What is Erotic Fiction?

This might seem like an odd question to someone who found their way to the website of an erotic fiction writer.  It’s not.  It’s a complicated question.  Why?  Well, we all have a gut feel for what we believe the answer should be, but few can articulate that feeling with words other than the tired old, “I’ll know it when I see it,” or maybe, “my definition is about what you’d expect.”  Sometimes, we forget that a gut feeling is a matter of taste, not definition.

No one person on this planet thinks like any other.  That’s what makes the world go around.  We all have different opinions (and tastes) about everything, including what constitutes erotic fiction.  The opinions range from a sweet romance  with a few somewhat “active” elements, to a raunchy story that’s just shy of pornographic.  A reader expecting one end of the spectrum will be disappointed by a story aimed at the other.

The ends of the spectrum are pretty well defined (in my humble opinion, although simplified for the current discussion).  A romance is a relationship story that ends “Happily For Now” (a change from the former “Happily Ever After”).  Pornography is a vehicle used solely to showcase the plumbing.  Erotic Fiction is everything in the middle.

Think of it this way…

Erotic Fiction is also known in certain circles as Erotic Romance.  That means it must not only have elements of a relationship story, but that the relationship must be working its way toward an HFN, if not an HEA.  Erotic Fiction is also known in certain circles as Erotica.  Erotica is generally defined as something that is sexually stimulating or arousing.  That means it must be brave enough to “not” fade to black when the couple embraces and the shirt falls to the floor.

How many “active elements” are required in that sweet romance?  How much plumbing is too much to remain “just shy” of pornography?  Those are the points that people often debate.  They’re also matters of personal taste, NOT definition.

To a first-time reader, or someone who stumbles across the story thinking it’s something else, one “active” element might almost be too much.  To a reader who basically dines on skin magazines, there might never be enough activity in any given story.  Neither will agree on the correct amount of “erotic” in their Erotic Fiction.  Accordingly, we should focus on something else to answer the question, something that advocates on either side of the issue often forget.

Erotic Fiction has two words in its name.

Fiction is make believe.  Fiction is entertainment.  Fiction is there to take us places we can’t go… to let us live in someone else’s shoes… to throw us into dangerous situations where our hearts are hammering and we get dizzy because its hard to breathe, but where we never leave the safe comforts of our own couch.  Fiction allows us to explore, for a brief while, the paths not taken.

Is there a story?  Did the character learn anything in that story?  Was there a try / fail cycle (or a try / succeed cycle that ended in things somehow becoming a helluva lot worse)?  Do we have a character with newfound wisdom at the end of the story?

If the answers to these questions are “yes,” we have fiction.  It’s that simple.  If we have newfound wisdom that brings the character one step closer to achieving an HEA (or at least an HFN), we have romance.  Finally, if we have active elements (no matter how many or how energetic), we do not have pornography, since we have the first two elements.  We have Erotic Fiction, instead.  Whether it’s “good” Erotic Fiction or “bad” Erotic Fiction is simply a matter of taste… but there’s nothing wrong with different tastes.  Different tastes are what makes the world go around.