Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Obscenity of Romance

By Donna George Storey

I’d planned to write my column on another topic this month, but I was overcome by the desire to write this one instead. I’ve also recently been overcome with inspiration to write a brand-new story, which is unusual because unless a story is for a specific call, I tend to let ideas steep for months or even years. This time the characters, the setting, the plot just popped into my head and insisted on immediate expression. It’s romantic when the Muse leads the dance, and fittingly this story is an erotic romance. An historical erotic romance. I don’t usually write in this genre, although I’ve veered close. Perhaps it’s high time? Historical romance was a favorite guilty pleasure as a teenager. In novels by writers like Anya Seton, the eroticism was never explicit, but my vivid imagining of what happened off the page no doubt planted the seeds of my erotica-writing future.

Every story needs obstacles, of course, and I’m discovering that the historical setting supplies a fresh abundance of them. The stakes are high if a woman even walks in public with a man. An impulsive kiss is a delightfully taboo act. Chaperones watch proper young people in love as intently as voyeurs at a peep show, so there’s plenty of drama in just finding time and place to be alone.

Still because it’s erotica, my characters find opportunities for sensual delight. That’s expected and I’m comfortable writing erotic scenes. Yet, just recently, I was both amused and bemused to discover something that truly made me blush as I wrote.

Mushy dialogue.

I blame my male protagonist for the example below. He told me he wanted to say the following words to try to convince the woman he loves to marry him. Go on, Donna, just write it down for me, he said.

“There’s a wall between us now, and that’s as it should be. But I want to do so many things I can’t do, simple things. Reach out and take your hand when someone’s watching. Brush my fingers through your hair when it’s down around your shoulders. Kiss your cheek, your ear, your neck, your lips. Wake up beside you. Eat breakfast together. But once we’re married, Elizabeth, the wall will disappear. When our wedding night comes and we start our life together, we can do all of those things and more. And what I want most of all is to make you happy. I promise I’ll do that in every way I know how.”

I’m pretty sure my heroine wants to hear this. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind hearing such sentiments from a future or even current husband. But as I wrote, a little voice whispered, “Oh, jeez, it’s such a female fantasy that a guy would actually say something sappy like this. They just don’t.” And I blushed. Partner-swapping, anal sex, Japanese fetish clubs—my cheeks stay cool and pale. But gooey, earnest declarations of love—oh, the obscenity!

Erotic romance is often—disdainfully--called women’s porn. I used to interpret that to mean that it arouses women, but is gentler, less explicit and safely couched in emotional connection. The way all things designated as feminine tend to be. This still might be true, but while I pondered my discomfiture, I came to appreciate there might be another reason for the comparison. Women might want a lover to get on bended knee and say s/he will dedicate his/her life to making them happy, but in real life it happens about as often as an attractive stranger of the desired sexual orientation is overcome by the urge to give a man a blowjob in a stalled elevator.

In other words, our porn gives us what we yearn for, but don’t get nearly enough of in real life. But we’re still kind of ashamed of what we want, because there are plenty of people out there who are happy to make fun of us for it. In my case, one of those people lives inside my own brain. (There seem to be a lot of people living there.) Coming of age in the midst of the Sexual Revolution, I got the message that having sex was always cool for a liberated woman. Falling in love was a far more private, scary and vulnerable thing to do. The legacy for me: baring the heart is scarier than baring mere skin.

Or maybe trying to express deep emotions is hard no matter what the genre or the sex of the author? It’s much easier to be clever and cool. I have to remember that back when I first started writing erotica, I would also occasionally blush when I wrote a scene that pushed me into new sexually explicit territory. For me, I almost feel as if I should let my characters share their intimate declarations of love off the page. It’s too private a matter for strangers to be watching on. But perhaps, with practice, emotionally explicit writing will get easier too?

I’ll let you know as the process unfolds!

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

14 comments:

  1. Hello, Donna,

    I happened on this new post of yours while looking back to your post last month, which was going to be the inspiration for MY post...

    I don't think there's anything at all wrong with that dialogue. Nor do I agree that no man would ever say such things. Of course, your reaction is even more interesting, and actually sets up my topic very well. (I'm writing about why romance doesn't get any respect as a genre.)

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    1. Ooooh, you KNOW I'm going to be interested to read this.

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    2. I'm very much looking forward to reading it! Perfect timing for my writers' support!

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  2. I like it, too!

    You bring up a bigger point, I think--the fact real life unfolds like embarrassing fiction sometimes. Real men say mushy, sappy things when they're in love. Real soldiers have been saved by a Gideon Bible in their pocket stopping an incoming bullet. (One time during the First Gulf War, a tank got hit by a rocket. The projectile detonated, but didn't penetrate the armor. The fins were still welded to the hull when the battle was over, so the mechanics shrugged, ground them off with a power tool and painted over the spot where the rocket hit. You can't make this stuff up!)

    I read some of the things that have happened in history and think, "Geez, if somebody wrote this as fiction, I'd call shenanigans!"

    "Or maybe trying to express deep emotions is hard no matter what the genre or the sex of the author?"--Yes! If you figure out a good way to do, please share so new guys like me can benefit!

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    1. ...a good way to do *this*...sorry for the typo!

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    2. Re-life being stranger but less engrossing or believable than fiction, there's an excellent blog post by Kristen Lamb on why "Unbroken" - a biopic of a WWII American prisoner of war was a bad movie. https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/5-ways-to-kill-a-perfectly-good-story/

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    3. Very interesting points, Francis. When we act as "god" in our fictional universe and strive for believability, we do limit ourselves from the full range of possibilities life offers. I actually like it when life gives us those crazy stories!

      I'm clearly working on the expression of emotion, but maybe the best approach is to set up the characters and scene in as genuine a way as you can and then just have faith the reader will be on your side (unlike the critic in my head). I know men at the time at least wrote some very romantic things to their fiancees, so I'm not making it up.

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  3. Replies
    1. I'm mostly having lots of fun, so hopefully that will come through!

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  4. I often call romance emotional porn-- an admission which will, no doubt, put my on someone's hate list forever. As for guys saying mushy things, my husband is by far more romantic than I am. If anyone in our house is going to say something mushy, it's him.

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    1. My husband is more romantic than I am, too. I love hearing it, and sometimes return the favor, but somehow I've gotten the message to protect myself emotionally. No doubt it's deep family stuff!

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  5. I'm currently grading assignments from my students in a second-year university creative writing class. One long story by a young man is full of mush! (and anguish -- it's about a kind of Mary Sue young male idealist who loves the "chiming" of the name of his beloved, but she brushes him off). In my experience, men are capable of making mushy declarations, but I would trust them more from a long-term husband than from a guy in his late teens or early twenties. (I suspect that some young men, like young women, confuse physical urges for "love.")

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  6. Oh, yes, as young woman, I trusted mushy talk from a young man and lived to regret it. Much more believable from a husband of 28 years!

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