"The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance," by Alison Kent

Pros: Frank, blunt, and straightforward; entertaining; eye-opening; thorough
Cons: Not a one
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Alpha Books
Visit Alison Kent’s website

Perhaps you’ll indulge me in a tiny bit of personal history here. I haven’t read a romance novel since I was quite young and mostly curious about them. I’ve bought into a lot of the stereotypes about them–that they’re girly, or promote harmful fantasy views of relationships. I requested a review copy of Alison Kent’s “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance” primarily out of curiosity; this was certainly one area of writing I knew little to nothing about.

After reading her book, my view of the genre has changed entirely. I gave in last night and went to Amazon to place an order for a few new books I want to read (I promise I’ll review them eventually–in fact, maybe I’ll start a romance category under the fiction reviews).

Defining the genre

My understanding of the genre is so old that I had no idea that the romance genre had even sprouted an erotic subgenre that allowed for explicit sexual content. I still thought of romance books as teases–something that got you all hot and bothered and then shut you out of the actual “good stuff”, as it were. While there’s still plenty of romance to be found that follows that set of expectations, now you can find erotic romance as well.

However, lest you think it’s about gratuitous sex, it’s part of the definition of the genre that the sex has to further the plot and the character arc. It can’t be tacked on. Sex is part of how the characters change, fall in love, explore themselves, and so on. But because it’s an erotic romance rather than erotica, it’s still about falling in love.

Warning: This should be obvious, but I’m going to make it very clear just in case. This book is about writing in a genre that includes explicit sex scenes. That means that this book contains material about writing explicit sex scenes. It isn’t meant to be titillating in its own right, but it is frank and blunt and doesn’t shy away from necessary detail and discussion.

Authoring erotic romances

Lest you think it’s all fun and games, life isn’t always easy for folks who write these books. This book includes some stories about interesting encounters authors have had with others regarding their work. The stares, the outrageous questions, the salacious offers, the sneers, the dismissive comments, and so on. You also can’t just plunk some saucy scenes down on the page and call it an erotic romance–the genre has its own requirements and expectations, and there are a lot of good authors out there to compete with. There are also a lot of eager readers, however, so if you have a talent in this area, it might be a great genre to explore–if you can handle the reactions you’re likely to get from friends and family!

Plenty of handy information

Alison Kent has a knack for writing; that much is obvious (in fact, I think I’m going to have to get my hands on some of her fiction!). She’s thorough, informative, blunt, frank, and above all, entertaining; I never felt that she sacrificed one aspect for another. She’s utterly comfortable with her subject matter, which makes her the perfect author to write about such a potentially sensitive topic.

The first part of the book is all about the genre–romances, erotic romances, love stories, storylines, audiences for different subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, fantasy, etc.), the role of sex in an erotic romance, and world-building. Yes, world-building, and it’s a great section with some wonderful suggestions.

Part two is about story and plot. This includes information on various methods of plotting, establishing motives, goals, and conflict, and how you can assemble all of this into a coherent whole. In this section Ms. Kent takes a variety of writing topics and covers the general issues as well as the more specific needs of the erotic romance genre.

The third part discusses the emotional journey of your characters, which is one of the most genre-specific aspects in here. You’ll find a ton of fantastic information on bringing your characters to life and the role of love in their development.

The fourth and fifth parts of the book cover different aspects of the sex in an erotic romance novel. One covers the role of sex in the plot and the characters’ development, while the other covers the mechanics of writing explicit sex scenes. These sections did a wonderful job of addressing pretty much every question I could think of, and many I didn’t. They cover the difference and relationship between sex and love in your plots, the need to make your sex scenes count, and building up sexual tension (as well as using sex scenes to up the tension even further afterward). There’s plenty of material on writing what you’re comfortable with, the language you use during your sex scenes, intimacy between reader and character, and the pros and cons of writing kinky material into your books. The book gets into some very nitty-gritty details, such as the question of whether or not to depict your characters having safe sex.

Finally, there’s a big section on meeting your readers’ expectations. This addresses not just what readers expect when they pick up a novel labeled “erotic romance”, but also how the genre tends to be viewed by others and what it’s really about. This book definitely opened my eyes in some areas. As Ms. Kent states, while it’s true that many readers read romance novels for escapism and the happily-ever-after, it’s also important to note that good erotic romance novels depict real, flawed people having problems and working through them–and that this can be a positive thing.

The appendices are much more useful than those in many books I’ve read, and not just as reference material. There’s an appendix of erotica and erotic romance publishers, as well as some further resources and recommended reading in the genre. Most interestingly, however, there’s a very fascinating “author roundtable discussion” in which a number of erotic romance authors answer various questions put to them.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in writing romance, erotic romance, or erotica–although the focus of the book is definitely erotic romance, writers of the other two types of story will find much of value here as well. It would also make a fascinating read for fans of the genre who want to know more about how it works and what their favorite authors do. The tips and hints are highly useful; the range of topics covered is extensive; and the author makes the book fun to read (not to mention extremely informative). I have a newfound respect for the genre now.

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