I've just subbed a paranormal erotic story - it's a vampire tale, sort of - that verges on horror. Because it was intended for an erotica collection I worked quite hard to keep it sexy rather than scary. Well, too scary, anyway. Let's hope the editor sees it that way!
So I've been thinking about Erotica v. Horror. Two separate genres, though clearly there is a potential overlap as there is between all forms of genre fiction. I actually started out my career writing horror, then switched to erotica (thus, incidentally, working my way down the literary pecking order. Some big name horror writers do write smut, or have done in the past. But they like to keep that a secret).
The two genres actually have a lot in common, I believe:
- The plot structure is often similar for both genres. They both work really well (best, many might say) as short stories. In both Horror and Erotica the ideal is to end at the dramatic (or literal) climax, with no cooling off period. In longer fiction the aim is to create an ascending ladder of excitement in the reader's mind, based on set-piece scenes interspersed with tension-ratcheting lulls.
- The author above all aims to evoke a visceral reaction - whether fear or arousal. The best horror or erotica stories bypass the rational brain and go straight to the body. They make the heart race (in both cases) and they make the skin crawl or the genitals swell. These are primaeval responses designed to cope with crisis real-life stimuli, and to be able to evoke these reactions by the written word alone takes a surprising amount of skill. You are wresting control from the reader - and that thrill is exactly what fans like.
- Because this is a stimulus-response reaction, even the most keen readers in both genres can become jaded. This may lead authors toward a dangerous trap of making the stimulus stronger (MORE BLOOD AND GUTS! / BIGGER ORGIES! HUGE STRAP-ONS!), but this is not a game the writer can win in the long run. Far better, in my opinion, to sneak up on the reader with something they hadn't anticipated, and reveal to them the depths of their vulnerability. If you can convince readers of the devastating allure of a hole in a woollen stocking (like in The Piano) or the terror inherent in a closed door (like in The Monkey's Paw), then you are doing it right as a writer.
- Both genres are subversive. They aim to convince you to suspend your faith in the laws of society, in the normal tropes of interaction between people, and to accept - temporarily - that there might be other, often more powerful and dangerous, possibilities. They both say "What if the world didn't work the way people tell you it does?" Both genres draw their power from overturning social consensus and restrictions.
If you are interested in reading examples of my erotica that I'd class as horror too, try:
Lord Montague's Last Ride in Cruel Enchantment
Cold Hands, Warm Heart in Dark Enchantment
At Usher's Well in Fierce Enchantments
and Red Grow the Roses.