There’s a challenge in writing erotic literature: which should one emphasise: plot and character development, or ensuring plenty of the hot and sexy? Of course the writer can, and arguably should, provide both, perhaps depending on goals and marketing angle.
I noticed an algorithm on sale that throws this question into relief: the AI audiobooks service by Amazon’s Audible brand has a function called (without mincing words) “Take Me to the Good Part,” allowing the listener to jump straight to pivotal action and sex scenes in romance audiobooks. Options include ‘first meeting’ and ‘sexual tension’, thanks to algorithms that scan for relevant keywords.
I wonder whether this will become available for written text too. And whether it will extend to other genres – skip to the scary bits in a thriller of horror, for instance.
Presumably the assumption behind this piece of technology is that readers – or many of them at any rate – are reading steamy romance only for the “sexy bits”. Indeed, the company has said the feature was created in response to reader feedback.
Such selectivity (or impatience) may be true for some, but it is also evident many readers of romance and erotica want a clearly defined plot, character development, perhaps twists and mystery too. Some readers are evidently ‘turned off’ if it takes too many pages to get to the sex scenes, yet others object to jumping straight in on the carnal, preferring first to get acquainted with characters and plot line. Romance and erotica have many sub genres and crossovers, and as many sets of expectation as there are individual readers.
This means the writer will never be sure where the criticism (or appreciation) is going to lie – focus on the heavy spice… but where’s the story, the rounded and relatable characters? Craft your plot and develop your characters… but I thought this was meant to be erotica; where are the thrills?
So the challenge lies in meeting the tropes and expectations of a genre whilst also producing something well written in terms of literary characteristics. It’s a test I guess exists across all genre fiction. The psychological mystery that needs to draw you into the tangled web of its convoluted tale then resolve itself in a satisfyingly clever way, for example, all whilst maintaining a wide cast of convincing characters and quality writing.
And that’s fine. Writers have a responsibility to strive towards a high bar, even if they don’t fully succeed each time. And even if, it goes without saying, they will not please all of the readers all of the time.