This piece is a guest submission by Patrycja
Captain America and the Green Arrow? What do they have in common? Every superhero fan will answer with “absolutely nothing” and they would be right. One belongs to Marvel the other to DC. So why put them together?
The idea of a crossover
After the introduction of Barry Allen in Arrow (episodes 2. 08 & 2. 09), fans were eager for a team up. We had some characters cross over to the other show (Felicity in Flash 1.04), but that wasn’t the full thing yet.
Finally, we were given the first real crossover between the shows in “Flash vs. Arrow.” As with everything, there was a learning curve. The first attempt wasn’t the most exciting. The characters came to the show, but there wasn’t a reasonable plot warranting the crossover. The following crossovers would go on to be better and better. The plots made more sense and were more grounded in the shows established dynamics (some were used to launch other shows – DC’s Legends of Tomorrow)
The Arrowverse grew and so did the aspirations of the writers and the expectations of fans. With the Arrowverse consisting of four shows, the idea of a four-way crossover suddenly gained popularity. The bold idea grew to make something that has never been done on television before: a crossover that latest as long as a movie. The event was arranged in a way that changed the scheduled time of Arrow even, moving it to Monday night, giving us two episodes of the crossover on each night.
Everyone put a lot of work into making the event possible. The logistics must have been a nightmare because scheduling the work of four casts where actors had to simultaneously work on their respective shows is a logistical nightmare full of sacrifices. Yet still, it happened.
A different kind of crossover
It’s hard to say that the Avengers movies are crossovers. The whole idea of the movies is the superhero team ups. That’s how they’re designed. Most characters were introduced in solo movies or were a part of other productions.
The whole universe first build up to the Avengers and than slowly to Avengers: Infinity war. Even though the MCU movies had separate plots, they all added towards the big event, connected by the after credits scenes or some small pieces of information within the movies. And so, these happened as well.
There is a familiarity
The first sign that allowed me to draw connections between these two events was the fact that both universes were well-established before they gave us a team up or crossover.
The Arrowverse, which started with just Arrow, grew and let us become familiar with all the characters. We were able to be invested in their onscreen lives and dilemmas. It wasn’t until we had a keen understanding of the characters that we got a massive story with all of them.
The MCU used the same trick. Over the course of 18 movies and 10 years we got to know the struggles, motivations and ideals of the characters. The dynamics between them.
It may seem that the Arrowverse didn’t take as much time, but that’s not true. We get 23 episodes of television so we had even more time to get to know the characters. Comparing the two, we know a similar amount of facts about the heroes and likely feel emotional connection with at least some of the characters in both cases. The viewers know the rules that apply to each universe, as well as possible repercussions of the actions taken by not only the villains but also the heroes.
Since we know them so well…
The knowledge we have about the characters is the reason behind some of the expectations we as fans have for the storylines. The producers and directors definitely understood that while creating the events. They gave us enough subplots and personal issues to make the team up a little bit more interesting. That also made the transition back into the respective shows easier.
These scenes are something that helps break all the action and gives the crossovers more dimension. Like mentioning Felicity’s Jewish heritage or Tony’s engagement to Pepper. Those two things kept us grounded in the character work previously established.
The smaller plots don’t take away from the overall theme and story. They make it stronger and build up the relatability of the events. Adding these personal aspects allows to connect with at least one character on the show. Showing Felicity and Iris working together gave us that “girl-power” we’d expect, even without battle experience. Showing Wanda and Vision’s relationship makes him more human.
It especially shows in Avengers: Infinity War. Not only in the scenes I already mentioned, but also in the way the movie is built. Whereas Crisis on Earth X is like one big team up, with the heroes splitting temporarily (when some of them are on Earth X and some in Star labs), the MCU composed their movie in a way where a lot of smaller subplots add up to the overall story. It makes the movie more dynamic but it’s also easier to lose track while we jump from one superhero team to the other.
The consequences of their actions
The crossovers are generally presented as a separate, arc but we can’t forget that the characters have to carry on in their own shows. That means the choices they make and relationships established or grown have to be hashed out in the following episodes. All the decisions made during the events of Crisis on Earth X were in some way, shape, or form carried out in the following episode of each series. This setting was also used to launch a new plotline or to end a story, allowing an actor to meaningfully leave the show.
The Arrowverse succeeded in doing just that. They started the story of Felicity’s and Oliver’s marriage, but also the very emotional and heartbreaking scene of Stein’s death. The impact of that scene is even bigger, firstly because of his relationship with Jackson and being one half of Firestorm. Secondly it’s powerful because Stein was killed while on Earth X and fighting the Nazis, which is important because he was Jewish. That shows the sacrifice was even more meaningful.
Talking about the well-developed and established characters and relationships in the MCU brings to mind a different fact. The decisions made by the characters are not only having far reaching consequences, they are also influenced by prior experiences and decisions. As shown in Tony’s reluctance to call Rogers, his comments to Banner about missing things. It’s also shown in the relationship between Loki and Thor at the beginning of the movie. It carried over directly from Thor Ragnarok. The pain and suffering the Thor felt when his brother died seemed genuine and seeded from how that relationship had grown.
Both the MCU and the Arrowverse referenced past situations and relationships developed in previous seasons. E.g., Diggle the one to officiate the wedding. We see plots carried into the events from the shows or movies. Like the struggles to break off Firestorm or Vision’s and Wanda’s relationship.
Even though previous movies and problems seem to carry into the event, the MCU doesn’t address all the pressing matters from the past. They seem to skip over the conflict between Tony and Steve or the fallout of Bruce leaving and the state of his relationship with Natasha. It could be explained by the severity of the imminent threat and the way the heroes split into smaller groups. It’s something that should be resolved in the following movies.
Building towards a climax or keeping steady
The planning of the plot in the event is built as one separate arc. Yes there are far reaching consequences, but rather on the character development or relationship side of the show, and not their overall plotlines and villains.
On one hand that’s a huge advantage. It makes it possible to enjoy the crossover without watching all of the Arrowverse shows. You only need limited knowledge about the shows. Everything is nicely laid out for you during the scenes. The relationships are explained, decisions justified etc. You might miss some of the references to previous episodes, characters that already left or any other Easter eggs the producers put into the crossover. But that’s a small price to pay.
The same cannot be said about Avengers: Infinity War. There it’s crucial to have seen the previous movies (especially Thor Ragnarok and Captain America: Civil war). You also have to keep track of what happened in the whole universe. Without it, you will have trouble understanding quite a lot of the reasoning and behavior of the characters.
What we don’t get is a real climax and build up in the Arrowverse event. It’s like a whole different story and it isn’t anchored in the shows as strongly as one would imagine. Everything is introduced in the crossover and not build out of little sneak peek in the shows.
We get a solid performance and quite stable flow of the story. It doesn’t really build up to a real climax even with the big showdown in the end. The way of telling is very…steady.
It’s different in the MCU. Avengers: Infinity War is somehow complete story, like a closed arc even if the villain has yet to be defeated. The movie in itself is a climax of all the previous sneak peeks, references, and rumors. It still manages to build up the tension until a critical moment, which surprisingly wasn’t the big fight but rather the consequences of losing the showdown.
Why do we team up?
In the beginning the Arrowverse producers had some problems with figuring out what kind of adversaries would be big enough to warrant a team up. The threats posed just wasn’t cutting it. But in Crisis on Earth X, everything worked just right as far as the danger of the situation.
The evil doppelgängers of Oliver, Kara, and Dr. Wells were formidable opponents for our heroes. Furthermore their reason for invading Earth 1 was also an interesting choice. It wasn’t as many may have thought expansion or conquering of new lands. It was far more personal and emotional which showed the depth of the characters.
The whole arc of the crossover was also nicely planned around Barry’s and Iris’s wedding, giving all the heroes a reason for meeting. There is no indication of trouble at the beginning of the event. This allows the plot to look more organic, like a coincidence. The main reason for meeting up wasn’t defeating the Nazis. It was coming together and celebrating a friends wedding.
The wedding was also used to tie everything together as far as telling a story goes. We start the crossover with a wedding and we end it with one. That was an interesting idea, which offered a happy ending.
Marvel took a different approach to the crossover. There is no other reason for teaming up than defeating the villain. And what an opponent it was. Thru 10 years the creators managed to build up an almost undefeatable foe in Thanos. Furthermore he’s not the only adversary to beat.
Thanos is also very frightening because he truly believes in what he does. That and the fact that he was able to get all of the infinity stones makes him extremely dangerous.
Giving them a backstory
Sadly where the MCU delivered, by giving the main villain enough of a backstory to give us a clear picture of the situation, the Arrowverse disappointed a little bit. The villains don’t get a real backstory. We know their reasoning but I was left wanting more. It could be explained by the lack of time to really build the characters. The producers also gave us some kind of consolation by giving us the (animated) series Freedom Fighters: The Ray.
Thanks to that some of the fans’ questions could be answered. It wasn’t the first time the executives used this solution. They did it with Vixen and Legends of Tomorrow, using the crossover as a launching platform.
Furthermore, Marvel openly addressed the absence of some characters giving a clear explanation as to why they aren’t there. The DC shows didn’t do it. The reasoning for Diggle being in just one scene was shown on Arrow and carried onto the event. Assuming the viewers watch the show, they should know why it happened that way.
Something old something new
While watching the crossover we get a small glimpse at new, different relationships. Like the one between Kara and Oliver of Earth X, the one of the Ray and Leo, or the encounter between Sara and Quentin from Earth X. Sadly we only get a tiny bit of these dynamics. Especially the Kara/Oliver one, which seemed completely unexpected. As with the characters’ backstory, we can probably discover more in Freedom Fighters: The Ray.
Besides the new relationships, we delve into the already existing. The Arrowvese focuses on the already established dynamics and relationships a tiny bit more than the MCU. The relationships seem to be driving force behind the actions of the characters. Avengers: Infinity War also explores new dynamics and all relationships seem to be centered in the newly formed ones and the workings of the created groups.
The exploration of the dynamic between Tony and Peter gives the movie depth, and shows a different kind of love. On the other hand we have the camaraderie of Thor and Rocket Racoon, that adds a humorous element to the movie.
It’s all about the balance
Both universe’s did a fantastic job in balancing the tone of the event. The crossovers are a perfect mix of serious and fun. They take the fans on an emotional roller coaster where they can experience a wide range of emotions.
Crisis on Earth X felt a little bit heavier and darker than Avengers: Infinity War. The Arrowverse producers had a little bit more to juggle than just the fun and the serious. They also had to take into account the specific tone of each show, since each episode of the crossover resembled the tone of its respective show. It’s a nice little touch the fans surely appreciate. This wasn’t the case in Avengers: Infinity War.
Eastereggs…the joy of fans
Since we’re speaking of little touches, it’s worth mentioning that both events had a lot of Easter eggs and throwbacks. It’s a wink to the fans who seem to enjoy finding them. We had the classic and traditional by now Stan Lee cameo. Besides that we had a few pop culture references. Peter threw us an Alien allegory and Wakanda wanted a Starbucks. Thanos met Red Skull giving us Captain America: The first avenger feels.
The Arrowverse offered us a Prometheus with the face of beloved Tommy Merlyn. Also Kara fighting a Dominator and stating ‘it’s so last year’.
Thanks to all these, the events became a multitextual, cross-cultural piece that can be referenced on many occasions but primarily it’s just fun to see all these small touches. It shows how devoted the producers and directors are.
What fans hate most
Yes, there are cliffhangers in Crisis on Earth X, but most of them are resolved in the following episode. When the doppelgängers kidnap our heroes after a fight we learn what the destination was in the next episode. Thanks to the scheduling we don’t have to wait long for it.
That’s the main drawback of Avengers: Infitniy War. The questions and cliffhangers we are left with will take well over a year to be resolved. Yes, the after credits scene sets up Captain Marvel and there are other MCU movies coming before the next Avengers but they have separate plots.
The hidden message
Even though the crossover should be mainly seen as entertainment, there is some deeper meaning behind the stories. It shows the consequences we could have suffered if the Nazis won World War II. How humanity would still fight to get it’s freedom back. Brilliantly shown thru the characters of Leo, The Ray, and Winn of Earth X.
There are opinions that say it was a little too much, but I must disagree. I think it’s a particularly current topic. Especially if we factor in all the protests that took place shortly before or after the episodes aired. The event gave us a creative platform were we could discuss repercussions of these choices through the lens of speculative fiction. The topic is in fact terrifying, but also not really talked about enough.
That also applies to Avengers: Infinity war. Underneath all the action and visual effects discussed are meaningful problems. Like, “are children responsible for the wrongdoings of their parents?” or “how much does freedom cost?”; “Does an ideology and the believe in bettering the world justify mass murder?”, and so on.
That proves the point that these events are more than just entertainment. Crossovers may not be everyone’s favorite form of media, but they can provide jumping-off points to many different things: watching new shows or movies, enjoying new characters you didn’t expect, or talking about things you otherwise wouldn’t.
Images courtesy of Marvel and The CW
Batwoman and She-Ra Are Why I’m Single: 7 Reasons Why
Hey folks, it’s me, Dan. The writer of the piece. Please don’t assume anything up there is my opinion, or the opinion of anyone at the Fandomentals. I just wanted to emulate the head space of someone who spends their time whining about children’s cartoons or comic book TV. It was not fun. If you agree with any arguments here…please go outside. Call your mom. Take a shower.
It’s difficult to be a straight white man in the world today. Half the men are gay, all the women are lesbians, and despite how low the white male representation in Congress has gotten (only 65%!) people still refuse to believe that white men are oppressed. And the SJWs continue to spread their lies with a reboot of She-Ra and an all new adaptation of Batwoman. Not only are these new shows doubling down on pandering to silly things like women or lesbians, they are also actively contributing to why I can’t get laid.
1. New She-Ra Isn’t As Hot As The Naked Barbarians Above My Bed, Which Are Very Cool
God, look how ugly she is. No low cut neckline, undefined thighs, no makeup. The new She-Ra is everything I hate about the SJW agenda. They want to take proud, sexy females and make them boys. If only she still looked like the tastefully nude girls in my Frazetta and Vallejo prints: buff, busty, and wrapped around a strong man’s legs. But because the SJWs have poisoned women my age, like my ex-girlfriend Lauren, they see these works of art as “exploitative” and “pornographic.” If only they didn’t fear their own bodies, they’d understand why I keep these posters up so I may “appreciate” them whenever I want.
2. Batwoman Is A Lesbian Like The Ones Who Keep Rejecting Me
The constant deluge of LGBT pandering has come to a head at The CW. It seems like every hot girl on the CW is a lesbian now, just like the ones I meet when I go out. Putting yet another “lesbian” on screen is just going to embolden all those women to keep lying to me when I try to buy them a drink. It doesn’t even teach them to be fun lesbians, the kind that have three ways with their best friend and boyfriend. That happens all the time, Lauren, you’re just a prude.
3. Noelle Stevenson, a 4/10 At Best, Is Spiting Me Like My Ex, Lauren
There’s only one possible explanation for why showrunner Noelle Stevenson would want to send her unsexy message to children: spite. Just like when my ex-girlfriend, Lauren, started hanging out with her work friends instead of coming home to watch Ben Shapiro videos with me, Noelle is hell bent on inflicting her vengeance on the world for seemingly slighting her. There’s nothing wrong with cartoons being sexy, Noelle, and there’s nothing wrong with missing date night for a DoTa tournament.
4. Batwoman Isn’t Hot Like The Lesbians In My Videos You Found, Lauren
Like any virile male, I have an appreciation for Sapphic love. It’s really the most delicate and sensual of the pornographic arts. And yes, I happen to have cultivated quite the collection of films featuring such delicate lady loving. It’s perfectly natural, Lauren. But Batwoman lacks the style and grace of your Mia Malkovas or Riley Reids. She has short, mannish hair (when not wearing that gross wig), unfeminine short fingernails, and she’s way too buff to be attractive.
5. Bow Gave Women Like Lauren Impossible Expectations For Male Beauty
This is a problem I’ve had with She-Ra since I’d occasionally see it when my sister had the TV and I went to play with my He-Man figures. Men like Bow taught all the women my age that men had to be in shape, well groomed, and in a color coordinated outfit to be attractive. Despite all the inner beauty that some men have, the women they try to date cannot look past their preconceived biases. So yeah, maybe I don’t go to the gym as much as Bow probably does, but Bow doesn’t have over 6,000 Reddit karma, Lauren.
6. Glimmer Tells Girls It’s Ok To Be Fat And Ugly Like My Ex, Lauren
Glimmer used to be so hot. But now look what they’ve done to her. She’s lost all shape and become just another fat SJW icon like Rose Tico. Plus, she’s going to be be a role model for the girls watching this. They’ll grow up assuming that it’s somehow ok to have weird colored hair, to not take pride in their appearance, to dress like a frump. Women need to take care of themselves like Lauren did when we first met. She was so beautiful.
7. Lauren, If You’re Reading This, Please Call Me. I’m So Alone
I’ve been living out of boxes in Jack’s apartment since you kicked me out. I miss our bed and kitchen. I even miss your cats. Lauren please, I need to get back with you. I’m so empty. I keep calling and you don’t answer. I’ll stop watching children’s cartoons all the time, I’ll get a job, I’ll stay off Reddit. Please take me back.
Images via DC, Filmation, and Dreamworks Animation
Loving the devil
He’s handsome, intelligent, funny, drives a great car and has an accent, what’s not to love. Well there’s that tiny detail… he’s the devil
There aren’t many shows that catch my attention from the pilot. Lucifer was one of the few that did just that. Understandably I was really mad when the news of the show’s cancellation broke. I finally watched the season finale. Let me tell you, that ending left me wanting more, what with dozens of questions, that thankfully should be answered since the series has been picked up by Netflix.
Yet still, the question that all my friends and I ask ourselves remains: why was the show cancelled in the first place?
An unusual combination
Lucifer captures the viewer with a charming mix of comedy, crime, and supernatural. It’s not really a common combination, when you think about it. Plus, there are few shows that use humor as well as this one.
The producers were able to give us a show where solving crime doesn’t always have to be serious and dark. The funny one-liners, devil puns, and blunt comments break the seriousness and tension. That doesn’t mean the show lacks violence or a certain darkness in some of the story lines.
The whole supernatural aspect of the show isn’t overpowering within the rest of the plot. It’s used as a background or explanation of the characters actions. It’s also a metaphor for Lucifer’s journey of self discovery in a way.
The devil’s in the details
What made me appreciate the show was its attention to detail. I know all shows try to track the small pieces, but with Lucifer even the most minuscule could completely destroy a plot line. This was especially the case since there are so many supernatural elements in the show. If the writers didn’t keep track of them, there could easily have been a lot of plot holes.
Furthermore, the writers always had characters reference past situations, making it feel more like real life. Examples included how Lucifer’s birthday gift for Chloe was a necklace with the bullet that she shot him with. It makes us fans appreciate the show even more, since things build off of each other.
Connecting with characters
Every good story comes from well developed and relatable characters. Without these, even the best plots would be dull and boring. Having said that, Lucifer can pride itself in offering the fans a versatile group of characters that are easy to connect to, funny, inspiring, but also at the same time frustrating; they make mistakes and don’t always think about consequences. That unique blend of characters is one if the main sources of success of this particular series. Their characteristics allow viewers to identify with them, face challenges together, and see how they overcome them.
Offering such a big range of different characters is important, but what’s more important for me is how many strong women are portrayed in the show. The writers made an effort to show various types of women, which I greatly appreciate, even if I didn’t like all of them. (There was just something about Lucifer’s mother that I couldn’t stand or understand.)
What makes these characters so great is also the way they are portrayed by the actors that play them. Without their hard work even the best of characters would fall flat. The perfect example of spinning a character would be Charlotte Richards played by Tricia Helfer. I couldn’t stand the Goddess, but really enjoyed Charlotte’s journey.
Chemistry is the key
Since we talked about the characters, I should also mention that characters only get you so far alone. The real driving force of every series are their relationships and dynamics to one another. And let me tell Lucifer had a lot of them. The relationships in the show varied from family to friends to lovers to ex’s to partners. One could think that the writers tried to cover every possible combination and they did. Yet they did it tastefully and with a grace that showed a deep understanding of the characters and the dynamics between them. Every relationship was natural and organic, and the development of them was also shown in such a way.
The relationships were portrayed as something that just had to occur. Of course Chloe has to have a relationship with Dan….they raise a daughter together, and naturally Lucifer and Amenadiel will feel responsible for Charlotte since their mother used her body as a vessel.
What definitely helped was the natural chemistry between the actors. Nobody would have believed in the romantic feelings of Chloe and Lucifer, Dan and Charlotte, or Maze and Amenadiel if there wasn’t any chemistry. There were times relationships felt forced, but overall their developments were portrayed well.
Playing with emotions
Because the characters take risks and make mistakes, we get to see all these emotions—emotions that range from family fluff to anger or despair. The way the show handles them is admirable. One could think the writers don’t need the crime aspect of the series to give us hour after hour of television.
All of the characters were taken on emotional journey throughout the show. Lucifer is taken on a journey of self discovery and experiencing human emotion as he learns to accept his feelings for Chloe and mends his relationship with his brother. This is all the while forming a friendship with Linda and somehow destroying the one he had with Maze.
Amanadiel builds a relationship with Charlotte and Linda is frenemies with benefits with Maze, who accepts his place as Lucifer’s brother and the part he plays in his father’s plan. Maze goes on a roller-coaster ride of emotions almost sacrificing her friendship with Linda and making Lucifer go crazy.
And don’t even get me started on the Deckerstar relationship drama. The constant will they or won’t they, the love triangles, and Lucifer’s impulsive reactions leave you hating it and wanting more at the same time.
And then there was crime
To top all that off, Lucifer is a crime show. So all the emotional roller-coasters are accompanied by some kind of murder or crime mystery that our characters have to solve. The crimes often give us a context or a background to what the characters feel or go through. Sometimes it’s the crimes that allow the characters to grow as shown in the friendship between Lucifer and Father Frank, or even the professional relationship between Linda and Lucifer.
The supernatural element the crimes committed in the show aren’t the most important part even if sometimes they’re shown that way. There’s always something more underneath, a deeper meaning.
I can only hope that the continuation on Netflix keeps these aspects of Lucifer in mind. If nothing else, at least we get to see these characters some more.
Images courtesy of Fox
How to Tell if You’re Reading Erotica
I like sex as much as the next non-ace spectrum gal. I enjoy reading about it in my fiction, too, especially if it’s between two characters that I really, really want to bone each other. But I have a problem. See, I’m also very picky about my smut. Whether it’s word choice, tone, specificity (or lack thereof), there are a lot of things that can take me out of it when I’m reading scenes of an erotic nature. I don’t generally read a lot of erotica/erotic romance precisely for this reason; unless it’s recced to me from a reliable source who knows what I enjoy, I can’t muster up the energy to go sorting through thousands of options to find something I want. (Incidentally, it’s also why I don’t read a lot of fanfic.)
In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the genre that I apparently don’t even know when I’m reading it. The other day, I picked up a book someone had recommended, and it wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through that I paused to ask myself, “Wait, is this erotica?” (The answer is yes, it was.) So, if, like me, you look for very specific things in sex scenes—to the point where you can’t always tell if you’re reading erotica because it doesn’t appeal to your specific sensibilities—I’ve created a handy (and a bit cheeky) guide.
As you can imagine, this is going to be NSFW.
If Your Protagonist Thinks about Sex a Lot
You might be reading erotica. To be fair, like much in life and art that has to do with sex, there’s a spectrum. Some books contain little to no reference to sex in a character’s internal monologue. Others do. Because sex is a normal part of the human experience for those interested in it, a protagonist thinking about sex shouldn’t surprise us, and a character thinking about sex doesn’t make a book erotica. Katniss thinks about sex in the Hunger Games series and that is a far cry from erotica (kind of the opposite, actually, if you hold to the Katniss is ace headcanon).
However, if the protagonist’s internal monologue contains frequent and consistent references to sex, that’s another story (heh). Put another way, if removing thoughts of sex would depopulate a good chunk of the protagonist’s thought life or weaken their characterization, it’s erotica. Similarly…
If Sex and Sexual Fantasies are a Primary Feature of How the Protagonist Relates to Another Character
You might be reading erotica. This can be the hardest one to pin down sometimes because characters relate to each other in many ways, one of which may be sexually charged. The relationship between Jaime and Cersei of A Song of Ice and Fire includes erotic elements. Jaime thinks about having sex with—or other men having sex with—Cersei quite a lot, but their plotline isn’t fundamentally or even primarily, erotic. Even having explicit sex scenes between two characters doesn’t automatically make the book erotica. These days, explicit sex scenes and erotic undertones exist even in other genres (which is where my next criteria comes in, so I’ll have to delay fulfilling that desire for now).
At the same time, if sexual acts or fantasies dominate how the protagonist relates to one of the secondary characters, there’s a good bet the book is erotica. Sex drives their interactions. When the protagonist thinks about the other character, sex almost always comes up. Thinking about that person makes the protagonist aroused, and such reactions happen repeatedly and consistently and drives their actions. Basically, if every time they think about that person, they think of having sex with them, it’s probably erotica. Though again, a lot depends on plot and prominence, but for that, you’ll have to wait just a bit longer.
I should also mention erotic romance here, a hybrid genre of erotica and romance. As the name implies, erotic romance enfolds explicit sex scenes/fantasies into a larger romantic arc with a happy ending. I mention this separately because the larger romance and happy ending come from the romance genre and not all erotica has these elements. Erotic romance is still erotica, though, just a specific kind. For erotic romance, think of erotica as the foreplay to a story that ends in a satisfying romantic climax.
If There are at Least Four Explicit Sex Scenes
You might be reading erotica. As I said, just having a sex scene or two does not erotica make. Not even if those scenes are explicit. More and more novels written for adult audiences feature explicit sex, even in genres like fantasy or scifi. But sometimes, quantity does matter. Because the more something features in a book, the more likely it is to be central to the storytelling. I picked four because in your average novel of 250 pages, four explicit sex scenes would take up a lot of space (as much as 10% or more of the page time). However, I could go as low as three if one occurs within the first quarter of the book.
I admit, these are arbitrary numbers. A lot of it has to do with placement and vibe. Do the scenes feel like they’re the ‘point’ of the book? Do they seem intended primarily to arouse the reader? If you took them out would it change anything about characterization or plot? How close to the beginning of the book they begin to appear?
But also, yeah, quantity matters. Four times in a year is one thing, but four times in a night means something different. (Also, good for you. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself.)
If the Protagonists Masturbates Within the First Ten Pages
You might be reading erotica. I feel like this one goes without saying, especially if paired with several explicit sex scenes. If your protagonist is getting off by their onesies that soon into the book, you can bet there’s more to follow. (Full confession, I include this because it happened in the book I mentioned at the outset and…yeah, this should have been my first clue.)
If Uncomfortable or Awkward Metaphors for Sexual Positions or Pleasure are Used
You might be reading erotica. This is one of those things about erotica that people mock a lot, and it’s worth noting that this is changing. The Ten Things I Hate About You “quivering member” style of writing erotica isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Still, I run into it. I recently reviewed a book that used the metaphor of someone’s balls turning inside out with pleasure. I may not have testicles, but that just sounds painful. To be fair, this wasn’t labeled as erotica, it was just a weirdly written explicit sex scene. But it’s not alone. I’ve seen descriptions of moving a male identified character’s cock ‘like a joystick’ (why?!) or a female identified characters’ breasts ‘heaving like ocean waves’ (NO. OW. THAT’S NOT ENJOYABLE).
This is one of those criteria that’s best coupled with other elements, because as I just noted, uncomfortable metaphors for sexual pleasure or body positions occur outside of erotica. Especially, though not exclusively, with young, inexperienced writers or older writers used to the older style of writing erotica. I’ve also found it more likely to occur when the author is writing about a character who is not of their own gender (women writing m/m, men writing a female character, etc).
If You See the Word ‘Sex’ as a Euphemism for Vagina
You might be reading erotica. Unfortunately for my reading pleasure, lots of euphemisms for body parts that I find unappealing make their way into erotica. Nub in particular makes me drier than the Sahara, but other offenders include: pussy, core, slit, rod, sword (and sheath), nether lips, bud (for nipples or clitoris), budding (for breasts, looking at you George R. R. Martin, breasts do not bud), button. I’m sure there are more but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Now, as with the previous criteria this is changing, especially as society becomes more comfortable with describing cis female pleasure. Most of the previous euphemisms referred to cis female body parts, and there’s a reason for that. (Hint: the word begins with s- and ends in -exism.) Historically, talking about vaginas and their pleasure experiences was taboo. Hence the multiplicity of—and at least to me unpleasant sounding—euphemisms.
Thankfully, it’s getting better. But, like a bad lover, such terms still turn up when we least want them to, even in works by female authors. Even works by queer female authors writing f/f erotica. And not just inexperienced authors or ones more used to writing in a more circumlocutory style. I see it everywhere, even in non-erotica, so as with some of the other criteria, this shouldn’t be used on its own.
To be perfectly honest, I’m probably not the best person to ask about word choice in erotica. It’s the single biggest offender for me going from totally into it to utterly unmoved. I’m very picky about word choice, and your mileage will likely vary. To each their own kink and their words to talk about them. (Just please, please, I’m begging you: never use the word nub again. I don’t have a nub, thank you very much.
If You Can’t Keep Track of Body Parts
You might be reading erotica. Yes, yes, books that aren’t erotica have this problem too. However, unlike the previous two, I do think losing track of body parts and what people are doing occurs more frequently in erotic literature. Why? Because of the explicit nature of the content. As readers tastes moves away from euphemisms and vague phrasing, more clarity and specificity means more opportunities to lose track of what people are doing. And unlike real life, you can’t see anything. And if you’re anything like me, I get anxious when I can’t tell what people’s bodies are doing.
Why is her arm there, wasn’t she just touching her leg? Wait, what is her hair doing again? And why does it sound like there are five legs when there should only be four? Arms don’t move like that do they? And wouldn’t that configuration be awkward since he’s less muscular?
If you, too, get confused and overwhelmed by the specificity of body placement and keeping track of what’s moving where, you are not alone! I don’t have any solutions other than watching erotica or only reading recs from friends, but at least you don’t have to suffer by yourself. And now, with my guide, you can be prepared for what’s coming.
Images Courtesy of Orion Pictures, NBC, and 20th Century Fox
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