Saturday, August 23, 2008

Spicy Filling: erotic romance middles

Erotic romance is different. No kidding, you say? I know I'm stating the obvious, but not only is the explicitness and amount of heat different, the structure is too.

In ER, you have different challenges. How do you maintain sexual tension after your characters have sex in Chapter 3 (or chapter 1 - whatever)? They have already done the "horizontal mambo." So what's left?

It takes work to hold the readers' interest. With a novella, you are building a simpler story with few extraneous characters. Things go from point A to point B. But I primarily write novels, not novellas which requires an entirely different skill set. I admire those folks that can craft a short yet enjoyable read. Now, I have written a novella, but I'm more at home with a novel because I'm one of those people who finds herself perpetually hovering around 100,000 words or more. (In person, I talk a lot too.)

Erotic romance novel writers have to cook up a spicy filling that keeps the reader reading. So how do you write a hot middle? I wish I knew. It would be great if there was a formula, but there isn't. However, there are a few tips I can offer from experience.

So the most important tip I can offer is to make each and every scene relevant. The love scenes matter and they must matter. No gratuitous quickies for me. If you can take a sex scene out of the story, it might still be a romance, but it is not an erotic romance. Not to me. A love scene must move the story forward and/or reveal character. If it doesn't, it doesn't belong.

In ER, the hero and heroine may get physical in chapter 1 (or it may happen a bit later, depending on the author). The challenge is to keep the relationship challenging without the reader wanting to throw the book against a wall. Different authors take varying approaches.

Me? I like my H/H to be stuck with each other and have to work it out. I use that method in my shapeshifter stories and I used it again in the medieval, paranormal I've written.

My shapeshifter h/h are True Mates which means they bond immediately. Whether they are a lot alike or complete opposites, they've got to go through all that stuff that happens as two lives start to intertwine. This is perfect for adding conflict to a story because they can't leave each other. They can try, but they know they'll be miserable. If you throw in some external stuff (like in Protect and Defend my H/H are being stalked by a serial killer) then you can move your story and still have all the heat the reader can handle.

With my medieval, paranormal my characters are human but marry one another very early in the story. In the 1100s, once you married you stayed married. There was no way out. Now, it is possible for problems to occur between the characters which keep them at odds, but I prefer to throw external conflict at my characters so they are forced to work together. In the case of Seeking Truth, my hero's dying foster mother is the main conflict with my heroine's evil father thrown in later for good measure. In the meantime, every time my hero and heroine are physical with one another they build their relationship. Until finally, they are fully making love. Sigh. I love that.

That's how I do it, but it is definitely NOT the only way. So, all you erotic romance writers out there? How do you keep the filling spicy? And if you don't write ER, what do you do to keep your hero and heroine fighting for their happily ever after?


  1. Hi Francesca. Actually I've approached writing the middle in the same ways you have.
    If there are external circumstances which compel them to work together, or they are stuck with each other, well, the fur may fly on my shapeshifters, but so does their sizzling passion for each other.

  2. Thanks for dropping by and posting a comment Savanna. I have to admit I'm a sucker for the external. Often when I read, I get annoyed with simple miscommunication, hiding secrets and the like. With my shifters, they can't hide anything because as the bond develops they start telepathic communication. Makes for interesting relationships. ;-)

  3. Francesca, I like your approach to conflict in ER. Definitely that is how I would handle it if it were my genre. I have great respect for ER writers because I think love scenes are difficult to write and I would avoid it if I could so to write more than two love scenes is damn scary for me. Keeping it fresh, genuine and hot...lady, my hat is off to you.


  4. Francesca, interesting blog post. I write many varieties of contemporary and often have the sagging middle problem. You gave me some new ideas to try. Thanks! :-)

    Barrie Abalard

  5. Hi Francesca,Loved your blog. Sagging middles are the bane of my existence. I think that your method of "forcing" your characters into a relationship works well to sustain the conflict in an ER. I also have to agree with you about getting annoyed when simple miscommunications are the main source of conflict. That never works for me either:-)

  6. Talia, Barrie and Cindy,
    Thanks for stopping by to post. If I gave you guys some ideas I'm really happy and if you want to offer up any other suggestions that'd be great!