Storytelling: Romance vs. Erotica

This post is now a podcast episode! You can learn more about the podcast in this post.

Romance is a popular genre but it’s often confused with erotica, so what’s the difference? Basically it’s all about the focus of the plot, which is why this is a perfect post to jump start a series of storytelling posts where I go into different parts of stories and how to put them together (and why or why not you should include some of them in your writing project).

To start with, let’s outline the difference between the romance genre and the erotica genre:

  • Romance is all about two (or more) characters falling or being in love. The point of a romance story is to explore the romantic relationships of a pairing, the most common being the arc of falling in love. They typically have a Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN) ending, depending on whether it’s part of a series.
  • Erotica is all about two (or more) characters having sexual encounters. There are various levels of “spice” or “steam” to indicate how graphic and/or intense the sex scenes are, and it’s commonly called “smut.”

Okay, so one is about love, and one is about sex… what about both? When those lines cross and you’re left with a story that involves steamy scenes while having a simultaneous focus on the developing love story, it falls into the category of Erotic Romance. This is becoming more mainstream, and is a very common and popular genre to both read and write.

The cool thing about these genres is that there are so many ways to put stories together within the parameters. You can have different levels of spice, different relationship dynamics, and there are plenty of tropes to play with like jealous exes or dramatic breakups that make the final HEA so much more satisfying. There is no right answer, which makes the genres incredibly versatile.

So now onto your project: the first step is to decide which genre you want to write within and then keep your audience in mind (this will also help with marketing should you decide to publish). If you want to write specifically for a Young Adult (YA) audience and you want your story to be PG, but the relationship between your characters is heating up, then keep in mind what you’re willing to show “on screen” for your readers.

For example, if two characters are in an arranged marriage there’s the wedding night where it’s implied that the marriage is consummated. You don’t have to forego the sex scene just because you want to write a clean romance, you just need to keep the details “off screen.” This means you can reference the night or heavily imply things about it, but there should be no explicit descriptions to stick within your audience parameters.

If you’re unsure about what kind of story you want to write and you want to let your written relationships develop more organically, then by all means you can ask audience-related questions in the editing stage. But it’s very important that you don’t ambush your readers within genre expectations. Plot twists are great; subverting tropes is excellent. An explicit smut scene in the middle of a claimed clean romance is jarring and dishonest or even triggering for your audience. The same goes in reverse, if a reader picks up a book specifically because they’re seeking erotica but they find a clean romance instead, they’ll most likely feel cheated or disappointed. Either way, disconnects like these leave your audience dissatisfied with your story no matter how well it’s written.

There’s a time and a place for erotica, in all genres but especially in romance, so it’s important to figure out what audience you’re aiming for and then adjust your story accordingly. This is also a great use for beta readers (more on that later this year), to make sure you don’t miss the mark. Don’t be intimidated by writing sex scenes and don’t be ashamed of it either! I guarantee there will be an audience for your niche, it’s just a matter of finding them.

My advice for getting started? Read as much of it as you can in your desired genre, or you can turn to platforms like Archive Of Our Own (also called AO3) for fanfiction, in which authors use tags for their stories that will help you get familiar with the terminology. It can definitely be intimidating at first, but in my experience the only way to get better at writing sex scenes is to first read them and then write a few of them yourself. I got my writing start from fanfiction, and since then my AO3 profile has gotten me a few jobs as a portfolio and I’ve written multiple books for clients including various levels of steam. We all have to start somewhere, so if it’s something you’re interested in, then dive in!

What do you think? Do you like writing romance, erotica, or erotic romance? What about reading the genres? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t want to miss any Author Rescue content, join the monthly newsletter!

2 thoughts on “Storytelling: Romance vs. Erotica

    1. Thank you! In my experience, I think you just have to consider why you’re including the scene, erotic or otherwise. Most of the time, sex scenes will have a narrative purpose, which will give the scene it’s pace instead of either stagnating or rushing through. It’s a tough balance to strike for sure, but practice makes perfect! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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