Romancing the Words

by | February 13, 2020 | General | 2 comments

By Tim Smith

I have an ongoing argument with a friend over the use of language in literature. We both write contemporary erotic romance, but we approach the job differently. I like to treat my readers to steamy sensuality and extensive foreplay on the way to a hot finish. He prefers to throw in every vulgarity he can think of and get it over with in two paragraphs. I’m not saying his method is wrong, and apparently there’s a market for that kind of writing, because he sells more books than I do. On the flip side, he’s also been banned from a couple of major e-book sites because of his word choices.

There are a few words I don’t like to use when writing sex scenes as a general rule. One is the “F” bomb, because I think some writers overuse it for shock value, and it doesn’t really add anything to a realistic romantic encounter. I say that because not many women have used that word with me during sex, unless it was followed by “off” or “you.” I’m not averse to using it in dialogue when writing a heated argument between two characters (as in “Go f*** yourself”), but I use it sparingly to make it more effective.

Another is a word that refers to a part of the female anatomy (begins with “c,” rhymes with “hunt”), because I’ve heard from readers who find it offensive. I conducted a survey on a few chat boards to see how people felt about this, and the results indicated that many consumers were put off by it. I’m in this business to win readers, not lose them.

Here’s where it gets tricky. How do I depict a hot sexual encounter without using offensive language or resorting to purple prose? There are many euphemisms for body parts and intimate acts, but there’s the danger of overusing them. It forces me to be creative, making my point without being crude. Here’s an example from one of my romantic spy thrillers, Memories Die Last (Nick Seven Book One):

Nick stood and approached Felicia. He pulled her close and ravenously kissed her, his tongue challenging hers to a passionate duel. She rubbed his shoulders and back then moved down to slip her hands under the elastic waist of his shorts, kneading his butt. Nick caressed her firm breasts then ran his palms along her torso. Her perfume and natural scent acted like an instant aphrodisiac, turning him into an animal. Felicia put her arms around his shoulders, hoisted herself up and wrapped her long legs around his waist, bringing her naked groin in contact with the bulge forming in his shorts. Nick kissed her more deeply, probing her mouth while she did the same to him. He moved his hands down to her firm ass and rocked against her, getting harder the longer they dry humped.

He carried Felicia into the bedroom and gently deposited her on the bed. He slipped off his shorts and lay next to her to resume his kissing and fondling. Felicia placed both hands on either side of his face, pulled his lips to hers and rammed her tongue into his mouth. Nick’s hand went to her breast to pinch and tweak her nipple until it was as firm as a gumdrop. Her hand went to his groin, stroking him to full hardness. Nick ran his hand along her belly then slid his fingers into her, making her wetter. Felicia’s breathing rate picked up the longer he played with her, and she stroked him faster.

I’m put off by the opinion some people offer that erotic romance is merely “porn with a plot.” There’s a lot more to it than that and if it’s done well, it shows the most natural progression in a relationship. As evidenced by my friend’s writing that I refenced above, though, apparently there is still a market for what we used to call “one-hand books.” I don’t really care for gratuitous sex when I read a romance. That makes me think the writer ran out of ideas and thought “I don’t know what to have these people do next, so let’s throw in some hot sex!”

And that’s porn with a plot.


Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Tim,

    Every author has a different style, as well as different lines he or she won’t cross.

    The language I use will depend on my characters, the sub-genre and my intended audience, but I don’t hesitate to use either of the words you eschew if they fit.

    Of course, lately I’ve been writing more toward the erotica end of the scale, rather thing romance… but even my romance tends to be pretty graphic. That’s just my style.

    Readers of course also have their preferences. Some prefer the more euphemistic approaches than others.

  2. Lisa Stone

    hi, I like to read a lot and read different genres

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