I write mainly sweet romance and I enjoy doing so. I do, however, read a mixture of books at a variety of graphic levels. I ask of the books I read only that they make sense and that the elements included be present to show characterization or to move the story forward. When something is placed in a story simply because it’s a trend the writer appears to be cashing in on, it becomes obvious to me, and it detracts from the story. This is true in terms of sexual explicitness, graphic language, and even paranormal elements.
Characterizing a hero or heroine as a sailor-style cursing fiend doesn’t mean that you have to demonstrate every graphic curse in thought or dialogue. In fact, a few peppered words will leave a greater impact on the reader than if every page is filled with cursing. The F-bomb I’m referring to in this case isn’t the one you might be thinking of. It’s F-requency. If you use a word or type of word too frequently, the reader will begin to gloss over it and when you need it to increase the meaning or signal increased tension/danger/heat, you won’t have anything left. This holds true whether your character uses graphic cursing or fluffy words.
I’ve often seen questions from other writers – How much is too much ___ (insert topic)? They are looking for the easy formula. How far can they go in sexually explicit scenes? How much foul language can they include? All publishers have guidelines. These range from very strict to fairly lax. So the easy answer to these questions is know the publisher you’re aiming at.
On a personal level, however, in my capacity as a writer, crit partner, and editor (at two very different publishing houses), as well as in my role as a reader, the best advice I can give a writer is to develop your writing skills so as not to rely too heavily on any one element in your craft. Learn how to show the rough side of your hero without having every other word out of his mouth be the F-bomb (the original meaning). Learn how to show the sensual side of your heroine without having her lose her clothing at every turn. Unless the story is completely about sex, sprinkling some sexual tension throughout the book is great but pages and pages of sexual encounter between two mutually attracted cops while the bad guys are out robbing banks does nothing for your story. When you do have a hot scene to include, the one that counts (that is, the one that shows the change in relationship between the hero and heroine) will have much greater impact if you haven’t written five of them previously in the same story.
And lest folks think I’m picking on the more graphic genres, anything can be overused. It doesn’t have to be those elements which lead a story to be classified as high heat or graphic language. Comedy can miss the mark when used too frequently. Convenient coincidence can be too convenient. Too much mystery can leave a reader with too much confusion.
Remember, the F-requency Bomb is not your friend. Overuse of any story element only creates boredom in the minds of your readers. Be creative in the way you show things, and always be on the lookout for the next trend YOU can set.
Happy writing, happy reading!