Reading erotica, am I expecting too much?

I’ve been given a Kindle and this last week I’ve transfered my library of unread ebooks from my laptop to the Kindle, which has spurred me into catching up with my outstanding erotic reading list and it seems I’m expecting too much from my erotica.

What I want from a story, any story, is this:

  • Characters I can engage with, who’s actions are believable and reflect their personal truths.
  • A plot that, even if fantastical, has emotional depth and truth.
  • Setting that adds to the dramatic force of the narrative.
  • Relationships that are believable and cohesive within the structure of the narrative.
  • If there is sex, and after all if we’re talking erotica there really should be sex, it should be compelling, the descriptions should affect my senses and take me into the scene.

Is that too much to ask?  It would seem so if the erotica I’ve read recently is anything to go by.

I’ve also been reading contemporary and 20th century fiction and there’s no comparison.

One of the most sensual books I’ve read recently was The Rose Of Sebastopol, set at the time of the Crimean War.  The book is breathtaking in its descriptions of people and place, the writing radiates sexual tension yet there is only one, very chastely described, sex scene in it.

In  The Magus, by John Fowles, one of the most intensely erotic scenes I’ve read is that of Lilly/Julie masturbating Nicholas in the sea.  Goodness me but Nicholas Urfe is an unlikable character, yet the writing transports you into the water with him.  I don’t have a cock but I could feel his desire of the woman, feel my insides twist with his, I was as seduced as he was through my senses via words on a page.

These books are not sold as erotica, yet they did what so much of the erotica I’ve been reading has failed to do; they moved me.  They aroused and excited me.  Not in a hands down pants kind of way either, they aroused my senses and my intellect, which, for me, is the sure path to the more base arousal.

So please, writers, make me want your writing, make me want your characters, make me give a fuck about them and their story and then I might, just might want to fuck them too.

Photo credit : Toastytreat via Flickr

16 Responses to Reading erotica, am I expecting too much?

  1. Sessha Batto November 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    AMEN!! I want to be surprised by their choices, occasionally, as well.

    • Ruby November 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Oh yes, but the choices, even the surprising ones have to be believable or they jar you out of the story.

  2. Squeaky November 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    i think far too much fiction is labelled “erotica” when it should most definitely not be. it should perhaps be relabelled “porn”. which is just as valuable, but for different reasons. porn engages the sex drive first – erotica engages the brain first. it may or may not affect the sex drive, too – but we all have different tastes, after all. you are absolutely right to ask the question, and the answer is, no – you are not expecting too much of your erotica. you expect the same of any other genre, so why should erotica be any different?
    it’s the writing, and how the erotic/sensual elements are used, that matters.

    i know i’m preaching to the choir, here, but i will reiterate -the most potent sexual organ we have is the brain, which is why erotica can affect us so much more deeply, even with ittle or no traditionally recognised sex.

    as my mum always told me: engage brain first.

    • Ruby November 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

      I’m not even sure that it is a porn/erotica distinction that bothers me, some of the short scenes I’ve written might well be classed as both, it just that well if it doesn’t all fit together as a well told tale then I’m disappointed.
      And your mum was right, mums tend to be though, don’t they?

  3. Monocle November 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Hey Ruby. It doesn’t seem like it should be too much to ask. You’re looking for literary erotica, by at least some of the definitions of the term. It is there to be had. I think your twitter stream actually has the keys to a lot of it. I also found that when you don’t see enough of what it is you want to read, you end up writing some of it yourself. Through that, through connecting with readers and other writers in the process, I think that’s how you scratch that itch.

    • Ruby November 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      Thanks Raz, believe me I know which writers can scratch my itch and yes, many of them I’ve found through Twitter. Maybe that’s a part of my frustration, that some of the first writers of erotica that I read were the ones that have a quality to their craft.
      I’m not too keen on the distinction of “literary” within any genre, it almost suggests that writing well is in itself a sub-genre. In all other genres there are great storytellers whose work wouldn’t necessarily be thought to be literary, yet they write well. I don’t need my erotica or any book I read to be literary, I just want it to be written well!

  4. Julie November 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    I agree with all your points, and the comments above, but most of all thank you for reminding me of The Magus..I sneakily read my parents copy in my teens, and have always had it on my “must reread” list!

    • Ruby November 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      Oh my word I can only imagine the effect The Magus must have had on a teenage mind. I came late to it, but loved it.

  5. Catherine Leary November 27, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    I absolutely do not think you’re expecting too much. I see no reason why erotica shouldn’t be held to the same standards as other genres…but it isn’t. I have no idea why.

    • Ruby November 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

      Hi Catherine,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I wonder if it isn’t something to do with the rapidity of output in the genre, particularly via ebooks. If the books I’ve been reading had been self-published I could understand if not forgive a lack of polish, however these are books that have been sent out into the world via publishers, which would then lead us on to consider how much a role or duty a publisher has to develop their writers and deliver quality content to the reader.

      • Sessha Batto November 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

        Much as with romance (which a lot of erotica is, let’s face it), each publisher seems to have very specific parameters within which their stories fall. HEA/HFN/love (even in the most unlikely of circumstances) are required elements. Add to that the new tendency toward short stories/novellas in long drawn out series, and you get a repetitiveness bordering on insanity. Yet, it works for them, or they wouldn’t do it. I can only reach the conclusion that those plot lines are most popular with their audience, who does not seem at all put off by the repetition.

  6. trepverten November 30, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    I think the above points mostly cover the things I want to say, but I get the sense that with a lot of erotica (and frankly, from what I see in many of the calls for submissions, ~publisher-driven erotica) is exactly what Sessha mentions: formulaic, predictable, easily categorized works. It may well be that what’s profitable or marketable is bad because it doesn’t do what good literature should: introduce complexity into the equation. It’s too simplistic, I often find, and that to me is bad writing, no matter what the label.

  7. HH January 13, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Dear Ruby: I really appreciate your high standards and your writing. I wonder what you think of mine. Here’s the blog:

    In terms of what you’re looking for, I’ll tell you right now that there’s not much of a plot, it’s more episodic so you can pick up anywhere. But I think you may enjoy the other elements you desire in erotica.

    Give it a shot and get back to me. I’d appreciate it.


  8. Ashley Allonby January 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Dear Ruby,
    Perhaps you ought to redirect your attention to earlier literary works in your search for satisfying erotica.
    Throughout much of last year I have been working on a thesis on 18th century manners as portrayed in the literature of the time and, whilst examining some letters held by the descendants of Jane Austen’s literary agent, I came across the following exchange between Miss Austen and the agent in question – a Mister Thomas Egerton. I have transcribed the letters below. I’m sure you’ll find them very interesting and I’m also sure that you’ll agree with me that the correspondence ought to provoke a re-examination of the work of a novelist we so often associate with gentility and decorum.

    Dear Mister Egerton
    On your advice I have looked again at the first draft of my manuscript “Pride and Prejudice” and I now think that you are indeed correct; there is not, as it stands at present, enough here to capture the reader’s passions.
    I have, as a consequence, reworked the most recent pages I sent you in the hope that you will find the story much improved.
    Yours sincerely
    Jane Austen.

    A bright sun shone onto the garden of Longbourne. Mister Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett were out strolling together. They had taken a path some way from the house and, when he was assured that they could not be overseen, Mr Darcy spoke.
    “Miss Bennett,” he said. “As you are aware, I truly value your opinion on things and would like you to peruse this.”
    Elizabeth Bennett turned to Mr Darcy in order to contemplate the object in question. She tipped her head indicating that she found the object of some interest.
    “It is indeed,” she said, “a most curious item Mister Darcy but not one with which I am altogether unfamiliar.”
    The gentleman appeared somewhat disappointed by this riposte.
    “My father’s gardener,” the young woman continued, “with whom you are familiar, has on three separate occasions requested that I manipulate the self-same instrument he has in his possession. It was a request I venture to say to which I felt it desirable to acquiesce. But I shall say – and I do hope my words will allay any fears Mister Darcy – that yours is most splendidly proportioned. Allowed me to examine the item in more detail.”
    Grown bold both by the compliment and her warm firm grasp upon his instrument. Mister Darcy found it pertinent to say:
    “Miss Bennett I should feel myself favoured were you to allow me to …

  9. HH January 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Dear Ruby,

    I think the idea of Eroticon is great, but unfortunately I’m in the States and won’t be able to attend. I suspect a lot of people are similarly prevented from attending. Any chance you could have a parallel event on-line? I’m not sure how it would work, but perhaps discussion forums to talk about various aspects of writing, publishing, etc.



    • Ruby January 30, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      Hi HH
      Thanks for the feedback.
      I definitely want to do an online version or an online community as a compliment to the conference, but that’s going to have to wait till after March 3rd!


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