One of the best love scenes I’ve ever read in a romance novel described a man simply taking a woman’s hand to help her out of a car. By the time the four paragraphs were over, I would have ripped his clothes off myself, had I been the heroine. He didn’t say a word to her. She didn’t speak to him. But the attraction, the longing, the heat conveyed made me close the book, put it down, shut my eyes, and deeply sigh with satisfaction. No one was naked, and tongues had not made any appearance whatsoever.
Everyone keeps saying that erotica is the thing to be writing. It’s the market lion now, they say. Readers want dark, rough, and dubious consent, they say. You need to get to the fucking, or they lose interest, they say. Many of us keyboard warriors are having panic attacks if we don’t have naked people on the page in the first 100 words.
Forgive my language, but I call supreme poppycock.
Look, I enjoy a 5-vibrator level story as much as the next red-blooded human. There’s a time and a place for soliloquys about Olympic- level wall banging and 14 people in the same bed. It’s all good. But I will respectfully submit that much of it is NOT romance.
From the bible, AKA Oxford’s English:
Romance – noun – a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love; a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.
Given this picture, I would say that most erotic fiction being pumped out today is neither mysterious nor filled with love. Again, I’m not trying to hate on squishy stuff. But I can truthfully say that I have never felt that warmth-suffused swoon from anyone getting called “Daddy”.
I once asked my good friend and mentor Cristen Harber at what point should you put a physically romantic encounter between the main characters. I believe my exact question was, “They haven’t gotten busy yet and it’s the fifth chapter! Nobody is going to read this!” She gave me the best answer yet. “They should touch when they should touch, they should fuck when they should fuck. Not before. So relax and tell the story.”
That is the secret to good romance. Because it was done right, that touch of hands that to this day makes me swoon was the best foreplay in a book ever. By the time these two characters DID get naked, I was nearly hysterical with anticipation, and it is still one of the hottest books I have ever read.
Because it wasn’t squishy. It was romance.
To conclude, I quote my editor. When asked if two chapters of foreplay was too much, her answer was simple, direct, and right on the money.
“Not if it’s good foreplay.”