Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some Like It Hot, Some Like It "Not"

In the paraphrased words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “Pornography itself is hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”

Which leads to an interesting question: What if what one person sees as “pornography”, another person sees as “erotica”? Who’s right? What defines the difference?

Having just read one of the hottest historical romances I’ve picked up in a long time (Anna Campbell’s TEMPT THE DEVIL), I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. This book was a non-stop lesson in how to keep the sexual tension level high throughout an entire book, filled with fantastic love scenes that might make your mom blush, without ever dipping into the realm of what might be deemed “pornography”. How does a writer do that?

For me, it’s three things: tone, language, and emotion.

Tone is where the author decides, beforehand, exactly how explicit they want to be. Are they going to take the reader to the bedroom door and then close it gently in their face, or are they going to set up a camera so the reader can watch the action? :-D You can still write extremely sexy scenes without describing the act itself, after all, but is that what works for the book? Is that what works for the reader of the book?

The second, and most obvious, way to determine whether a book is truly naughty or not is language. What words does the author use to describe those body parts?

I had a fun and interesting discussion with some of my writing buds the other day, regarding what naughty words were okay to use in which situation. And right now I’m going to use a bunch of them to make my point, so cover your eyes if you’re shy. ;-) All the same body part, each a different way of describing it. In fact, I’m going to ask you to rate them and see if your opinion agrees with mine:

1) Penis
2) D*ck (okay, okay, so I couldn’t quite bring myself to trigger the spam filter!)
3) C*ck
4) Purple-helmeted warrior of love (hey, people have written it!)
5) Male member
6) Hardness

Each of these words sets a “tone”, doesn’t it? Some of these words are perfect for pornography, but they’re also perfect for erotica, so I’m back to asking, what’s the difference?

Personally, I think is the answer is emotion. If I’m reading a sex scene, using the naughtier of these words, and I don’t feel an emotional connection to the characters, it’s pornography. If I’m reading a sex scene, using even stronger words than these, but I feel emotionally invested in the characters, it’s erotica. If I’m reading a sex scene that uses very little explicit language and no mental “camera-view”, it’s erotic (without the “a”).

What about you? Does the use of certain words turn you off, regardless, or is it all about the emotion? Which of those words above do you find “pornographic”, and which would you find erotic? (You can use the number instead of the words, if you like!)

Oh, and if you’ve read a book with a more ridicular turn of phrase than “purple-helmeted warrior of love”, I’d love to hear about it! :-)


Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Miss Terri, thank you for that lovely wrap for TEMPT THE DEVIL! I'm so glad you love it!!! It's interesting, the choice of language, isn't it? If asked, I definitely have words that I don't like. But it's odd - if I'm really wrapped up in a story and one of those words pops up (oops, perhaps that's not a term I should use in this context!), usually I'll go with it. I think it's all in the emotion. When I wrote CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, I'd never in writing and rarely in real life used the word c*ck. But I needed the hero to refer to, ahem, THAT and Kylemore didn't seem a man to use phrases like purple helmeted warrior of love. ROTFLMAO! So I got braver in my language and I think I got braver in my writing as a result. So looking forward to YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I HAUNTS - by the way, you have the best titles in the biz!

Anna Campbell said...

Sorry, too early in the morning. That should be YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I HAUNT!

Terri said...

I know exactly what you mean about "going with it" if you're wrapped up in it enough. I noticed you used the "f" word a few times in TEMPT THE DEVIL, and while I usually despise that word between lovers in a romance novel, I didn't even blink, because you had me emotionally involved enough to know that no other word would do. :-)

Thanks for the great read!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Miss Terri, you're most welcome. I did use the f word a few times (I'm tempted to be childish and go F-bomb!) in Tempt but it seemed to suit those particular characters, who were hardly blushing violets! I find writers' choice of language a fascinating topic!

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered the same thing......BTW, love #4!!!

KimbasKicks said...

Thanks for the recommended read!! ;P


Terri said...

How could you beat #4, I ask you?

(Okay, that would be an interesting exercise... throbbing piston of love, perhaps?)