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

Understanding Men

Males are both a fascination and an aggravation for writers as they try and capture them on the page.

Brace yourself, you’re about to get the basic lowdown on men. How they think and what makes them tick. The following is an attempt to help strengthen male characterization for those of us who need a refresher.

The most important factor in writing a male voice is to understand that they are completely different from women. The differences are much deeper than the clear physical ones.

Men are all about how, what, when, where, and why without all the feelings and details women like to add in their storytelling. A man, unless his profession demands it, will not give any more depth than is needed. Ever listen to men speaking in a group? Ever pay attention to the language they use one on one? Male language is an art form in itself. Unless a man is giving a speech or is a philosopher, he won’t speak using long passages. They use fewer words.

Some men use tag words such as dude, bro, etc. more so than women.

Write a sentence of dialogue that you as a woman might say, then cut the words down to the bare minimum. That’s how men speak.

I know some of you are thinking that’s not true. Men talk. Ah… true. But, for a man to open up, it needs to be with someone who he completely trusts. Someone he wants to open up to.

We, our societies over the centuries, have molded our men to be the reserved ones. Don’t cry. Grow up. Be a man. The Disney movie Mulan even has a song Be a man. These are all lessons men learn in childhood. So remember, while a man will shoot the breeze with a friend, share to a certain point with a brother, it takes that special someone for him to open up about his past and his feelings. Even then, a man will not talk openly about his insecurities the way a woman will.

While the heroine (or significant other) is working on earning that special trust, what is making the hero tick? Sex. Lots of sex.

From the time a male hits puberty until he reaches his middle forties or fifties, sex dominates a great deal of their thought process. Other things — work, their favorite sports, hobbies, gadgets, food, special interests, cars, etc. — momentarily grab their attention, but they are always wondering about the next sexual encounter.

Their sexual drive can’t be helped. The desire to procreate is inbred within their DNA makeup. Not quite true. And not just men. Almost everyone has an innate desire for sex. This is a kind of mental module that we all get as part of our genetic heritage. And with ready birth control, it’s clearly a drive for pleasure instead of reproduction.

Sex for a man, besides being pleasurable, is often used to replace words. He may not say those little words a woman wants to hear, but he is willing to show her with his body how much he cares. In many situations, for many men, it’s a simple case of showing, not telling.

I think it should be made clear that while a man thinks about and wants sex as much as possible, he can think of as many reasons to say no as a woman can. Most importantly, if a sexual encounter will jeopardize a budding relationship… he’ll say no.

Males are conditioned to work hard and play hard. They tend to be territorial, determined to take care of what has become part of their hearts. Characteristics such as protectiveness, arrogance, and aggressiveness are all associated with men.

A man doesn’t play the “girl games” typical to some females, such as attention seeking, drama, and preying on others’ sympathy. The keepers are straightforward men who leave the “playing” to secondary characters.

In conclusion, men keep their emotions bottled up and do it well. They won’t risk their hearts anymore than they’ll risk hurting someone that has caught their interest. Heroes are the protectors who enjoy their downtime as much as they desire food and sex.