Monday, June 02, 2008

Explicit....and then there's Harlequin Romance

I mentioned in my post on reader expectations how with Romance you do not get an explicit read. That is one of the "guidelines" for the Romance line. Your characters may or may not have sex but the bedroom door will be closed.

Well, except when it's not.

For what it's worth, so far with me I have only had my characters consummate their relationship ONCE in the six books I've written for Romance. And indeed, the bedroom door was shut. That's not necessarily intentional, by the way. In that book, sex wasn't in the plan. But it worked. In the others, I didn't consciously NOT have them do it, it just didn't fit the stories. Whenever you put sex in a book, it has to do one of two has to complicate matters, or it provides a temporary resolution and goes on to make things complicated. The main thing is sometimes sex can take all the tension out of a book.

Lots of people like their books hot, and there's been great debate over the RWA's decision to do away with the Traditional category for the RITA's. It was getting to be a smaller and smaller category, especially after Silhouette Romance merged with Harlequin Romance. I get that. And I think story-wise, Romance can stand up against any other short romance line out there.

But there will always be those whose tastes run to the spicier and who just don't like Romance. That's fine...people are allowed to like what they like. I don't expect everyone to enjoy my books. Goodness knows I like me some hot reading too. I really enjoy a lot of the Presents Extras right now as well as those lovely steamy historicals. So do I think that Romance is at a disadvantage sometimes, going head to head with these books? Yes. Do I think that is a reflection on the quality of the books? No way. It just is what it is, and so I don't get all fired up about it.

If you go back to the branding topic, the readers know what they want, and lots of people still want Romance so whether or not we're all in one category for an award doesn't matter a lot as long as the market for the stories is there.

So let's get back to the "except when it's not" comment I made earlier. I read Marion Lennox's latest recently and lo and behold my jaw dropped at a fully consummated love scene right there. That's not usually done, but it was lovely. And so here we can highlight another difference with Romance...though the scene went from start to finish, it wasn't overly explicit. There was of course a certain level, but the language was less of the sex and more of the emotion of the scene.

And even when characters DON'T have sex, that certainly doesn't mean there's not a certain level of sensuality to it. I love books that simmer with tension but hold back just that that you're teased throughout the book like that moment just before a kiss, when you have your breath held and you're waiting for that first touch of lips on lips....

I love writing for the Romance line. There's a lot of scope there. It can be very sensual and with lots of sexual tension, but the reason I love the books so much is that because there is little reliance on the physical relationship being consummated, so they have a lot of depth. They are often called Big Books in Little Format. That sense of a big book comes from the focus on internal conflict and deep emotion of the characters.

I also think that's why authors that write for Romance also do extremely well in other lines. They have done their apprenticeship on focus and depth and so when they do branch out, their stories stand out too.

Have I stirred the pot? What are your thoughts on the whole explicit/non-explicit issue? I'd love to hear some comments.


  1. You know, I rarely ever notice when a book doesn't have a sex scene--explicit or otherwise--if the story is good enough. I rarely pay attention to it. I don't read romances for sex scenes. I don't mind if they DO have explicit sex but I don't care if they don't. Make sense? For me, it's ALL about the story. If the emotion's there I'm totally enthralled.

    One thing I CAN'T stand are novels that quite obviously have explicit sex just for the sake of having explicit sex. If there's no true emotional elements or the emotional elements are secondary to the sex, I quit reading it. I quit reading Blazes for that reason. Too many of the ones I'd read were "sex for the sake of sex" and the love story got pushed to the backburner if it was even there at all.

    I want to see the characters falling in LOVE not lust. I'm just old fashioned that way.

  2. Harlequin Romance is my favorite line. One of the most beloved authors who ever wrote for Harlequin was Betty Neels and if they shared a kiss by the end of the book that was something. She is still selling like crazy even though she is deceased all these years. Keep up the good work . I will buy Romance until it isnt there anymore.

  3. What lovely reader comments!
    As they've suggested, it's all in the writing, isn't it -- and the characters? A beautifully written sex scene can have all kinds of intimate details and still be moving -- take La Vyrle Spencer, for example. And then other stories like Betty Neels's are equally moving with little more than a warm glance and kiss.