Though to be honest, I’d rather be Karenna…
Okay, bad joke. Seriously, I’m talking today about frank language in an erotic romance story. You know, the terms that might make your grandma blush, if she’s alive and reads erotic romance. Though actually, if a grandma read erotic romance, she probably wouldn’t blush.
In some romance novels, the type that might be sold in your local supermarket or corner store, the language isn’t so blunt. There may be mention of genitalia, possibly even being inserted into other genitalia, but the descriptions are relatively vague. The scene may be glossed over entirely, the so-called “closed curtain” version of a sex scene, where you know darn well what the characters are doing but don’t get to see it.
Even if the author follows the character into the bedroom, slightly euphemistic terms may be used. “His hardness”, “her softness”, that sort of thing. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some romance publishers require things to be couched in tamer terms, and some readers prefer reading them.
In erotic romance, however, things have to be a bit more in-your-face. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be erotic romance.
One thing authors have to be careful of when writing a sex scene, whether it’s the vague version or the explicit, is purple prose. Even though purple is a pretty color, purple prose is not so attractive. Such sentences as “He sheathed his fleshly sword deep within the warm folds of her” live within the purple prose story. (Disclaimer: I have no idea whether that particular sentence is in any book. I made it up, though it definitely fits “purple prose”.) While that sort of writing may have its place, that place is not in an erotic romance novel.
Different publishers have different requirements for language in an erotic romance, so as an author, it’s important to keep up with the guidelines. As a reader, it’s helpful to know which publisher uses terms that won’t offend you personally. For example, a friend of mine told me that a publisher I’m submitting to prefers the “C” word for female anatomy. A lot of people are very offended by that word, and at least two other publishers I’ve worked with won’t allow it in their books. Personally, I prefer it; the other frequently used word for that genitalia sounds silly to me. I can understand it bothering people, though.
When writing a romance, particularly an erotic romance, it’s sometimes hard to write the sex scenes without being repetitive. After all, there are a finite number of words that can be used to describe anatomy and acts, and some of those words aren’t allowed at some publishers. Some words are too “purple”. Some just plain aren’t even used in this century. As an erotic romance author, I want the sex scenes I write to be realistic. I want them to be frank, because that’s what erotic romance is.
I just probably ought to buy a sex thesaurus. And yes, those do exist.