Why erotica is unique as a genre

Genre fiction is driven by story. That’s why good storytellers can outsell better writers. Dan Brown is certainly not a powerful stylist with the written word, and in fact he has some bad stretches of writing in his books, but he can tell a story that keeps the readers turning pages.

It seems to me you can make an argument that erotica is a bit different from other genres in that story isn’t nearly as important. I know there are plenty of fine erotic novels with compelling stories, but there are also plenty of erotic works where the story is secondary and really just serves as a vehicle to move from one salacious encounter to the next.

The infamous classic Fanny Hill is one of the latter. The story is simplicity itself. Fanny Hill comes to London as a teenager, loses her virginity, and begins to work as a prostitute, and is eventually reunited with her first love (and lover) for a happily ever after. It’s really just a series of sexual encounters. We see no real character growth in Fanny other than seeing her transformed from a young innocent into a worldly woman who enjoys sex. Lots of sex.

We read erotica to become titillated, to — let’s face it — become aroused. Other genres rely on story to give their readers what they want. If mystery fans like seeing the world made right again and having order restored, it takes a story to do that. If romance fans want to see the heroine find happiness and live happily ever after, a story is required. With erotica the readers expectations are fulfilled not by story but by description of sex acts. Story can get in the way, even, if there’s too much of it. Have you ever found yourself skimming an erotic work to get to the good part, the next sex scene?

Story in erotica is not without merit, of course. We want some story. We want a setting and a backdrop. We need some literary foreplay to pull us into the work. A good piece of erotica strikes a balance between the amount of story and the space devoted to the sexy stuff.

That’s what I try to do in my erotica. I want to create interesting characters and make them walk and talk enough so that the reader can begin to identify with them. Then I want to make them do the things that the readers are eager to see them do.  If I pull it off, readers, writer, and characters all go home happy.

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