In the last year, the RWR (Romance Writers Report) has published letters to the editor with complaints of romance books having too much sex and foul language. Critics have said they don’t want to see beyond the bedroom door, and they consider authors who use foul language as being challenged individuals when it comes to finding words that better convey emotions.
For those individuals who prefer a more sedate book, please note that the market drives the demand for certain types of books. To make a living one MUST make accommodations based on what’s driving sales. Instead of sniping at fellow authors, sit thee down and write the good book as my friend Claire says. The same to protesters of foul language.
Writing romance isn’t something we can do in a vacuum. We need to either incorporate our reality into a book, or at least present an accurate picture of the past. We need to write what readers believe is realistic, and there are many romance readers who believe that sex, foul language and/or both is a vital component of a romance. With all that in mind, I do think some of the protesters have a valid point. There can be too much sex and too much foul language. Now before you tackle me on that, please note that I write erotic romance. I write carnal sex scenes in my romance works. I also use “foul” language. But here’s what some writers and readers don’t understand. Too much of something is a bad thing.
Repetitive Versus Not Too Much
When writing sex, the writer needs to understand that it’s the sexual tension the reader wants. They want build up or at the very least a really good reason for the culmination of sex. Readers on the other hand need to understand that what they see as “too much sex in romance” is really a sign of poorly developed sexual tension and/or characterization. So instead of ranting about there’s too much sex in romance, start ranting about the lack of characterization or sexual tension. There is a big difference. In this humble writer’s opinion, it’s not that there’s too much sex in romance, it’s that the sex in a lot of romance is simply underdeveloped sexual tension and/or character development.
I applaud sex and foul language in romance when used appropriately and not repeatedly. And I believe that’s the biggest part of the problem. I think it’s the repetitiveness in so many romances that irritates readers. They just don’t realize it. The issue of foul language can be viewed the same way. For a character or scene the use of “foul” language can be quite appropriate, but too much makes for repetition and the words lose their impact. There’s nothing more powerful than the F-word used at a point in the story where that’s the only word that will do. But using it every other line reduces the word’s impact. The same goes for using words like clit, clitoris, penis, etc. These throw me out of the read. (I’m continuously asking myself if the majority of women really use those words when they’re making love to their significant others? Maybe some do, but I’m willing to bet a lot of women don’t. In fact, they’re more apt to be a little more base. *grin*) For me those words don’t ring true. They don’t sound realistic in the context they’re placed..
And that’s what this post is really about. Realism. Is the sex realistic, appropriate and written into the story at the right point in time for the characters drawn on the page? Is the language used appropriate for the specific moment in the story? Has the writer avoided the issue of repetitiveness with both the sex and the foul words. Sex and foul language are integral to many good books. But when it’s overdone, it’s like overcooked beef — it’s dry and far from tasty.