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Is the Spicy Books Trend Ruining Good Literature?

Is the Spicy Books Trend Ruining Good Literature?

career fiction marketing mindset prose Jun 05, 2024

I finally dare to speak out about this. For a very long time, I’ve been afraid of coming off as controversial for sharing an opinion that a number of people didn’t want to hear, but it’s a new age for me (I’m trying things based on my sessions with my therapist, speak your truth and all that) and I’ve decided not to let my fear hold me back from talking about subjects I actually really want to talk about.

I know there are people out there who feel just as frustrated about the rising importance of spice or smut in fiction.

If you’re among those who share my concerns, this blog is for you. However, if you're a fan of the TikTok trend of rating books based on their 'spice level,’ be warned—this post might challenge your perspective. I can’t stop you from reading it, but I believe in giving fair notice.

 

What classifies a spicy scene?

Let’s clarify exactly what this blog post is about. I don’t want you to think that I’m against the mention of any sexual intimacy in novels. I love reading about sexual intimacy when it’s done well and not for the sake of being ‘spicy.’

The spicy scenes I’ll critique in this post are those of an erotic nature, typically written for purposes of titillation. This is the kind of content you’d find in erotica books or fanfiction.

It’s the complete open-door kind of writing where the author goes into detail about the sexual act over several pages and leaves nothing to the imagination. This kind of scene is written specifically for sexual enjoyment and arousal.

ALSO: How to Write Spicy Scenes

More importantly, this kind of scene doesn’t change the direction of the book, it doesn’t further the plot, it doesn’t change the characters, and it doesn’t underline the story's purpose. If you know me, if you’re on my email list or follow my posts on Instagram, you will know that story purpose is Holy Grail to me. 

 

The purpose of spicy scenes

You could argue that a spicy scene deepens the relationship between two characters. And yes, sex is a wonderful and intimate thing that can bring people closer. But is it necessary to do this over several pages and describe details of appendages and positions and cringy bed talk?

Eh. It might be. It might be that the scene is written with the story's purpose in mind, and the detailed sex is part of character arcs or an important plot beat. 

But let’s face it, in most books these days this is not true. It’s typically done for purposes of titillation or satisfying either the author’s vision or something their readers expect to get because of the way reader expectations have changed with the rise of TikTok.

The problem is that plenty of people these days only buy books for the spicy scenes, and authors feel forced to include them. It’s not uncommon for my clients to worry about not having sex scenes in their novels, and every time they bring their concerns up, my stomach twists, and my blood boils. 

Why is this a new anxiety for so many of us? When has this ever been a problem?

I’ve even heard of readers skipping the actual story only to get to the smut. 

But at that point, I think it’s crucial to draw the distinction between erotica and other genres.

 

Erotica versus spicy books

I find it baffling that you could mention a regular fantasy novel, and people will immediately flock to the comment section to inquire about the spice level. I’m just going to say it—if you’re only reading to read porn, go to the erotica section. Look for the erotica subgenres.

Spice that is written for the sake of spice has no business being in a fictional novel if that novel doesn’t include the subgenre of erotica. And before you come for me for saying this, try to understand why.

It comes back to purpose.

ALSO: What Story Are You Telling?

Everything that is written against the larger purpose of your book is fluff. Spice simply comes under that umbrella. If a scene, whether spicy or not, adds absolutely nothing substantial or meaningful to the story, it’s common sense to cut it.

It’s the general principle that I follow as a writing coach or an editor. It’s a principle any editor follows.

If I read a chapter at the end of which there is no change in plot, character or relationship, I will suggest that chapter be cut. If the spicy chapter does contain something relevant to your characters or your plot, but you spend several pages describing character actions that don’t add to that, then it becomes a pacing issue.

From an editorial standpoint, any such scene, whether it’s a sex scene or a fight scene or a transition scene, which includes unnecessary details, would be sped up and cut down to deliver its purpose more clearly.

I think it comes down to one very simple question:

Does the sex scene serve a relevant purpose, or are you writing it for titillation?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about writing titillating scenes or erotica. But when you write them for that purpose, the book becomes an erotica and should be labeled as such.

 

Literature suffers from the smut trend

In this age of BookTok, I believe it’s becoming increasingly more important to make a distinction between erotica and general fiction genres. The reason I say this is because it’s becoming a big standard to include titillating spice scenes into books if you want them to perform well on a marketing platform such as TikTok, where books are regularly rated depending on their ‘spice-level.’ 

Also: Why Social Media is Bad for Your Writing

The fact that ‘spice-level’ is even measured as a decision-maker on whether to purchase a book or not feels incredibly disheartening to authors who write stories to tell stories, as is the purpose of novel writing in the first place.

This new ‘spice-level’ and ‘repetitive tropes’ trend results in poorly written stories produced with the idea of quantity over quality for the sole purpose of making money and going viral. We’re living through the start of the book market behaving in the same way as fast fashion.

Pick a popular trope that sells, slap in a few long, uncomfortably detailed smut scenes, choose your popular character archetypes, forgo actual character development or any semblance of a story message (who needs those?), post racy quotes on TikTok, and boom — you have yourself a money-maker.

Rinse and repeat.

And while it’s not solely down to the inclusion of spice in every other book, it is one of the biggest selling points. Sex sells. We know this. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t have a problem with erotic books. 

ALSO: Why Being a Content Creator is Ruining Your Art

What I have a problem with is that there’s no separation from erotica and standard fiction, which sets uncomfortable expectations on any standard genre authors wishing to promote their book with the knowledge that readers will turn away from it if they find it has no mature scenes.

Factually speaking, erotica is low-brow fiction written for the purpose of sexual enjoyment and not for the purpose of art. It’s increasingly disheartening when writers (a lot of my clients, too) who write books to make art and tell meaningful stories have their hard work reduced to the level of sex included inside.

 


 

FAQs

How much smut should I include in my novel?

Whether you include smut in your novel depends on your chosen genre and audience expectations. Don’t force sexually explicit content into a novel where there is no purpose for it.

 

Why do people like spicy books?

Readers enjoy spicy books for their transparency and honest, detailed approach to sex. They can be enjoyed as an alternative to pornography.

 

Is reading smut bad?

Reading smut is a great way to learn more about sex and intimacy, and readers should not be ashamed of liking these books.

 

How many TikTok books have spice in them?

Over 60% of BookTook favorites include some level of erotic or ‘spicy’ scenes.

 


Char Anna

Char is the author of the writing guide ‘Finish Your First Novel’ and the founder of The Plottery. She’s been in the biz since 2021, and holds a BA in Film & Screenwriting as well as an MA in Creative Writing from Edinburgh Napier University.

Char resides in rainy Scotland with her pup Lavender (who is anything but calm, contrary to what her name suggests), and she writes darker fiction that focuses on unusual family dynamics and lots of queerness.

 

 

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