Heat levels in romance

Romance authors and readers know every romance comprises two basic elements: a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying happily-ever-after (HEA) or a modern optimistic ending of happy-for-now (HFN).

The heat levels of the romance genre is an aspect of writing to be considered before you begin your journey to publication. The heat level refers to the sexual interaction and intensity of those romantically involved.

Aspiring writers need to know what they’re comfortable writing and their own limitations of word use. Moreover, not every publisher’s guidelines are the same. For example, it is possible for an male/male romance to be given an erotic heat level simply because of the gender of the central characters. A strong sexual tension between a couple, even if consummation of the relationship doesn’t come until the last chapter, can earn you an erotic level as well.

Basic heat levels associated with the genre of romance are:

Inspirational romance usually subscribes to certain values and often features a religious or spiritual connection in the romantic relationship. The couple has strong moral restraints preventing pre-marital sex. The story focuses on the affection and developing love between the couple. (PG rating)

Sweet romance closes the door on the love/sex scenes. We know the romantic couple has sex, but besides kisses, the readers aren’t given any details. Most traditional Regencies fit into this heat level. (PG-13 rating)

Sensual romance offers some details, yet is more about euphemisms. Much is left to the imagination of the readers while the author focuses on growth of feelings and emotions. No sexual act is depicted. Since mild descriptions of intimacy and mild use of profanity are allowed, Young Adult fits into this heat level. (PG-17 rating)

Spicy/sizzling romance is sensual, sexual, and edgy. Characters are comfortable with their sexuality. You can push sexual boundaries but never cross them. The sex/love scenes are usually longer and can increase in frequency. The Harlequin imprint Blaze falls into this category of romance. (Comparable to rated-R)

Erotic romance is hot and the content inventive. The love/sex scenes are graphically described with explicit language. Yes, a love story can be both romantic and sexually explicit. If you’re interested in writing this heat level, I recommend reading Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Angela Knight. (X-rated from X to XXX)

Please note, there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica. Erotica (also X-rated from X to XXX) is a sexual adventure in erotic fiction and not a romance. Erotica doesn’t require a happily-ever-after.

It’s important to review guidelines of any publisher you’re interested in submitting to. While some publishers seek romance with several heat levels not all of them do. You don’t want to submit an erotic romance to a publisher who only wants inspirational or an agent who’s only interested in representing erotica.

I’m an author of romance. My stories have believable, well-developed characters, and strong plots. Physical love is a wonderful thing and deserves as much attention as emotional growth. Since sex is a natural part of any romantic relationship, I allow my characters to decide how much their emotional and physical relationships winds up on the pages.

© 2013 Melissa Lopez

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