TMI – Editing Erotica


Yesterday I had to cancel a project. The client wasn’t thrilled about it, but honestly, they misrepresented the project. The job was presented simply as a fictional novel that needed a final edit. I happily started working on it and made it through ten pages with increasing caution.

It started heating up around page 5, but I kept going. By page 11, I was finished. I don’t consider myself a prude and have edited low level erotica fiction before, but this manuscript jumped the line between erotica and out and out pornography.

Which led me to the question: What IS the line between erotica fiction and pornography?

Time for a trip to the dictionary (as I tell my students)….

Erotica – explicitly sexual literature or art

Pornography – obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit

Ah! There is the distinction. Yes, I can understand that. I can imagine Picasso and O’Keefe can be thought of as erotica? Perhaps, although they really just hint at sexuality…not really explicit per se.

The novel I was reading for the client – well, with nothing but a lot of sex happening in all manner of places, no real story line, flat egotistical characters…I’m gonna have to call that one porn.

Help me out here, readers. What is your opinion? I honestly want to know!

(P.S. For those who aren’t ‘in the know’, TMI stands for Too Much Information)

About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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4 Responses to TMI – Editing Erotica

  1. Yes Kaz, they are those earmarked books with the plain nondescript covers, and I didn’t know what TMI was…


    • Karen- I can deal with sex in a book- even if it is leaning towards pornographic- as long as the scene is truly pertinent to the story– I am writing my second novel at the moment- briefly about a man who at the age of 18 and some months is sentanced to 20 years in prison for killing his own father– long and short of it- is that he went into prison as a virgin– so the loosing of his virginity at the age of 35 is a big deal–to tell the truth i had to down a really stiff drink to write the scene- especially knowing that at some stage that my wife and friends were going to read it.

      • I totally agree that explicit sexual scenes have their place in a novel. But you are right that the scene needs to be truly pertinent to the story line…and there needs to BE a story line! The reason I called this one mss. pornographic is that it had no story other than the bits written around the sex scenes. If the entire mss. exists in order to showcase sexual acts (think Forum or Penthouse), then we are not dealing with legitimate storytelling. Your novel sounds very interesting and I can see that yes, explicit sexual scenes would be instrumental in creating the tone of that particular work. Best of luck to you!

  2. But what is the line between between being explicit and obscene? Even the definition given by the Supreme Court is purposely vague. It’s great that you knew where to draw your personal line for what you felt comfortable editing. However, issues like this always make me think about all the violence we are surrounded by in various forms of media, and yet society has less qualms over bloodshed and killing than it does with sex (whether its explicit or obsecene).

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