That's a good question. I'll give you an example from my own writings.
don't think of my work as erotica, though many of my readers do. I
think of it as horror with lots and lots of explicit sex.
Sex/Love/Romance are not the main point of the story,
blood/gore/monsters/murder is the major plot of the story. I write Gorn,
which is "Gory Porn"; basically what I write lots of mindless sex with
lots of mindless murder in a haunted house, and it is a lot more porn
than erotica, which is why I don't think of it as erotica.
I feel that erotica has more romance and plot than porn does. Erotica has a reason for sex happening that pushes the story forward, while porn is just about the sex.
I've had people ask me if I write erotica and I'll answer: "No, I don't write anything that classy, I just write smut."
They retort back with: “But you write sex, that’s erotica isn’t it?”
Well, yes and no. Erotica is a genre. It’s a type of Romance story. Erotica is a subgenre of Romance. I write Horror not Romance. Sex does not make a story Erotica. Any genre can have graphic and/or erotic sex in the story itself, but that does not make it a Romance story of the Erotica subgenre now does it? Erotica is a type of Romance story which has a plot focused on the growth of one character's sexual journey.
Now, let’s take a good hard look at my stories, specifically The Twighlight Manor series. I mean the sex is there, sure, and it’s erotic sex, yes, and it’s often. Sex shows up just about every 5 pages, and it's not just "hey, they fucked" it's 7 or 8 pages of graphic detail of every move they made while they fucked, followed by 4 or 5 pages of story and then BAM 7 or 8 more pages of sex in detail again. Think of it as Shunga written down instead of drawn/painted. Shunga let’s you know there’s a story going on somewhere, but it let’s you draw your own conclusions as to what that story might be, because Shunga is focused 100% on sex organs and where they are and what they are doing while they're there.
I think one of the bigger issues I see, is that I feel like erotica has a romance element, where the couple either love each other or at least think they might fall in love in the future. It's a mutual respect thing, consensual sex. But then you head to my books and, yeah sex is there, but rarely is it consensual, more often than not it's a serial killer raping the hell out of his victim just before murdering them, and as such most sex scenes I write end with one of the sex partners dead, usually long before the sex scene actually ended. The point is not to arouse the reader, but rather to horrify the reader, to instill absolutely revulsion for the attacker, and cause the readers to cry out for vengeance on behalf of the murder victim. It arouses a response in the reader, but it’s a response of “For the love of God why doesn’t somebody help her? What is wrong with these frigging people why are they ignoring her screams?”
(Witnesses in my stories never step in to help, because 1 in 3 violent acts, 1 in 7 rapes, and 1 in 18 murders occur in public places and are witnessed by 10 or more bystanders who stand and watch or walk away. My goal in writing this way is not to satisfy the fantasy of “Well if someone raped me, plenty of people would rush to my aid.” but rather to hone in on the fact that: “If someone rapes you in a public place, you’re really fucked because there could be 30, 40, 50, 100 people watching and not one of them, is going to help you. The point of everything I write is: “What would you do? Would YOU help this girl? You say you would, but REALLY, would you?” - that is the underlying theme/moral/message of everything I write.)
As a general rule, in nearly every story I write, you are going to see 5 sex scenes:
But then, my stories are also sci-fi/paranormal, so usually the rapist is a vampire, phooka, merman, gorgan, incubus, some alien race from outer space, etc, and after the first attack the girl escapes tells everyone, but no one believes her, says she's crazy, just trying to get attention, tells her she made up being raped, and leave her alone and unprotected thus open for a second attack by supernatural rapist being. Thus my stories always have a logical reason why the rapist isn't caught because no one believed the girl to begin with so no one tries to look for a vampire, phooka, merman, gorgan, incubus, some alien race from outer space, etc.
Now the first 2 sex scene would fall under erotica, and the 3rd one may or may not depending on the reader, but the last 2 turn the story around fast from arousal to horrific revulsion and kills any chance of classifying the story as erotica, firmly planting it into the realms of horror, specifically Gorn. And every story I've ever written (30+ books, 200+ short stories since 1978) follows this same basic plot, retold 100 different ways, different times, different places, different characters, but same plot.
It boils down to intent. What do you intend for your readers to get out of this? What do I intend for my readers to get out of my work? If your intent is to tell a historical/fantasy/thriller/horror story with some sex thrown in, it's probably not erotica. If your intent is sexually arouse your reader while telling a historical/fantasy/thriller/horror story, it's probably erotica.
I mean take Roderic for example, at the beginning of Friends Are Forever (Vol1 if The Twighlight Manor series), he was more or less a normal person, shy, quiet, virginal youth, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Than his uncle kidnapped and rapes a mermaid, she escapes and inadvertently ends up hiding out at Roderic’s place. At first he’s this nice sweet guy who takes care of her, originally he fully intends to take her back to the ocean and release once her wounds are healed. But as time goes by he becomes obsessed with her and in taking her back, the uncle follows them bashed Roderic’s head in, rapes the girl again, and Roderic who is crippled for months simply stops talking and starts brooding over the mermaid.
The mermaid escapes the uncle again, and now tables turned she takes care of Roderic, but Roderic recovers a changed man violently wielding a shovel of death. Obsessive, possessive, jealous, vengeful, and dangerously violent Roderic becomes the most feared man in the known universe, takes over the planet, takes over all 3 of the solar system in the Triple Empire and keeps the mermaid locked away in his vast fortress-like mansion (The Twighlight Manor).
They are happy more or less for a few years, she bears him 4 sons, than all hell breaks loose on the night of the 4th son’s birth, when the mermaid is raped by 3 different men, Roderic flips out, there’s a bloodbath in just about every room of the 500 room Manor, the mermaid ends up dead and no one knows who the heck killed who.
Roderic has his wife stuffed and put on display and pretends she still alive, suddenly every room in the house becomes a taxidermist's worst nightmare as every servant is preserved forever at their stations, every human to enter the house from that day onward is skinned and stuffed their flesh served for dinner, and Roderic sits in an oblivious stupor whenever anyone tells him “Sir, there's another body...”, his only response being “Yes, I know, she eats everyone who comes here. She’ll kill us all.”
Roderic believes the spirit of his dead wife to have possessed the house, and that the house has come to life to eat everyone and punish him for not letting her go back to the ocean.
That is the first volume in the series. Each of the 200 stories after it follows in the same vein: someone living in the Manor kidnaps and rapes girl, other men at the Manor join in gang rape. Roderic stands by oblivious to what is going on, speaking utter nonsense about his dead wife and his sentient house. Girl dies. No one cares. Girl gets raped again. Lots of people show up dead. Roderic accuses house of murder. More rape. More death.
At one point Roderic adds a second wife, later a third.
Remix and repeat.
Roderic’s favorite son (the baby born on it’s mother’s death) grows up a transvestite, opens a nightclub that is a front for a whore house. In comes a series of side stories that are sex, sex, sex, sex, and nothing else, no horror, no plot, not even The Manor, just every day in the life of a male prostitute, who turned to prostitution as a way to block out the fact that his father was a psychic human eating murderer.
Jump ahead to the 20th century, Roderic is now pushing 500 years old, same old same old is going down inside The Twighlight Manor, in steps a team of human psychiatrists and White Rock Institute for the Criminally Insane and a series of side stories, each one a different rapist/murder retelling and glorifying their conquests in graphic detail in interviews with the doctors - two of the patients are Roderic’s sons.
The Twighlight Manor series is full of sex, yes, but is it erotica? No.
Because most of the sex is either not consensual (rape) or is a man using sex to dominate a wife who was not given a choice in being his wife (again, rape) or it is sex being used as a way to forget (sex as a drug). Nearly every sex scene involves sex that is forced on someone who doesn’t want it or sex being used a tool/device/drug.
Love is rare in The Twighlight Manor series. Men dominate as lords of sex, women exist as scraps of meat to be used and tossed aside as men see fit. The men are not seeking to love a women and the women long ago gave up hopes of ever finding love in this world of madness. Women here, learn to fear sex, because if a man wants to have sex with you, than he probably plans to kill you and eat you when he gets done fucking you. And if you ever paid attention to the characters of the series, every single female in the series is YOUNGER than 14 years old, while every man in the series is an older adult, often bordering on being elderly. That is the way of life in Roderic’s world.
See, I'm not going for the lovey dovey, lets have sex sort of story, I'm going for the "Oh good God! What just happened! OMG! They're dead, why are they dead? WTF?" sort of story.
It doesn’t sound like Erotica when you boil it down like that does it?
That’s what I mean when I say it boils down to intent.
If your intent is to tell a story with some sex thrown in, it's probably not erotica. If your intent is sexually arouse your reader while telling a story, it's probably erotica.
What do you intend for your readers to get out of this?
What do I intend for my readers to get out of my work? I’m not intent on arousing my readers. I’m intent on honing in on the fact that life is hell, men are cruel, women are seen as toys to use, abuse, and lose, old men especial priests obsess over pre-teen girls and fuck them as often as possible than rush off to the temple and pretend to be a saint, and when children are raped not only does no one care, but they go out of the way to blame the girl and tell her she must have deserved it, because it was God’s will.
That’s the message of The Twighlight Manor series: the horrors preteen girls go through when they are raped, every day, over and over again, day after day for years on end, while no adult in their life will do a damned thing to stop it, because they believe the lies of a priest over the cries of a child. Told by an author who's been there, done that, and has had it with the way adults treat preteen rape victims like shit while they hang on the words of the rapist priest every Sunday in church. They want the child to shut up and act like it didn't happen, will I not only didn't shut up about it, I started writing about it ad that's how I came to write an anti-child-rapist rant otherwise known as The Twilight Manor series.
No. I do not write erotica, because there is nothing erotic about 14 year old girls being raped by Mormon priests. The horror of rape is the intended message of the series. It’s horror, not erotica.
Can you see the difference now, between Erotica and a story containing erotic sex?
So in answering your question, even though I have had readers call my work "erotica", I don't think of my books as erotica, I think of them as horror having some erotic content.
Simply put if your novel is sci-fi with erotic sex or a western with erotic scenes or a horror with graphic sex or any other genre with any other type of sex in it, then it's not erotica, because it’s not telling the story of one character’s romantically sexual voyage. It may be erotic, yes, but if it ain’t romance it ain’t erotica.
It is no secret that Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, owner of The Twighlight Manor, is my favorite character, and you don't have to read very many blog posts, articles, site pages, etc to realize, I talk about him A LOT. While you see him mentioned in passing on just about every page on this site, there are some pages where I go into vast detail about his life. I am going to make a list of them all and tack it to the end of each of those pages, to make it easier for readers to find them all. And here they are:
Most of the articles I write in response to reader questions are genre specific, making the genre section of this web site the largest section.
My areas of expertise are:
#1 Horror and all of it's subgenres esp Gorn, Tales of the Macabre (Poe style) and Gothic Romance.
#2 "Dark" (BDSM) Medieval Historical Erotica, esp gay M/M.
#3 Alternate reality speculative/weird/bizarre science fiction
#4 Dark/Gory/Slasher retellings of folklore, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales
On occasion I also write Westerns, WWII War Stories, and Dark Fantasy.
Everything I write tends to have predominately non-human characters, usually alien races of my own invention that are trapped on Earth, along side Fae races (usually Phookas, FarDarrig, and MerFolk) and monster races (Vampires and their kin.)
I do not write happy endings, villains tend to win, good guys usually die at the end, and most everything I write falls under heavy "Dark Gallows" satire focusing on taboo topics. Everything I write, even my children's fiction, walks on the Dark Side. Most of my non-children's books are M-rated for adults 21 and older. About 90% of my books have been banned and most book stores refuse to carry them.
My stories are often short, rarely longer than 35,000 words (7,000 to 13,000 word average). I write nearly as many stage plays as I do short stories. I also write children's books (early readers, why tales, bed time stories, picture books, and quick classroom play scripts.)
I do not write novels (novels are books of 90,000 or more words, most being in the 120,000 to 240,000 word range), so questions specifically regarding novels are going to be answered in reference to my novellas (a novella being a story 25,000 to 90,000 words).
I rarely write articles about any specific genre other than those listed in the link headings above, because the genres above are the genres I write.
Keep these facts in mind when asking advice from me, about your own writing career. I will gladly try to help you out, but my knowledge of writing is limited to what I know and write in my own career.
If you are looking for advice on Westerns, War Fiction (other than WWII), Fantasy, Contemporary Romance, Mystery, Action, Adventure, Suspense, Chick Lit, Romantic Comedy, Humor, HEA, etc I'm probably not the best person to be asking your questions to. You can certainly ask and I will try to answer, but I don't write these genres so they are not my area of expertise.
Recommended Books for Genre Writers:
Below are books I use as reference when writing my own books, articles, and short-stories. A quick heads up, these are not linking to pages where I review each book, here on my website! I have a list of those review pages elsewhere . Each of the books shown below are linked directly to the site/book seller which carries it for sale, so clicking on any of the books below will take you away from my website.