Monday, July 8, 2019

Just What is Smut?

I get the occasional inquiry about my Writing Workshop - is it appropriate for adults-only writers? I explain the details: We try to keep it for people 18+, allow for free expression, and a common understanding that some writers may work on themes that do not have universal appeal. However, after a little investigation. I get to the heart of the matter - after reading E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, they started writing something similar and want to find a venue to discuss their writing. Fine by me.

But that's when another question comes up - where should a writer draw the line for that genre? What is the difference between romance, erotica, and plain old smut? Believe it or not, people think about this a lot; particularly publishers. So, without going into the NSFW realm, it's time for some explanation about how the different genres are perceived, approached, and discussed within the literary community.

On one end of this spectrum is romantic love. This is, above all else, the journey of one person trying to find their perfect pairing (or their journeys to find each other). While the term "romance novel" usually elicits thoughts of a 250-page paperback with an intensely formulaic story, predictable ending, and a half-naked couple on the cover in a windswept embrace, the romance genre is more nuanced. In the strictest terms, it is an emotional journey. It is about discovery and connection, it is where the hero's growth brings them closer to that special someone. The intensity of the story is in the mind and the heart; other body parts are not required.

Of course, on the other end is smut. We all know what this end is about, so let's keep it simple. While the definition of smut is something sexually vulgar or obscene, a writer should think about the description that says, "...something having no artistic or socially redeeming qualities." In short, obscenity for obscenity's sake. Smut exists for one purpose only and it's not the narrative. This should not concern us as writers if that's not our thing, but knowing the definition is important when a writer decides on what parts of a story to discuss.

Case in point: One person at a workshop was writing a romance novel, and would bring a chapter to every meeting. They usually ran ten pages, maybe 2,200 words, each moving the story along, adding to the narrative, and generally well-written for first-draft copy.

Then came the chapter where the hero hooked up with someone.

That chapter focusing on that hook-up - with only a secondary character - was 22 pages, 4,754 words, no dialogue, describing their time together with forensic accuracy and an obsessive attention to every detail possible. Every detail.

Let's calm down and think about this chapter as writers. What happens to the pacing of the story? Each chapter goes block by block, then one piece is this huge block of writing, focusing on one specific element - the hook-up. Does that become distracting? Does it pull the reader away from the story? Is there enough character development created during that scene to justify twenty-plus pages on one event? Or is something off here?

The vast prairie of territory between romance and smut is filled with chapters like the above, and as writers, we have to go back to our basic toolkit for storytelling. We need to ask ourselves how much is necessary? Is there such a thing as too much in one scene? Are we using twenty pages to say what five pages could just as easily explain? Does our writing remain focused on our intended purpose? How this writer uses that hook-up chapter will help determine just where the story lands in the realm between romance and smut.

As a final note, as writers, we should let ourselves write what we want to write and see what happens when we put words to the page. However, after that initial joy of creation, we need to take a critical look at what we've made, and decide what we want it to become. Romance is a wonderful realm to explore this idea, but in any genre, we need to learn how to pare down our work to make sure we retain focus.

Guess what the next post will be about...

5 comments:

  1. What are the references for your claims?

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    1. "Claims" would have to be clarified before they can be referenced. The focus here is making sure that whatever you write follows the basic rules of contributing to the narrative, supporting the environment, or otherwise providing a purpose to the writing as a whole.

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  2. When I read your title, this is the first thing I thought: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaHDBL7dVgs

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    1. I have a "greatest hits" CD of sorts, but I enjoy that the video aspect of YouTube.

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