Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Porn Versus Erotica

You could google this and find out all sorts of information, but I figured I’d give my take. By all means, google it and see how others agree or disagree with me.

I write erotica. I don’t write porn and if my editors catch me one more time calling myself a smut writer, they’re likely to inflict serious bodily injury upon me and anyone who happens to be standing near me.

And that confused me.

What’s the big deal, right? A rose by any other name is still a rose, right? Besides, no one really thinks there’s no difference between porn and erotica, right? It’s a joke. No one would read what I write and call it porn or smut, would they?

What my limited exposure to the world of publishing hadn’t yet taught me, at the time of my confusion, is that most people do not realize there’s a HUGE difference between porn and erotica. My little joke did nothing more than help perpetuate that misunderstanding.

One of the unwritten duties of an erotica writer is to help educate the public about our genre. So, here’s an attempt at touching upon that duty.

Q: The length of the story determines whether it is porn or erotica, right?

A:
Nope. Erotica, just like the men I write about, come in many shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Yes, “stroke stories” and porn stories do tend to be short. However, just like porn movies, they can drone on for hours while nimbly dodging anything close to plot.

While erotica stories do TEND to be longer than written porn, it’s possible to have a short story that really is erotica and not porn. It’s also possible to have erotic poetry and that tends to be quite short. There’s also a thing called “flash fiction” which are 100-500 word pieces and those publishers want erotica NOT porn.

Q: Oh! So it’s the level of explicitness that makes it porn or erotica?

A: Nope. Erotica ranges from being very explicit to “smoke and mirrors” or fade-to-black sex scenes. When you are looking at a publisher’s catalog make sure you check the rating of the story to ensure you’re buying something that suits your tastes.

A word of caution. Many publishers still list ANY M/M story in the highest or second highest rating. This is due to the subject matter. M/M writers and readers don’t like this, but we have to live with it. You might very well have a M/M story that’s quite tame, but listed as the highest rating. This is where author branding will help readers and authors connect.

I write very explicitly. My readerbase has come to expect this and if I were to change without valid reason, I would be burned in effigy. Never piss off a yaoi fangirl. We’re rabid on a good day.

Some erotica stories are so mild there’s a special category for them. That’s called “inspirational romance.” I should note that some people do not consider these stories to be erotica at all and plant them firmly under “romance.” I am not that familiar with this genre and my limited exposure indicates that “inspirational romance” tends to carry Christian themes, HEA, not-dark, and uplifting stories and very mild sex scenes usually a fade-to-black thing.

I remember asking another writer/editor with a lot more experience than I have what “inspirational romance” was. She didn’t know and finally said, “Prudish praying.”

Personally, I think that’s casting the genre in the wrong light, but I’ve never read an “inspirational romance.”

Q:
So…um…the romantic element makes the story erotica and not porn?

A: Nope. Some romance is not erotic and some erotica is romantic and some erotica isn’t romantic and some porn isn’t romantic AND some….I could go on.

I write “erotic romance” which means there’s usually a plot or subplot that involves two or more characters falling in love. (Insert sweet and sickening “aww” here). However, there’s something that needs to be in the story for it to be “official” romance and that’s an HEA.

This is a point that’s HEAVILY debated, but when the “authorities” change their stance, I’ll change mine. (Personally, I WANT this changed.)

HEA is Happy Ever After. Sometimes it’s Happy For Now, but whatever the case, the story ends with the main couple together and happy. Maybe you’ve gone as far as to get them married or just have them living together, but the reader is left with the impression that this couple remains together after “The End.”

That’s why sometimes I say I’m an “erotica” writer instead of an “erotic romance” writer. I will write stories that are called “dark erotica” and those may or may not have a happy ending, may or may not have depressing themes, may or may not have a bad guy that wins, may or may not…I could go on. (LOL!)

Nice and confused about the genre “dark erotica”? Good. Welcome to the club. It’s one of those “know it when you see it” things. I have two WIPs (Work In Progress) which have been stamped “too dark for publication” by a few publishers and editors. I’ve found a potential home for one of them. *rubs hands together*

Q: So, if it doesn’t have anything to do with length (double entendre intended), explicitness or romance, what makes a story erotica and not porn?

A: Now, you’re asking the right question. Erotica has a fully developed story and completely fleshed out character designs.

Q: But, that’s what ALL stories are supposed to have—so what makes a story “erotic mystery” as opposed to regular mystery?

A: Once again, we’re getting into the good questions. Erotic mystery will contain sex scenes and sensual elements that a regular mystery won’t have.

Q: That’s can’t be right. I’ve read “regular” books that have sex scenes and they weren’t listed as erotica!

A: And that would be correct. Here’s the key. The sex in erotica cannot be removed. Important things such as character motivation changes, character development and plot points will happen DURING the sex scenes in erotica. If you skip over the sex, you’re missing out on important parts of the story. In short, skim the sex (and WHY would you do that?) and you’ll be confused.

Some authors will avoid the erotica label due to the believed stigma that comes with it. Other writers will embrace the label erotica, because we know sex sells. Get them with the sex and keep them with the story. Some “regular” authors are starting to label some of their titles as erotica to fuel their readerbases.

So, to recap…erotica has fully developed stories with carefully crafted characters and the sex scenes help move the story.

Porn…well…with porn you don’t get any of that. To be honest, the porn that I’ve read is basically a scene where the characters meet or already know each other, scratch their itches and move on. It’s just sex. There’s a reason why they’re called “stroke stories.” Also, it seems they’re full of telling and not showing. I remember one story where the “plot” was a guy who seemed to confirm his heterosexual status every third line while sneaking a tryst with another man. It actually included the line, “I moved into a 69 position and sucked him off.”

Wow…gee…umm….ice water anyone? Need to cool off after that? Anyone? Anyone at all? Umm…ok…it will be here if you need it.

The whole story went on like that and it was approximately 2,000 words or so. Whereas in “About to Sin” during the first 2,500 words, you get some hot sensuality; but you also, learn that Anand has a strong sense of ethics and that Father Daniel is a tortured soul.

Q: So erotica has a literary element that porn lacks?

A: Oh, now we’re getting into “literary erotica” and that’s…

Q: Please, no more genre talk. You’re making my head hurt. That’s just too confusing.

A: Sorry… in short, some erotica authors do consider themselves “literary authors” and some think that’s pretentious. Your best bet is to find out what the author labels himself/herself and go with that. Since I will vary on genre, I always label my stories.

And if you think genre is confusing on the reader’s end, just imagine what it’s like as a writer. So, I have this story that deals with dark themes, but it’s HEA and there’s romance, but there’s also…and so on. It’s enough to drive ya mad.

Here’s the simplest explanation of genre I can think of and I think it works quite nicely. All genre labels are is where the book would be shelved in a bookstore.


Q: Isn’t it really a battle of gender? Males write porn while females write erotica?

A: You have NO idea and I mean you have NO idea. I’ve met more “gender confused”, “transgendered” and “gender issued” people since I’ve started writing fulltime than I had my entire life. But, the stats do seem to indicate there are more biological females behind the keyboards than males. I don’t know how valid that information is.

Some writers will not reveal their real gender, some will and some don’t self-identify as female or male. Some publications REQUIRE male pennames. Some want gender neutral pennames. My target audience is yaoi fans and those readers tend to look for stories written by women. That’s why I’m comfortable revealing my gender.

I’m not comfortable putting either gender as being focused on porn or erotica. There’s way too much gender-bending going on and some of it intentionally.

The gender of the penname tells you nothing. I come from a yaoi background which is DOMINATED by female authors, artists and readers. Others come from backgrounds where women are viewed as incapable of writing M/M. I happen to find it quite funny when people talk about one author’s work being more valid than another because of gender AND they have the incorrect understanding of the author’s gender.

It seems I’ve confused a few readers too. Some people say I give very feminine font and some say, “If I didn’t know you, I’d sworn that was written by a gay man.”

I consider both of those a compliment.

3 comments:

kmfrontain said...

This is such a good post, Cup.

IM Cupnjava said...

Thank you, Karen, coming from you that's a very powerful compliment!

J. H. Bográn said...

Oh Hello,
Dazed and confused here. lol. So, I write porn simply because I'm a man where as you write erotica because you're a woman? Doesn't seem fair, does it.
Thankfully I avoided the whole issue and prefer to write action thrillers, that may or may not have a porn, sorry, erotic scene. LOL.

Now seriously, great post! I love the way you explain things. Sure you weren't a teacher in your former life?

www.jhbogran.com