Monday, June 19, 2006

What’s It Take to Get an NC-17 Rating Anyway?

I really do try to write dirty books, honestly I do. I just seem to have trouble getting enough filth in there.

Okay, I’m putting in nudity, naked body parts described in detail, clear and copious references to genitalia. People are engaging in the sex act, in various poses, sometimes even with a whip involved, or two people of the same sex, or the use of amazing mechanical devices. I have sex scenes that go on for a dozen pages, intercourse narrative for a dozen paragraphs, climaxes for a dozen sentences. I describe the minutia of the arousal and orgasmic processes in every possible way I can think of. You get lust, domination, seduction, submission, sex under the open sky, on an office desk, in another dimension, am I making my point?

But when push comes to penetration, it seems I always get the same reaction from reviewers: “Not sure this is erotica”...“more emotionally sexy than erotic”...“around the vicinity of an R rating rather than an NC-17 rating.” Oh don’t worry, I’m not upset, I’m just amused. Because it’s clear to me that the term “erotic fiction” has come to indicate something other than writing about sex in an arousing manner, because reviewers also seem agreed that I write stuff about sex that turns them on.

My inspiration for this blog entry is the review my book Soulful Sex Volumes I & II just received from the infamously stringent and strident media reviewer Mrs. Giggles. Mrs. G’s reputation is as an opinionated and outspoken woman who doesn’t hesitate to “rip new ones” for even bestselling authors. I respect that, especially in a case where she truly does seem quite intelligent and thoughtful and isn’t just ranting for ranting’s sake.

I was infinitely relieved to find out that Mrs. Giggles gave my book an 88 (remarkably high) and a truly excellent review. She really got what I was trying to do and appreciated it, and her only complaint (one I’ve heard before and never mind a bit) was that she wished some of the stories were longer because she liked them.

So, Mrs. Giggles was the source of that “around the vicinity of an R rating rather than an NC-17 rating” remark above. She also called the stories sensual and sexy, but since the sex was not “kinky,” she couldn’t consider them in the NC-17 category.

Rating sex in books by the standards used in the film industry is interesting. In film, the rating is partly subject matter but mostly based on what visuals are depicted, but that is not nowadays the case in written fiction. I guarantee if any of my stories were filmed in a way that depicted everything I described, there would be NC-17 ratings slapped on that footage. But since they are merely written down, to get myself in that category I’d have to do one or more of a few things. I’d need to work in the “required” terms for genitalia, for sure. It would also help if there was less plot development and a higher percentage of sex scenes. And I’m sure I’d get a boost for some kinkiness: more frequent three ways, anal sex, bondage, etc.

But alas, I don’t seem to be motivated to write about sex that way. I have this weird approach of setting up a couple characters and making them as appealing and sympathetic as I can, and very desperate to mate for some interesting reason. I build up the tension for as long as I can stand (no doubt much longer than some readers can stand, LOL) and then the sex happens, by which time it is more often than not, pretty intense and cosmic.

Mrs. Giggles put it this way: “All the stories are actually entertaining in their own right...What stands out in these stories is how Ms. Laurence emphasizes the process of falling in love between her characters...these love scenes can be very sexy because they happen to two characters clearly meant to be together. Their devotion to each other is as moving as their love story is fun to read.”

Before this entry turns into one big toot-my-own-horn fest, let me say I have arrived at the point: I really do feel the key to writing deeply affecting erotic fiction is to integrate the “falling in love” with the sex. But if you do that, the modern reader typically shifts your work from the “erotic” category to the “romance” category, no matter how hot the sex. The characters are passionately in love, so it’s not NC-17, it’s R, no matter how graphic the descriptions of their lovemaking.

I didn’t know this going in. I’m undoubtedly the biggest goodie-two-shoes in the erotica industry. I thought if I wrote about sex, that would be erotica! And pretty much all I do is write about sex: why we want it, how we want it, what it means if we want it that way, how it feels, what it does to us, how it can change our lives in ways large and small. But alas, I always go and put love in there, like a dork.

So why don’t I just give up on trying to convince people I write about sex? Good question! I could just call my stuff “spicy” or “sensual” and stop confusing people. And I truly don’t mean to be difficult. I just can’t seem to let go of this dream that people who want to better understand what sex means in life can find some sort of answer to their questions in my fiction.

So couldn’t someone just cut me a break and say, “Wowzers, this is NC-17 stuff, baby!”


Mel said...

Congratulations on your great Mrs Giggles review! I'm super happy for you given her, shall we say, discerning tastes.

Now why your work isn't considered NC-17? I'm not sure, but I do know your stories could never be considered smut. I'd say your work has a quality all it's own - it's erotic but never shocking for the sake of being shocking. And your characters always seem sincere, compassionate and selfless with their affections. *Gah!* It's so hard to put into words, I'm not even sure I know what I mean! :-)

Diana Laurence said...

Mel, you are SO SWEET. I do know what you mean and you are too kind, you made my day. I was really tickled over the Mrs. Giggles review all right...she is not exactly easy to please, so I was braced for the worst and really happy to have gotten such a positive reaction.

Erica said...


Another interesting post. I face the same dilemma you seem to in writing fanfics. Some like my style, some don't, and those who don't seem to believe I'm too tame. I try to keep characters in character, situations realistic, and the sex scenes steamy but not gross or vulgar. Surprisingly, this isn't what floats everyone's boat. Anyway, wanted to let you know I understand and relate well to your plight.

Thanks for sharing your insight.


Diana Laurence said...

It is interesting, Erica, how many readers there are who get irritated when fiction isn't racy enough in that coarse way. I think maybe for people who are only turned on by more "extreme" language, perhaps our sort of writing is just frustrating...sort of a tease. But it all comes down to the fact that people have different taste...particularly in this genre! Thanks as always for your interesting post.