Clean romance: Do what?

As a writer of paranormal romance, there is an acknowledgement that there are specific key elements of what is expected. Yeah, let’s be blunt. This is a classic case of ‘sex sells’. But then, the question arises. How much sex? Graphic sex? Implied sex? And then a further question. How much swearing and violence? A fist fight? A graphic description of spilled intestines? Blood flowing or a hero/heroine looking ‘weathered’?


There is a reason or asking this question. I have noticed that there are some groups on which one might promote one’s books which specify ‘clean literature’ only, sometimes citing that this is because their group is open to under-18s. So what is clean? How does ‘clean’ differ from young adult (YA) classification? And why the restriction?

Life is not clean. Whichever way you look at it, there is violence and bad language. One might not want to hear one’s own children speak in a way to embarrass the proverbial sailor, but unless they are locked up in a castle, they will encounter it on TV, the internet, in school etc. So, when I posed the question in a couple of writing groups, I was sincere in looking for an answer. What surprised me was that the ‘clean’ tag was not just for YA literature. Yes, the stereotypical Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon reader was out there.

Please do not take this as mockery of such people. I was brought up on a diet of Wilbur Smith and Eric Van Lustbader. Trust me, for a sheltered, convent-schoolgirl, that was a significant shock. As I have grown, so my taste in literature has grown and changed. I would still say that my preferred genre to read and write is paranormal romance, and that is a genre known for ‘details’. However, I find myself toying with the idea of ‘implied sex’, for example.  Then there is the question of violence and swearing. I still write an online role-play fan fiction where my character is known for his paint-stripping language, not to mention the pleasure he takes in dismembering his opponents.

So, the sex side and clean romance. The first thing I have discovered is that it does depend on which market you wish to target. In the UK, whilst the stiff British upper lip is still there, it seems that there is less of a reaction to sexuality: descriptions, same sex or M/F relationships. However, cross the Pond and it seems it is a whole different ball game. Depending on the area of the country, I would suggest that the mentality can vary from fairly relaxed to positively Puritan.


Curiously, when considering swearing, drugs, violence, there is a completely different attitude. “Sweet baby Jesus!” is something I hear from many of my very religious acquaintances, particularly in the USA. Yet, dropping the ‘F-bomb’ seems completely out of order for them. Talk of  drugs doesn’t seem so bad in the USA, so I have been told. Difficult to comment on that one, as my books don’t feature that side so much.

13900350_10154406547232269_1180981328571448735_nViolence? Now we are talking. By dint of my early reading, my own knowledge of martial arts, archery and a fascination on body mechanics, I do have several fight scenes in my writing. They range from a few kicks and punches to a determined intent to kill the bad guy. But the picture? Surely that is not violent? I included that picture to highlight a key point. Implied violence. This picture shows a cluster of arrows. If you believe the intent is to have all in the gold, then it shows a lack of accuracy. However, if you take into account the gold, when the target is on a stand, is supposed to be the height of an average Frenchman’s heart, then it takes on a new meaning. This is a picture of three arrows striking the throat, and three striking the heart. Implied violence and a definite case of dead.

So back to the original question. What is ‘clean’ literature? There is no one answer. Market conditions and prevailing moral attitudes can take one person’s mild violence to beyond the pale. Similarly, with sex scenes. The blow by blow account of lovemaking as opposed to the implied scene can make a difference. Many readers of paranormal romances feel short-changed if there is no steamy sex.

A closing question though has to be this: how many of those who disapprove of sex in literature actually bought or borrowed a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey?


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One thought on “Clean romance: Do what?

  1. I can see and understand both schools of thought when it comes to sex in literature (yes, sex sells, but only if makes sense for the scene(s) in question). Personally, mine have gone to each end of the spectrum: my current w.i.p. has absolutely no sex in it (but lots of violence), while my first had a ton of graphic sex (plot was woman in adult entertainment, so there you go). To me, it really boils down to what two things: what are you writing and what is your personal preference in regards to sex in fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

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