Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Monday, October 15, 2012

Too Sexy or not to Sexy

By: Craig J. Sorensen

I got the edits for a story soon to be published from one of my favorite editors.  As expected, her tweaks and tunes made sense, and readied this story for prime time.  She made some warm comments about specific things, which I always appreciate.  A busy editor does not have lots of time on her hands, and when she takes time to make such a comment, that is a great compliment indeed.

But down deeper in the story, one comment:  “Nooooo! Not sexy!”

The line in question?  “… fingers scattered like deformed spiders.”

Which begs the question, is there an idealized role of sexuality in an erotic story?  I know, this is a slippery slope, and there are as many opinions as there are readers and writers of erotica.

I often toy with strange images.  To some extent, I do this to create tension, and to some extent, I do this to provide depth to the sexual imagery.  But, in doing this, I risk taking the reader out of the erotic mindset that stories in the genre are usually expected to do.

Yes, some of the things I write come from strange places.  I’ve had a few similar edits at other times, and I understand where the editors are coming from.  When a story goes into a collection, it needs to fit the theme and the vision of the editor.   I’m not bothered by spiders, but I do know that this is a serious squick for some.  With that in mind, I see her point.  The descriptive was not absolutely essential to the story, but I liked it because it gave a sense of contrast, and illustrated the protag’s perspective on the character he was thinking about.  In the end, I had no problem with the removal of this “not sexy” descriptive.

I love writing erotica because it challenges social taboos, just by being explicit, but within the genre, I like to challenge as well.  Taking chances is what I do.  Editors will probably continue to trap and consume my odd images that go too far in their web.

I guess it’s all in the game.  Works for me.


  1. Well... someone read a story for me and made the same comment about the play of muscles under the heroine's skin. For me, it meant she was visibly strong and lean, but for my reader it sounded like Alien.

    Who was right? I dunno, but spiders are a particularly touchy subject with so many of us I can sympathise with that particular edit :)

    Um, also, scattered like individual fingers all over the room? Because that's the image I'm getting now, but I'm guessing I need some context :)

  2. First, wonderful, creepy pictures! It definitely puts me in the (erotic) Halloween mood :-).

    Many people claim to be bored by the question "what's the difference between literary erotica and pop porn writing?" but I still find the arguments fascinating. Here you give us another possible approach to distinguishing the two. Readers, including editors, want to know what to expect from popular fiction of any genre. Literary fiction has always been allowed more leeway with the unusual and the challenging theme, image or use of language. When my sister gave my novel to a Hollywood screenwriter to read (unbeknownst to me and probably to determine if a professional thought I cut it), his reply was that "every time I started getting turned on, she used a big word and ruined it." So, that attitude is out there.

    On the other hand, if it's a fairly minor issue, I tend to go along with the editor's desires. Hemingway encouraged writers to "kill their darlings," but it doesn't seem to have the same character-building satisfaction when an editor does it for us!

  3. Hi Jo. When I cut the line down to the phrase in question, it didn't occur to me what the sentence might read like on its own, but I can see how you envisioned it like that. Hopefully by seeing how the character was holding her hands at the time, it would make more sense, but then, it's a moot point since the sentence got cut!


  4. Hi Donna, I'm definitely of the mind that one should choose one's battles. If the feel of the story is lost, or if a change loses the context, I'll argue the point, but this case, the rest of the paragraph gave the feeling I was looking for.

    That's quite a trip about the screenplay writer. It does not surprise me at all, sadly.

    Anyway, regarding Hemingway's "kill your darlings" comment, I have to say I disagree. Some of the warmest comments I've gotten from readers about something I've written were about "darlings!"

  5. Really good post Craig. Personally, it is exactly those sort of unexpected descriptions which make an erotic story stand out of the crowd for me. They invite me to see sexy from a new angle. So I have to disagree with your editor.

  6. Thanks RG. My reader said the same thing. She liked the description, and she has a serious spider squick...

  7. Yeah, I think I'd agree with RG. It's that kind of bizarre and strange simile that jolts me awake and really creates atmosphere for me. Although I do understand, in this particular instance, why an editor might not be happy with a reference to spiders…

  8. Hi Harper.

    As I mentioned, she is an awesome editor. She published one of my most "risky" erotic stories, so I'm very happy to make adjustments for her preferences!

  9. Hi, Craig,

    I've had the same kinds of edits - more often when I'm writing erotic romance. Sometimes I fight, other times I don't.

    One does have to think about the reactions of one's readers. I know that the typical erotic romance reader isn't much like me. Images I find intensely arousing might well not work for them. Images that are perhaps a trifle obscure might slow them down. Some readers consume erotica and erotic romance like candy. They want it fast and sweet.

  10. I think that is to the point, Lisabet.

    I do know there is a certain editor I will no longer send spider imagery to! ;-)

    Since I don't really write the candy form, maybe I can get away with adding a little sweet glaze to the spicy dishes I'm serving up.


    If not, so be it.


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