, and how her obsession opens her to these experiences.

In Dramatica terms, the overall story in porn usually concerns activities while in erotica it concerns the state of obsession. This makes the impact character either the person who manipulates the main character into doing things she normally wouldn't, or someone who does things to/with her that help her be or become a different person.

Another way to describe the difference is to say that erotica is to porn as literary fiction is to pulp novels, again because erotica will explore relationship rather than just action.

Also, in erotica, believable characters and story matter more.

Of course, the question is where do you draw the line? How much sex and what degree of explicitness is required to turn a fantasy into an erotic fantasy?

To give one example, Harlequin describes its Blaze line as...

"The sexy situation in Friends with Benefits blended with the sheer romance of The Time Traveler's Wife."

They claim this line is not erotica because the heroine does not have multiple partners and ends up in a committed relationship at the end.

However, by that definition, neither is Fifty Shades of Grey, which shows that it's a bit subjective.

I think we can safely say that in both erotica and porn, the explicit description of sexual activity is a much more important aspect of the book than in a non-erotic story or romance. However, in erotica the story is not just an excuse for sex scenes but a way of exploring the relationship, and that exploration takes precedence over other throughlines.

Hope that helps.

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