The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren (Hi, Ronel!) and Mary Aalgaard. Don’t forget to stop by their online homes, knock on the figurative door, and make yourself as comfy as a Dwarf in a Hobbit Hole.
October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
Let’s preface this entire post with one firm pillar: I Write Romance. Yep. That kind, with the bodily fluids and the unambiguous descriptions of bits and probably the word moist. Romance itself is a HUGE, diverse genre full of many topics which are . . . edgy. Taboo romance, especially, likes to toe that fine tightrope between ‘wow that’s hot’ and ‘WOAH that’s not right’. The stated job of erotic romance is to explore many different kinds of sexualities, most of which are outside the traditional cis-het view of traditional. Respectful, quiet missionary position in the dark is not a staple of erotic romance. All fantasies, sexualities, partnerships, and body types are welcome.
And when it comes to exploring human sexuality, the ‘Nope’-line is different for every reader. One big part of being a romance fan, reader, and reviewer is to make sure and highlight the tropes, kinks, and generally what other readers can expect from a book. It’s not a spoiler, because no plot points are being explained ahead of time. It’s more like a menu other fans can choose from and say ‘oh yeah, I’m definitely in the mood for this’. Authors are well aware of this, and tend to tease with trope lists (I’ve done that myself), or put either content warnings or explicit ‘this book contains….’ lists in their material. As an example, indie author Aveda Vice is excellent at including these right in her front pages, like for her debut book, Feed. To my knowledge, that’s not a feature in other book genres. Although a book blurb for, say, YA will often tease the tropes it has.
I like to say that provoking pearl-clutching is both business and a pleasure for me. And in the genre I write, it’s pretty much a feature.
But that’s not entirely true. This month’s question has made me think about whether I have a line, and where I draw it. And when I consider, there are definite areas which are no longer deemed ‘provocative’ (good) because they have crossed into ‘harmful’ (bad).
Even in this seemingly wild jungle of kinky sexy times, there are definite lines which are engraved in stone. These things are not welcome in the jungle, to stretch the metaphor. No romance author will write something A) genuinely non-consensual B) not between consenting adults or C) which causes actual physical harm one of the partners didn’t explicitly say yes to. If you feel like you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct. The word of the day is consent. It’s a big one in romance.
Readers, reviewers, publishers, and other authors come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who flouts these rules. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and it causes a lot of controversy. To be honest, we’re still pretty annoyed with E.L. James and her incredibly bad portrayal of BDSM in 50 Shades of Grey and that’s over a decade old.