Erotica and erotic romance are two of the genres where people often overlook the essence of good writing. Sex sells, right? The more the better, right? Wrong!
I am going to tell you two stories - the first was relayed to me, the second I have experienced first hand.
A very good friend told me recently that she knows someone who buys erotic romance novels, and then reads everything except the sex scenes. My friend and I both went, what? Seriously? Either this person was lying, or she bought bad books. Because no book, erotic or not, should have any scenes in there that do not 1) move the plot forward or, 2) says or does something to help the reader understand the characters better, or 3) contributes to or resolves a conflict between the characters. Yes, this includes scenes where two or more people are having sex.
If you can read an erotic romance novel, still follow the plot and empathise with the characters' issues, without reading the sex scenes, then those scenes were superfluous to start off with.
My second story. I have recently read several erotic and erotic romance stories (and I am not going to mention any titles) where my first thought was: no, please just no! No characterisation, no plot (or almost a plot), and conflict? Non-existent. In my opinion the author should have been honest and upfront and called it porn. Stop trying to disguise it as erotica or worse, erotic romance. These have been some of the worst stories I have attempted to read in recent times.
The female characters especially, were weak minded, and never even think to say no, or slow down. The male characters were one dimensional, or was it one track minded? The plot had no substance and there were no scenes that didn't involve wanting sex, getting sex or more sex. Sound like porn? Well, it sure wasn't romantic in my opinion.
To review such stories can be difficult. The instances I mention above are the two extremes, and fairly easy to spot, but what about the 60-70% in-between the porn and the superfluous?
If you are a regular reader of the genre, you will probably have read the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers too. Those authors make those bestseller lists because they are good writers. They understand the essentials of a good story, with or without burning up the bedsheets.
To be honest, the level of heat in the story is simply a choice the author makes when she or he wrote the book. The characters still need to be three dimensional, the plot still needs to be believable and draw the reader in, and the conflict driving the plot must still be the reason you keep reading until the end. And those bed sheet scenes need to be such a part of the story that if you skip over it, you have to frown and wonder: what had changed, or what did I miss?
Don't stare yourself blind against the sex scenes, but make sure to look at all the other aspects of the book too. If you are a not a writer, review the story around the characters. Was the hero more than tall, dark and sexy? Did you like him or her? Did you lose sleep because you couldn't wait to find out what happened at the end? And were you disappointed that the story ended, because you wanted more?
The advertising industry might have convinced the world that sex sells, but don't let bad writing fool you into buying a book just because there is steam coming out of the pages.
See you tomorrow with the third post on reviews: reviewing non-fiction.