I started thinking about sweet vs spicy romance last week when I came up with my informal poll for Prose in the Park. Mostly, I'll admit, I thought it was a nice way to tie in romance to giving away cookies (chocolate for sweet and ginger for spicy). But since then, there's been a lot more going on for the topic, like a pair of articles in this month's Romance Writers' Report.
Sweet romance is typically defined as non-explicit. The love scenes fade to black, there's no cursing, no dark and gritty mature themes. They can still be extremely passionate and intense, there are just certain areas which are minimized. Fans of sweet romance like being able to use their imaginations and share their favourite works without embarrassment.
Spicy romance is a little harder to pin down. Some people use the term for erotica and erotic romance (although I personally prefer to use the term "scorching" for that level). Others use it for romance with explicit love scenes and a definite adult take on language and themes. This is where I personally am comfortable. I like being able to tackle serious issues (and see them tackled by other authors) while still having the enjoyment of a promise of happily ever after.
This month's Romance Writers' Report featured a pair of articles, one on whether or not the market for erotic romance had become saturated after the Fifty Shades of Grey burst. The other was on the challenges and appeal of writing sweet romance.
There has certainly been an upswing of interest in BDSM and stories with strong erotic content since the release of Fifty Shades. I know a number of authors who are making quite a lucrative living, releasing several stories each month. I think it's great that people are talking about different facets of sexuality and learning that they don't need to feel guilty about what makes them excited. It breaks the cycle of isolation which leaves people vulnerable to depression and predators. The article suggests that the market may be reaching a saturation point and encourages new authors to concentrate on quality writing.
The authors interviewed for the sweet romance article talked about the challenge of keeping their writing passionate and intense without crossing their self-imposed lines of what they will and will not depict. They concentrate on the emotional impact and growth of their characters and their relationships, which allows them to go more in depth.
This is one of the things I love about the romance genre. No matter where a person is or where their comfort zone is, there is something for them. There is such a wide range of options available that everyone can find something which works for them. In the end, readers don't have to choose between sweet, spicy or scorching. We can sample as much or as little as we want until we find the perfect mixture. And then, we can find out we're not alone.