Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sweet, Subtle, Sensual, Sophisticated, Steamy or Sizzling?

How do you class your novels in terms of ‘heat’ level?  Sweet, Subtle, Sensual, Sophisticated, Steamy or Sizzling? All terms used to denote different levels.

After a lot of ‘research’, I’m probably more confused than I was before I started. Levels of heat seem to vary, both in terms used and in what the level actually means.

The basic ‘Sweet’ level is fairly easy. Or is it? I’ve seen it described as ‘Kisses Only’. Elsewhere, one definition of ‘sweet’ is that ‘love scenes are implied but not shown i.e. the bedroom door stays closed'. Another is ‘No sensual or sexual overtones or intimacy, either literal or implied.’ So, in the 'sweet' level, can love scenes be implied or not? See, I’m confused already.

Another list of heats uses the term ‘Subtle’ to describe romances which include kissing and touching, but in which physical romance/lovemaking is alluded to rather than described. Isn’t this the same as that first definition of ‘sweet’? This same definition is also given (in some cases) for a level called ‘Sensual’ i.e. ‘total intimacy is implied but not described.’

Okay, so maybe there’s an ‘ultra-sweet’ level with no implied love-making (i.e. the bedroom isn’t even mentioned, let alone entered), and then a Sweet/Subtle/Sensual level where lovemaking is implied but not described i.e. characters disappear into the bedroom and close the door.

Nope, think again. Here’s another definition of ‘Sensual’: ‘Moderately explicit sensuality. Lovers make love, physical details are described but not graphically depicted. Euphemisms are used, but feelings and emotions are more important than body parts’.

Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. Or are we? In the list of heats which classed ‘sensual’ as lovemaking implied, not described, the term ‘Sophisticated’ is used for romances with explicit scenes which are handled sensitively but not graphically described and where euphemisms are used for body parts. Hmm, now it seems we have a confusion betwen sensual and sopisticated!

The higher up the heat scale we go, a variety of words are used to describe the levels:
Steamy (or Spicy or Hot) – explicit sensuality, making love graphically depicted; physical feelings and emotions are both important.
Sizzling (or Burning or Blazing) – Extremely explicit sensuality, sex is the primary focus of the story. Often referred to as ‘romantica’, a hybrid of romance and erotica.

Which all leaves me wondering just how I categorise my own novels. I tend to have sensual tension, leading eventually to one or two love-making scenes which, while emphasising the emotional aspects, do have some physical details. Maybe my books are “sensually sophisticated with the occasional steaminess”?

Having said all that, why then does Bookstrand (with its three main categories of Sweet, Sensual and Steamy) class my ‘Fragrance of Violets’ as ‘Sweet’??? Seems like we’re back to Square One with all these heat levels!

Think I'm just going to ignore all the level descriptions before I tear my hair out!


  1. Hi Paula, I was thrilled to see this post, sure I would find something to help my dilemma, but alas, I remain as at sea as you are. Perhaps we should re-categorise our stories as SSS and let the readers decide which of the six S's refer to the story. And I agree, Fragrance of Violets doesnt fit into what I'd call Sweet, much more a great sensual read

  2. This is as confusing as the rating system for films. PG-13 and R seem to have specific archane rules guided by body parts, not language or violence.

    Who desides if a romance is Sizzling or Steamy?

  3. Okay, I have to say that I think the ratings vary per publisher and even reviewer. Especially because I'd categorize my A Heart of Little Faith as Sensual, but according to your scale, it might be categorized as Sweet, which I definitely don't agree with. I wouldn't worry too much about how to categorize--I think it's subjective. While I do think ratings can be useful, they have to be standardized. Great post!

  4. Excelent post Paula. This is something that I've recently been trying to figure out. My 1st romance was what I think most people would call 'sweet'. However, my 2nd, Her Latin Lover, has a slightly higher heat level. I don't think it's 'sweet', but it's certainly nowhere near 'erotic', 'spicy' or 'blazing'. Maybe it's sensual?

  5. Anne - the more I tried to get 'definitions' of the heat levels, the more confused I became! Think Fragrance would probably be classed as sensual/sophisticated!

    Ana - good point about who decides! I assume my publisher 'categorised' it for the Bookstrand entry, but sometimes when you're sending your book for review, the reviewer wants a 'category' - and that's when I'm not sure just what level I should be saying.

    Jen - you're absolutely right that different publishers (and different reviewers) have different ideas about the rating. I too think they should be standardised.

    Katheryn - agree it's difficult to know what category your book falls into when there are so many different definitions!

  6. I classify my writing as 'spicy', as does my publisher. Review sites uses various terms, which aren't necessarily the same across the board.

    It can indeed make things confusing! (But the general idea usually comes across.)

  7. You're right that the terms aren't the same across the board, Debra. That's what makes the whole thing so confusing!