Reader Desensitization with Romantica

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I'm playing a bit of catchup with blog hopping, before I knuckle down to writing. Over onJordan Summer's site, she asks: "Do you think that readers are so desensitized with content that only multiple, bolder, more graphic depictions reach them?"

I wrote out my reply and then realized I was sucking up all the air (which I tend to do when Jordan starts one of her excellent dialogues). Added to the fact that I've been fairly skimpy on the blog posting, I decided to post my blow-hard reply here. btw, check out Jordan's post. Losts of great replies so far, that are way more consise than my following ramble:

In short I think it's desensitizing in two ways that are very dividing. You do have a core group of folks who now want *more*. Last year's taboo act, is now standard and expected. And just like peeps have complained out the dominance of the regency in historical romances, while publishers continued to put them out because the sales numbers said otherwise, until the 'edgier' epubb'ed romantica sales drop, you're going to see more of the same. Then there are the readers who've become desensitize to romantica and gone elsewhere for their reading pleasure.

No one can deny that there is a segment of erotica/romantica reading audience who *are* reading for content. They want to be turned on and titilated. They want details and lots of it. They expect a certain amount of sex/heat and in fact may be *specifically* looking for a minimum of certain acts/situations. ie, m/m/f or oral, or anal, etc.,

I'll admit that I sort of fell into this group years ago when I first started reading romantica. If I was taking the trouble to seek it out, buy it, and read it, then it had better be far more erotic than I would find in the average BLAZE, BRAVA or even in works by the more racier ST authors.

So content was big thing with me. BUT, I always wanted story too, with emotional conflict and character development. I knew, in part, there had to be a trade off. Good writing, plot, characterization, sexual tension and lots of sex scenes within a limited page count by mostly untried writers, and edited (at that time) by unseasoned editors? Even with a veteran writer/editor team up, that combination is a very hard balancing/blending act to achieve. Thing is, I expected that practice would bring us closer to perfect. But in reality practice seemed to be focusing one aspect--pushin the envelope with the sexual stuff--while the other stuff, *in many instances* wasn't keeping pace or even falling back.

Before where you see a glimmer of great writing, strong characters, etc, you were getting paper-thin plot with LOTS more sex!

Yawn. For me.Boredom could be argued to be a type of desensitization, isn't it? But rather than needing/wanting more for the same thrill--which is where a number of peeps think this subgenre is heading-- I just looked elsewhere because the satisfaction *for me* was two characters coming together on a multiple of levels, not just physically.

But for others, this was great. They wanted titilation & turn on written/packaged in a way that was appealing to them--ie a 'romance' type story with the unique twists of paranomal, or with comfort of a historical, etc--and they were getting it in spades! What had seemed so erotic/exotic/taboo is now the new vanilla. I should add, that is was also great from many readers because it was empowering to see their fantasies and/or lifestyle portrayed in a positive/acceptable way.

The whole problem with the proliferation of multiple scenes/positions/partners/toys isn't really the amount, it's the portrayal without true understanding (ie BDSM for instance), or adequate meaning (the pyschology and emotion involved, nevermind conflict and plot/character development).

My very favourite type of romance will always be a well-written story, with lots of emotion, conflict, growth, characterization, good pacing & sexual tension, and great lovescenes.

Lovescenes by themselves are boring. The details stultifying. It's all the other stuff listed before that makes them effective, affecting, and Hawt! All that stuff comes before the scene, during the scene and afterwards. The lovemaking is *almost* incidental, in that it's the vechicle in which the author chooses to develope or show all those elements within a particular scene. You can't get desenstize to that.
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Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I haven't read enough to be desensitized. I'm not drawn to the hottest of the hot unless I repeatedly hear great things about the author. For example, Emma Holly.

So I can't comment on quality but certainly from the blogosphere I'm picking up the sense that readers and writers are concerned about quality in erotic romance.

vanessa jaye said...

I hate to say it Jorrie--because I truly love (well-done) romantica, and have many ebooks/and trades on my keeper shelf-- but I don't think you have to read a lot of it at this point, to be desensitize. The problem really is that bad in some quarters.

Let me put it this way, there are some romantica books out there that are the equivalent of American Pyscho, just exchange all the detailed senseless killing with detailed senseless sex acts. :-P

Jane of Dear Author, commented on Sybil's blog that she'd read several romantica in a row this week, all of them bad, one so bad it made her eyes bleed. =:-o

I think this is the way many Historical Romance readers felt when the offerings narrowed down to All Regency All the time. Or the way some category readers felt when it seemed some lines went into secret baby/virgin bride overload, or when you couldn't find a regular contemporary romance under the avalanche of Romantic-suspense offerings. What goes around, comes around again. ::shrug:: Luckily, I'm flexible and read across all genres.

Anonymous said...

It may be just me...but at one point a few months back, I read three erotic novels back-to-back. Lotsa sex. Stimulating at first, but after a while I actually started skipping over the sex scenes to look for some kind of substance.

Of course, this does not apply to "Nympho Buttf*ckers Save the Planet From the Double-Dicked Alpha Alien Brotherhood".
Now THAT was good shit. ;-)

Jordan Summers said...

Very well put. I've started reading outside of the genre big time. I've had to. I just couldn't take anymore senseless character behavior. I don't mind it if the story is fun. The sad thing is I recently read a book that I had to skim 75% to find the story. :-(

vanessa jaye said...

It's not just you Raine, that's why when it comes to *erotica* I prefer novellas & short stories.

Unless, there was more substance-to plot and/or character going on.

And that's why, at first, seemed like romantica (book-length)was going to be the perfect answer, since character/emotion/story development are essential to good romance.

Hasn't been working out that way for the most part. :-/

LOL@So you read that book too, didja? With a title like that who could resist? ;) I'm waiting for the book with the brother who's actually triple-dicked. He was my fav. heh.

Amie Stuart said...

Ya'll are so bad! I know I keep saying this but I spend so much time thinking about it and writing it I don't really want to read it. Not that I never do but....

And that's why, at first, seemed like romantica (book-length)was going to be the perfect answer

I'll admit I think that's part of the problem I'm having with Nailed =\ I've skipped two sex scenes so far

vanessa jaye said...

Jordan, I'm reading big time outside the sub-genre (by that I'm including romance as well as romantica). Romance is still my 1# favourite, but finding a really good, enjoyable read--never mind a keeper-- is getting harder and harder. I don't need a perfectly crafted book--flawless grammar, no false steps re research, etc--just give me a couple of characters I care about, and make their story interesting/engaging.

I've had a couple of those 'skimmers' also. That's part of the reason I've been able to overcome the guilt of bringing the book back and asking for a refund whenever possible. :-P

vanessa jaye said...

Amie, I have no problem, for the most part, reading romance as I write it. Then again, for the most part I write contemporary, but read mostly historicals. So that may be why.

Skipping scenes?! You mean you haven't written out the details yet, right? Just one of those *reminders* to yourself that you need to put a scene here? We all do that Ames. You can probably put in the barebones cheography, then go back and tweak/layer it, till it's done. But I see why you'd find that a reason for concern. :-P

You already know my problems with trying to write romantica/erotica. Every single time I got bored with the sex and distracted by the world-building/backstory. That was probably anothe 'red-flag' every single erotica/romantica I tried my hand at was always an attempted sci-fi or paranormal/fantasy setting. Even though I don't write those sub-genres. Looks like I was trying to keep myself amused/interested in other ways.

I know you'll pull through with NAILED, you always do, because you do focus on character and what's going on in their head. :-)

Amie Stuart said...

THanks babe! I hate to have made it a "look at me" post but it's all very timely with what I'm writing right now. =\

Yeah I left notes LOL

vanessa jaye said...

You didn't make it a 'look-at-me' post, you were on topic and brought in your own current experience to illustrate your point. :-)

btw, folks, Amie, has taken this discussion over to her own blog as well, so if you more--besides what Jordan and I have offered up-- check out Amie's blog.

vanessa jaye said...

I just read this on Anna louise Genoa's blog:

"(New Suzanne Brockmann: Into the Storm. So far, I'm not loving it. It's very perfunctory and I don't give a shit about the characters, and it seems to be suffering from the Anita Blake disease--just get everyone to have sex all the time! That's not a plot structure and it's not interesting and it's not why I read SB's books. I am only half-finished, and I can't work up any enthusiasm for the other half, so probably tomorrow during lunch, I am going to return it and ask for my money back!)

Aside from the comment about returning the book, which makes me marginally better about my recent habit of doing so (still can't quite shake the guilt, but if an editor can do it, I certainly can!) This particular part of the quote goes to the heart of the discussion we've been having:

"...just get everyone to have sex all the time! That's not a plot structure and it's not interesting ..."

vanessa jaye said...


Yes, yes, I know. I even have it in my sidebar. Her last name is spelt: 'Genoese' not 'Genoa'.


Anonymous said...

Since you linked to Jordan's blog I went there and read the comments too lol. I'm dumping it all here tho since I couldn't comment there.
. It's being talked about by authors and readers both print and e books. It often splinters into discussions on romance Vs erotica and where romantica falls. The whole recent floods on the market in the past few years--certain kinds of books, some don't appeal to every reader. I don't think we can look at conservatives as the reason for the grumbling, I prolly am in my private life, but I'll stand up and fight for anyone's right to write and publish what they want. I have written romantica . I trust the reader to make the choices and don't want any group elbowing out another. I'm against any dictatorship. So I leave that debate to readers who buy what they like. (their money talks loudest) Respectful dialogue is always more constructive. Like we have here lol. We all respect writers/readers of all genres. I dropped out of (those groups too) when I turned 40 because politics and bashing turns me off. At 45 I get to be stubborn and picky now :)and decide where my energy goes.
yet I think we're talking content here, and differences in reading taste. I see clear lines between what is romance/romantica/erotica, but my lines might not be another's.
The chatter starts when the glut goes on a long time, it becomes less about good writing and stories, and more about (erotica romance is selling, so lets publish all we can)so you get a lot of bad/weak stories that only focus on the next act, and then you have to go further and top it and keep pushing. Because you have so much out there that has been done. Like any sub of the genre, you get glut. It happens to most (elements) that are all that carries the force of the story line; FBI agents or secret babies vampires. In romance, the sex is sometimes the reward, but in stories driven by the physical, we have to have some other element to carry it. When it doesn't, there is all icing and no cake. (which some ppl like and that is cool too.)There are exceptions (ppl who can write a lot of sex and a good story) There is an awareness among some writers that you have to go further than the last book and you have to throw it all in there. If you can't pull that off with a foundation to hold it up, you're going to have readers skipping pages, looking for a story. It is no secret there is a demand for erotic romance, the guidelines are for explicitness and pushing the boundaries may be unspoken, but the pressure is there by nature of the beast. It is up to agents/publishers to define what they sell, by what they buy and put out. some are worse than others at defining what is erotic and romantic to a reader, and you get a book of sex acts with no emotion/story. Maybe it is simply a matter of taking a good thing too far, not focusing on writers who have a talent for writing stimulating sex, but rather taking on anyone and anything to supply the demand. There is pressure to write more explicit that comes from all sides.. readers and writers, I don't know that it comes from wanting more, or from a redefining of the genre language since the 80's. progress is good, opening the genre is fantastic, but dictating a writer's language and use of content by anyone is always going to cause neg. reactions--glut and overkill and sameness. The genre is defined differently by ppl inside the industry and it all has some bearing on what gets published and what a writer puts in the book. what sells drives the demand, what the publisher is buying drives the author. Sex is selling right now and we have to trust the reader to weed out those who have a talent for writing it well, and those who don't. I think they will. Meanwhile, writers who write for story impact and for emotions and drama and anything and everything else, can still write a good lovescene, hot sex..but prolly shouldn't sacrifice what they do well for what sells well :). It might mean the manuscript gathers dust another year, but if it ain't your thing, you prolly wont like writing it over and over.
Burnout happens every time the market gets glutted with the same kind of storylines. In this industry, it is the only thing that causes change, which can be a good thing. But we'd all like to see every kind of romance and sub genre get the buzz and the shelf space and have the genre more evenly balanced, for all readers who like diverse content. My keepers are the old books, pickings are slim in that area of ST. I tend to go for voice. so I've been reading outside romance even though I write it. This too is happening more and more with readers.
Maybe our confusion is with trying to mix romance and erotica=romantica, and those who do it well, those who don't, and those books which should be tagged simply erotica. We all have our expectations. There are authors enough to fill it for everyone. It could be growing pains in a genre that was so rigid and formula driven for so long like PBW brought up (on Jordan's blog). Old habits are hard to break and sometimes carry over even when they open the doors for a new sub genres. That's why we authors are all nuts and write because we love it or are obsessed, lol. Just when we've defined something, it becomes illusive and open to interpretation.
(Dian) aka Gayle Eden/Eve Asbury

vanessa jaye said...

Gee Gayle/Eve I don't know where to start--you made so many good points. One thing you said near the end, kinda struck me:

"Maybe our confusion is with trying to mix romance and erotica=romantica, and those who do it well, those who don't, and those books which should be tagged simply erotica."

I've never questioned whether "Romantica" can actually be done. Seriously.

Erotica (showing character growth journey through the exploration of their sexuality, etc) combined with a romantic subplot and maybe even a HEA. Yeah, that's possible. Not a easy as it seems--notice how I defined erotica--but more than doable. And, yes, it can be done in a light-hearted way.

A *ROMANCE* --Meaning two er, "beings" (gg) falling in love. The full examination/execution of a character driven story, exploring personality, growth, conflict, development of emotion within a compelling, engaging plot (that makes sense. To someone. Somewhere.) And as pertinent to the development of the story the physical aspects of their relationship is fully shown in great prominence and in rich graphic no-holds-barred detail that does not exclude the emotional/pyschological ramifications of those acts on the character and plot. Can this be done?

Hell, yeah.

But what is this curious beast call "Romantica", that is neither fish nor fowl? Methinks, the Emperor is buck-assed nekkid and has a tattoo on his right cheek. ;)

Amie Stuart said...

Thank you for defining Erotica correctly.

Evie the only thing I'd add is that it's the publisher/marketing dept that is having those really hot books (that might or might not have a happy ending) shelved in romance as erotic romance.

I won't lie. Hands On is erotica with a happy ending. But considering each story takes place in the space of a week, this is realistic. In the vein of staying true to myself, that's what I have to do. I don't know if I could write about a couple falling in love in a week and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together because if I were the reader, I wouldn't buy it.

vanessa jaye said...

Amie, Erotica with a happy ending is to the point, honest, and works for me. :-) I'm seriously begining to think that Erotic Romance is a misnomer in 90% of the cases. Of the 10% it does fit, they face the challenges of any book with to genres pushing the story development (ie, romantic suspense). It's hard to achieve a perfect balance, executing both well.

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