Debunking the “Smut Book” Stereotype

In my carefree college days, I was part of a group of girls affectionately known as The Smut Club. We devoured romance novels one after another, swapping them back and forth and swooning over the latest alpha-male’s romantic overtures, while sipping coffee shop mochas we could barely afford.

Little did I know that the popular term “Smut Book” I had bandied about in my younger years would make my older-self cringe with a tight smile to hold my tongue in a cage of clenched teeth.

On occasion, I’ve tried defending my beloved genre to those with the preconceived notion that all romance books are the female adaptation of Playboy for the literary inclined. More often than not, their response was a fair imitation of John Cleese’s character, Arthur Nudge, in Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“Oh, riiight! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more!”).

I have to say, I really resent that some people (even some of my friends and family members) have the misconception that people who write – or, for that matter, read – romance novels aren’t as intelligent, well-read, clever or talented as writers in other genres. It’s totally ridiculous and completely unfounded.

Romance novels have the same basic parts as every other novel: external conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc.) and internal conflict (man vs. himself). The one ingredient romance novels have that set them apart from other genres is the importance of the relationship and love that builds between the main characters. It’s the foundation of the story and it’s that relationship journey that I crave and the main reason I’m so fond of (read: addicted to) the romance genre.

Notice, if you will, that I said relationship journey. Not SEX! (Although, I will freely admit that I thoroughly enjoy the knock-my-socks-off sex scenes too. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little sex-icing on my relationship-cake!)

Through the author’s words, experiencing the characters’ ups and downs, their moments of struggle and moments of abandon – both individually and together – all while dealing with the external obstacles keeping them from their end goal is absolutely amazing. In these books, love conquers all, and isn’t that a wonderful notion? Obviously, we know there’s going to be a Happily Ever After, but how they get there is the real thrill. The journey is what makes that HEA so very worth it.

Referring to a romance novel as a “Smut Book” implies that the only thing between those covers is scene after scene of steamy exploits that put the Kama Sutra to shame. You’re deliberately discrediting the other hundreds of pages that aren’t sexual in nature.

In my book, Desires of the Soul, three “sex scenes” take up less than thirty pages of the double-spaced, 400+ manuscript pages. So what do you suppose makes up the rest of those pages? It certainly isn’t foreplay, people. (Even the best heroes aren’t that good!) No, those other pages are filled with exciting things like plot, sub-plot, character development, story arcs, world building, foreshadowing, conflict and more.

It’s not easy to create rules and consistencies for a made-up world, create characters with complex pasts and unique personalities, then give those characters goals, only to then throw obstacles in their path big enough to make the culmination of reaching those goals worth it.

Creating all of those aspects, and then tying them all together into a page-turning story that keeps the reader up late into the night, is the challenge that every writer faces no matter the genre.

So, to anyone who has made the innocent (or not so innocent for some) mistake of using terms like “trash novel” or “smut book,” please consider using the proper and respectful name of “romance novel.” To call it anything else is degrading to the talent, research, and ingenuity it took the author to write said book.

Remember, just because several of the scenes between a book’s covers are set between the sheets and worthy of a post-coital cigarette, doesn’t mean the book is any less amazing or relevant than the latest Stephen King or J.K. Rowling novel.

Until next time, happy reading!

6 Comments on “Debunking the “Smut Book” Stereotype”

  1. Hear Hear! I was one of those who looked down on “romance novels” until I tried writing in a related genre — and was humbled! It is not an easy genre in which to write, as there are stylistic and plot rules that you need to follow to be successful. I really tip my hat to people who write in the genre regularly (and those authors like Kerri Nelson who crank out 6 or 7 books a year!). And anyways, if Pride and Prejudice were published today, it would totally be in the romance section!

    Sincerely,
    Nicole “I used to think romance-writing was easy until I tried it myself and got my butt kicked” Hadaway

  2. Stina: Yes, you're absolutely right. I suppose if the writers themselves use the term, then there's no harm. I guess I would suggest taking your cue from them.

    Nicole: Thank you so much for comments and validating my point that what we write isn't just a bunch of sappy gobblety-gook. And I love your new “middle name”! It rolls off the tongue nicely. 😉

    Jemi: Thanks for commenting. Yes, I always prefer to read/watch/hear about the relationships – good or bad – between people, rather than anything else. When I watch crime shows with my husband (CSI, NCIS, etc.) I'm interested in the mystery of the crime, but secretly I'm hoping “so and so” cut through the BS and finally hook up! 🙂

  3. Oh can we just get on the phone and have a conversation?!lol

    I used to call them slutty romance novels. Then I called them trashy romance novels. Now, because I'm writing them, I call them historical fiction.

    Not because the romance is any less than literary, but because I'm sick and tired of all the snide looks and comments and sick to death of trying to explain myself that romance publishes in excess of $5 billion dollars a year.

    I say romance, they roll their eyes. I say historical fiction, they raise their eyebrows. I say romance, they wonder how many vampires I've got in it? I say historical fiction, they shut up and walk away — either because they're scared I'm smarter than they , or scared because they don't actually know what that means. It's a win-win for me.

    I don't want to defend myself to people who are ignorant. They just don't get it. (And there are a lot of ignorant people where I am.) So if I appear to be smarter, or more sure of myself, or look down my nose at them, they leave me alone. Yay!

    Great to see you out and about.

  4. I think the romance genre has evolved. There are some amazing authors out there who write fantastic novels. Authors like Gena Showalter and Kresley Cole are excellent examples. (If it wasn't for Gena's blog, we may not have met online!)

    Great post, Gina! Your novel is definitely not a “Smut Book.”

    Hope you hear some good news soon! Keeping my fingers crossed…:)

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