Erotic Romance: More than Words?

24 Mar

First up if you’re not 18 you need to leave. Second, if the sight of female nipples or artwork depicting naked females upsets you, you should probably leave too.


Once upon a time, maybe a couple hundred years ago, novels were more than words. Erotic novels, in particular, often contained pen and ink drawings or wood cut illustrations.


Some of them were incredible. Some not. But I’ve often wondered why the idea of a few images in a novel fell by the wayside. Perhaps it was the cost of printing and layout. It certainly is more expensive to pay an artist and a writer. I would think with digital books on the rise, you’d see something more than words on the page. Certainly the cost of of time to create and expense to reproduce art has decreased. But when I did a search for an illustrated digital novel, I found one, a compilation of some classic erotic novels at Lulu. The illustrations above are from that example.

I put up an example of a remake of Poe’s, The Raven, a couple of weeks ago [link] and since that time I’ve been trying to ignore a little voice that keeps saying you could do this. I’m wrapping up two projects right now and I don’t need any voices, but they just keep getting louder so…

I made a couple of mock-ups of what a modern version of an illustrated erotic romance might look like. Keeping in mind that e-ink readers will only display a limited number of shades on a gray scale and that color e-ink and tablets are capable of more, I experimented with black and white, monochrome color, single and facing pages. Artwork below is mine.


What do you think? Could erotic romances be more than words? Should they?


11 Responses to “Erotic Romance: More than Words?”

  1. Brandi Evans March 24, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    I think they could be, if done tastefully, as long as the photos don’t overshadow the words. There’s a reason I read erotica and erotic romance, not watch porn, LOL. (Okay, not to say I haven’t done the latter for inspiration. *wink, wink*)

    I especially like the way yours is done above. It’s like having a simple sketch/outline of the scene, but instead of using paints to “color in the canvas” readers have to use the written words and their imagination.

    • Nara March 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      Thanks, Brandi. I agree the images have to add to the story without overpowering it. I aimed for that here.

      My little voice has been saying Brandi would be good at this too, but I’m sure you don’t need to hear these voices any more than I do.

  2. Marilyn Campbell March 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    What an inspiring blog Nara! I also remember seeing drawings in old erotica. Considering how popular the graphic novel is today, it is a wonder that it has not expanded into erotic romance but I suppose there might be so many people arguing over where to draw the lines between art and porn that the words could be lost.

    • Nara March 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Hi Marilyn,

      There are some graphic romance novels at I don’t think they really get to the level of erotic that we write.

  3. Mary Preston March 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    I think that images could add something rather wonderful. I have some very old books – older children’s books – from my childhood that have sketches in them & they gave something extra that I enjoyed. The same would apply to beautiful erotic images.

    • Nara March 24, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      I agree, Mary. I was looking at some of the Washington Irving books at Gutenberg. I could stare at some of his illustrations all day.

      Deepak Chopra released an illustrated version of his take on the Kama Sutra. Those images are truly beautiful and while erotic, not one would be taken as porn. I bet you’d love that book.

  4. Sasha Devlin March 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I think we probably aren’t that far off from seeing something like this, but again there will be a fine line between erotic images and porn. Images that are suggestive (and let your imagination fill in the blanks) would work nicely, but I think putting everything on the page might be problematic.

    • Nara March 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

      Hi Sasha,

      I ran into some of those issues when I was doing the illustration I used here. The basic standard is that if it shows a female nipple it is considered porn. Note there is also a male nipple here, but that would be allowed. I just couldn’t get behind that idea.

      I guess in the end, if we used images like a form of visual poetry, suggestive without connecting all the dots, they should add to the work they illustrate.

  5. KJ Reed March 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    It’s an interesting idea. And with digital publishing…it wouldn’t be all that hard, right? less expensive to have a picture on a PDF than to spend the cash for the ink to print it. So who knows, it might very well be a new niche.

  6. Jen B. March 26, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I think that this is a great idea. I don’t want to read grapich erotic romance novels but the addition of a few simple graphics sounds wonderful. Do graphics take up more ereader memory space than words? That would be my one concern.

  7. Shannon Emmel March 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    There was a certain subtle nuance associated with the classic erotica illustrations that might be lost on today’s readers.

    However, adding graphics to perhaps 1st pages to each chapter, especially in a Graphic Art/ Amnime style could attract an entirely new generation of readers and open a new market for all of us.

    Just a thought…

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