Sunday, January 21, 2018

Erotica: When It Works, When It Doesn't

Apparently, sex education has been spoofed for . . .
forever. E.M. Forster gently spoofs it at the beginning of
Maurice, and 3rd Rock from the Sun spoofs it (see above).
After all, human beings use humor to alleviate discomfort.
Erotica--artistic works that deliberately and directly address sexuality--falls into at least four categories, from least successful to most successful.

1) Boring. 

This form of erotica is exceedingly common in romance paperbacks. The sex is so pedestrian, it turns into a recitation of mechanical parts in a car manual. Monty Python cleverly spoofs this approach in The Meaning of Life: sex education reduced to the tedious standard of, well, most high school courses.

Often "it's boring" is linked to . . .

2) Filler. 

In many paperback romances, even I'm sorry to say M/M, the sex scenes have a "tacked on" feel. There are even times when the sex scene feels not all that dissimilar to the extra death in a murder mystery (as Agatha Christie would amusingly admit): a way to up the word count.

As a writing exercise, I have edited pages of erotica in order to bring them down to manageable and frankly more interesting proportions. The original problem was not simply a lack of character development or plot. Nor was it the immorality. It was the utter lack of anything. Car manuals at least have some sort of climax: I figured out what that light on the dashboard means! 

3) Integral to the story.

Erotica that aids the plot is the type of erotica that people who pour scorn on erotica will mention when they discuss sex scenes: "I don't approve unless it's part of the story."

Truthfully, however, good erotica is not only part of the story, it is the story. That is, the story is as much about the sexual relationship as it is about the spiritual and emotional relationship. Consequently, "being integral to the story" doesn't automatically make the erotica good since a stupid story will by default have stupid erotica.

When it is good, it can be very good. Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life is a strong example. The story is about college students in love and since they are modern, secular college students, sex is part of the equation. The outcome is not judgment. The outcome is a reflection of human behavior.
Phil Farrand: "In the standard uniform, Troi becomes
a serious professional woman of the same standing
as Crusher . . . Certainly, Troi's physical beauty is not
diminished by clothing it in a standard uniform. Indeed,
I find it enhanced--for there remains room for subtlety."

Likewise, Starting with a Kiss by Yuka Nitta is quite bluntly about the use of sex as a power--both to subdue and entice. And Twittering Birds deals successfully with the end run of a sexual masochist (he's rapidly burning himself out).

4) It's about what isn't there.

I consider this the most powerful form of erotica, mostly because it is so understated and
underappreciated. Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey suspense romance series falls into this category: the sex is hot . . . at least one assumes it is. She allows the implications of "what happened next" to stand without detail.

Anyone who doubts the potential hotness of the "unshown" or unspoken, never watch old-time movies. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious don't fade to black; rather, they walk away the viewer: what they do next is nobody else's business. Privacy becomes a form of passion.

Charlie Cochrane's M/M Cambridge Fellows Mysteries utilizes a similar approach. The writer deliberately leaves things up to the imagination, which delivers a far more charged response. It entails clever writing and, to be honest, clever readers.

Less clever readers can fall back on boring filler.

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