Erotic Romance author, PG Forte returns to The Book Connection during her October Virtual Book Tour. PG's novel, Love, From A to Z, came out this summer from Liquid Silver Books. This is the second book in her LA Love Lesson series. Today, I have given PG the floor to talk about what is on her mind.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
Rules to Write By (Or: Can’t We All Just Get Along?)
By PG Forte
First the disclaimer. I’ve never been a big fan of rules—especially on the subject of writing. Show me a rule, and I’ll probably want to find a way to break it. I don’t think it’s a control issue, though, or even a matter of being a contrarian. I think it’s just a case of psychological claustrophobia: I work better in the wide-open spaces and blank canvases of my mind. Not even my own personal writing rules are sacrosanct. Take, for example, the amnesia sub-theme in Love From A to Z. As I’ve mentioned several times now, I’d previously sworn I’d never write a character with amnesia. And we all know how that turned out.
So, with an attitude like mine, you ‘re probably not surprised to learn that I ended up living in Berkeley, CA, home of the Free Speech movement. I must really fit in here. Right?
Well, you’d think. But Free Speech, Berkeley-style, has its own set of rules and they’re all very, very PC. Not that I think political correctness is all bad—in fact, I think it’s better than most of the alternatives. But too much of even a good thing is still too much. Unless we’re talking chocolate.
So while it’s cool, by Berkeley standards, that I write erotica—‘cause, you know, real womyn like sex as much as anyone else—it would be so much better if I wrote GLBT erotica. And the fact that I write erotic romance...well, that’s just a whole lot less cool.
I do get a few environmental brownie points for writing ebooks and sparing trees, but romance? The perpetuation of outdated societal myths and sexist stereotypes? It’s the Barbie Doll of literature.
Well, whatever. I’m not out to change the world with fiction, I’m just trying to entertain people. Not as easy as you might think, however, because—on the other end of the spectrum—I’m also faced with all the ‘rules of romance’; words and acts which are strictly verboten. Even in erotica.
As a lapsed Catholic, I have to admit I was surprised. There are rules to writing smut? Which my sister-in-law assures me is what I’m doing. Well, apparently there are.
So, to get (at long last) to my point, here is my own list of rules which I call:
The PC Girl’s Guide to Trashy Novels AKA How to Write Smut without Offending Anyone
Rule # 1: Be Kind to Your Four Footed Friends. Companion animals (or what many speciesists still refer to as ‘pets’) are a common staple in many contemporary romance novels. They’re right up there with ‘the best friend’ as a plot device. Animals in romances should never be harmed in any way—especially not the cute, cuddly ones. Kill off the odd hero, if you have to but, by all means, spare his pet cat.
I learned about this rule the hard way when I let a character put her aging, injured dog to sleep. Talk about hate crimes! Wow.
Your characters should love their companion animals...but not too much. They should think of them as family. See rule #4 for details.
Some exceptions are possible where non-cuddly creatures are concerned. Spiders, for example, might be exempt and scorpions almost certainly are. Rodents fall into a very, very gray area. Especially gerbils. Fishing may be allowed but, just to be on the safe side, please catch and release. Hunting, on the other hand, probably falls into the same category as most other violent crimes. In other words, acceptable only when done by the villain and best restricted to ‘off-screen’ references.
Again, except in the case of your villain, your characters should eschew the wearing of fur and leather. Exemptions may apply in the case of Harley riders, characters of Native American descent, or Time Travelers. If you’re writing BDSM, why not choose neoprene? It’s probably more hygienic anyway.
Rule #2: Watch Your Language! A very important rule, number two. Although, of course, it is not generally appropriate to use the term number two, due to its slang, scatological reference.
Scatological references are generally frowned upon, anyway, unless your characters are werewolves or werecats or members of some other subspecies/culture for whom scatological references may be the norm.
When in doubt as to the acceptability of a word or term, it is occasionally useful to employ the middle-school-aged-boy test. If it’s something that would cause a middle-school-aged-boy to blush or giggle, avoid it. Then again, the middle-school-aged-boy test is considered suspect, in some circles, due to the ageist and sexist aspects of its name. So never mind.
If you’re writing non-erotic romance your publisher will likely provide a list of words that are not to be used under any circumstances due to their crude, obscene or overly clinical natures. If, on the other hand, you’re writing erotic romance, your publisher will likely employ a ‘heat index’ which will require you to use the very same words if you wish to receive anything above a ‘lukewarm’ rating.
Apparently, it’s not so much what your characters do that determines how hot you are, it’s what they say while they’re doing it.
Words that are demeaning, degrading, or misogynistic are safest in the mouths of villains or Dominants. Doms can, of course, say whatever they please and everyone else in their stories can say whatever they’ve been given permission to say.
The PC girl, as a member of an historically repressed class, is also mostly exempt from this rule and is allowed to use whatever words she wants when it comes to sex. Other than ‘girl’, actually, since this word should only be used to refer to an immature female and she’d better not be doing anything sexual, anyway. Again, see rule #4 for further clarification of this point.
Rule #3: OMG Be extremely careful when employing any references to religions, religious beliefs or deities since it’s almost impossible to use these without upsetting someone. The sole exception to this prohibition is, of course, when your characters are caught in the throes of passion. Pretty much anything goes at that point, other than egregious, gratuitous violations of rule #2.
Rule #4: We Are Family. Okay, here’s the thing. My grandfather, who died before I was even born, worked as a blacksmith while he was a young man in Ireland. My sole historical erotic romance novel (still in the works) features a hero who is a blacksmith in Ireland. Coincidence? Uh, yes, thank you, it is, because writing erotica involving blood relatives—even ones I never knew—would score a little too high on even my Ick scale.
Sex between fictional family members is also tres outre, for obvious reasons. Sex with a minor—uh-uh. No good. Sex between minors—yeah, that can also get you in trouble. I should know. Sigh.
Actually, there are those who will argue that even exposing your fictional minor to sexual relations between other (presumably consenting adult) fictional characters counts as child abuse. Personally, I think that’s taking things a little far.
First of all, I’m not altogether certain that would count as child abuse if we were talking about actual people—although I grant that it would probably depend on the circumstances. But to apply the concept of child abuse to fictional characters? Can book burning be far behind?
Moving on...let’s discuss the exemptions to this rule. Ghosts, as long as they’re not members of your immediate family, are probably okay. Time travelers are all but required to sleep with any familiar-seeming stranger they cross paths with because of the whole paradox thing: seriously, if you don’t impregnate your own great-great-grandmother, who will?
As with rule #2, restrictions may be eased in cases where the characters in question are from alternative species/cultures/time periods/planets/etc. The key word to keep in mind here is sentience. Sex with sentient-shifters is super—albeit a little hard to pronounce—just as long as they’re mature, consenting adults of their respective species. Sex with non-sentient, non-human, non-shifting, terrestrial creatures is not PC.
And, as noted in rule #1, even though you and I might consider our companion animals to be more sentient (not to mention intelligent, lovable, affectionate and attractive) than some humans we’ve met, they’re family. So treat ‘em like they are.
Don’t tell me how old Spot or Fido is in dog years, just leave him/her alone. To be on the safe side, you might also want to do the same with your houseplants...unless, of course, they’re alien or non-native species. In that case, all bets are off. Little Shop of Horrors, anyone?
Rule # 5: In the Closet, Under the Rug, Behind Closed Doors. Or, in other words, there are just some places you don’t want to go.
There are some things people just don’t want to read about. There are some things other people don’t want you to read about as well. Of course, I personally have a problem with other people making those decisions for me, but those would be other people’s rules—so we won’t go there, either.
As I mentioned in the opening, it really surprised me when I started to learn about all the things I couldn’t write about. I kinda thought the ideas of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press actually meant something. I also thought the whole concept of Book Banning had been discarded once James Joyce was raised to the rank of Literary Genius. However, as the following, fascinating web page shows, that ain’t the case.
It appears there are still plenty of things you can’t write about, if you wish to both get published and stay un-incarcerated. Unfortunately, the PC girl can’t really enumerate these acts here. That’s not because to do so may, conceivably, offend someone but because (contrary to what you might read on a particular publisher’s website) in many cases they seem to be more a matter of personal preference, on the part of the publisher or editor in question, than actual law.
Some of the laws regarding sexual practices still on the books in some places would probably put 90% of the world’s population in jail, if they were ever enforced. Most editors aren’t nearly as repressed as that! On the other hand, I guess everyone’s entitled to their own levels of squeamishness.
So, anyway, there you have it. Adhere to these five rules and you’ll probably mange to write something that will avoid offending most of the erotic-romance reading public. Whether you write something that enthralls, captivates, entertains and arouses them—well, I guess that’s up to you now, isn’t it?